Summer

I waited at the bus stop this morning shivering. Not because I was cold, but because I’ve never waited for a bus while it wasn’t freezing out. Buses remind me of school. The only time I rode regularly was when I was a student. But now I’m working and still riding the bus. I’ll have to get used to a different kind of bus-stop-waiting.

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Summertime is knocking on our door here in Minnesota. I’m getting geared up for it by putting away my winter clothes too early. It happens every year. We get a taste of 40° weather, and Minnesotans are running around in shorts and t-shirts. I’m not that guy, but there are a lot of them. It was pushing 55° this morning and I was still shivering.

Once that taste of warm weather comes, I throw my long johns and bulky winter coat in the attic, only to face an onslaught of -30 days for the rest of the month.
But the mood swings of the thermometer are over now. We just have a gradual warm up from here until October. Then we’ll wake up one morning and we won’t be able to feel our noses. Because we didn’t close the bedroom window the night before, and Summer took the last train to paradise.
For now I’ll enjoy my few blissful months before I have to pull out my coat again. I hope the bus gets here soon.
Image Credit: MESI
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Birthdays

Birthdays are my favorite. I had one a couple of days ago, but I tend to celebrate the entire month. The only other person I’ve heard of who does that is my aunt Lisa. She may have given me the idea. One year I called her every week for her birthday. I think after three weeks it got kind of old.

This year my wife bought me tickets to see Eddie Izzard. I’m a huge fan of his standup. I’ve been a giddy school girl for two days now, and I don’t think it’s going to subside until several weeks after the show. The show is in June, so Dana has a lot to put up with from now until then.

Birthdays are my favorite in the same manner that storytelling is my favorite. I think I like my birthday in particular because it comes with a good story. Not a lot of people get a good birthday story, so I appreciate mine. Anyone who knows me gets the one-sentence version, but if they ask questions they get the long version. Growing up, I heard the story every year. When I turned 8 I decided that I didn’t mind hearing it every year. I always thought it was lame that I had to hear how I came into the world every time I had a birthday, but then I realized that none of my siblings got story time as an annual gift. I was the lucky one.

Without any further ado, the one sentence version: I was born in the back seat of a station wagon in my neighbor’s yard on Mother’s Day.

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This, unfortunately, is not the same wagon, but you get the idea. The first thing I’m introduced to is wood paneling on a car. And, you aren’t going to get through this post without getting the long version. It’s my birthday, it’s my blog. I’ll do what I want.

I am the fourth child of six. My mom had to get the other three kids up, ready for church and over to grandpa and grandma’s before making the 45 minute drive to the hospital. But that’s when she realized that 45 minutes is a lot longer than she and daddy-o had before meeting their brand new bundle of Mother’s Day joy.

Lucky for them (and me), the neighbor’s daughter was visiting with her husband for the holiday. Mom knew that Gail was a midwife assistant. She may have never delivered a baby herself, but she sure knew how.

Dad and mom flew up the driveway, screeching to a halt and laying on the horn. “We need to get her inside! The baby is coming!”

With one look, Gail said, “No time for inside, Kevin. Your baby is being born right here in this terribly dated vehicle of yours.”

And I was. I arrived before the ambulance.

A few days later, my parents called Gail and her husband, Ben, to tell them the good news. “We named him ‘Benjamin’ after you!”

“Well that’s great! I’m honored!” replied Ben. “But my name is ‘Bennet’.”

We kept the station wagon up until I was 17. As a kid I would play in it, but I would never to to the back where I first saw light. I didn’t know what else I would find back there, and it creeped me out.

All in all, I seemed to have turned out alright. I do have a tendency to leave the door open when I leave the house, though. Whenever someone challenges me on it they say, “What, were you born in a barn?!”

No. Not quite.

 

Image Credit: ASWOA

Rhythm

“Rhythm” is one of my favorite words because it doesn’t have any vowels. I know, I know, “y” can sometimes be a vowel, but I choose to regard it as a consonant in this word just to break the rules.

I’m writing about rhythms tonight because I’m trying to find mine. It’s been over a week since I’ve posted my last post, and I don’t like that. I’ve started a new job, and cutting 40 hours per week out of my free time is killing my blog productivity.

But that’s enough about work. My wife just reminded me of a story that I rarely tell, and my imaginary dog is giving me puppy eyes that beg indulgence.

