STILL HOME – STILL READING

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Here we are in mid-May 2020, and I have been working from home for a solid two months. It sounds like I will work from home until the end of June 2020, though upper management states it may be longer than that. I work for one of the largest counties in Oregon (my day job). Before joining the county, I worked from home for several years, so the transition has been mostly seamless. What is different this go around, is the schools are closed, as you know,  thus I have to work and home school my children (my wife is a registered nurse who is still seeing patients). Frankly, this is a major pain in the ass. I have always appreciated teachers, and feel that they are under-paid, and this last couple of months has only confirmed this understanding of what they provide for our children. Thank you teachers! Side note: my daughter’s teacher stopped by the house today to see how she was doing and to drop off her supplies she had in her desk. How awesome is that? She rocks!

I thought I would have more free time during the pandemic stay at home, but in my case this has not been the reality. I haven’t been unproductive, in fact I have been working on several projects around the house. Besides trying to tame my wild yard during Oregon spring (way too much growth), my wife and I have been working on re-landscaping our backyard to fix some seasonal issues, add a fire pit with seating, and an outdoor living space for summer. There have been several hours of final edits and preparation to publish my dystopian short story, We Were Like Brothers” (now available on Amazon). Rounding out my non-reading activities, I’ve been binging Master Classes. A couple of writing courses by Judy Blume and Joyce Carol Oates and a cooking course by Gordon Ramsey. As a life-long learner, I love Master Classes, and I can’t wait to take classes by some of the best writers of our modern age, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, James Patterson, and others.

So what have I been reading the last six weeks? Since February, my reading list has been fiction heavy, so I have worked more non-fiction into my reading rotation. I usually try to have one non-fiction book in play, a fiction audio book, and a fiction eBook. Not that my opinion matters, but as Stephen King says, to be a talented writer you need to be a diligent reader (or something to that effect). I’ll take it one step further in saying that you need a balanced approach to reading, non-fiction and fiction. I read non-fiction to gain insight into people or influential persons. To understand people is not only fascinating, but helpful in writing characters.


I don’t know about you, but with everything going on in my life, I find I am listening to more and more audible books. I can listen in the car, while I mow the yard, or while at work. I have been listening to Audible for several years now, as well as downloading audio books from my local library using OverDrive. If you can’t get the book you want at the library, check out Audible. (Full disclosure … I get a cup of coffee if you use this link.)


Non-Fiction

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London” by James L. Haley

Click for Synopsis.

Wow! Jack London lived an amazing, though brief life. I admittedly didn’t know that much about Jack London. What an interesting person, full of adventure and overcoming setbacks. Before he turned twenty, he had experienced life well beyond his years. There are things in this book, that by the author’s account, aren’t in other biographies about Jack London. I’ll let you read the book to find out for yourself. I will say this about the book. The author seemed to drag out some periods of Jack’s life that could have been told in a more concise manner. That sums up the book, lots of significant information and stories about one of the greatest American authors, that could have been told in a less drawn out fashion. It was hard to stay with the slow parts, but Jack London is larger than life and that motivated me to press on.


Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom” by Thomas E. Ricks 

Click for Synopsis.

I enjoyed the comparison between these two men Winston Churchill and George Orwell. I knew little about Winston Churchill, so learning about him, beyond the generic brevity of information, was intriguing. George Orwell has been a favorite author of mine since I was a teenager. I wish he lived longer, as he was just into his best work before he died in his late 40s. I didn’t know his actual name was Eric Blair. As I mentioned earlier, the comparison between these two men, during the lead up to WWII, the war itself, and post WWII was fascinating.


Fascism: A Warning” by Madeleine K. Albright. [Currently Reading]

Click for Synopsis.

I don’t have a lot to say about this book as I am still reading it. I will say I am enjoying the book, and the description of Benito Mussolini’s rise to power and mannerisms remind me of someone who occupies the White House. It concerns me about the similarities between the 1930s and our current situation.


Fiction

Path of the Assassin (Scot Harvath #2)” by Brad Thor 

Click for Synopsis.

I am only two novels into the Scot Harvath series by Brad Thor, but I am totally hooked. What a brilliant character and intriguing storylines. I will definitely ride this series to the end. There is something that sits with me as… well, silly. That is the best way I can describe it, but it is also common for books of this genre (unless written in the last few years). Scot Harvath (which you have to attribute to the author and it has been in both books) constantly thinks about how the female character he has teamed up with on the mission is the ‘most attractive woman he has ever seen’. I think we all recognize and enjoy seeing an attractive person, but it seems over the top. Other than that, two books in, I really am enjoying this series.


