My new Vox Amp

I have a new toy.
I have been teaching myself to play the guitar. I mean really play it, not just hit the rock power chords of “Freebird” like I did way back when.

The toy? A Vox amPlug Headphone Guitar Amplifier – Classic Rock version.
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It is tiny, about the size of a standard deck of playing cards split in half lengthwise. I plugged it into my Peavey T-15 electric guitar and was amazed at the sound quality. And because I used my MP3 player ear buds I was the only one who could hear it. I can practice without disturbing the rest of the household.
I strummed “Horse With No Name” for bit, and then (ahem) hit the “Freebird” power chords.

Now I have no excuse not to learn to play.

This is so cool!!

Story With No Name, accepted for publication!!

I planned on waiting until I had a new title to announce this acceptance, but that is proving harder than I expected.

My story, formally known as “The Shadow Blade of Thistlethwart”, has been accepted for publication in the “Infinity Swords” anthology from Carnivah House.  I am so jazzed!  I was expecting a rejection and had even picked out the next market to send it to.  The story currently has no name because the editors had one condition: give it a new title.  Easy!  No Problem!

Hah!!

The real ‘gotcha’ for me is that I was never very happy with the original title.  When the story idea occurred to me and the first pages flooded out faster than I could type, I needed something to name the word processing file.  ShadowBladeThistlethwart was what I named it.  Over time as I finished up the first draft of the story I guess I convinced myself that it was a good title.  It was a little cutesy and screamed juvenile fantasy (i.e. Harry Potter), but as a person with a quirky sense of humor I thought the juxtaposition of the title against the backdrop of an opening quote that established a strong science fictional setting was a hoot.  So I left it and did not give it another thought.

Now, I find it is branded into my brain.  I still don’t like it much, but I am afraid that I can’t come up with anything better.  I am likely being too hard on myself.  Yesterday, I gave myself a headache pondering and thinking about it.  All in all, I’d rather be drinking beer.

Which, just to show how sparky and exhausted my brain was, I actually considered using for a title.  “I’d Rather Be Drinking A Beer” was only marginally worse than “Accidental Hero”,  “The Good Evil Does”, and “Yes, Mister Churchill, There Is Such A Thing As Evil.”

Actually that last one has some promise.  It has that quirkiness that makes me grin.

The editors suggested creating something that fit the story’s theme.  Easier said than created.  When I stopped and took time to figure out how I came up with other story titles that I really liked, I realized that all of them just popped into my head at some point.  None of them were created with a conscious thought given to theme or character or plot.

I am going to read through my story a few times and cross my fingers that something pops.  If not, I think I’ll go have a beer.

Review: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

I have had this book on my reading shelf for a few years now. I read it back in high school, and have been meaning to read it again ever since. Because I have set myself the goal of reading all of the Hugo Award winning novels that I have yet to read, I figured I’d kick off the effort by reading this novel again.

This novel consists of three distinct novelettes, portions of which were originally published in the science fiction magazines Galaxy and If. The three stories are appropriately subtitled: “Against stupidity …”, “… the gods themselves …”, “… contend in vain?” It is the middle story that I feel won the Hugo for the good doctor. It is the strongest of the three and rightly lends its title to the overall title of the novel. It is an amazing piece of fiction. The entire story takes place in an alien parallel universe with alien characters, both so different from human experience that when one stops to think about it, you must wonder if Asimov himself was an alien to have even imagined them. As I have said in past reviews, I really love great characterization. With Odeen, Tritt and Dua, Asimov introduces us to alien creatures and then sets about crafting them into people that we care about. I found myself wondering how the climax of the third story was going to impact the parallel universe characters. As a young man, I longed for a sequel that furthered the story of the struggle for communication between our universe and the para-universe.

