Proppian Fairy Tale Generator

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Yes, the internet has automated everything, even writing fairy tales.

Of course, there’s no telling how good it will actually be, but the Proppian Fairy Tale Generator lets you select a few major elements from a checklist and then, well,  generates a fairy tale, automagically.  Granted, it does take a lot of the, um, fun of actually writing and discovering characters and story out of the process, but, c’mon, admit it; when that writer’s block hits, don’t you wish it was this easy?  Just point and click your way to creativity and produce work?  Well, maybe not, but it did seem like an amusing diversion.

Pratchett Prize

posted in: Contests | 0

Do you write “speculative fiction”?

Is your novel set on an alternate Earth?

Are you a current resident of the UK?

Could you use some money?

If you answered “yes” to all of those questions, and can submit your work before the end of the year, you may want to check out the Terry Pratchett Prize, as discussed on IO9.  Actually, it seems like a great deal and an interesting contest, though, I have to admit, I’m a little saddened by the residency requirements.  Still, being able to start your career by saying you just won the Pratchett Prize seems like getting started on the right foot!

Expression and Creativity

posted in: On Creativity | 0

“My crackpot theory is that people are losing their skill to express themselves, and they’re, in a way, farming that task out. If they want to express themselves they buy a song or they buy a greeting card that’s already processed by someone who’s kept that skill. We can’t express our own feelings anymore so we have to hire someone to do that.” —Chuck Palahniuk

I saw this on Lou O’Bedlam’s Tumblr.
It rang true for me, though, especially because I struggle with expression.  Not just emotions and not just my own.  Trying to express myself and struggling to understand other’s attempts at self-expression is a major issue for me, mainly because the creative impulse has driven me and much of who I am since I can remember.

Only, I fell into this trap Palahniuk talks about.  I’ve let the skill atrophy, lately, and I feel the need to exercise those creative muscles again.

Actually, there’s a lot of back story to that, especially this week, but I think that’ll go into my other blog, Diary of a Network Geek.

Perfect Timing

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Timing, I have been told, is everything.
I believe that’s mostly true, but, not, perhaps, in the way, I think, most people mean.

I spent most of my Tuesday this week with a dear friend who waited with me while I tried very hard not to think about a CT scan I was getting.  I’m a cancer survivor.  That seems a little ominous and, maybe, just a bit scary, too, at least to me.  But, go ahead, read it again.  Read it out loud.
“Cancer Survivor”.
It’s a title that, frankly, makes me uncomfortable.  When people hear that, they seem to think that I did something, something special, to earn that title.  They assume I was somehow braver or stronger or, well, or I don’t know what.  They seem to think that being a survivor somehow has imbued me with some kind of special skill or insight into survivability, or worse, spirituality.  But, mostly, it just means I didn’t die.

I did come close, though.  Quite close, as it turns out.
I tried to pretend that my wracking cough was getting better, that I didn’t really need to see a doctor, until things had gotten so bad, that, by the time I got to see an oncologist, she checked me into the hospital instead of letting me go home.  And, that, I think, was pretty damn good timing.
I was never actually told what “stage” I was, but I suspect that it was at least stage four, which is about like saying, “Well, he’s young, so maybe the treatment won’t kill him.  If he survives that, he might, possibly, make it through.”  I’m really rather glad no one told me what stage I was at, because I don’t think it would have helped me to know.  In fact, I think it might have worked against me if I’d known that my life was hanging by a cancerous thread.
Instead, though, I got it in my head that God wasn’t done with me yet, that I had some purpose yet to fulfill.  Based on that logic, I quite possibly will out-live my sibling’s children, because I certainly feel like I have so much to do and not nearly enough hours in the day to accomplish most of it.

