Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Make Good Art"

Very strange. I thought I had scheduled this thing to post yesterday, but I didn't, I set it for Tuesday, instead. I wasn't here yesterday. We went to Massachusetts for a wedding, a lovely affair, and a totally knew experience for me: the bride is of Cambodian descent, and we got to participate in a very different ceremony from what we're used to here in the west. And when I say 'participate', I mean it truly, it was a highly-participatory event, and a bit of pity on the bride and groom who had to do a lot of kneeling, and undergo a multi-day ceremony that involved at least five different outfits each. But it was a beautiful ceremony, a lot of fun, and great food, too.

Anyway, if you haven't seen this, the above video is Neil Gaiman delivering the commencement address for the University of the Arts Class of 2012. It's 20 minutes long and well worth it, in my opinion. I'm not even going to give a "Too long; didn't read" version like I did on my Facebook page, because I think you should just go ahead and watch. And listen. I will say thanks to S.E. Sinkhorn, because I came across it on her blog.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Writing with the King

First off, big thanks to everyone who commented on my post earlier this week. The question, can you get away with a character who doesn't change? drew many interesting responses. And this may be one of these things where I have to take another look at the story and character in question, and see if he does, in fact change on a level that I don't notice, or not. And if not, can I get away with it? This story is firmly on the backburner. Parallel Lives is still in query mode, and my second book is 'finished' in a rough drafty sort of way, so I may be looking for something to work on, and that story could be it. Although there is something else that has been bubbling on the stove in the back room of my mind for a while, and the aroma has been wafting out into the main room at times, so I may have something else to start soon, we'll see. I appreciate the comments, as always.

Last weekend I found myself spending forty minutes in front of a Youtube video of Stephen King giving a talk at George Mason University last fall, when he was honored with received the Mason Award for "extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public." King was funny and self-deprecating, had some interesting tales of life on book tour, talked a little bit about his process, and poked fun at the audience—but in a good way. "You don't get out much, do you?" he asked at one point. And then, later, "You're out on Friday night because of books. Clap! Books! The most potent weapon against the assholes of the world – books!"

He also read an excerpt: not from what was then going to be his soon-to-be published novel, 11/22/63 (which I recommend, by the way), nor for his Dark Tower 4.5: The Wind Through the Keyhole, but from what will be his next novel (or maybe the one after that), called Dr. Sleep. This is the continuation of the story of Danny Torrance, last seen as a six-year old being chased around the Overlook hotel by ghosts and his insane father in The Shining. The story picks up with Danny as a middle-aged man, and is scheduled for a 2013 release.

During the reading, King showed exactly what makes him so good at what he does. At least in my opinion. I realize not everyone likes him. The piece he read was about the antagonists of his story, a group he called The Tribe (and, from reading the description of Dr. Sleep on King's website, I think this name may have changed since then. Ah, the drafting process). There are two things about this piece that I love so much. First, King has a way for delving deep—into the ordinary. He goes on at length about The Tribe, also known as the RV people, a group of mostly old people who roam the countryside in their Recreational Vehicles. He goes on for several pages describing these people, and it's perfect, because we've all seen them, anyone who's traveled on the turnpikes and interstates of this country have seen them, and you know them. Consider this passage:

"Gas hogs driven by bespectacled Golden Oldies hunched over the wheel, gripping it like they think it's going to fly away"…. "The men wearing floppy golf hats or long-billed fishing caps. The women in stretch pants—always powder blue—and shirts that say things like 'Ask me about my grandchildren' or 'Jesus is King' or 'Happy Wanderer.' You'd rather go half a mile down the road to the Waffle House or Shoney's because you know they'll take forever to order, mooning over the menu because you know they'll always want the Quarter pounder without the pickles, or their Whoppers without the sauce."
And you know these people! You've seen them! You've gotten stuck behind them, on the highway and in the rest area. You've seen them 'mooning over the menu', and paying separately, each one reaching into their little change purses and counting out to the penny while the line builds up and you think about how much time you're losing while you're stuck here.

And then, because King is King, he turns it on its head: 
"And, if you happen to be one of those unfortunate people who has ever lost a kid--nothing left but a bike in a vacant lot down the street, or a little cap lying in the bushes at the edge of a nearby stream--you probably never thought about them, did you?" 
Brilliant. With that twist, the entire tone of the piece changes. It starts as a slightly mocking—but affectionate—poke at elderly travelers and veers into the land of horror. You can hear it in the room, too, the way it goes even quieter than before. That sort of hush that comes over people when something heavy goes down.

