Web Writer

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Web fiction is written work of literature available primarily or solely on the Internet. A common type of web fiction is the webserial. The term comes from old serial stories that were once published regularly in newspapers and magazines. – Wikipedia

A number of years ago, I wrote a webserial called The Smell Collector.  The blurb is :

The experience of smell is the closest thing we have to intimate human contact.  A woman’s perfume, a whiff of cigarette smoked, a little bit of diesel fume, and some spearmint gum might come close to someone’s first kiss, for example.  Of course, it’s impossible to create a first kiss without the human element, but for Jim Bronson, it’s the best he can do.

It’s been read through only 132 times.  This is very small for a web serial, but the people who have read it love it, mostly.  Here are some of the reviews and comments.

“The Smell Collector is a story with high originality marks, because it’s something new and offbeat” – author of one of the most successful web serials of all time,  The Worm

“This is a fairly simple story, yet it manages to be funny, original, and ultimately, beautiful. It could easily have gone wrong by being too silly, or getting maudlin, or losing our sympathy for its oddball characters, but instead it hits all the right notes. It’s not often a story makes me smile and giggle, and also makes me cry.” – Fiona Gregory, Editior of The Web Fiction Guide

“Wow, this story is amazingly creepy (thus, awesome). I stumbled upon your blog when I was searching about webfiction. The way you write it is very interesting (the many different POVs), and it really would be perfect as movie! I just finished reading all the chapters you’ve written until now, and I’m amazed at how well I can see everything happening in my mind!”  – Reader Alice

It’s ranked the 4th most popular webserial in the category of modern fiction on topwebfiction.com, which a very small category.  I’m not sure what the problem with this serial is other than the fact that it’s not about super heroes, vampires, science fiction, or One Direction which is the vast majority of web fiction.  The story is creepy or unsettling at times.  The writing is not exactly professional.  Someone wrote that the first few installments were like jumping into ice water because the character’s mind is so foreign.  I do see many people read the first chapter and quit, so I changed it this week.  I started with a little action, which is a good rule.

I speculate endlessly about the prospects of this work.  I can see a film so easily, but I have no idea how to make that happen.  I don’t think the writing and storytelling is consistently at a professional level, but I think the characters and premise are unique and strong.

I plug this serial on Facebook and Twitter from time to time, and have very little luck getting people to read it.  Most of my reads come from other sites promoting it.  The main source of readers comes from The New Devil, which is a web fiction serial about a seventeen-year-old kid who dies and unwillingly becomes the Devil. He writes:

If you’re a sucker for an enigmatic lead character like I am, you might enjoy this clever and captivating serial.  It’s about a guy who is obsessed with learning how to recreate all kinds of smells, including each individual’s personal scent.  He’s creepy but endearing, and the stuff that happens in his life is fun to read.  This story is now complete, too, so you can get the whole story instead of having to check back for updates.

Web serial writers often depend on other writers to help promote their work.  The author of The New Devil will know that I promoted his site because his site will shoot him a notification.

The thing is, despite it’s very modest success, I think The Smell Collector has a greater potential.  I wonder sometimes if I should just let it go.  I have a very well-planned serial/novel which is just waiting to be written.  I’ve written a detailed outline and character sketches, as well as a rough first chapter.  The Belly of the Church.  Premise:  A reporter discovers the truth about his home town when he uncovers its dark secret.  In the process, he deals with his own dark truths.

I’ve also writting 50k words in a novel called Fly By Night.  It leans toward super hero.

Daniel is a 30-something computer programmer whose life has so far been a series of very fortunate events. His friends and family consider him to be lucky. To them, he just seems to sail through life. In fact, his nickname is “Lucky”. Well, Daniel’s luck is beginning to run out. His marriage is falling apart. His career is stalling. He can’t deal with his two children. He feels alone and depressed. Daniel is losing his way…that is, until he encounters a guide. This guide isn’t a therapist, a pastor, or a guru. In fact, Daniel’s not even sure if it is human. And soon, Daniel will a night job and a new direction.

It was my first attempt at fiction, and remains one of my best.  I just haven’t figured out exactly how to finish it.  It was well-received, but remains incomplete.

I think everyone fantasizes about being a professional novelist on some level.  I am not a professional writer, nor am I likely to be.  But I do have ideas that are worthy of professional writing.  My writing is not bad at all, but I know that it’s nothing as good as anything I read.