One of the ways that cancer changed me is that I think about death more.
For a man my age, not quite forty-two at the time of this writing, it is, perhaps, a bit unusual to contemplate my own mortality quite so much.  My judgment is that people find it off-putting to hear me contemplate hour and means of my own death.  But, you see, doing that serves as a reminder that time is short.  The end is always near!
The Writer’s Almanac for June 2, 2010, the day after I had my scan, the day after I was forced to again confront my own mortality, had an entry about Barbara Pym.  Follow that link and read the section on Ms. Pym.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I love reading about reversals of fortune like that.  I love hearing that people have toiled in relative obscurity for years, simply doing what they love, only to have someone finally see them and recognize the quality of their work and finally steer success to their door.  What I love most about this particular story is that she had a few of those very successful years and then she died, quite suddenly from the sound of things in the article.  From cancer.
And, synchronicity with my own cancer scare aside, that sounds like perfect timing to me!  I can only hope that I leave this world at the top of my game, with people who matter to me celebrating me and enjoying me and my work.  In my mind, that’s precisely the time to punch life’s time-clock for the last time.

I’ll be honest, when I read that Writer’s Almanac thumbnail of Barbara Pym’s life, I teared up.  I don’t think of myself as an overly sentimental person, though people who know me may disagree, but this got to me.  Maybe it was the cancer connection and how recently I was forced to acknowledge its continuing presence in my life.  I don’t know really and I suppose it doesn’t really matter, except that it frightened me a little.
It frightened me because I’m not at the top of my game, not at all.
I do try to live every day consciously, aware that we never really know when it will be our last.  But, I have to be real about it, I really am not ready to shuffle off this mortal coil just yet.  Not this week, not today.

So, what does that mean to me?
Well, it’s time.  Time I owned up to the fact that if I want my life to be different, then I have to live it differently.  I’ve been telling people that this week.  Because it’s true, and because I want it to be true.  I need it to be true.
I know, change only comes one, small step at a time, but I really, really need it to start happening.
There are rewards for change, of course, if we manage it correctly.  Promises that God makes to us, not about what we’ll get, but how we’ll feel.  I got those this week, too.  In this case, it was in the form of wildlife in my very own backyard.  Things that are difficult for me to capture in photographs, but that sat still for me while I got my gear and got set up and took the shot.  An anole.  A tree frog.  A crane.  Three different days.  Three different creatures.  Three messages from God telling me that the change is happening, even if I can’t always see it.
My timing was perfect, to capture those images, to survive cancer, to remember how precious all life is, even mine.

There are no coincidences and God’s timing is always perfect, even if I don’t always see it, at first.

I Don’t Want To Do This Anymore

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I’m tired of my life.

I’d like to stop it now, and get off, please.  Maybe I could ride another ride instead?  I’ve spent the weekend doing laundry and keeping all my long-term commitments.  I have bills to pay and tomorrow I have to go into work to keep making the money to make them.  I’m part-way through doing my church’s prayer list for the prayer team, for which I’ve been forced into a leadership role very much against my wishes.  And I’ve spent more time this weekend being an encouraging friend to several female friends.  Worst of all, in a week, I’ll be getting my internal organs bathed in radioactive soup to see if my cancer has come back or not.

I don’t want to do this any more.
I don’t want to be that guy that’s French-kissed the Grim Reaper and lived to tell the tale.  I don’t want to live in this soft, middle-aged body that’s been wrapped in too much fat from all the wrong food.  I don’t want to be that guy women go to for advice about their men.
I want to drink myself blind and skip work.  I want to go to a different church where no one knows me or expects anything of me.  I want to be the guy who camps and skis and rides motorcycles.  I want to be the guy who wakes up next to that woman so beautiful that your heart aches to see her, especially when she doesn’t know you’re watching and is totally un-self-conscious.