This is what King does so well. He takes the ordinary and describes it in minute detail, makes us nod our heads and say, "Yeah, that's right, I've been there." The little chuckles from the audience as he read was because they've all seen it. They've experienced the RV people. This is a case of tapping into a truth of the human experience, and shining a light on it, and, when King is on his game, he does it brilliantly. He made his bones as a horror writer, but including those familiar details is part of what makes him so good at writing, period. Think non-horror, like The Body (Stand By Me), or Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, or even 11/22/63, whose paranormal elements are more like a framing device than the focus of the book. And even in his horror books, quite often the most gripping passages are ordinary things we've all experienced: Kids walking through the woods at night, or having to get something out of the scary basement. One of my favorite bits all-time is Larry Underwood's journey through the Lincoln Tunnel in The Stand—horrors of the mind, which are often far worse than reality.

I've talked about The Truth before. This is another example of The Truth in action. Check out the video, one on Vimeo, produced by GMU, the other a 'bootleg' from an audience member, which cuts a little off the beginning and ten minutes or so after King finishes reading (the reading begins at about the 26:45 mark and runs about 15 minutes). I'm looking forward to Dr. Sleep.

Now, in another note, Robin Kristoff at Bends in the Writer's Road has written an interesting piece on her blog today (last night, I guess) that builds off of my Unforgivable Sins posts. Take a look at what she has to say. Thanks for stopping, have a great weekend, all.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Change, or Lack Thereof

This weekend I found myself watching what I believe is the penultimate episode of TV medical drama, House. In the episode, House is 'kidnapped' by his only real friend, Dr. Wilson, for a three day cruise across the country. Wilson received rather unconventional treatment in the previous episode for cancer, and will be finding out in a few days if it worked. On the trip, Wilson acts in a very un-Wilson manner: he flouts the law, eats an 88-ounce steak in an hour, and requests a three-way with a prostitute and a lady bartender. And all along, House watches him and waits. "People don't change," House says. It's a recurring theme in House's world. Through all the eight seasons of the show, House has always maintained this belief, right up there with "Everybody lies" and "It's never lupus." "People don't change."

Change is at the heart of books. We want to see change and growth in characters, it's part of what makes for a great story. But what if a character doesn’t change? What then? A while back I wrote a couple of posts about the Unforgivable Sin in terms of character, asking if there was something a character could do that would render him irredeemable to readers. In the hands of a skilled author, we can probably forgive anything a character can do. But can we forgive the author if the character doesn't change?

I ask this question because I'm looking at my 'first' novel, something I wrote two years ago for NaNoWriMo. I pitched it in the figurative trunk of my computer, deciding it was really bad, but when I reached an end point on Parallel Lives I took it out and started working on it again, because, I don't know, maybe I didn't have anything new in my head to work on, maybe because I thought it was redeemable. So I did some work on it, expanding the story beyond the 52,000 words or so I had managed to crank out for NaNo (By the way, this is NOT the work that I just reached a conclusion on; this one is back on hiatus, but could come back out again). And I realized that this character didn't change. From the beginning of the story to the end, he doesn't change.

It seems right for him. It's the kind of guy he is. I personally think change is difficult for people. Not impossible, as House would hold, but difficult. I look at myself as a man in my mid-forties and, in many ways, I haven't changed. I've learned from some mistakes, but not all of them. And the notion of a character going through a story and not changing seems very logical to me. But what about you? Is lack of change an unforgivable sin for an author? If you reached the end of a 250- or 300-page book and found the main character had not changed at all, would you be upset? Would you throw the book across the room and write nasty reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and your blogs and swear off me forever? Or would it depend on the book itself?

Thanks for reading and commenting, and happy blogiversary toCarrie! Funny, it's mine, too, but I'm not nice, so I don't have anything for you (not yet; maybe I'll do something later this week or next).

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Random Act

As you undoubtedly know, the wonderful Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi of The Bookshelf Muse have been hosting a week-long event to celebrate the release of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. They've been running giveaways all week, including a companion guide to the thesaurus, available as a free download. Best of all, they're encouraging RAOK (sounds like something a crow would say, doesn't it?), Random Acts of Kindness. The idea behind the RAOK Blitz is to celebrate the people who help us as writers – be they critique partners, industry insiders, readers, blog visitors, etc., etc.

