Location, Location, Location

I made a wrong turn in Vegas.

I found myself on a short street under the freeway where a couple of dozen homeless people clung to the shadows. They looked sweaty and miserable.

I eventually made it to the Chick-Fil-A drive thru and enjoyed my sandwich in my air-conditioned van in the parking lot. Then I had to walk the twenty feet to the trash can.

A hot spot for dinner

113°F is brutal.

I grew a new respect for those homeless people under the freeway.

Then I knew I blew it.

Not right then and there but with several scenes in my novel Reymons. The main characters have to fly open cockpit ultralight aircraft through one of the hottest areas on the planet. I will have to rewrite the scenes to reflect the brutal desert heat that they have to endure.

I try to set my scenes in familiar areas. Sometimes that isn’t possible. In those cases, I am seeing that it is important to visit the scenes to get an idea of what would be affecting the characters.

In the desert of Nevada and Southern California, the heat would be of primary importance to the characters. In some places, the geological features may take precedence. In others, traffic or crowds.

To build depth and realism in characters, you have to know what they are sensing and bring that to the page.

This weekend, I will be in one of the towns that inspired the fictional town of Kerryville, VA. I will keep my senses alert for what my characters should experience.

And just so you know, I don’t plan on exploring the fictional depths of Humphrey’s Peak, known in the distant future as Reymons.

For some things you just have to use your imagination.

Where’d That Come From

Ever wonder where stories come from?

Have you wondered where you can find new stories?

This question came to the forefront when I recently came up with a new novel idea from a very novel source. But first, here’s where some of my other stories have come from.

Reymons came from a high school writing assignment. Mrs. Fender told us to write a short fiction story. She suggested we write about something we like.

I liked driving my dad’s Datsun 280Z. My short story had me going out for a short drive in the little sports car, only to have an obsession come over me that caused me to drive as fast as possible into the mountains. There I followed a line of traffic into a subterranean passage where we were sheltered from a nuclear holocaust (this was during the Cold War).

Reymons revisits that post-apocalyptic world four hundred years later.

Bob Wiley watches me write Wil Clarey: Mystery at the Mill

Wil Clarey came from my experience as a 16-year-old who was transplanted from the San Francisco Peninsula to rural southwest Virginia. Many of the scenes were based on actual events in my life.

It’s first iteration was, frankly, boring. Then I married into a son on the autism spectrum. I had to think, what if I had been on the spectrum? I rewrote it with that in mind. I lowered Wil’s age to make it middle grade which suited the story better.

Daddy Mine was a bed-time story. I wanted a strong female character for my daughter to look up to. I started with the concept of an orphan 12-year-old girl in a mining town. From the first scene where the neighbor girls are teasing her, it basically wrote itself as I told it to my daughter.

Countdown, or Synchronized, or whatever I end up calling it was a deliberate effort at coming up with an adult level action novel. Some of the situations are drawn from work experience. Other than that, it is made from scratch. It is on hold simply because I found that I need to do some significant research that I don’t have time for right now.

Finally, my as yet unnamed new story. The source?

A dream.

In my dream, I remember feeling very nervous going into an inner-city middle school. I was an adult, there to teach or give a speech. That’s about all I remember of the dream. But I woke up thinking, “this’ll write!”

I made an effort to remember the dream and at lunch, I wrote the first chapter so I would remember the idea.

The main character is now called Evan. He is a paraplegic, having lost the use of his legs in a brutal mugging. That made him re-evaluate his life. Upon recovery, he completed a teaching certificate and finally landed this teaching job after the previous teacher quit mid-year. His unique teaching style ruffles feathers among his fellow teachers.

I can hardly wait to write that story!

I hope this inspires you to find your stories. Look in the unusual places.

Get them written!

This or That: Planner or Pantser?

I got a haircut today. I intentionally put on a shirt with my church name to make a natural way for me to invite the stylist to our “At the Movies” Series starting tomorrow.

You could say I’m a planner.

That spills over to other parts of my life.

A lot of times, I have almost as much fun planning a vacation as I do when I take it. I’ll spend hours researching the best deals, most interesting or fun activities, best places to stay, and so on.

I’m driving to California soon, and I’ve been busy checking gas prices along the route and finding the best motels to stay in. I’ve even calculated the cost per mile for gasoline versus E85.

I might be a little obsessive.

But there’s hope for the “pantser” (one who flies by the seat of their pants) in me. I always plan for flexibility. On every vacation, we make sure there’s at least one unplanned day that we can either relax or do something spontaneous.

I also truly enjoy spur of the moment games or movies with the family. Sometimes I even lay aside my plans so that can happen. This afternoon’s writing session wasn’t planned, but here I am, avoiding the yard work in 100-degree heat.

