Tuesday, October 28, 2014

To Outline or Not to Outline

I'm currently in a discussion on linkedin about whether or not to work from an outline during National Novel Writing Month.

As I mentioned in my last post, I like to have something to get me started in the right direction. I think it's important, especially during the early stages of NaNoWriMo, to make it as smooth as possible. It's easy to stumble that first week. And while Nanowrimo is cutting loose and letting the words flow, you don't want them flowing in all different directions.

I noted on the Linkedin discussion that I will work off a sketchy outline. I won't have a detailed outline, only the basics that will provide the prompts to continue on course.

As I've said in other posts, once I get into the flow of the story, the characters take over for the most part. But I generally return to the outline to make sure it will end in a logical way. Nanowrimo also has discussion groups on how to approach the 30-day writing marathon.

The Purdue University OWL (Online Writing Lab) site provides useful information that you can incorporate into an outline. I've found it a useful place to go because of the advice, tips,  and rules of writing it offers on many levels (I was first introduced to it when I was working on a master's degree in special education and writing lots of papers).

Back to the outline.

Until the next time...

Saturday, October 25, 2014


National Novel Writing Month is only a week from today.

Since my last post about NaNoWriMo, I've spent some time researching what I plan to write 50,000 or more words about next month. 

While taking a few hours each day in November trying to reach that goal can feel like writing from the seat of your pants, and it seems that way early in the process, the ride can be a bit less choppy if you take time to prepare before putting words on the screen. I keep a notebook -- before, during, and after the 30-day marathon.

First of all, you need to have an idea about the story line. Some folks may find it easier by having a rough outline. I generally jot down some notes so I know the direction I want to take when I head down that wordy highway. I don't want to get lost midway through the journey.

I want to know the protagonist, antagonist and other major characters. I'll know what they look like, general attitudes about various and sundry things, and what makes them tick. 

As for minor characters, they will show their faces during the course of the novel. I try to minimize the number of characters because I don't want to confuse the readers with a slew of names. It's confusing enough to remember folks in real life.

I'll know where and when the story takes place, the colors and smells, and most everything else in creating the scenes. 

As with my previous novels, the story will take twists and turns (plots and subplots) and I'll be along for the ride and try to keep it on  course.

I will say this novel will be a departure from my last two, which were targeted for young adults. This one will be aimed for boomers, or as some call it, boomer lit. 

My first four other novels were about boomers dealing with various issues in their lives. I'm just not ready to write about vampires, werewolves, and zombies, but who knows, maybe that's a story I'll pursue in the future.

In the meantime, I'm glad to have my creative juices flowing again on a new novel. 

Until the next time... 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Spotlight on Tommy James and the Shondells

Tommy James and the Shondells deserve more respect and recognition for what they accomplished during the golden years of rock and roll in the 1960s.

The group produced two No. 1 songs, "Hanky Panky" in 1966 and "Crimson and Clover" in 1968, and 10 other Top 40 songs while selling more than 100 million records. 

Some critics categorized their music as "bubblegum," but that wasn't fair to place them with acts such as The Ohio Express, the Archies, 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Royal Guardsmen, Tommy Roe, and so on.  

And not that there's anything wrong with bubblegum because some of the artists produced some good songs. But that's for another post.

Listening to Tommy James and the Shondells is to see a group evolve and grow, from the feel good "Hanky Panky" (first released in 1964) to teen passion in "I Think We're Alone Now" (1966) to the psychedelic "Crimson and Clover" (1968).

Tommy James and the Shondells had 14 songs reach the Top 40 including the aforementioned No. 1s as well as No. 2 "Crystal Blue Persuasion," No. 3 "Mony Mony," No. 4 "I Think We're Alone Now," No. 7 "Sweet Cherry Wine" and No. 10 "Mirage."

Incidentally, in 1987, Tiffany and Billy Idol covered their songs and hit No. 1 back to back on the charts with "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Mony Mony." 

While the group has been eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1991, they've never been nominated. I find that hard to believe, but there are many worthy and deserving artists who have been overlooked by the Rock Hall voters. I hope their omission will be rectified. 

Tommy James and the Shondells still perform so check out their website for touring dates. Tommy James, who is 67, has even written an autobiography, "Me, the Mob, and the Music," published in 2010.