I write this post, not to promote my work, but to describe what I and many amateur or aspiring writings experience.  We badly want attention and recognition for our work, but we don’t want to pester anybody about it.  We just want someone to read it and enjoy it because it is good.  As you can see from the various comments I’ve quoted, people do like it.  I confess, I didn’t post any of the negative comments, like the review entitled “The Smell Collector Doesn’t Stink” which was a very mixed review by a very prominent web serial author.

So far, mywifesaysimcomplicated is a far more popular blog than any of my fiction blogs.  I don’t know why that is.  It’s still my writing and storytelling.  Maybe the title The Smell Collector is unsettling.   Perhaps I’ll attend some workshops to understand why it is not as popular though critically acclaimed in it’s own small way.  Until then, I’ll continue writing this blog.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

When the Exception becomes the Rule

b00449twkm_img5_lg-_cb365166073_My first blog was in 2005, fathermanseekingpeace.blogspot.com.  It was devoted to bringing peace into the world.   Although the blog is down, it’s content is still accessible to me.  The ideas still hold water, but they are cliche by now.  I found a handful of posts that were not spiritual, though.  I’ve thought of this particular post over the years.  The observation still holds true.

As I was washing my lunch dishes at work, I noticed that some thoughtful person had brought in a new bottle of liquid dishwashing soap. Normally, I might not have noticed, but we have gone without soap for a week, so I was excited enough to notice the label: Non-Ultra Dawn. There was nothing particularly non-ultra about it that I could see. Obviously, the original Dawn product has become the exception to the point that anything that is not Ultra Dawn must be described as Non-Ultra. Then it dawns on me (sorry, it’s not even that good of a pun) that this is absolute craziness. This bizarre way of describing things has gotten totally out of hand!

Let’s start with the smaller issue: Ultra, Super, Premium, Extra, etc.

It’s hard to buy a product that is not Ultra, Super, Premium, Extra, Mega, Double, or Triple. At what point do these words become meaningless? I’d say about 8 seconds after Walmart stops stocking the original product. And what happens when they want to enhance the already enhanced product? Consider L.A. Looks Hair Gel:

There is no regular hold gel, is there? There’s Super Hold, Extra Super Hold, Mega Hold, Mega Mega Hold, Extreme Hold, and Extreme Mega Mega Hold (I’m not sure about the last one, but it seems inevitable). Isn’t a gel that holds your hair in place enough for some people? If Super Hold keeps my hair in place wouldn’t using Extreme Hold mean that my hair will take on the properties of concrete?

Ok, now on to the bigger, more pressing issue: What do you call the rule when it becomes the exception? Why does Dawn feel like it has to call it’s original product Non-Ultra Dawn? Why are we calling coffee in it’s natural state Regular or (even worse) Caff? Whole Milk anyone? Then there’s the large assortment of Unscented products. Long ago, some guy decided that their product ought to be scented. They came up with pine fresh, mountain spring, april fresh, clean breeze, and so on. Now, to get the original product you’re going to have to look for something that’s been through the mythical process known as Unscenting. We unscented it. Geez, we could increase productivity by 20% if we didn’t have to unscent this stuff! Is this what my Aunt Ginger paid the vet to do to her ferret before it could become their household pet? Then there’s Unsalted butter and Unsalted nuts. How ridiculous would the process of Unsalting nuts be? Ok, Joe. You do the salting, then send them over Frank where he…

It doesn’t stop with products. Uncircumcised.  How do you uncircumcise something?

EDIT:  FYI, they don’t make Non-Ultra Dawn anymore.  They make Non-Concentrated Dawn, though.

The Old Hymns

d11dfe5f938729b6f0c33f07632cacf1Sunday morning, I led the congregation in singing Victory in Jesus.My wife grew up singing this hymn in the Free Will Baptist church, as did my pastor.  I grew up singing all the old Presbyterian hymns.  And now we sing the Methodist hymns.  Between the two of us, we know hundreds of old hymns.  And although, this one is a new one to me, it’s one of my favorites.

And so after worship, as I shopped for groceries, I whistled this song heartily.  It’s very catchy.  In line, an older woman asked if I’d sung that in church that morning.

“Yes we did.  I’m the music minister so I had to lead it.  It’s good stuff.”

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to say that I was a music minister.  Maybe I wanted to raise my status as an authority on hymns, for what purpose I do not know why.

She nodded and grimaced a little bit.  “Yes.  It is.”

I’ve been a little manic, so I yammered on a bit until I said.  “Well it’s really stuck in my head, it will probably be stuck in your head by now!”

“No,” she said, “I have another song stuck in my head.”

“Oh yeah?  Which one?”

I expected her to talk about another old hymn:  Blessed Assurance or Rock of Ages.  I assumed because of her age and demeanor that she was an old-timey hymn gal.