Is there a point to this spontaneous little blog?

Does there have to be?

Okay, the planner in me has to admit, my plan is to tell my fellow planners to chill. Some, if not most, of the best moments in life are spontaneous.

Of course, you need to plan to make time for them.

And, yes, I did mention “At the Movies” to our stylist (and to you, twice – click the link).

Now, excuse me while I do some more planning on my novel’s outline.

Sporty or Classic or Both?

In my last full blog, I explored whether I was an author or a writer.

The answer was yes.

Tonight, I ask myself –

Am I a sports car guy or a classic car guy?

First, you should know I am a car guy. From the Matchbox, Hot Wheels, and slot cars of my childhood to watching tons of You-Tube videos about cars nowadays, I’ve always been into cars.

My dad set the example. He did most of his own work on the old VW bus of my childhood. I helped, uh, watched. Then his midlife crisis hit in the form of a brand new 1975 Datsun 280Z. I loved that car. To my fledgling driving skills, it was like driving a rocket ship!

I’ve made it past midlife without a crisis car (unless I live to be more than 116!).

I have plans to get a project car when I retire, but what kind to get?

I go to car shows and feel that twinge of desire for much of what I see there. But I want a car I can drive whenever I want without worrying about it.

The ’65 VW bus of my childhood has gotten too expensive to drive without being nervous about scratching it. Most 280Zs have turned into a pile of rust. Same for the ’68 Plymouth wagon and ’73 Opel 1900 that were my first and second cars.

Somehow, I have gotten my eyes glued to a certain classic car model. It was popular enough for many preserved examples to be available. It’s unpopular enough for it not to be terribly expensive. Parts are readily available and it’s easy to work on.

And it has a role in the Wil Clarey series.

In the first rough draft of Wil Clarey: Impossible Summer, Wil encountered a Nash Metropolitan. I eventually decided (spoiler alert) that he would try to fix it up. Parts for the tiny British made American car are quite difficult to find and expensive. I had to find different car.

The car needed to be within Wil’s means to get on the road again. It had to be a hardtop that could survive a few years exposed to the elements. I also wanted it to be a little quirky and unique like Wil, (and me).

The car he found – the car I want to occupy some of my attention after retirement from my day job – is a VW Squareback. Look it up. It’s like a classic Beetle with a wagon body.

Photo credit – Hemings.com

So, if you ask me – sports car or classic car?

As the pile of Classic Car Magazines next to me testifies, I’ll take classic over sporty any day! Sure, I might squeeze a few more horsepower out of that air-cooled flat four, but it will be a practical classic car to match my classic but practical personality.

What about you? Classic or sports car? Or both? What’s your dream car?

On Clint Ziemer

My friend Clint at a Merchant’s of Venus themed party, 1992

I once mentioned here that I visited a friend in Bloomington, IL and that was the closest I have ever been to Normal (IL). That statement wasn’t fiction. And my friend Clint was far from normal. He was extraordinary.

We first met at the church that met on the Bible college campus that he attended. He was soft spoken with an infectious humor. He and his wife Vi would have us over for games and conversation. We became good friends with them and others in our little gaming group.

As Christmas approached and the Ziemers planned on visiting family for the holiday, they had no need for a Christmas tree. A huge piggy bank covered with Christmas lights took center stage and the “Oh Christmas Pig” carol was born from Clint’s imagination.

In the midst of the fun and friendship, Clint brought a quiet wisdom and encouragement that helped guide me along the right path. He helped steer me toward attending the same Bible college. As a pastor in Bloomington, IL, he even opened his pulpit for me to minister from as a student.

Over the years Clint has been a fine example of a godly father to Jonathan, husband to Vi, and Pastor to Cable Community Church.

This last Tuesday he made the journey to heaven where his quick smile and quiet humor will add to the eternal joy there.

I’ll be sure to play a round of Merchant of Venus in your honor, Clint. Thanks for brightening my life!

Can’t Not Write

The yard has a long way to go but at least it’s not a jungle anymore. And the dogs have a new shelter in place of the trampoline I took down.

It’s been a good day. I got a lot accomplished. My yard looks far better than it did last week (a long ways to go though).

It felt good.

But something was missing.

It’s been missing a lot lately.

I’ve been so busy with other parts of life that I’ve spent too little time sitting at this little desk in the corner of my man cave.

There are two writing projects getting some attention lately.

The first draft of Wil Clarey: Mystery at the Mill is over half done! Wil, Gil, and Hannah are currently stuck on the farm with no power in the middle of an ice storm. Yes, I do think of my characters as living their story as it gets written. When I’m done with this blog, I will have to write a little more to help them thaw out.