Now, I believe I should be BLITZING a writerly-type of person, and there are indeed many people I could do this for, but if you've been hanging around my little corner of the Blogoverse at all, you know I play fast and loose with te rules when it comes to memes and fests and tags and whatnot. I'll catch up to you deserving folks another time, just know that, if you've helped me in any way at all, I do appreciate it, and I am thinking of you. The person I'm going to BLITZ is not an industry insider, fellow writer or blogger. She's not really a critique partner, either, though she has read my work and cheered me on. But she's the most important person in my life, and that would be The Wife.

The Wife has been supportive and encouraging. She believes in me. The hardest thing I ever did was turn over my manuscript to her (how hard? I gave it to her as she was about to leave home for a week to go help her brother and his wife with their newly-arrived triplets). I guess I was afraid she would read it, look at me, and say, "That's what you've been wasting your time with all year?" or something like that. Actually, I knew she wouldn't say that, but I was afraid she might think it. I have grown a lot in confidence since then, in no small part to her (and others who could easily be recognized here today). She has encouraged me, she talks me up more as a writer than I do, she's been a rock. So, to The Wife, I say, "Thank you." As for what the Random Act of Kindness will be—well, we'll keep that between us.

On another note. Two weeks ago, I did a second 'Origins' story of sorts. I mentioned the game B-17 and how the stories I wrote about my fictional crewmen seemed to lead to Something Bad happening in the game, generally involving fatal wounds to the men, or the entire plane getting shot down. Well, maybe that streak is still alive. Last week's post about being stuck in the middle with no end in sight? Or, rather, with the end in sight but no sense of actual movement? I had a nice little exchange with Donna K. Weaver. She asked me a couple of questions, I gave her a couple of answers. Lo and behold, the problem soon went away. I sat down on Monday and actually thought about possible endings. "This can happen, or this can happen, or maybe that can happen." It was actually sort of like--gasp--outlining! I picked one and started writing. By the end of my writing day I had 'the climax', the final confrontation, and it looked tenable. On Tuesday I cranked out a ridiculous 5,551 words—I kid you not; I'm not sure how I did it, because it didn't feel like I wrote any longer than normal—and realized I had done it. The tail of the book is perhaps a little long, but it is, basically, done. Not ready for public (or beta) consumption yet--I did a scan of it yesterday, resequenced scenes and made notes on what needs filling out, but the story is there, a complete story, and it even has a title (not ready to share that one yet, either. It reminds me too much of an old Star Trek episode, and it's really not right, but it works for now). So, thank you, Donna, because you must have given me just enough of a push to get things going.

And thank all of you. The First Loves Blogfest was fun, it brought a lot of visitors here, and I've been struggling to visit as many sites as I can. RAOK has been enjoyable, and now there are even more blogs to catch. At least I can take a day from the manuscript and catch up a bit. Have a great weekend!

Monday, May 14, 2012

First Loves Blogfest

Okay, this is a spur of the moment thing for me. I didn't know about this until today, when everyone's 'First Loves' started popping up in my feeder. Perfect, because the weekend passed too fast and I was left scrambling to pull together a topic. So, first, thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting. And here we go.....

First Loves. Ah, remember? I do...and I don't. But I think I remember enough to manage to get by. The blogfest tasks us with remembering our first loves: music, movie, book, and person. These go back deep, my friends. Where to start....  

First Movie Kids today have it much easier than kids like me. When I was a kid, we didn't have DVD players or movies on demand. Hell, we didn't have cable TV. You checked TV guide to see what was playing on the 4:30 movie after school, or the Saturday morning monster thriller. Or you, you know, actually went to the movies. The first movie I remember really loving that I saw in the theater was....The Sting.

I didn't understand it all, I was only 8 years old or so, but I loved it. And I loved the music. It almost made me want to learn to play piano.

First Music  I liked a lot of things as a kid. There was a period where I was absolutely entranced with Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy. And, of course, the theme from The Sting. And the theme from Jaws. But the music that first really took me, that became my first musical obsession, was The Beatles.

Yes, they had already been disbanded for seven or eight years when I 'discovered' them, it didn't matter. The Beatles, particularly their highly-experimental stuff of the Sgt. Pepper era, completely captured my imagination. They were unlike anything I'd heard before, and they seemed so significant. It was like they'd changed the world. They certainly changed mine.