 

The Cough Drop

Cough Drops Isolated

Before Dana and I were married, I went to her apartment for dinner with her and her roommates. I wasn’t feeling the best, so I stopped at the Cub Foods in North Minneapolis to pick up some cough drops before I arrived. If you know anything about the Cub Foods in North Minneapolis, it’s not a place you want to be after dark. Or before dark, for that matter. “Sketchy” is one word to describe it. But if you’ve got a sore throat, it does have supplies.

I got to Dana’s just before dinner was finished and cracked open my new bag of Halls. I got the jumbo pack for the better deal. I struggled to rip open the plastic when Dana kindly informed me that it was already open. In fact, there was a clean cut on the back of the bag exposing all of my medicated lozenges to the world at large.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of people being poisoned by unprotected Tylenol, causing the trend of sealed over-the-counter drugs, so I didn’t want to take a chance. I did purchase these lemon flavored droplets at one of the shadiest grocery stores this side of the Mississippi.

So I counted them. I was shooting for 40 cough drops, as per the package statement. How many did I get?

Forty-one. No kidding, folks, I counted it three times. So did Dana. So did 3 of her 5 roommates. We had 41 out of 40 cough drops, and not one of them was going to sooth my ailing throat. Because God knows that that cough drop would have been the poisoned one.

Instead of walking the three blocks back to the store to return them, I just threw them all away. I didn’t know what would happen to bag of tainted pastilles, so I got rid of them and suffered with my sore throat.

I know exactly what happened, too. Someone thought it would be funny to make a cut in the back of the package to make it look like this particular bag was on the top of the box of other bags. Some unsuspecting customer would purchase the cough drops and assume that the slash was made by a box cutter, not a devilish villain. The innocent invalid wouldn’t think twice about counting the cough drops. That would be ridiculous! They’re fine, just eat them! Ha! The villain’s work is done. The person with a sore throat now is a person without a beating heart.

Thankfully I’m alive today to tell you this story.

 

Image Credit: Pharmacy Tech Resources

More Support

I wrote a post about supporting characters. I want to talk about another element of supporting characters that has little to do with writing.

Supporting characters are the ones who do just that: support. The story is about the protagonist. The world is concerned about the lead character. The supports don’t even make the epilogue sometimes. So please don’t be a supporting character in your own story.

These characters depend on the protagonist to give meaning to their existence, and that works in books. But it doesn’t work in your life. I blame others for circumstances that I don’t want to take responsibility for, or I find excuses for never pursuing the dreams I have. Whose fault is that? The protagonist in my life? Yes! Because the protagonist is me and if I’m not living like that then no one else is going to step up to the plate for me.

Often times people will go through life without taking responsibility for their circumstances. In some cases that is a valid excuse (poverty, illness, etc.), but it’s not an excuse to sluff of one’s personal responsibility, i.e. what he/she does about it.

There was a woman who was sent to the Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews during WWII. Corrie ten Boom and her family ran a jewelry and watch repair shop in Amsterdam when the Nazis invaded. Her father and sister died in the camps, but she survived due to a clerical error. The week before all the women in her age bracket were to be gassed, she was released.

Before the ten Booms were arrested, they had the choice of sitting back and letting history take its course, or to actively work against the atrocities that were taking place around them. They took action. They were the secret protagonists until years later when their story was told.

Corrie went around the world speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation. She wrote a memoir called The Hiding Place to reach a broader audience. Her life is a painful, beautiful story of someone who had every reason to give up on her own life and succumb to her hatred. But she didn’t.

She met one of the guards from her prison camp during one of her speaking events. The man approached her and asked for forgiveness. He began by saying she probably didn’t recognize him, but she did. She remembered the way he tortured her and her sister and the other women in the camp, and she writhed with righteous indignation. She hated the man completely and had no inkling of forgiving him.

But she remembered what she had spoken about just minutes before this encounter. She remembered how forgiveness releases people from the bondage of hate, and allows the forgiver to live a fuller life.

So she hugged the man and said, “I forgive you.”

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Corrie ten Boom was not a supporting role in her life. Not even in history. She chose to step up and fight for justice, putting herself and her family in danger. She didn’t allow the circumstances to dictate her reaction, and she didn’t allow the Nazis to destroy her spirit. She looked the dragon in the face and said, “Give me your worst.”

Maybe you, like me, have people in your life you need to forgive, even if they don’t deserve it. Maybe you haven’t moved on from a job you hate because it provides security and your boss tells you you have to stay. Maybe you’re living in a climate that grates on your nerves, but you stay because you feel tied down.

