Jeff’s Pep Talk: Roleplaying Games – Alternative Means of Expression Part III

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Roleplaying Games – Alternative Means of Expression Part III

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

Earlier this year, I wrote two articles about finding new writing inspiration in what I called alternate means of creative expression. In the first article, I talked about creating new non-writing projects to jumpstart your inspiration, and in article two, I shared the perspective that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself in the face of writing burnout is to—get this—quit for a while. If you’ve read the Pep Talk before, you know I’m a huge advocate for treating yourself well as a precursor to good creative output. I’ve seen too many very talented, very capable writers hit a wall in their work and tear themselves to pieces because they can no longer commit to a regular writing schedule. Being an author can be a pretty tough gig, and it does most people no good to pretend burnout doesn’t exist. Be kind to yourself. Recognize human creativity is not an inexhaustible resource, but rather, is more like a battery that occasionally needs a recharge.

This month I’ve got some new ideas how to go about said recharge, all centered on a little thing many adults have a hard time engaging in: play.

I like to play. In fact, you could say I’m an enthusiast. When I was a kid, sometimes the only refuge from school, bullies, and the pressures of modern family life was in fun and games. The thing about kids is nobody has told them yet it’s not okay to use their imaginations. You may not believe me on this, but a lot of people learn to ignore their creative impulses because they’re not “practical,” “serious,” or “valuable” enough for the adult world.

But you and I are storytellers, which means we know better. I say the day you stop playing is the day you lose contact with your own heart and soul. When I was getting too old for make-believe on the playground, I got into playing video games. Later, I got into playing music with my friends. In either case, I refused to sever contact with that part of myself that required the emotional release of a rollicking good time. And since we’re all storytellers here, odds are you may be a lot like me, in the sense that some part of you still feels the need to bring to life concepts, characters, and worlds that previously only existed in your head.

In my very personal experience, video games are a good way of nursing a bruised and battered creative drive, and if you’re so inclined, or if you simply haven’t played a good game in years, you might be surprised to learn modern gaming offers so much more quality and variety than players had access to in decades past. Only problem with video games is that although they’re interactive by nature, they’re often no different than watching a movie or a TV show, at least as far as these things go. In gaming, I don’t get to create the story, not really. Some other storyteller is graciously offering his or her talents, which in itself offers a fine respite, but it doesn’t always help me find my own inspiration.

So may I offer an alternative, one that might shock you in its sheer unabashed nerdiness. Back in the 1970s, people used to have to—wait for it—use their imaginations if they wanted to play. On a whim inspired by fantasy literature like The Lord of the Rings, a small group of very talented and enterprising nerds created something brand new from some very old storytelling traditions. (Nerds is not a pejorative, by the way. Not in the year 2019. These days, I’m a nerd, you’re a nerd, the old lady down the street is a nerd, and so is her pet poodle.) In 1974, a man called Gary Gygax published the very first version of Dungeons and Dragons, and the world of tabletop roleplaying was born. Now I know what you’re thinking.

“Dungeons and Dragons? Isn’t that only for people with bad acne, social issues, and a penchant for dwelling in their mothers’ basements well into their mid-40s?”

I’ll admit, the stereotypes tend to cling to D&D like a shirt of fine mithril clings to the back of a frightened halfling. But here’s the thing, tabletop roleplaying games engage an individual’s storytelling capacity in some pretty surprising and dynamic ways. For those not in the know, roleplaying games (RPGs) involve a shared storytelling experience between players and a game runner—in D&D parlance, a Dungeon Master. The game is all pretend and dice rolls, slowly and joyfully co-creating and co-experiencing an unfolding adventure completely unique to you and your group of friends. And let me tell you something else, here in 2019, there are so many variations, spin-offs, and reinventions of the basic RPG schema it’d make your head spin. There’s fantasy roleplaying, sci-fi roleplaying, horror roleplaying, romantic roleplaying, and even roleplaying based on Saturday morning cartoons. And I’ll tell you another thing, these kinds of games have experienced a huge resurgence in recent years.