I have had many people tell me that Asimov is not the greatest science fiction writer of all time because he lacks literary flair. But I contend that he should be considered for the position based on his alacrity and accuracy with words. There are times when reading that many of us finding ourselves backing up to assimilate the meaning of a sentence. Not so with Asimov. I dare say that even the deep science content of this novel can be easily understood the first time by anyone who reads it.

I recommend “The Gods Themselves” as a good introduction to Asimov’s work, especially those who may be daunted by the multi-volume Foundation and Robot series.

Guess Who’s NOT On Time For Dinner?

The recent dearth of posts here at Blogtide Rising is partially due to my participation in a comedic dinner theater production–Guess Who’s NOT On Time For Dinner?
Performing in community theater has been wonderful for me. Not only is it fun, but it has been a great outlet for dealing with work related stress. I was looking forward to this particular production because the author/director wrote my part specifically with me in mind. I think it worked out well. There were times during rehearsals when he and the other actors were laughing at my portrayal of my character.

The play itself was marvelously funny. The author, Delmar Burkitt is a local playwright with two plays published by Elderidge Publishing Company. He enjoys audience participation, and this play had a lot of that. The play takes place within a restaurant that is set up on the stage which is where the audience is seated.  Most of the cast are restaurant staff–with a few customers tossed into the mix. The waiters are actors and we actually took (limited) orders and served the audience their meals. The major acting segments took place prior to drink orders being taken, in between each major meal service, and of course after dessert. The in between times were filled with live entertainment and with the wait-staff actors doing a large amount of improvisation with the customers as we took their orders and served them food and drinks.

I was an overly nervous waiter on his first night working solo. I taught myself how to make my leg shake as if I were terrified; and how to shake a pitcher of iced tea so the ice would rattle while I was pouring yet still keeping the spout steady so that I really didn’t spill anything (the trick is to shake up and down, not side to side). I had a brown paper bag that I hyperventilated into when a (fake) tray of drinks was dropped by one of the other actors.  Other cast members playing the waiters were a young lady with a *fake* cold, a forgetful gentleman, a bookworm, a chatterbox, a college student studying forensics, a klutz, a music lover with headsets constantly blaring music, and finally a multiple personality disorder sufferer who decides to experiment by not taking his medicine before starting work.

The ad libs were wonderful, especially those of Woody Roll who played multiple personalities hilariously. The live entertainment was real, and was necessary to give the audience a chance to eat because as long as the actors were on stage interacting with them, very little food was eaten. Boone Brabson and Nancy Cupp performed several popular country songs including “Margaritaville“, “Luckenbach, Texas” and “Crazy”.

It was tremendous fun, and Delmar was even asked to take the show on the road to Circleville, but he declined. It will be some time before I can be in another of Delmar’s productions. He is writing a play for the Waverly High School Drama Club, and won’t start on his next community theater project until after he recovers from that.

As always, Delmar’s productions are for charity and this time the beneficiary was the Waverly Enrichment Group.

Sending Out Stories…

One would think that a natural outcome of writing a story is to send it out for publication. Not so. It is very difficult, at least for me, to finally admit that a story is ready to go out. I am not confident in my skills as a writer, and I have this big urge to just let a story sit until I am confident in my skills, and can give it that final revision that will make the story the best that it can be. But when is that day going to arrive?

I have a large backlog of partial, rough draft, and nearly finished stories as a result. I may not be the best writer that I am eventually going to be, but the time has come to be brave and just send out stories and find out if any professional editors think I have what it takes.

I actually decided this back in November 2007. I immediately sent “The Journey” to Every Day Fiction with the full expectation of a swift rejection. The idea was to prime the pump, get the ball rolling, show some pluck… and to remember what it was like to get rejected. Well, they accepted it instead.

Today I sent off another story; fully expecting rejection. I did at least five final revisions of it. Yesterday evening I was thinking of another tweak I could make, and realized that I was just delaying. It is just fine as is, and perhaps the tweak would make it better, but perhaps it would make it worse. As you can see, sometimes I over think things.