Don’t let your circumstances be the protagonist. Step up and claim your place as the hero in your story.

Image Credit: A Haven for Vee

Throwback Thursday – Alone?

Throwback to June, 2013 after an embarrassing event at a resort in Jamaica.

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Alone? 

Something to remember when you’re at a resort: even when you think you’re alone, you probably aren’t.

Dana and I were sitting in the hot tub in Jamaica late at night when the heat was turned down enough to enjoy the warmth of the tub. Granted, we were still in Jamaica, so we could only sit in it for a few minutes before we had to stick our feet in the pool to cool off.

I bought speedos for the trip. Not the tiny kind; they stretched about halfway to my knee. They were tight, though. I was also sitting on concrete. I let out a little fart. Or at least what I thought was going to be a little fart.

WHOMP!!

It was loud. It was long. It echoed off the walls of the outdoor pool area. Dana was doubled over in laughter.

“What? It’s not like anyone heard it. There’s no one around!”

“Except that guy on the balcony over there!” she giggled.

“There’s nobody on the balcony.” I responded, snark dripping off my lower lip. Then I looked to where she indicated.

“Whoa, man, ya just let loose, or what?!” called the nonexistent hoser on the balcony.

“Uh…yep!”

“I wasn’t sure if that was a fart or something else!”

At which point I felt an urge to refill my drink, leaving my wife at the pool to relish in my embarrassment.

Support

What are supporting characters? When I first think of the term, images come to mind of behind-the-scenes people. The ones without whom the main characters couldn’t function. The unsung heroes of our heroes. These people get credit sometimes, but it’s usually short lived and anti-climactic.

So who are these folks? One of the best known supporting characters (if I may reference Lord of the Rings again) is Samwise Gamgee. He puts Frodo back on his feet time after time. At first you can see the appreciation and love Frodo has for his gardener. But as the ring began to take hold of Frodo, he starts to take Sam for granted; he even tries to send him home when Gollum frames Sam for stealing the Lembas bread.

Does Sam give up? Of course not. Because his character is good. Sam never betrays Frodo during his quest to destroy the ring. Sam does everything in his power to make that journey comfortable and successful.

A supporting character like Sam is one that has spot-on intuition and has impeccable observing powers. Sam knows that they can’t trust Smeagol and he knows when Frodo has reached the end of his rope. Sam is there to keep Frodo moving forward. One of my favorite Samwise quotes is “Come on Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” Ugh. It gets me every time.

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Image Credit: Spikes_Girl

That’s one type of supporting character. But that’s not the only kind.

We also have the supporting villain. Shall we stick to the LOTR trend? Grima Wormtongue is a creep. If Samwise uses his words for encouragement and support, Wormtongue uses his words for deceit and manipulation. He destroys King Theoden’s mind, body, and spirit in the name of counsel. Soon the king is possessed by Saruman and is no longer functioning as the ruler of his realm.

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Image Credit: NewsRealBlog

Supporting villains have similar traits as supporting…good guys? I can’t really use “character,” because they’re both characters. Anyway, the traits are similar: intuition and observation. Wormtongue needs to make Theoden’s subjects think that Theoden is still in control while simultaneously undermining his rule. He must have done that when he first arrived in Rohan so that Theoden didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late, but we don’t get to see that part of the story. He also has to keep Theoden alive so that Wormtongue’s influence on the country doesn’t die with the king.

These two examples show the importance of strong supporting characters. Without these people, you might as well throw the plot out the window, too. Even in one-man movies like Cast Away we have Wilson, a genius supporting character who has zero lines.

There are a million other types of supports; the best friend, the significant other, the crazy family member, the coworker, et cetera. But I think I’ve made the point. Characters are humans or based on humans if they aren’t, and humans are social creatures. We gain understanding through the people around us, and they make us who we are. Without supporting characters, we won’t have anything to judge the goodness (or badness) of the main character.

Why I Write

All writers have their own motivation for doing what they do. This is mine.

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I have mentioned the influence my grandpa has had on my storytelling. I grew up watching him spin tales for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t only his fascinating stories that grabbed my attention; I also noticed how everyone was enraptured when he spoke. Call me vain, but I wanted that kind of attention. I wanted people to think of me as a storyteller. I wanted people to tell my stories to their friends when I wasn’t around.

But I was seven years old. What kind of stories did I have to tell? Grandpa would talk about his cow, Short Tailed Dolly, or about having coffee with some of the old men in town. I didn’t have those kinds of experiences. I went to school, did my homework and chores, and went to bed by half past eight. Nothing story-worthy came from my days.

