Monday, May 27, 2013

Best Inspiration Moment as a Writer

During my recent blog tour, a fellow blogger asked about my best inspiration moment as a writer and novelist.

As it turns out, mine was fairly dramatic, perhaps more so because of my perennial difficulty in plotting stories. And in that context, it may very well turn out to be the inspiration of a lifetime. Background is that I wrote some fiction as a youngster, then after college I wrote a first novel that I duly submitted to publishers. I didn’t realize how awful it was until I reread it after multiple rejections. Rather than rewrite it, I put fiction behind me and went on to career and family pursuits--which were picking up nicely at the time. Whole decades later, I came back to fiction after reading a love story whose ending was so abruptly despairing, I felt outrage on behalf of so many punished readers.

It was a startling development, getting back into fiction, and I probably would not have answered its siren song except that I had long had the backbone of a story in mind. But it was very basic. Boy almost meets girl in 1960s college scene bar, then they do meet later again that night, partly by chance, then have dinner. He walks her home, then they agree to a big date the following Saturday. But circumstances conspire against our lovers during the week, so that, during the date, even though they fall for each other and pledge love, they immediately go on to have a terrific row that breaks them apart, seemingly forever. But she has a change of heart and puts together a plan to get them back together.

 So that’s the story I started out with, but it clearly wasn’t nearly enough for a full length novel. I needed more, but I wasn’t really worried about it as I plunged into writing with a fervor I’d never known. During my second weekend on the project, I was holed up in my study, writing furiously on different scenes that were not well connected at that point. Sometime during the afternoon, I took a break and put down my pen. For the first time, it hit me with some force that I would need to expand the story beyond what I had thus far. I turned around in my desk chair and glanced absently at a wall of my study that’s covered with twenty-something photographs, mainly portraits of romantic couples. Suddenly the idea for a surprise ending came to me. It seemed to jump out from the photo I had been staring at. In an instant, I knew I had been given something special. Not only that, the idea flashed and mushroomed within seconds into a much larger plot concept. In order to implement the surprise ending, I would need to add at least two more characters, and I would need to develop a love triangle I hadn’t thought of until that moment. In less than a minute, I’d been given all the material I needed for the story that would become Coinage of Commitment. The book became a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Book Awards. And the story has always been special to me in a golden way. In 2012, I decided to rewrite the story wholly for the purpose of making it a better book. The digital second edition was published in January.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Join the Spring Party Fun

**Welcome to the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop**

A Coming of Age Love Story of Betrayal, Suspense, and Renewal


What if the love you’ve dreamed of your whole young life is destroyed by another? And you don’t even realize it? Jill and Blake grow up in a small town. They attend the same church and public school, but are otherwise physical and personality opposites. Yet a quirk of fate and an act of kindness will draw them into an improbably chain of events. Who would guess they would fall in love? Their love soars to stratospheric heights, only to be destroyed by a treachery that neither is even aware of. Now, thousands of miles apart, with every reason to hate each other, they each know they must heal, rebuild shattered dreams, and go on. And yet...they are ineluctably moved by forces they can't define and do not understand. What is this restlessness they feel, even as love is pledged to another? Pocket Piece Cameo is a coming of age love story unlike any other. It tests the limits of what love can endure and what it can recover from

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Friday, May 10, 2013

How Do You Relieve Job Stress? Or Do You?

Most career endeavors involve some stress. I guess that’s because even a really great job isn’t great 100% of the time. Most career situations involve stress, often high stress, and that is often true even when the career is satisfying overall. Relieving the stress is something we instinctively do, usually without giving it much thought. We all unconsciously gravitate toward hobbies and pastimes when we’re away from work, and want to have fun. We call it fun, and it is, but it’s also a stress-reliever. It’s only when job stress is high that we need to think about it, recognize it as such, and map out a stress-relieving plan that renews us, that gets us ready for the work week.

I’ve had two careers, one as an engineer and technical manager, and one as a fiction author. Both careers were high stress, but the source of stress was different for each, and the methods I used to relieve the stress were somewhat different as well. My career as a technical manager was stressful because the work took place in the context of a corporate office environment. Why is that stressful, you ask? Well, for a variety of reasons, about fifty percent of the work I did in the corporate environment was either useless, or worse, destructive. I only spent about half my time doing useful things, and that was stressful. So what causes such inefficiency? Well, there are many reasons, and I could probably write a month of blog post describing them, so I’ll just describe one example here as an illustration. Many corporate work environments are overstaffed—especially overstaffed with managers—and that inevitably leads to the needless destruction and reinvention of corporate systems. So how does this work and why?

The example I’ll use is employee performance appraisal systems. Every corporation these days has one, and the company I worked for went into the 1990s with a really good appraisal system. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was far better than any of the systems I saw at our corporate peers and competitors. But hold on, here comes the problem. We had a corporate vice president with not enough to do. And the only way she could progress on the corporate chessboard was to put her name on a new corporate system or achievement, one that was perceived as successful. So what she did was to build a case against our current system. She said that because it wasn’t perfect, we should replace it. Well, it’s hard to tell a vice president that they shouldn’t be working on something, something she apparently feels high energy for. And of course she underestimated the work it would take to implement a new system by a factor of four. That made it easier to get the project approved and kicked off. A year later, after a heroic effort by an overworked staff, we implemented a new system that was decidedly inferior to the original. The vice president and her vested interests had the new system declared a stunning success, and she got her promotion. Interestingly, I saw this entire cycle repeated again before I left the company in 2007.

I was able to work and be productive in the confines of this system, but I found it stressful. I needed a way to refresh myself for facing the corporate meat grinder. I tried a variety of things, but what worked best for relieving my job stress was the exciting and high stress world of PC gaming. No, I’m not kidding! It was as though one form of stress was tailor-made for cancelling another. I’d come home and lose myself in the excitement of what are called real time strategy games such as Starcraft, and Age of Empires II. And presto, I’d sleep well and be refreshed for another day of corporate battles and frustrations, all endured with a hopeful smile and a genuine desire to achieve something useful and lasting.

 So let me wrap up by making two points for takeaway. One is that you can endure a whole lot of stress on the job if you find a way to relieve that stress and renew yourself. And secondly, it can be surprising (even amazing) the things that may work well to banish stress to the Recycle Bin. So it’s definitely worth giving some unlikely things a try.