She began to sing a phrase from the song.  I did not recognize it.

“It’s a new song,” she said. “I like the new songs now.”

Wow, I thought.  Am I the last one in town to prefer the traditional hymns?

She said that she knew someone from my church. I said that I knew her well.

I said that our church did some new hymns, but mainly old.  “We don’t have a praise band or anything”

She grimaced again and said, “Well, I was thinking about coming to your church, but I really prefer the new songs.”

My heart sunk at the thought of having deterred her from visiting, but I knew it was useless.  “Well, we believe that there is still a place for traditional worship in Norman.  There are plenty of contemporary services.  Perhaps we’re a dying breed.”

But I don’t believe we’re a dying breed.  I’ve read several articles that indicate that the younger folks are not finding meaning in contemporary services and like the idea of worshiping in a way that’s been done for centuries.  Something with history and ritual and character and deep meaning.  They perceive contemporary worship as a form of entertainment. They’ve spent their whole lives being entertained by adults, and they’re tired of it.

Of course, I want to believe that that is true.  I don’t dislike praise services.  They are emotionally satisfying, but liturgy and hymns are satisfying in deep ways as well; ways of praying and confessing and singing together which are as old as Christianity itself.  I don’t think it is likely that many of the songs sung in modern praise services will last centuries or even decades, and perhaps that’s not the point of them.  They come in and out in a matter of a few years, just like any top forty hit.  There are few exceptions, Sanctuary for instance.

I’m willing to admit that I have my biases, in no small part because this kind of music is what I’m trained and paid to lead.  I would not have a professional place in a contemporary service.  I’ve led them as a singer and as a keyboard player, but I definitely wouldn’t hire me.

A praise song is simple for a reason.  It’s not generally about theology, ideas, poetry, or scriptural illumination.  It’s about the act of praising, surrendering, and confessing.  This is good, but  there are old hymns that do this as well, and they don’t stop there.  They teach, they present ideas, and new ways of thinking about the scripture and theology.  There is powerful poetry to meditate on for a lifetime.

The truth is that a lot of these old hymns were contemporary praise songs at one point.  Victory in Jesus has a very simple praise chorus that people love to sing which expresses the notion that with Jesus’ help, we can conquer life’s battle’s.  I feel this deep in my soul.  I know what it is like to struggle and battle.  I know what it’s like to hand it over to God to do the fighting for me.  I know what victory in Jesus feels like.

Perhaps some of these old hymns should be discarded.  I’ve heard very compelling arguments for this; hymns like The Old Rugged Cross who’s treatment of the Cross borders on idolatry.   But I see it a little differently.

I have this kooky idea that human ritual creates power.  The more we do something together the more powerful it becomes.  These are songs which have been sung for so long by so many people that when we sing them, they ring powerfully with the voices of the saints who have passed long before us.  We hear our grandmothers’ voices and through them, their grandmothers’ voices. Can you imagine your great grandmother singing Lord I Lift Your Name On High with its difficult syncopated rhythm?  I can’t, but I can imagine her singing It is Well With My Soul (1873).  It sings so easily.  Straight forward rhythm, easy range.

The song was written after a man’s family drowned at sea.  He returned to the spot and this is what he wrote

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul

Think of the power of singing this song on the shoulders of people who grieved and found profound comfort while singing it.  I have done it, not just in church.  I have done it alone at night when I had no words to express my sorrows.   And when I did it, I could hear a chorus of voices singing it with me, because we sing it in church.

I write this not as a rebuke of new songs.  All songs were new once. There are new traditional hymns being written, too.  John Bell’s The Summons is a very fine example.  A few of the contemporary praise songs will probably stick, but let’s not abandon the ones which have proven the test of time. We do sing newer songs at my church, and there are some good ones worth considering, but I want to be connected to the Church of centuries old.  I want to speak the Apostle’s Creed.  I want to partake in the Great Thanksgiving before we take communion.   I want to hear the old benedictions.  And I want to sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God (1529).  New is not necessarily better.  Ask any wine enthusiast.

 

The Coining of “Going Scotch”

 

You know by now that I am a logophile.  I love words and idioms and etymology.  Occasionally, I try to invent a new idiom.  Most of them fail. For example,

Don’t start this fire unless you want the house to burn down.

niecy-nash-scream-queensThis is what you say when someone is trying to start a fight with you.  You want to convey the idea that you are willing to go down fighting.  You’d be willing to destroy your own house to take your opponent down.  The main problem with the phrase is that I can’t pull it off.   Niecy Nash could though. She has the ferocity to make it work. Let’s face it, I’m not willing to be burn down any houses.

