How do I deal with writer’s block?

This is like asking me how I deal with the Great Pumpkin, the imaginary character that Charles M. Schulz created. I don’t accept it as a real thing.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it is difficult to sit down and write. Sometimes doing something else is just a choice, a matter of procrastination or distraction.

An absence of discipline.

If I somehow found myself going weeks or months or longer without writing anything, I wouldn’t consider myself a victim of some imaginary blockage. I would quit calling myself a writer.

Silence of the Elms

Our power-mad HOA slaughtered several trees this week. I was home to hear the last of them fall to the fearsome teeth of the chainsaw.

I heard the roar of the chipper shredding life itself into mulch.

Now all is quiet.

Accidental trip to that time in-between

Speaking of being preserved on the internet (or writing about it as I was on Friday), I stumbled across my old blog, puncture proof, this morning.

It had something to do with bicycle tires and opinions about various stuff.

The last thing I posted there still pointed to a Tumblr blog that I no longer have, so of course I felt compelled to update it to point to the one you’re reading now. This other page caught my eye and took me even farther back in time and memory and I found myself obligated to fix a mistake I made there, too.

I’m supposed to be writing something else at the moment, so I won’t dwell on this for long, but seeing myself in that in-between state left me feeling pretty good about where my wife and I are now. Both of us have had two feet and all of our bicycles in Colorado for quite a while now.

Some other pieces of us, however, are still back in Iowa and probably always will be.

B.J.

Lesson from dogpiling on PETA: Words do matter

Snarkmeisters and others have had a whale of a good time mocking PETA‘s latest effort to change public discourse and appetites, but the group reinforces an important concept here:

Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove speciesism from your daily conversations. pic.twitter.com/o67EbBA7H4— PETA: Bringing Home the Bagels Since 1980 (@peta) December 4, 2018

Words do matter. So does the evolution of language.

Words express what we think, or in some cases what we want people to think we think. As language evolves, it reflects changes in our culture, in technology, in how we think or don’t think about religion and justice and politics and pretty much everything else. Our use of language reveals what we think about other humans and about animals, as well. What we think about them and how we treat them are closely related.

dogpile

Speaking like you always have is easy. So is mocking those who advocate for change that you don’t like or that you don’t think is necessary. So is dismissing certain words and phrases as “politically correct,” a stale, overused term that we all would be better off without. (Evolve, dammit!)

Surely PETA expects mockery and denigration. Just as certainly, they know how to use words to provoke discussion and to make people think. May we continue to evolve toward a civilized society once our present backslide is over. It will require some thinking and careful choosing of words, and maybe a little less barking past each other.

B.J.

What to write next?

Deciding what to write or edit or otherwise work on next has been a simple matter throughout my day-job career. As a general assignment reporter for daily newspapers, of course, there were daily assignments and clear deadlines and, when I filled in on the police or courthouse beats, I had other stories to chase down and photos to shoot.

Pixabay image. Some may recognize this as a typewriter.
Pixabay image. Some may recognize this as a typewriter.

Deadlines these days are more flexible and often self-imposed if they exist at all, but the priorities are usually pretty obvious.

Writing on my own time is quite different. Deciding what to write next, what work of crime fiction or other story to tell over the next several weeks and months, has been a mystery lately. My first two crime novels were done in fits and starts and stops and restarts over a longer time than I care to admit. Since sending the second one out into the world not long ago, I’ve been lost, without creative purpose.

Now I know I have to start something new. Not writing is not an option. Many other writers will relate to that.

Some people have asked if there will be another book in the Detective Red Shaw series. I honestly don’t know. It won’t be what I write next, but in the past few days I did decide what the next thing will be.

I will let you know when it’s done.

Read on,

B.J.

Thrillers and “engrossing bicycle noir”

People who write for a living always look forward to finishing things and getting paid.

If some of those finished things are works of fiction, some writers also anxiously wait to see what readers think.

bikepixabayThe insecure (that may be all of us) wonder: Will this be a dismal failure or will there be some good reviews and lots of stars? Will there be royalties?

Only the dreamers and the famous think about screenplays and movie deals.

After releasing my second Detective Red Shaw novel last month, I have to say I’m feeling pretty good. Just today, readers had terrific feedback on both BLOOD SOLUTIONS (Red Shaw #1) and NORTH OF GRAND (Red Shaw #2).

#1 was called a “gripping, compelling thriller” soon after publication and won five more stars this morning.

#2 so far is a “riveting thriller,” “a real page-turner” and, maybe my favorite, “engrossing bicycle noir.”

If you haven’t read them, consider those reviews and others and start turning pages.

Read on.

B.J.

 

Fencing out ravenous beasts, and the inevitability of loose ends

The Smith Compound has taken up temporary residence in far northwestern Montana. We are surrounded in our little borrowed cabin by pine forest, the faint smell of smoke, and a fence high enough to keep hungry deer from eating the neat flower gardens that decorate our well-watered grounds.

0906181758a~2The first thing you see inside the cabin’s front door is a canister of bear spray on a window ledge. As I sit here on the front porch typing, I can’t help but wonder if it is there just in case a grizzly decides to ignore the fence and the massive gate in the driveway, or as a courtesy for us to borrow when we venture out for a hike. We did bring our own, and I will not hesitate to use it should my hiking companion prove able to outrun me.

Mountains are a rumor to the east through haze that lifted but once yesterday on our trip from Pacific time in and around Coeur d’Alene, which is widely known as CDA in the lingo of northern Idaho.

A road trip gives a body time to think, as I was doing yet again just now until a pine cone bounced off the deck a few feet from where I sit. A barely perceptible rustle in the branches 30 feet above me gave away the perpetrator, who I swear gave me a squirrelly scowl as he came head-first down the trunk of the pine a couple of minutes later.

If I remember correctly, I’d been thinking about loose ends, of which there are many in every life of any length. They multiply as time goes by. Earlier this morning, back when the cabin’s wifi was within reach, I came across some true words about fiction and how we don’t always get the endings we want. An author can surprise us, disappoint us, confound us. Sometimes characters surprise the author and do or say things their creator could not or did not foresee.

Nonfiction is much the same. Characters surprise and disappoint. Body parts and murder weapons are not always found. Bad guys go unpunished. The innocent go to prison. Things we should say and do go unsaid and undone. We can confound ourselves.

Looking back, with open minds, we see loose ends dangling here and there like fishing lures caught on a wire by the lake road. With luck, we see tidy resolutions somewhere back there, too.

B.J.