I want my life to be virtually effortless and filled with passion and joy.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.  It really seems like I work hard, but I just get more tired and further behind.  I go deeper into debt just to stay alive, or at least to know that I’m not going to die too soon.
But, I can’t help but think, what’s the point?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not contemplating suicide or anything so extreme as all that.  I’m just stuck.  And tired.  This isn’t the life I was planning on leading.  Ten years ago, or more, I had a plan, a direction, a map for getting to the life I thought I wanted, needed, to have.  As it turns out, ten years is a long time and a lot can go wrong and it did.  I’ve become a stranger to myself.  Someone I never intended to be.  I don’t know how I got here.  Sometimes, I feel like this life is an ill-fitting suit I’ve been forced to wear.  I just wish it were as easy to take off sometimes.

So, how do you reinvent yourself?
How do you become someone new, someone you want to be?
I know only that I don’t know, and that this week, I want to be someone other than who I am.

Finding Freedom Through A Lost Notebook

I’ve lost my idea net.

For more than a year, I’ve carried a small, black Moleskine and a pen to, theoretically, record all my creative ideas so I don’t “lose” any of them and can use them later.  At first, I faithfully used it every day to capture every crazy, wild idea that popped into my head.  Some of them were actually not bad.  Well, the whole “Biblical zombie army vs. a modern Templars” thing that came to me in the middle of scripture at church had some real potential.  Honest!  But, I will grant that some of the junk that built up there like chaotic, creative sedimentary rock was just silly.  Even that was okay, though, because it might have been mined for comedy gold at some point.
The real problem was that they never left that notebook.

See, that’s the thing.  I was great at recording the crazy ideas, but, frankly, I was terrible at getting them past that point.  It was great that I could get them down and feel like I wasn’t losing them to my Swiss-cheese, middle-aged brain, but, what’s the point?  I mean, if I never take those ideas and bring them to full-fledged projects.  Honestly, I’d settle for incomplete projects at this point, because even that would be something more than just scribbled fragments of plot, or character sketches or even just semi-random titles.  It would be progress toward something.
Look, I dream of being “creative”.  I fantasize about it like a day-dreaming school-boy.  I practically fetishize it!  But, it’s gotten to the point that I’m not even sure what I mean any more.  I know that ideas swirl around me like a swarm of gnats on a hot Texas night.  There’s an endless supply!  All I have to do is swat them!

What’s the missing ingredient?  In a word, execution.
Ideas are great and all, but what good do they do?  Everyone has ideas.  Ask any author and they’ll give you seemingly endless stories about fans who come to them with the same crazy plan.  The fan as a “brilliant idea” that they’ll “give” to the author, who will do all the grunt work of actually, you know, writing it up into a story, and for that invaluable “gift” the fan will split the proceeds with the author, who, of course, has the easy part of the deal.
But, anyone who actually does bring ideas from their raw state to a finished product knows that it’s just the opposite.  Ideas are free for the taking.  All you have to do is reach into your subconscious and fish one out.  The real trick is making them happen.  Taking anyone of those ideas and actually executing them, actually developing an end-product, is the real skill that separates a dreamer from a true creative.

So, now, I’ve got a choice.  I can get another notebook to endlessly fill with loose ideas, that may never actually get turned into something worth sharing.  Or, I can start focusing on actually producing something.
I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to make the shift, but I want to do more than just fantasize about creating.  I suppose I should follow the advice I give other people who are stuck and just be willing to make some bad starts so that I can eventually get to creating something I’m happy to share.

Sometimes, it’s better to make a bad start than not to start at all.

That Moleskine Isn’t Going To Fill Itself!

posted in: On Creativity | 0

So, you’ve got a notebook.  Great.  Now what?

It seems every creative person, or every person who fancies themselves as creative, has a notebook.  Mine happens to be a Moleskine, which are very popular, but yours may be something else.  It doesn’t matter, really, what it is, because they all serve the same purpose.  To be filled with ideas for later development.  Is it?