First Book  Oh, this is a toughie. I read a lot as a kid, and I read beyond my reading level, but I remember some books that I read over and over again. There was one about a kid playing ice hockey--he even met Gordie Howe! And one about a kid who kept a wolf spider as a pet (I was simultaneously fascinated and repelled by spiders). And The Bobby Orr Story. But I think the book that really marked my transition, the book that is really my first love, is Salem's Lot, by Stephen King. I was already a devotee of monster, horror and sci-fi movies; that book just kicked it into another gear for me, and was such a tremendous influence on me wanting to be a writer at the time.

First Love  Hmm. It's hard to know what to say here. As an adult, I'd say the first person I fell in love with is the person I married. It was (is, let's face it) love, actual love. But, I'll go here with the first crush. Eighth grade, a girl named Roslyn, who wasn't in our school the year before. And I was head over heels for her. I walked around with the second verse of The Beatles' Don't Let Me Down playing on an infinite loop in my head:
"I'm in love for the first time
Don't you know it's gonna last
It's a love that lasts forever
It's a love that has no past."
Yeah, what a dork I was. And I never told her, either. And that lasting-forever love lasted until she abruptly moved out without telling anyone, back to her original high school (which was in our district). I caught a glimpse of her at a March of Dimes Walkathon the following year, but never spoke to her.

There you have it. I can't believe I'm getting so personal, so publicly. Dang.

Thanks, Alex, for hosting the blogfest, I'm looking forward to reading more Firsts from more of you!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Across the Sound

I've already told you once before that I used to live in this magnificent building:
It's bigger on the inside

This is Caumsett, once the estate of millionaire-philanthropist-playboy, Tony Stark – err, Marshall Field, III (for the record, I do not know if 'playboy' applied to Field, but I just saw The Avengers this week, so it seemed appropriate). Situated on some 1600 acres of land, the grounds included a working dairy, massive stables, pens for raising pheasants for hunting, guest 'cottages' of 20+ rooms, tennis courts and swimming pools. It sat on top of a hill overlooking Long Island Sound. The Connecticut coast was visible; the city of Stamford was a mere six miles due north.

We had a guy who worked for us as a sort of every man. In exchange for room and board -- and welfare-scale wages, Paul cooked, cleaned, painted, fixed things, and did probably half a dozen other jobs as needed. He grew up in the same town I did, though he sounded like an extra from Goodfellas or The Sopranos (I was already deep under the influence of Canadian ex-hockey players-turned-game-analysts, so my speech had already lost some of its 'Lawn GUYland' in favor of 'no doat aboat it' and 'eh', so we didn't sound much alike). He was also a very live-in-the-moment kind of guy. One fine afternoon, one of his friends drive him down to the beach. He took a kayak with him, set the kayak in the water, and started paddling. For Stamford. Armed with nothing but his paddle and his pack of cigarettes.

I don't know how long the idea of a cross-Sound trip rattled around in Paul's brain before he took it.  Knowing him the way I do, I suspect it had been there for while, probably from the first time he saw the kayak sitting in the garage bay. For whatever reason, he woke up that afternoon and just said, "I'm doing it." I don't remember the time he left, but he did not arrive back home until 2 AM the following morning. He told us the next night how it went:
 "It was going great. I'm paddling and paddling and Connecticut is getting closer and closer, and Long Island is getting further and further away.

"And then I'm in the middle, and I'm paddling and paddling and it feels like everything stayed exactly the same. Nothing moved. It felt like I wasn't getting anywhere."

There he was, somewhere in the middle of Long Island Sound, paddling like a madman. Likely hungry, likely thirsty, and he's not getting anywhere.

Haven't we all been there?

As a writer, I'm very much like Paul. I get an idea in my head and I think about it for a while. I thought about Parallel Lives for about a month before I was ready to start writing (though to be fair, I was in the middle of a NaNoWriMo, so I couldn't really start something else at the same time). With my new book, the current WiP, I started thinking about it in September, and didn't begin actually writing it until January. And yet, I approached the beginning of both books much like Paulie. I woke up and knew it was the day to start, even though, in the case of one book I had nothing more than a character in mind, and in the other, I had the very beginning of a situation. Paul put his kayak in the water and started paddling. I put my fingers on the keyboard and started typing.