I have some other stories that need some more revision, and I am going to get busy with them. One has a fast approaching deadline. I guess my point of this entry is that I am not going to obsess on trying to get the stories as perfect as they could ever be. I am going to simply get them to be as good as my current skill set will allow, learn from the process, and then send out more stories.

Personal Writing Challenges (part 1)

I have been giving myself personal writing challenges to force myself to not slip into procrastination. I have a small list of exercises, topics and stuff that I can fall back on when the creative juices dry up.

One of the exercises is to take something I have written for work (where passive voice is encouraged) and revise it into the active voice. (i.e. “The design was implemented by the lead programmer. The coding was finished early.” became “Our lead programmer coded the patch in record time.”) However, one item on my list demanded that I look into situations where the passive voice is appropriate.

In a blog entry on “voice”, author and high school teacher James Van Pelt described his favorite passive voice sentence used by one of his students. “My eyes were opened by me.” (BTW his blog is a treasure trove of good stuff for those of us who had our self esteem smashed flat by our own high school creative writing teachers. But that is a different blog topic.) I laughed out loud and I decided then and there that I would take that sentence and use it as the center piece for my passive voice story exercise. It took a month and a half for a story idea to form around that single passive sentence. Once the idea was in mind, it took less than twenty minutes to hammer out the first draft in long hand. I have been refining it for the past two weeks. The majority of the story is purposely in the passive voice because of the situation of the main character. The story deals with physically opening ones eyes, not with a metaphorical or spiritual “eye opening” experience. The character opening his own eyes, instead of having someone open them for him, is key to the plot.

As is typical for me, it is a science fiction story. I have decided that I am going to send it into one of the big three SF magazines; which is something I haven’t done with a full blown story for nearly 25 years; mainly because of that creative writing class in high school, but also because I am a procrastinator. Back in the late 1990’s I did send out “The Journey” my flash story that EDF published in November, but that was just a whimsy, I haven’t sent anything else out to a fiction publisher.

I am expecting a rejection. The story is in the passive voice after all, and just because I think it works does not mean that a professional editor will. But there is a chance they will agree with me.

(Thing #94)

Tales, Gossip and Scandals of 1850

Our town kicks off the fall holidays with a celebration called Jingle Bell Weekend. Craft shows, mini concerts, social gatherings and a parade in downtown are hallmarks of this outpouring of community spirit and good cheer. In recent years there has been a walking Lantern Tour of the historic neighborhoods of Waverly, Ohio. This year’s performance was last night, November 17th, 2007. The first stop of the tour provides hot drinks and cookies to those participating. Stationed along the route are actors that entertain the crowd and provide historic information about the town. Taken together, the performances at each stop make up a complete play. The performance was titled “Tales, Gossip and Scandals of 1850”.

This was my first year participating as an actor. I was one of the lucky actors that made up the “town council meeting” segment, and spent the evening indoors with the refreshments. Most of the troupe spent the evening outdoors while the temperature dropped from a comfortable 50 degrees to just above freezing. Still, most people said it was the best weather a Lantern Tour has had for the past couple of years. This year had the largest audience the tour has ever had, and the organizers broke them up into manageable sized groups for the space available at each stop. We performed our parts of the play four times during the evening.

Acting is fun. I think I do a good job as a community theater player. After most performances I have audience members approach me and tell me what a fine job I did. It is a real ego boost (like I need one!) The best part for me is when I get direct reaction from the audience during the performance. This year I got a good laugh as the town council chairman when I merely rolled my eyes and slumped my shoulders as another character repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.

After our last performance we, the town council actors, shadowed the last group of tour participants around to each stop. The crowd was laughing at each performance, and so was I. Most of these actors will also be in a mystery dinner theater play I am in. That play will be performed in early December 2007. They are a fun bunch of people to work with.

This performance is part of my 101 Things to do in 1001 Days list.  Scratch Thing #22. Give 101% into performance for Jingle Bell skit.