What are you writing in your Moleskine?  What fills your sketchbook?
Of course, the obvious answer is that you do, but that’s not what I mean.  What inspires you?  For ages now, I’ve carried that little, black notebook in my pocket, much to the amusement of some of my friends, jotting down the odd bit of intellectual fluff that gets stuck on the brier patch of my mind.  In some ways, I fill my notebook with those mental irritants that I need to scrape loose so I can think about other things.  Sometimes, it’ll be quotes or odd phrases that I jot down.  Other times, it’s titles or names.  Occasionally, whole paragraphs of thought will squeeze their way between those black covers.  Mostly, my Moleskine is filled with the flotsam and jetsam of an over-active mind that washes up on that paper shore.  Things I think might lead somewhere or that I might eventually use, either in a story or a blog post.

But, the thing is, only the things I actually bother to record there are what fill the pages.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter so much what it is, as long as it’s something I find interesting or important or worth tracking.  One day, I hope to actually, you know, use those things, which is why I record them, but, at least it’s a step.  For many of us, who long to be more actively creative, recording even the smallest bits of our creativity is the first, most important step to actually producing something.

Of course, everyone will find different things to fill up their notebooks or sketchbooks, Moleskine or otherwise.  But, only if they work at it consistently.
So, now, what are you waiting for?  Get to work!

The Idea Net


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Do you feel ideas slipping away?

I remember reading that ideas were as common as dirt and came in an endless supply. And, when I was younger, that seemed to be true. I never worried about losing an idea or not having enough ideas. But, things change. I’m not sure if it’s old age, or the side effects of the chemotherapy from my cancer treatment a couple years ago, but I noticed that I was having a hard time keeping all my best ideas around long enough to let them grow up. They were just never maturing into full-fledged stories or art projects or even blog posts. So, what to do?

Well, I had several really nice Moleskine notebooks that I’d been given or purchased, but that sat unused because I was waiting to fill them with wisdom or insight or lofty thoughts on deep, meaningful subjects. The only problem is that I never had those thoughts. I had common, every day thoughts that didn’t seem hardly worth the smooth, buttery, acid-free paper in a Moleskine. Until I finally decided that it was better to capture my ideas, no matter how insignificant they seemed, rather than let the notebooks go to waste.

Now, almost a year after starting to use this technique, I still carry that notebook with me.  I still capture the odd thought or bit of information that I don’t want to lose.  But, I find that I’m still not using them.  In the end, all these techniques are well and good and I could probably write a very successful book about capturing ideas in many, many ways, especially for the burgeoning writer, but, until I start actually using them, well, capturing them doesn’t seem to do much good, does it?

So, how do you capture your thoughts?  More importantly, how do you turn those ideas snagged in your “idea net” into something more?

Three Little Words

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Yeah, you know which three little words I mean.

And, no, I am not going to say them, write them or even think them too hard.
But, I’ll tell you why.  You see, as much as I enjoy them, words don’t mean a thing.  Especially those three words which seem to mean so much to so many people who can’t ever hear them enough.  Those words have been used as tools.  Tools to get what the speaker wants from whomever they speak those meaningless words to with no weight behind them.  I’ve heard them spoken so many times by people who need something from me, want something from me, that they aren’t even sharp tools any more.  They’re rusty and corroded and they could use a little oil because they squeak when they rub up against each other.  Too many times I’ve heard those three words, spoken by someone who wasn’t even aware that she needed something from me so that I don’t trust those words any more.  They’re far too easy to say and way too hard to mean.
Worse, I’ve used those words that way myself.  I’ve said them not knowing if I meant them, but knowing only that who I was with wanted to hear them.  That’s what I thought they were for, to give someone what they needed or thought they needed.  That was more important than actually meaning anything.  Getting and giving.  That was my only compass, my only guide.  What did I need to get and what did I have to give to get it?  Three insignificant words.  Three one-syllable words.  What harm could it do?

