Sunday, January 7, 2018

Free College-Level Creative Writing Course Offered on Cousera

I’m both writer and die-hard exerciser. However, cardio bores me. Sure, I love running outdoors. I dig the scenery (trees, clouds, animals, etc) breathing in the big-sky and soaking up rays. These satiate my sensual-mind. However, these pleasures do little to keep my thinking-mind from chattering, like a wild monkey, telling me “You’re wasting time.” 

To chill my skeptical monkey-mind, I ‘read’ several dozen non-fiction books per year while running. What can I say? I'm easy to dupe. I’ve been an info freak since at least college, so just give me a book. Further,  since most successful authors counsel aspirants to read everything they can, audiobooks turn running from a passive into a work-related activity.

Cool. Win-win. The perfect solution it seems. 

Not so fast. Problem is winter cramps my style. Lord knows I cannot run here in Cleveland through most of the winter. The roads can be icy and treacherous. And it’s cold. For instance, we’ve experienced below-zero Fahrenheit temperatures (that’s below -18 Celsius for non-Americans) for the past two weeks. And try as I might, the lack of visual/ sense stimulus makes it impossible for me to listen to audiobooks on the treadmill. So my only alternative has been to watch the boob-tube, an unattractive option.

While looking for a remedy, I stumbled upon an online college-level creative writing course the Wesleyan University offers on Coursera that feeds two passions at once: writing and exercising. I fire up the laptop before starting the treadmill, get cardo, get sense input AND learn, warm and comfy at home. 

See the course links below.

Caveat: Coursera is a business. They make money by getting people to subscribe and pay. However, Wesleyan allows you to audit the course for free... at least for now (January 2018). Just ignore their big-type "free trial," which will end up costing your $20 a month. And hunt for the "audit for free" link at the bottom of the pop-up box.  

That said, Coursera’s been a huge find. They offer courses on many things writers will find helpful. For instance, I’ve noticed that many, if not most, covers on self-published books are bad, and Cal Arts offers a free course on graphic design.

That said, have these courses tamed my mind? Too early to say, but learning during cardio seems an investment, better than engaging in a time-drain, like watching The Voice and Seinfeld reruns. 

Links to the Wesleyan University Creative Writing Course: 

PS. I am in not affiliated with Coursera. If you click on a link and sign up, I get nothing. I am just sharing since I agree with AA when they preach we only get to keep what we have by giving it away.  

Image Sources: 

Personal screen capture

Friday, December 15, 2017

'Build, Break, Rebuild' — a free novella on WattPad.

During National Novel Writing Month, I completed over 30,000 words. The result is an anti-racist. anti-fascist novella (not Antifa, who advocate anonymous violence) novella titled Build Break Rebuild. Which started out as a chapter for the novel I've been hammering away at, called Livewire Voodoo, but soon took on a life of its own.

I'm nearing the final edits and will print galley proofs for family and local writers group members in January. If you're interested, I am posting it on WattPad for free (available here) as I complete my edits. With a caveat: there may be tiny errors in this text, which is often a little out of sync with my Word document. And even that is not perfect.

When done, I'll make it available on Kindle and remove the text from WattPad.

As a thumbnail, it's sort of like a literary Bruce Springsteen of Run DMC song. For more detail, here's a stab at the blurb. 

It's 1978, and Frank has it all: a great wife, a solid family, and a job he loves as an ironworker, raising buildings in the booming rustbelt for an owner whom he respects. Smooth sailing. Until his boss stirs racial animosity causing tempers to boil.

Thing is, as a WW2 Vet, Frank can handle fisticuffs. He's used to standing on his own, fighting the good fight, but fighting that fight grows thornier by the minute. The cops are looking for him. His wife boots him because of that. And if that's not tough enough, a schizophrenic street vendor sends him tumbling twelve years into the past, and into the middle of Cleveland's explosive Hough Riots.

Things ain't never easy for working stiffs. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

I'm Smart... But Kind of Dumb

Picture of an embarrassed man.
Embarrassed (and eating crow)
I’m smart. Not Stephen Hawking smart, but I received a good education and have a solid grasp of basic knowledge. In fact, my brain teems with trivia, leading my family to suggest I try out for Jeopardy. So I’m used to being right about facts. But a recent public error left me red-faced after I spent a few moments arguing an incorrect “fact” — which cannot be a fact if it’s false by definition.

Anyways, here’s the story. During a writer’s group meeting, I read from a burial scene set in November from a novel-in-progress. Death is hard to write about without sounding maudlin, so I wanted feedback, hoping I dodged melodrama. Based on group comments, I succeeded.

Things ripped along, encouraging me, until a group member. a published mid-list military historian of some repute, cleared his throat to make an editorial observation. The text included this line: “A flock of geese honked north.”  We live in northeastern Ohio, he pointed out, so our geese fly south during the winter.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fake News and Post-Truth: Does truth matter… or even exist?

“Does truth exist?” When I stumbled on this question on GoodReads forum, I rolled my eyes. Sophomoric, dorm room rap-session stuff.  But the more I thought, the more I realized the inquiry relevant in contemporary “post-truth” society, rife with “fake news.”

 My take is that facts matter since they get us closer to reality.  So by ignoring facts, fake news is dangerous. You cannot even run a household without facts. Like your checking account balance and electric bill amount.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stronger Together, But So Far Apart*

Great American Melting Pot
I was wrong.

I’m a white Catholic with a college degree, just short of a masters. I test as moderate on political tests (like this Vox questionnaire). And near 50, I’m no longer a starry-eyed idealist.

But I grew up believing in the Schoolhouse Rock song “The Great American Melting Pot” reflected America. I thought our openness made America American.

I was wrong.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived most of my life in multicultural blue-areas: Cleveland, Columbus (OH) and Los Angeles. But I love, and have always loved, meeting people from different cultures. They’ve enriched my life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Using the 7 “Primitive” Defense Mechanisms to Juice-Up Your Characters

Defense mechanisms.

We all use them to protect ourselves when reality gets "real". Problem is, they're easy to locate in others -- just read the personal sniping in the comments section of any political article. But they're hard to see in ourselves. Since seeing oneself objectively takes hard work.

Perhaps that explains why writers seldom employ defense mechanisms in their characters. Since when behind a point-of-view character's mind, we identify with them. And thus, find fessing-up to having blind-spots makes us uncomfortable? Who knows.

Regardless, when characters use the same defense mechanisms we all do, they become believable. Not despite, but because of their contradictions. And once learned, defense mechanisms are easy to deploy in your work. And once deployed, they add depth with scant effort.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why Adverbs Suck for Fiction Writers (unless you need them)

Kill your adverbs -- except the ones you need.
The first agent I met at a 1990’s writers’ conference table glowed after hearing my novel pitch. She loved the idea, a Shakespearean tragedy with Ninja warriors on a science fiction world. So I handed her my the first chapter. She read, scowling, and thrust it back saying, “Adverbs, adverbs, everywhere… kill ‘em, then stop by again.”

Confused, I skulked away. Kill adverbs? Why limit your linguistic toolkit?

Well, that agent was right. Overusing adverbs weakens your writing. To Illustrate, I lifted some text from an early-draft of a thriller I started but lost interested in. The section isn’t bad. And yet, it contains three “problem” adverbs that weaken the writing. These problems many plague writer’s group submissions I’ve read.