Reymons is a much more ambitious project. As a YA fiction, it will be much longer and more complex. I am currently restructuring the first part of the story to add more character development.

My busy life and those two projects have left me ignoring this blog. There are so many things that I’d like to write about that I find myself in mental gridlock.

As I brainstormed in preparation for writing, the question popped in my head. “Am I a writer or an author.”

In typical rabbit trail fashion, I looked up the words.

A writer is someone who commits ideas to words.

An author is the originator of those ideas.

So, the answer is:

Yes!

If you only knew the garbled-up tangle of ideas floating around this brain. The more I put off writing, the more garbled it gets.

In other words – I can’t not write!

I’ll let you act as my therapist as I spill out some of the ideas aching to find their way into words.

Novel ideas keep flowing in and out of my brain including:


Daddy Mine – A historical middle grade fiction following a twelve-year-old orphan girl in the Mountains of 1890’s Colorado.


Countdown – A contemporary fiction in which a hacker and a pastor make an unlikely team to try to stop a cataclysmic terrorist attack.


Several other less developed novel ideas.

Blog ideas are floating around the ideas of social justice, cars, travel, politeness, the horror that is grammar, and corporate responsibility. Oh, and maybe one or two focusing on dad jokes!

Finally, I am looking to restructure my most consistent writing.

Last February I revealed here that I was writing a daily devotion based on the Life Journal reading plan on YouVersion. Even if no one else reads it (107 people subscribe to it), it has transformed my Bible study time. In less than two weeks I will have reached the six-month mark on that. Much to my surprise, I haven’t missed a day yet.

I want to improve that, so I am working on a custom reading plan with the hopes of having some season appropriate reading and facilitating multiple levels of daily reading.

More on that later. For now, if you’re interested in following it, you can search for North Metro Life Journal on Facebook.

Thanks for reading a little of this craziness I call writing. If you want to continue your role as my therapist (reader), please contact me. I am currently looking for middle grade (age 10-14) readers for feedback on Wil Clarey: The Impossible Summer, and writer critics for Wil Clarey: School of Hard Knocks. Just click contact in the menu.

Finally, for all my fellow authors, let the words flow.

Don’t not write!

What to Tell Yourself

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself?

Would you give some sage advice?

Would you warn your younger self to steer clear of “that person”?

I’ve been going through a lot of old photos in preparation for my 40th High School reunion. I was the yearbook photographer. When the yearbook was done, I asked what they wanted to do with the negatives. They said whatever you want.

So, 40 years later, over a thousand photos are finally being scanned.

What do I see when I look at them?

In my friends and classmates, I see

a youthful vibrancy

serious study

playful disregard for responsibility

a desperate cry to be noticed

In myself I see

                        outward confidence

                        inner utter lack of self esteem

                        confusion over where my life was going

                        a tremendous amount of hope for the blank book that was my future life.

After thinking it over, I’ve decided what I would tell my 18-year-old self if I could go back 40 years.

It wouldn’t be to go to a different college or to stick closer to my studies, though I could have done better.

Nor would I give myself relationship advice, though I made plenty of mistakes there.

Maybe I would tell myself to hang on to that first car of mine. It’d be worth a ton now.

But, no, what I really want to tell my younger self is –

1968 Plymouth Satellite Wagon

NOTHING

Instead, I think it’s time to turn the tables on this little mental exercise.

You see, when I look in the eyes of that awkward dork of a high school senior, I see the lessons that he needs to teach me.

He’d teach me to look at life with curiosity and never stop learning.

He’d teach me that romance is worth the effort.

He’d teach me that fun is, well, fun.

He’d teach me that faith is worth exploring with an open, but faithful mind.

He’d teach me to not turn my back on adventure.

Most of all, he’d teach me that there is no such thing as too much hope! I need to remember that Lord willing, I have decades to go in this life and an eternity in the next.

Unlike that 18-year-old, I have far greater skills and knowledge to share and build upon. I have greater opportunities too. So do you!

Once I retire, I’ll have far more time as well.

So, listen to your 18-year-old self, or at least listen to that awkward skinny kid from California by way of the hills of southwest Virginia.

Let hope reign in your life!

And if you happen to see that olive green ’68 Plymouth wagon around, let me know.

Dadisms

I recently started writing down some of my Dadisms. You know, the words or phrases that the dad in me can’t help but say over and over. If that sounds strange, you need to know that

Normal is just a city in Illinois.

One of the kids will say something like, “Normal people don’t do stuff like you do.”

All I have to do is say, “Normal?”

As they roll their eyes, they’ll complete the phrase.