And so, Ms. Niecy Nash, if you are reading this, PLEASE make this happen.

But here’s a phrase within my power to coin.

Going Scotch.

The notion that the Scottish (my heritage) are thrifty is age-old. I really have no idea why.  Thrifty is a nice word for it.  But I’m thrifty and so is my dad and so are many men in my family.  I realize that it has been used pejoratively.  Calling someone Scotch mean calling someone cheap or stingy.  Take Scotch Tape.  Why is it called Scotch Tape?  It is tape with a stingy amount of glue.  Ouch.  Scotsmen, how do you feel about that?

And so, I’m faced with the dilemma of creating a new potentially offensive phrase. Does the world really need that?  I’ll let you decide.  This may be my best chance at coining a phrase.

Consider this scenario:

Me:  Hey babe.  The budget is a little tight.  Do you mind if we go Dutch on this?

Her:  Ya know, the plates are really huge here, why don’t we just go Scotch.  I think one is enough the both of us.

I write this now because, it has been coined to the point that when my wife called me about going out tonight on a shoestring entertainment budget she said,  “Why don’t we go Scotch on some nachos.”

aa032476-couple-sharing-a-plate-of-food-in-a-gettyimages

Bumped Up

lithium-carbonate-extended-releaseOn #WorldBipolarDay, I shared my thoughts on being bipolar.  The response was very positive.  Many people expressed that it was helpful to them.  I keep an anonymous blog dedicated to bipolar because I have been nervous about being public about it, but I’ve decided that my aim is to do my part to fight the stigmas and general lack of understanding of what it means to have a mental illness in a way that puts a human face on it.

I don’t even like the term mental illness.  It’s really just an illness.  We don’t say lung illness, insulin illness, brain illness, stomach illness, flu illness.  We generally say illness.  Also, a mental illness is an illness of the mind.  I’m not so sure that is what bipolar is.  The mind is the active projection of the brain that creates the experience of consciousness, the intellect, our thinking.  The way we think can greatly influence the way we behave and even affect the state of our brain.  So if bipolar is an illness of the mind, then we should be able to think our way out of it.  Right?

And that’s where the misunderstanding begins with mental illness.  “Cheer up.  Think happy thoughts”, we say to someone with clinical depression.  “Meditate to calm your mind.”, we say to someone who is manic.  Do you know what happens when someone in the midst of a manic episode tries to meditate?  They think it’s giving them super powers.  They do it for long periods when they should be sleeping. They talk incessantly about it.

Although there is a growing body of evidence of mind/body dependence, ultimately bipolar begins with the brain, not the mind.  Bipolar is a neurological disorder, not an emotional problem or a mental problem.  Which means that it is actually a brain or neurological illness, not a mental illness…whatever that is.  It’s a illness that does affect our mind, but it is not created by our mind.  At least that’s how I see it.  But to prevent confusion and so as not to have to go on a diatribe every time the word mental is used, I will stick with mental illness.

I saw my doctor today yesterday.  I’m in the habit of saying doctor instead of psychiatrist because it requires no explanation.  I told him I’ve been hypomanic off and on for a few months so he bumped up my lithium another 300 mg. He indicated that it might not be a permanent dose, but I suspect that it will be.  FYI, hypomania is a mild form of mania.  If depression is the downer side of bipolar, mania is the upper side.  Here’s a general list of manic symptoms.  It’s not comprehensive, but it gives the gist of it.

  • Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic or extremely irritable
  • Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers
  • Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic
  • Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up
  • Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next
  • Highly distractible, unable to concentrate
  • Impaired judgment and impulsiveness
  • Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences
  • Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases)

The thing is, I feel that it is some sort of failure to be bumped up in my meds.  I’ve prided myself on how low my doses have been and how well I’ve done, which is absurd if you think about it.  Although there are lifestyle choices I can make which contribute to my mental health, it feels like it’s mainly out of my control.  It was medicine, particularly lithium, which made me well in the first place

Besides the sense of failure, I wonder what the consequences will be.  The dose I was taking with lamictal, geodon, and lithium (all different kinds of mood stabilizers) was slowing down my cognitive function.  It was affecting my job significantly.   My doctor’s solution was for me to go off gluten and take DHA fish oil.  It worked very well.  So will that be enough this time?  It will take a little while before I know that.