So I started to write. The first story I wrote was about rescuing a princess from deranged monkeys. I got captured and was thrown in the dungeon. But that wasn’t the end of our hero! I cut through the bars across the window with a butter knife and freed all the other prisoners the same way. We stuffed gunny sacs with straw so the monkeys wouldn’t notice we had left, and replaced the bars by gluing them with Elmer’s Glue-All. I specifically remember the Elmer’s.

That first story awoke a part of me that has never left. I didn’t write much throughout elementary and high school, but I always thought about it. I turned my skills to letter writing and poetry during my early years in college, and took a writing course for short stories.

It wasn’t until I started traveling the world that I realized that my stories needed a home. It took me three years to start blogging, and another six months before I tried my hand at novels.

Today I don’t feel like I’ve completed a day unless I’ve written. Sometimes it’s just a few ideas that I want to work into future books, other times it’s adding several pages to my current novel. Either way, I find words pouring out of my mind faster than I can keep track of them. Which is rather unfortunate when I have a stellar idea and no notepad.

My motivation is multifaceted. I tell stories because I find it very fun, but also because when I tell a story I feel my grandpa close by. I like to think that he’s listening in and laughing just as hard as the people around me. I imagine him following up with one of his own hair-brained tales.

I am the fourth child of six. I didn’t have to fight for attention growing up, but I didn’t always get to have my say. I would get flustered in an argument and forget all the great comebacks I had stored up, and by the time I remembered them the fight was over. Writing helped me get my thoughts down. I didn’t have to worry about being interrupted. I didn’t have someone talking back to me so I would lose my train of thought. It was just me and my pen.

As an extrovert, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and shout out one-liners during a group conversation. I enjoy that, but I miss out on deep conversation; intellectual, emotional or otherwise. Writing forced me to slow down and appreciate quiet moments. Because of that I’ve learned how to seek out those conversations and dive deep with some of my friends.

I left college trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. One of the questions I kept asking was, “What have you done all your life that you enjoy and you’re good at?” The only answer I could come up with was writing. For everything else I was either good at it or I enjoyed it. Or it wasn’t a reasonable career option (drinking beer?).

Over the years I have learned that it doesn’t matter if anything happens with my writing. I would love to get published and gain recognition for my work, but that’s not why I write. I write because I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything else. I write to honor my Grandpa. I write because I have to.

If you’re a writer, what is your motivation? What keeps you going when the well dries up? How did you get started on this hard, yet so rewarding journey?

 

Image Credit: SSWC2013

Bad Beetle

I had a dream last night about a magical, malicious bug. It was a beetle; six legs,  ivory elytra with intricate black designs painted on its back, clicking pincers in front of its mouth. I’m not a huge fan of bugs, but this one didn’t particularly bother me. I was rather interested in what it was doing.

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I was sitting at a campfire with a few friends. I was dreaming, so I had two points of view. The first being a part of the conversation taking place around me, and the second, I was the narrator. I watched the bug crawl into my pocket, unbeknownst to me. Do you follow? It’s kind of confusing, but wait till the end.

I should probably mention who else is at the campfire with me. To my left is Gimli and Legolas, to my right is Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf. I think Samwise was elsewhere cooking something.

I was hanging out with the Fellowship, folks. No kidding.

Back to the bug. It crawled into my pocket and laid an egg. But it wasn’t a tiny larva egg. It was about the size of the bug’s abdomen, and it was a the same color, ivory. The bug left soon after dropping the egg. A small spell was left on me from the bug to make me think that the egg was a nut. So I reached into my pocket and ate the snack.

This is when things started getting freaky. The spell grew stronger immediately, and I fell asleep. My friends didn’t think much of it considering it was late at night. The next day, though, I didn’t wake up.

I had become the host to this bug. The bug was of course working for Sauron, and its egg gave Sauron access to my thoughts. As well as the Fellowship’s plan to defeat him. Because, of course, I was let in on the secrets.

When I didn’t awake the next morning, Gandalf knew exactly what was going on. He performed his counter spells and I coughed up the egg. I had the withal to keep most of the secrets from Sauron, but we had to change a few things. Like who was going to deliver the ring to Mordor. We gave it to Pippin, because who in their right mind would give him a mission like that?

Don’t steal the dream, folks. I think it’s going to end up in one of my bestsellers.

Image Credit: Terry Thormin

Throwback Thursday – Mangroves and Water Chops

A throwback to December, 2013. Initial thoughts upon arriving in Indonesia.