In the meantime, here are a few videos to enjoy:

Until the next time...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

It's been a busy two months or so and I must confess that I haven't accomplished much on the creative side of writing.

I've written some posts to this blog, mostly about my recent two-week vacation to the western United States, and some other items related to the Kentucky Book Fair, of which I'm the marketing chair. 

But in the next two weeks I plan to prepare myself for the November writing marathon known as the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (sometimes I think it's easier to remember the proper name than the acronym). 

Two years ago I plunged into the grueling exercise -- the goal is to produce 50,000 words in 30 days -- which resulted in a novel, The Bully List

It was rough, raw and ragged when I finished the first draft, and I didn't look at it for five months. Then I decided to give it a read, and while it needed work, I was generally pleased with the effort.

So I took the next three months of rewriting and editing to get it in shape, submitted to my publisher, and then went through another round of edits with my editor. 

It wasn't the same manuscript that I had finished on the last day of November, thank goodness! It was transformed into a book for young adults.

So I'm going to venture into those semi-unknown waters again and see what happens. Why don't you join me?

Until the next time....

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Riding the Rails -- Salt Lake City and the Journey Back Home

The last major destination on my vacation to "America's Beautiful West" was Salt Lake City.

Bonnieville salt flats
But before arriving in Utah's capital, the tour bus made a stop at Bonnieville salt flats. That's the place where land-speed records are attempted by various racing teams.

We ventured out onto the flats, and sure enough, we were walking on salt. Some of us even tasted the white, salt-encrusted surface. 

Assembly Hall
Then it was on to Salt Lake City, founded by Brigham Young and other Mormon followers in 1847. Needless to say, the Mormons dominate the city with its churches, statues, and other things relating to the religion.

Salt Lake Tabernacle
Temple Square garden
The immaculate grounds at Temple Square were impressive, with the gardens and historic buildings such as the Salt Lake Tabernacle, where the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs, as well as the Assembly Hall and the Salt Lake Temple. 

What impressed me about the capital city of Utah was how clean it is. I'm sure the semi-arid climate is a factor. The tour guide informed us that you won't see any taxis lined on the streets, but that you can call for a taxi. And public transportation is free. 

I also learned that Salt Lake city is most sustainable city in the nation through its conservation and environmental efforts. It's a city with a vision.

Monument at This Is the Place Heritage Park
We toured the main Mormon church grounds and went to the This Is the Place Heritage Park that provided information about the city's rich heritage and history. Lunch was at the modern Gateway District shopping mall.

Utah State Capitol
And we drove through the University of Utah campus, where the guide said the torch from the 2002 Winter Olympics is on display. We didn't get to see it though, which was a minor disappointment to some of my fellow travelers.

A view of Salt Lake City from the bus
From Salt Lake City, we went to Price, where we spent the night. We got up early the next month and headed to Helper, where we boarded Amtrak's California Zephyr for the long, two-day journey back to Chicago, traveling across Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. 

It was time for my wife and I to relax and think about all the wonderful places we had visited: Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, John Muir Woods and Salt Lake City. 

I'm looking forward to hitting the rails again for another adventure.

Until the next time...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Riding the Rails -- Muir Woods and Sausalito

When I was a child I dreamed of seeing redwoods after reading about these magnificent trees in textbooks, travel books, magazines and encyclopedias.
Among the giant redwoods

That dream came true on my trip to California when we visited John Muir Woods, named after the naturalist who was one of the founders of the Sierra Club in 1892. 

And I wasn't disappointed.
The trails that wind through the woods.

The redwoods were as tall and beautiful as I had seen them in photographs many years ago.  And to walk among those ancient trees -- some more than a thousand years old and 350-feet tall -- along the quiet and tranquil trails only heightened the experience.  

It's certainly something I'll never forget. It was one of the reasons I wanted to make this trip to America's west coast.
The marina at Sausalito

After spending a couple hours in the woods, the tour bus took us to upscale and swanky Sausalito -- situated across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Sausalito shops
There is a picturesque marina to accommodate the sailboats and yachts, a great view of San Francisco Bay, an assortment of tony shops and pricey restaurants, and a laid-back feel to the whole place.

It's a scenic stopover between San Francisco and John Muir Woods.