But the question of failure is bothersome.  Why do I feel this way?  My first thought is that there’s a lot of pressure on the mentally ill to stay well.  When we don’t, we worry that we are disappointing someone.  That’s a form of failure, and I do believe it is related to this, but it’s not exactly the same.  Perhaps it is simply that my pride is injured.  I’ve written and spoken about how I’m a model bipolar.  I’m compliant, as professionals say.  And yet and I’m struggling to be healthy lately.

I also wonder if this disorder is progressing.  I don’t think it is something I’m doing.  If anything I’m doing more to support my health.  I don’t drink.  I don’t smoke.  I’m eating healthier.  I started swimming again.  But the signs are there.  I’m getting intense.  I’m getting too chatty.  I’m making mountains out of mole hills.  I’m both obsessed and disinterested.  I’m having trouble sleeping.  It’s definitely happening.

When I mentioned to my daughter, who also has bipolar, that I bumped up my lithium because I felt that I was hypomanic over the last few months she said, “Ya think?!!!”  I never realize how obvious it is.

It’s not just mental health issues that people feel bad about.  We feel bad when we have to up our insulin because it means we didn’t manage our diet well.  We feel bad when we have to up our blood pressure medicine because we didn’t manage it well enough.  We feel bad when we need more pain meds for chronic back pain.  We have a love/hate with medicine.  We’re glad that we have it and we hate that we need it.

My meds have radically changed my life mainly for the best.  This formula has worked for me for several years.  I’m afraid to change it, because I’m afraid of losing control again.  But I trust my doctor.  He’s never steered me wrong.  So bump me up, and level me out.

The Shoulder-Shaking-Emphatic-Nodding-Know-it-all-at-Every-Lecture-You’ve-Ever-Attended Guy

know-it-allI recently went with my dad to see the Dallas Symphony’s production of Act 1 of Wagner’s Die Walkure.  We showed up early enough to catch the tail end of a lecture on the opera.  It was a very good lecture, and it has enticed me to want to see more.  Something caught my eye during the lecture.  Something that you will see in every single lecture you attend:  the person who wants everyone to know that they already know a lot about the topic.

This man or woman generally sits where everyone can see them, and perhaps sits up painfully erect possibly on the edge of their seat.  Every little gesture and sound he makes seems to demonstrate himself as exceedingly erudite.   This particular guy was with a female companion who was an accomplice.  It was clear that they had studied and watched and listened to the opera enough to have inside jokes with each other, for they shook their shoulders as they tittered and whispered to each other at the same points in the lecture.  You might see this person nod emphatically throughout a lecture and say mm-hmm aloud a lot.  They will definitely have impressive questions queued up for the end; questions they already think they know the answer to which they ask for the purpose of appearing to teach the lecturer something.

This person really does know a lot about the topic, and wants some sort of recognition for it.  This person wants to be seen as a colleague of sorts with the lecturer; an expert on the level of the true expert.  This it the same person who name drops.  The same kind of person who would go to L.A. to be an actor, take a bunch of acting classes, get one local commercial, come back home, and start referring to Robert De Nero as “Bobby.”

I understand this person because I’ve been this person. And I hate that.  My judgement of that person begins with judgment of myself.  Throughout my college years, I showed off in every way imaginable in class.  I exasperated my professors and my fellow students.  Since, I’ve done it with professional opera singers, professors of voice,  grad students, my daughter’s high school choir directors.  These are all professions I was interested in, which I either didn’t have what it took or I chose not to pursue for practical reasons.  I want those people to know that I might have been them…if only.  It’s a very unattractive behavior, I confess, and I’ve come a long way in overcoming it.  I’m happy with my life now.

And perhaps that is what it comes down to.  Why aren’t we happy with who we are?  Why do we show off?  Why do we misrepresent ourselves?  Regret?  Envy? Dissatisfaction? Insecurity? Validation?  We all struggle with these in our own ways.  We all wonder “what if”.  We all wonder if we’re smart enough or important enough or respected enough.  The truth may be, that over coffee, I would enjoy the guy .  We have a lot in common, after all.  And maybe I’m simply reading it wrong.  Some people are just so enthusiastic that they can’t help themselves.  But I suspect you know the guy I’m talking about.  And if you’ve known me long enough, you definitely know the guy I’m talking about.

I respect people who are devoted to something that they care about, but it’s important to recognize that the guy who did his doctorate dissertation on Wagner deserves a great deal more respect in their field than I do or the shoulder-shaking guy.  The rest of us are just amateur students who love opera,  who either come to a lecture to learn or come to show off.  Honestly?  It’s far more satisfying to learn.  Learning begins with curiosity.  Curiosity begins with admitting when we  don’t know.  And admitting we don’t know begins with humility, which is a hard-earned lesson for most of us.