 

Mangroves and Water Chops

Going from Batam to the island we were were visiting in Indonesia was an eye-opening experience. The tiny motor boat was quite different than I was expecting. It was like my father-in-law’s boat in which we fish at White Face. It seemed that the pilot didn’t take the direct route from Batam to the island, though I cannot confirm this observation. It looked to me that he was taking the route that had the best views of Indo. He showed us the largest ships, the mountainous islands, the most intricate net structures of fishermen, the delicately detailed roots of the mangroves that kept their trees from touching the ocean. It was a fascinating ride.I saw islands springing out of the water like thousands of moles on an otherwise perfect complexion. Moles that were hairy with trees or so grotesquely misshaped that one should really consult one’s doctor about the high probability of skin cancer.

The second thing I noticed was the boater’s seamless ability to navigate the waters. In the hour and a half I rode with him, I was splashed once. Maybe twice. He knew just how to ride the choppy waves to make them work for him. He used them to propel us at breakneck speeds down the channels formed by cancer-ridden moles.
He also drove in tandem with other boaters. Stoney faced, and barely a glance, he would twitch his wrist just enough to avoid catastrophic collisions. The others seemed to hardly notice him, too. It reminded me of a dance. So fluid were the movements – so innately known – that the artists needed no leader. They saw, calculated, adjusted the rudder, and continued the dance. No toe stamping on this dance floor.
The trees I saw looked like a 17th century lady lifting her skirt and screaming to avoid a mouse running up her dress. The canopy of the tree searched the water wide-eyed, hoping beyond hope that the mouse wouldn’t return. There were sometimes clusters of these trees which only enhanced the perception of dainty ladies screeching from fear of nasty little rodents. When they were alone, like the one below, I felt sorry that she didn’t have a man to come kill the spider for her, or chase away the rats of the night. I later learned that the mangrove is home to hundreds of species of creepy-crawlies, so my initial assessment was completely erroneous.
Soon we arrived at the village in question. Our sore backs and jet-lagged eyes were not prepared for the cultural experiences waiting for us that evening.

Character Development

I read a post by Lynette Noni about character development. The way Lynette talks about her characters is charming and endearing. It makes me think of my characters and the antics they get themselves into.

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While writing a few days ago, something happened to my protagonist. I think I was more upset about it than he was. I was indignant and close to tears when Caspar said, “Dude. Calm down. This is life. This is high school.”

“Well, obviously I didn’t go to that type of high school.”

“Yeah. Obviously you had a different experience growing up than I did.”

And that’s when it hit me. Two things, actually. The first is that I was having a conversation with a fictional character. Perhaps I’m crazy (yes. That’s beside the point)? The second is that I’m not “developing” my character. He’s developing himself. He’s taking control of his actions and responses and decisions, and I’m just on the sideline watching him play out his story. I’m humbled that Caspar wants to tell his story to me.

This is taking a weird turn, so let’s get back on track.

Something that deterred me from writing for several years was the thought that I wouldn’t have enough imagination to create a world, develop believable characters, and get them out of sticky conflict when it’s sure to arise. And a lot of my first writing didn’t even have conflict because I didn’t want to deal with it. #avoider

But in my experience of writing a novel I’m learning that the story, though started by me, is not mine. I am just the vehicle through which the story is being told. If I chose not to write this story, I’m sure Caspar would have found another author to tell it to.

Anne Lamott said that the best thing to do for character development is to stick them into a room with other characters and listen to their conversation. The exercise is to write pages and pages of conversation to see how each character responds. Is he full of himself? Is she a brat? What happens when his archenemy makes a pass at his girl? The next step of the exercise is to not use any of the pages for the actual book. Well, maybe not. But a huge chunk of all those beautiful words you’ve worked all day on are not going to make the cut.

That’s the part that kills me. I want every word I write to count. Unrealistic, but I’m still growing as a writer.

I also have a tendency to help my characters avoid conflict. I’m learning that this is not conducive to my character’s story, because it’s turning into my storyI’m a good storyteller because I like telling other’s stories (sometimes I’ll tell my listeners that it happened to me just to make it a little more interesting). Once I tell my protagonist that he can’t make this or that decision, or say these or those words, he turns into me. And that’s rather dull.

Character development is less overwhelming now that I know I don’t have to make everything up on my own, but at the same time it’s more overwhelming because I have a responsibility to my characters to accurately depict who they are.

Image Credit: BidBeat