In fact, Paul probably had a bigger advantage: he knew where he wanted to go and, as it was a clear day, he could actually see his destination. Me? I am one of those Discovery Writers. I don't really know where I'm going. I can't see the end. I can't see beyond what I've already thought while doing the dishes or taking a shower. Once I get to the end of the scene that's in my head, the next one (if I'm lucky) just sort of unrolls as I reach it. It's sort of like walking through the fog, where you can always see ten feet in front of you. You move into the space you can see and, as you go, oyu see more ahead of you. So while I'm typing words for a scene I've already 'seen' in my head, there's more being revealed.

But now I'm like Paul in the middle of the Sound. I'm close to 75,000 words into the new, still-untitled WiP. I should be in its wind-down phase now. I should be able to see far enough ahead of me to know where the end is, to get a sense of the shape of it, but I'm paddling like mad and Connecticut isn't getting any closer, and when I look behind, Long Island is not getting any further away. It's the dreaded middle, and it's probably the most horrid part of writing for a Discovery Writer.

I do have options, though. Paul was stuck out there. Even if he decided he'd never make it all the way across, turning around would likely still leave him with that sense of non-movement. All he could do was rest his arms and smoke another cigarette and hope for a good tailwind to push him to his desired destination. Me? I can step back. I can take my story and outline it in the hope that really looking at where I've been will lead me logically to where I need to go. It's funny, Peggy Eddleman wrote a piece earlier this week talking about how she plots the beginning and end, but 'pants' the middle, and Cynthia Chapman Willis wrote about the middle taking off and running away Me? I think I have to plot the middle. Or, to be more accurate, I have to plot something like the last third of the middle.

There is no one way to do this writing thing. I love that feeling when something happens that I wasn't expecting; it's almost like I'm a reader of my own book. But I do have to impose discipline. I need to see that final destination to get there. Right now I'm like Paul. Because he didn't plan his trip, he left for Connecticut in the afternoon. When he finally got to Stamford, he pulled up at a dock, found a deli, bought himself a sandwich, a beer, and another pack of cigarettes, and was back in the water. Most of his return journey was made in the dark, and he didn't get 'home' until around 2 AM. I don't know how he even saw us to aim his kayak at the Park. Right now, I need to see the dock. If I do that, I'll be able to go back to happily discovering how I'm going to get there. It's going to take a lot of paddling, but I'll get there eventually.
On Another Note: Last month I shared with you my short story, "The Prophet" with you. This month, the Smithy's April newsletter features a nice piece by writer's circle buddy, Kristin Walker. I know she's got a couple of pieces going out on submission to some journals. I hope we'll see her in print somewhere soon. Enjoy.  

And finally, since I'm 'Stuck in the Middle', here's a blast from the past. Anyone who's seen Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs will undoubtedly have an automatic image of Mr. White dancing around with a straight razor in hand. Personally, I find the original video just about as disturbing. What do you think?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Musical Monday: A Quick One While He's Away

AT nearly eight minutes, not so quick, perhaps. The Who performing their 'mini-opera,' A Quick One While He's Away for the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus in 1968. Originally released in 1966, A Quick One is probably the first rock opera. In an interview, Pete Townshend told how his producer asked him to write a ten-minute song, which just wasn't done in those days. Townshend's solution was to write six very short songs and string them together. (Volume alert: It's The Who, of course it gets loud!)

 That's it for me today, hope you all had a nice weekend.

Friday, May 4, 2012

B-17: An Origins Story

I've already told you about my illustrious start in writing back in the fall during the Origins blogfest, how my sixth grade teacher gave us an assignment that just set me on fire. I believe I've also said, in an early post that I can't find (or maybe it was in Origins, also), how I don't remember writing anything 'creative'* for nearly thirty years after that. By the time seventh grade was halfway through, I wasn't writing anything that wasn't for a school assignment.

courtesy Boadgamegeek.com
Yet writing always remained an interest of mine. I wrote for my jobs, did it well, and enjoyed it. But the seed of fiction writing was still there, dormant in my mind. It started to germinate when I was in my mid-thirties, watered and warmed from an unlikely source: B-17, Queen of theSkies. From the box:

"B-17: Queen of the Skies" is a strategy game which re-creates the early bombing missions and aerial combat of the B-17 (F Model) bombers of the US Eighth Air Force over Europe between October 1942 and May 1943. "

(Note how the game company calls it a 'strategy game'. These games are also frequently called 'historical conflict simulations', though most players (mostly middle-aged men) just call them 'wargames.') I grew up with an interest in World War II, probably fueled by my father, who was old enough to remember the feeling of it, if not the substance (he was five when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor). Dad used to watch The World At War on PBS, which was the Gold Standard for war documentaries for a long time. I picked up that interest, too, and discovered board wargames through my older brother, though I have no idea where he got his first game from.