Until the next time...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Riding the Rails -- A Lot to Love About San Francisco

One of the many hearts inspired by the song.
I didn't leave my heart in San Francisco but there's sure a lot about this beautiful city by the bay to love.

Through the years I've heard a lot of folks say that if they could live anywhere in the United States -- and could afford it -- that place would be San Fran. I can understand after spending a couple of days there.

Fountain at Golden Gate Park
There seems to be so much civic pride in this city of about 850,000 -- from Golden Gate Park to Fisherman's Wharf to Nob Hill to Chinatown, cable cars and much more. It's clean, as far as cities go, and very inviting.

City Light Books
While taking a bus tour through the city I saw City Lights Booksellers, founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. The guide said Ferlinghetti, who is 95, often shows up to chat to patrons..

Transamerica Pyramid

There is a lovely mix of architecture, with well-preserved buildings dating back to  Gold Rush Days of the 19th century to modern skyscrapers. Museums. Theatre. The Haight-Asbury district. Professional sports teams.  San Francisco seems to have it all. Unfortunately, that also includes a very visible homeless population.

You have the signature Golden Gate Bridge on one side of the city and the Oakland-San Francisco Bridge on the other. And in the middle of the bay sits foreboding Alcatraz  prison. Even though it's a tourist destination now, you can't help wonder what it must have been like for those who spent time on "the Rock."

A warning side at Alcatraz
Drop by Fishermen's Wharf and you'll find the usual tourist shops that sell T-shirts, caps, camera supplies, and various souvenir items.  There are some places such as Ghiradelli Square and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park that are worth a visit.

Chinatown musician

But if you venture to Fisherman's Wharf -- and who can't resist a few tourist traps -- you'll see sea lions that found a home on Pier 39, which they apparently adopted after the big earthquake in 1989 rattled the area.

Sea lions napping at Pier 39

Like I said, I didn't leave my heart in San Francisco, but I left with some wonderful memories. 
Golden Gate Bridge

Until the next time...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Riding the Rails -- From Grandeur to Majesty

After experiencing the grandeur of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, I got to view the majesty of Yosemite National Park in California.

Majestic Yosemite National Park

Stellar's jay
For many years I raved about Grand Canyon -- and I still do -- but I must confess that I  now enjoy Yosemite more because I found it much more accessible. Age-related thing? Could be, but you have a seven-mile wide canyon, those powerful granite monoliths, wonderful hiking trials, various wildlife, and much more. 
El Capitan

And there's El Capitan, the 3,000-foot tall formation that attracts climbers, BASE jumpers, and gawkers throughout the year. The sheer enormity of El Capitan might be understood since there were several climbers scaling its heights that you probably can't see from image. We were told it takes three to five days to accomplish the feat, depending on the skill of the climbers and weather conditions.

During our visit there were wildfires on the north side of the park which created a slight haze near some of the peaks. And we didn't see those magnificent waterfalls because of the drought that is affecting much of the Golden State

Another interesting stop  was seeing the place where President Ted Roosevelt camped with naturalist John Muir during a visit in 1903.

I hope to return to this beautiful national park and experience more of its wonders.

Until the next time...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Riding the Rails -- Trains and More in Sacramento

It's only appropriate that when taking a rail vacation that one of the stops would be at railroad museum -- and one of the world's best is located in Sacramento, Calif.

California State Railroad Museum
The California State Railroad Museum contains all things about railroads, with restored locomotives, various cars, miniature trains, exhibits, art, informative films, gift shop and more housed in its 225,000-square-foot building. 

The docents are knowledgeable and you can sense they have a deep affection and understanding about rail history and the important contribution trains made in the westward movement of the United States. 

I bet a lot of boomers, and older folks, developed a love of trains while growing up. I had train sets at various stages of my childhood, and I know folks who carried that love into adulthood and have elaborate rail systems that fill a basement. 

Sacramento was noted for steamboat travel 
The museum is part of Old Sacramento, which celebrates the city's rich heritage in railroads and river transportation during the mid-19th century as well as the California Gold Rush that drew prospectors seeking fortunes and perhaps some fame.

State capitol building
Sacramento is the capital of California, with nearly 500,000 population. It's a place I'd like to visit again to experience more of what this historic town has to offer and to return to the places I've seen.

Until the next time...