Dad win!

Those times when I am being extra cautious about something, I let them know that

A paranoid (pair o’ noid?) is better than one.

The other day (which I just found out means any day between my birth and yesterday) one of them asked what a noid is. I had to refer them to the old Domino’s commercials. They now agree with my saying.

Of course, they are amazed that I can remember back that far since I always tell them

The first three things to go are memory and I can’t remember the other two.

Of course, I’ve had older people tell me “You don’t want to remember the other two.”

As I get older, I am continually amazed at how quickly life goes by. To which I consistently proclaim

Fun times when you’re having flies

Which is a phrase that Kermit the frog wholeheartedly agrees with.

All these little quirks of my language are being passed on to my kids just like my dad left me with

You will eat it and you will enjoy it!

(Spoken in a strong German accent because he was, you know, Mexican).

It delights my heart when I hear one of my quirks repeated by my kids but

I’m not as think as you dumb I am.

What I really hope to pass on to them is in what I just read in my quiet time in the Bible this morning.

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 New Living Translation

I hope you enjoyed this little twisted linguistic exercise. More importantly, I hope to pass on to my kids, my students, and you, my readers the sense of joy, hope, and love there is in this walk of faith.

May you be blessed as you seek the words that shape your life!

Teach On

Frank Peretti, one of many teachers in my life.

At a men’s breakfast not long ago, we were asked two questions:

At the end of your life, what do you want people to say about you?

And

What are you doing now to make that happen?

Makes you think, huh?

I sat next to a teacher who wasn’t sure how to answer that second question. He was so wrapped up in the daily duties and pressures of teaching and raising a family that he hadn’t thought in those terms.

After his weak unsure answer, I had to speak.

“I never told Mr. Arnot of the impact he had on my life. Nor Mrs. Fender. Nor any of the other many teachers that profoundly influenced my life. You are making a difference just by being there and teaching faithfully.”

I didn’t get a college degree. I could have completed an education program but, after 3 years of college, I didn’t want to make the transfer and borrow yet more money to make it happen. Instead I took a career path in the technology field.

That hasn’t stopped me from teaching. I’ve trained new hires. I’ve instructed less experienced techs.

Over the years, I’ve also had the privilege of teaching in children’s church, Sunday school, and youth groups. While I was one of many voices that spoke into their lives, I’ve seen many of those kids grow up to be excellent men and women. I’d like to think I had a part in that.

All this is to say,

TEACH ON!

Those of you who are teachers by profession, realize that, even when it seems like your words are falling on deaf ears,

you are having a profound impact.

They may not admit it but students are learning from what you say and do and especially from how you say and do.

If you’ve never been a teacher, realize that you are one whether you like it or not.

You influence those around you by what you say and do and how you do it.

We are all teaching those around us.

What is it that you want to teach them?

What are you doing now to accomplish this?

Feel free to comment here or or my Facebook page how you have been influenced by others and how you would like to influence others.

Winter

Warm dog snuggled to my side; I gaze out on the snow melting on the deck.

Yup. It’s Winter.

I’m generally a happy kind of guy. But winter does a number on me.

Short days.

Achy joints.

And this week, sickness.

It’s just a cold (I tested negative for COVID twice), but it was enough to keep me from going to Winter Camp with my 6th grade students from church.

They’re good. Another youth leader stepped up and they have someone to lead them through the weekend.

And I’m here, nursing this crud.

What can I do?

When I first called in sick, I thought, “Great! I’ll have time to write.”

And I have written some. But, for the most part, I’ve been to cruddy feeling to engage my imagination.

Today, I feel like I’m in the middle of one of David’s Psalms where he starts out with “Woe is me” and ends up with “God is good and so is life.”

My cold symptoms are waning. I have a little more energy.

On top of that, the middle of winter was last Thursday! Spring is around the corner!

It’s weeks like this that I am reminded of my weak humanity. My human body has been weakened by a cold virus and taken my mental state with it.

I’ve given myself a break, literally. I worked from home Tuesday when symptoms started. Then I took Wednesday through Friday off work and stayed home from this weekend’s camp.

I won’t be foolish enough to overdo it today. I want to be well enough for church tomorrow. But I can channel my slowly returning energy into creative work, like this blog, and writing more on Wil Clarey Book 3 (Mystery at the Mill).

The bottom line to this ramble is:

cut yourself some slack.

If winter has you down, if sickness has been hitting you, or just the weight of life has been pushing your spirits down, it’s okay to take a break.

Regain your health. Rally your strength. Spring is coming with new life and new adventures!

If you’re stuck at the beginning of Psalm 73, keep reading, victory is on the way!