The Darkest Path” by Jeff Hirsch. [Currently Reading]

Click for Synopsis.

I am only about a third of the way into this novel, so I’ll talk more about it in another post. I will say I like the story so far.


If you want to stay current with what I am reading, please visit my Goodreads profile.

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Progress On My Debut Novel – Post 3

happy-new-year-2020-wishes-and-greetings-4

“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
Ernest Hemingway

I wish you all the best in 2020. I am not one for resolutions, but I do set loose goals for myself that I’ll track throughout the year. Last year had mixed results, but more positive results than less favorable. Professionally, in my day job, I settled into working in a government position. My focus has been learning that job, as I am hoping it is the job that will take me into my retirement career as an author. While learning the job, I got a promotion into a position that will fit my lifestyle and within my goals very nicely — all good things. Plus, I get a three-day weekend every other week.

We have been making steady progress upgrading our house; this process will carry on for a while, as we have the time and budget to complete the work. This year we are well on our way to replacing the floors — no more carpet.

Being a veteran and a student of history has taught me the importance of being prepared for emergencies. Being prepared for a natural disaster or other emergencies has become essential to my family and me over the last couple of years. I don’t go crazy about it, but a little thought into what situations you are most likely to face in your area will guide you towards the basics of what you should have on hand to be prepared. Living in Oregon, we don’t have natural disasters as often as other parts of the country, but there is still the possibility. Researching the best methods and items to be prepared for our situation has been useful not only on a personal level but helpful for my WIP as well. We did well last year in filling out the basics in our plan; this year, we want to work on fulfilling the items that would be considered ‘nice to have.’

As for my writing goals – last year, I got serious about my writing (it was about mid-year when it kicked in), where I was able to prioritize writing daily. I am not at the point in my WIP where word count is a useful metric for tracking progress, as I have been working on my outline and research. While I do note my word count, it is hours that I am focused on tracking. This year my minimum goal is to work on writing activities for 10 hours a week or 520 hours per year, the equivalent of a part-time job. I hope to exceed this, but this is an achievable goal. Once I get into writing the first draft, I’ll focus on time and word count. My top goal for 2020 is to finish my first novel to the point of being ready for publishing. I have set small goals to work towards the prime objective, but I won’t bore you with them now.

As for where I stand in my current WIP – I am about 50% through a detailed outline that is closer to a first draft without the narrative and dialog. After doing research and putting some thought into the work I have completed to date, I am going back and revising much of the first 50% before finishing the outline. I am focused on inserting scenes to set up events in books two and three. I am adding scenes for characters who I want to have a more prominent role, changing POV for scenes, and rearranging scenes for a better pace. I don’t view these changes as a setback; I consider it part of the learning process and an opportunity to improve the quality of the novel. Either way, it has been an enjoyable way to spend time.

I hope you had a successful 2019, and I wish you an even more successful 2020. Happy New Year.

Progress On My Debut Novel – Post 02

Thank you for joining me on my journey of writing my debut novel, which is the first book of a planned trilogy that falls somewhere on the spectrum of dystopian and urban survival. You can follow my more frequent updates on Instagram.

Straight up, September had mixed results but was positive overall. After spending the summer developing a habit of writing daily and working on main character development; I had a working plan of using September to do the Outline, and the final three months of the year to write the first draft with a 90,000-word target.

At the end of September, I was only about 40% of the way through the outline. I can tell you it was not from lack of working on it or putting my writing time in; I have been tracking time and word count daily. I don’t feel good about missing the September outline target, but I perfectly fine with my effort and the quality. It is not worth beating myself up over it. Looking back, it was an unrealistic goal. The kids started school and require more time in the evening, plus with my work schedule, I can only dedicate about an hour a night to writing. I got my writing hour in most nights with the occasional night missed due to family time. I do get more writing time on the weekends.

The outline is far more detailed than I expected. Keep in mind, this is my first time through the process. The scenes I outline are not in bullet point form, I free write what happens in the scene within the three-act structure. I don’t worry about narrative, and only add dialogue if I think of something good, that I don’t want to forget. The good news is this will help make for a smooth first draft. The reality of this is I am under absolutely no deadline, and I would prefer the quality is good, over quantity. As long as I know I am writing regular and getting the work in, I am okay with it.

My revised goal is to get 10 quality hours of work in a week. Super doable (1 hour each work night, and 1.5 hours on weekend days; if I can’t do a night during the week, it is easy to make up on the weekend). This will be the plan through the outline phase of my WIP. As long as I get in the work, and what I am creating is of quality, then I see that as a success.