Most of the time, I didn’t even need to hear one of them.
If you say it right, the first word is implied.  When spoken, those other two words can only be directed at someone else, someone close.  The problem is, physical proximity and real intimacy aren’t the same thing at all.  There’s a lesson no number of words  can teach.  At least, not to me.  Not even the same two or three words repeated over and over and over make up for any lack of real trust, real empathy.   And, really, if everything else is right, only one word matters.  Probably not even the one you might imagine.  I remember hearing that the most magical thing you can say to someone is their name.  Not that anyone’s done it, but I imagine the most intimate thing a woman could do is to stand toe-to-toe with me, look me in the eye without fear or guilt or guile and just whisper my name.  Short of that, and something that has, thankfully, happened, would be to just start or end a sentence with a whispered personal pronoun.  And, yes, the whisper is a pretty important, because, again, it adds the required intimacy that makes even that most generic personal pronoun beautiful to hear.  But, you know, I’ve never told anyone I was with that, even though I’ve whispered a name or two my own self.

But, true intimacy doesn’t need the words, not really.
And, before you get too far down the road there Mario Andretti, just throttle back on where your mind is racing because when I use the word “intimacy” I don’t necessarily mean physical intimacy.  Granted, I’ve used the three words in question to advance my agenda toward the physical, but that’s far from the limit of their utility for expression.  The Greeks had words for all kinds of emotions and intimacies, for degrees of friendship and levels of romantic entanglement.  And, I can honestly say the three words that everyone eventually wants to hear to people who I’d really rather not see naked.  I’m not sure that was always true, but, you know, growth happens.  I don’t know how it works for anyone else, but my growth always includes pain at some point.  If it doesn’t start with it, or end with it, then the pain is all along the way.  My personal growth from the place where I could only say those three words in the hope of sweaty, vigorous, “Biblical” exercise, to mix a metaphor, to a place where I might say those words to someone not hoping and wishing for them to return the feeling has been filled with and punctuated by more pain than I thought possible for a single person to feel.  Some of it was even physical.  But, that’s what it takes, or so the judge told me.  Okay, maybe she didn’t really tell me that, but I think one of the lawyers did.  Or my therapist at the time.  Someone, anyway.
Not that I know much about it, really.  Intimacy, I mean.  The non-physical kind.  Not that I’d imply any special knowledge of the physical kind either, but, frankly, I think that’s easier than the other.  It’s mechanical.  A skill that can be learned, refined.  Something that they print manuals for, like a home-study course in small engine repair or locksmithing.  And, yes, it is something I’ve spent a little time working on.  It’s not the most measurable skill, but, still, it’s easier to gauge that than how good I am at intimacy, friendly or otherwise.  I mean, I’m not bragging or anything, because, I’m not claiming to be anything better than average, even when I was at my most “connected”.
But, that’s not the point and I digress…

I get all wrapped up in the words and start to think they’re what’s important.
But, really, I’d rather see how someone feels about me, than hear it.  And, I’d rather show it, than say it.
I hope I do.  I hope the people who matter know when I take panicked phone calls in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, why I pick up.  I hope it’s clear to them why I fix their computers, when I don’t really work on my own after getting home at the end of the day.  Why I’ll make their wireless network sing, when my home network limps along.  I hope they understand that I can’t say the words, but can find the money to buy lunch, even though sometimes, my bills are late.  I pray the know why I hold back the words I do, not just those three, but the other words, the harsher truth, sometimes, when I don’t think that’s what they need to hear.  I pray, too, that those people I can’t say those three words to, for fear of being rejected, know why I cover shared pain with jokes, even the dark jokes, sometimes.
Most of all, I hope that all my interactions with the people who matter most to me show what I can’t say.  That every minute we spend together is about why they’re still there in the first place, why I haven’t burned that bridge after burning so many in my life.

I wish I could say those three words instead.  It’d be easier.  But, as much as I enjoy words and using them, they don’t mean much.  Not compared to how I live and how I teat the people who mean the most to me.
So, I hope they know how I feel about them, without me saying it.
Or, those three, little words.

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