HISTORICAL NOTE: The B-17 was a heavy bomber used by the US Army Airforce in WWII. It carried 10 crew members, a goodly number of bombs, bristled with machine guns, and was notorious for its ability to take a pounding. B-17s regularly returned from missions with one engine running, missing entire tail sections, or with giant holes blown in the fuselage or cockpit area. The game works pretty well as a simulation because, when flying in formation, about the only decision in the hands of the crew is which enemy fighters do you shoot at. You had to fly in formation to and from the target. The game randomizes everything that is out of the crew's control.

Now, here's secret about wargames: though they're designed for two or more players, most of these games are played solitaire. A lot of these games are very large, with a lot of pieces, and very complicated rules. War, after all, is a complicated business. They also take a lot of time to play, and opponents are hard to find. I was fortunate. I only played once or twice with my brother, but I had a friend down the block who also liked to play.

Anyway, like my writing, my interest in wargames waned when I was in my roaring twenties, though I always kept tabs on it. In the late 90's I rediscovered this hobby, dug my games out of my parents' basement, and even bought one or two new ones. It was fun, but there's frustration in playing against yourself: there's no fog of war. There are no surprise attacks. When one side launches an attack, the other side knows if it's a feint or the real thing. It's fun, but not quite as satisfying.

Enter B-17. This was one of the first games that was designed to be played solitaire. And it had little set-up time and didn't take long to play. My friend down the block had it, and I remember he enjoyed it. I also came across some nostalgia tales about the game on a wargames forum I was on. So I bought a used copy and found it quite compelling. It's a simple game with a high replay value and, like a good book, has a lot of tension.

Now for some irony: I bought a used copy to play solitaire, and ended up playing in a group. And this is where my fiction writing started to regrow.

To make the game more interesting, the designer included crew roster sheets. You're encouraged to create fictional characters to populate your ten man crew (Yes, you could put yourself in there, but that's kind of creepy if you take shrapnel to the head or a bullet in the chest, isn't it?). It sounds a little strange, I know, but it adds to the game more than if you just went with Pilot, Copilot, Bombardier, Port Waist Gunner, etc. And once you open that door, to putting names down, it encourages the imagination.

I joined an online group that was playing the game together. It worked like this: the game manager would post a mission on his website. We, the players, had two weeks to fly the mission and post an After Action Report (AAR). The AAR was like the post-mission briefings crews had. Did you reach the target? Did you drop bombs on the target? Did you hit the target? Did you shoot down enemy aircraft? What damage did your craft take? Casualties? Etc. The form included a space for describing the mission, and this is where things got interesting, and where people got creative, describing weary flight crews, cold, hungry and tired, describing the horrors of their missions. And I soon found the creativity extended beyond the AARs: some of the game participants were writing little vignettes about their crews on the ground. Some of them were quite good, too. They riffed off of each other, too, so it became a work of independent, but semi-collaborative fiction. And it opened up something inside of me, and led to a burst of creativity I hadn't had in quite some time.

I wrote some interesting pieces as part of that game. One of the more bizarre ones involved the paranoid dream of the navigator on my second aircraft (the first crashed in an emergency landing), where he dreamed his crewmates threw him out of the plane because he wasn't 'one of them' (he was from Brooklyn, they were almost all from the south). On the next mission, he got killed, and I half-jokingly offered my writing services to the group. "Got a crew member you want dead?" I asked. "Let me know, I'll write about them."

Playing at war is kind of … sick, I know. But I can't deny that participating in this game definitely started the process of writing for me again. The bits I wrote as part of this online group primed the pump. I still focused on non-fiction: in the next couple of years, I actually started outlining two non-fiction books, submitted an essay for one of the thousands of Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and sent in something  for Highlights magazine. But B-17 renewed my thirst for fiction writing. It only took about another four years for me to really get going.

* In my view, ALL writing is creative, but I think you know what I mean here