I’ll make a confession at this point: my wife convinced me to write this article. I didn’t grow up playing D&D. Like many of you, when I was a kid and teenager I scoffed at it. Sure, I collected comic books, wrote speculative fiction stories, played video games, and enjoyed the heck out of entertainment properties like Star Wars and Star Trek, but for some reason, tabletop roleplaying was simply a bridge too far. My prejudices continued well into adulthood, but very recently my wonderful wife turned me on to a new way of experiencing RPGs.

Round about the time internet culture discovered people like to watch others game electronically, it also discovered the joys of watching a group of strangers play D&D. The most successful example of this is Critical Role, which you can watch on internet apps Twitch and YouTube. Critical Role is a weekly show populated by a group of eight Hollywood voice actors who just so happen to be best friends and hopelessly devoted D&D enthusiasts. These guys aren’t your prototypical basement trolls, either. They’re charming, attractive, talented, incredibly funny professionals who are as dedicated in their own ways to the craft of storytelling as you and me. They play D&D like no one else, personifying their characters with impressive skill and gusto to generate an incredibly engaging and entertaining storytelling experience that shouldn’t be tons of fun to watch but is. And they show you what’s possible when you engage your imagination in a completely improvised way.

Admit it, sometimes the act of writing is lonely. It’s just you, your word processor, and your dedication to the craft. Fun is not at all required, as much as we’d like it to be. So here’s my advice if you’re dead tired of laying down one paragraph after another, one concept after another, one character, theme, or narrative arc after another, and your mind is aching for a bit of a vacation: go out and play a little bit. Not everyone has access to a group of people who like roleplaying. This much is true. It’s also true a huge chunk of the adult population considers such things frivolous at best. But look, roleplaying can be a hell of a good time, and as modern pop psychology often reminds us, sometimes you’ve got to nurture your inner child before you can fully embrace what it means to be a grown up.

RPGs force players to think on the fly, to produce results from nothing but their own creativity and random dice throws. It’s extreme storytelling, if you think about it, and if you’ve tried everything else to combat that nasty spell of writer’s block, it may be just what the doctor ordered. There are plenty of online resources that can help you find local games in your area, but if you’re still not sure, maybe just start with a little passive viewing. Do yourself a favor and check out some internet shows like Critical Role. There are a lot of options out there. See if it doesn’t spark something within you, and if it does, maybe consider giving it a try yourself.

We live in such a take-no-prisoners world. Is it really too much to ask of yourself to slow down every once in a while and just have some good, clean, creative fun for the sake of, well, good, clean, creative fun?

Until next time, folks, keep those storytelling skills limber and toss a couple d20s. That’s roleplaying parlance, by the way. It’s your adventure. Tell it how you want it.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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The Many Faces Of Poetry: The Lost Poems

The Many Faces of Poetry 2

 

In the 90s I lived in Marin County, in the San Geronimo Valley. The Valley is something like heaven. It’s undeveloped land full of hiking trails, hills and valleys, winding roads and custom built wooden houses. It has its own culture. The San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center is a meeting hall and multi-purpose space where events can happen. Some of the Center’s regular features are readings of poetry. It’s a frequent venue for local bands. I participated in a lot of the Cultural Center’s events. I appeared frequently for poetry readings.  I assembled my band, “The Cryptic Research Orkestra” and played songs like “Barking Platypus At Midnight”.

It’s gratifying to be known, to have a small following of people who will show up because my name is on the flyer that is pasted up and down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

On this night my “peeps” were there, all the fans who knew that I might provide the unexpected, or do something funny, play drums or read poetry.

My poetry first finds expression in one of my black notebooks. These are bound books of clean pages, two hundred pages per volume. I purchase them at book stores or online. My closet is home for a dozen of these volumes. I keep the latest two or three books in my top drawer, so that I can read from them at live shows. Eventually I type my poems into the computer and add them to my master volume.

When it was my turn to read I carried one of the volumes onto the stage while I put the other two behind me, behind my drum set. Then I did my thing: I read. I entertained, enchanted, lala lalala, I sprouted wings and floated to the ceiling. When the mushrooms began to wear off I realized that I had read a single poem of eight lines. It had seemed like twenty minutes. Don’t perform on psychedelics. It promotes delusions and confusions. Anyway, I had a spare fifteen or twenty minutes left, so I turned to claim one of my other books. I saw a tall furtive figure creeping off the stage with my two notebooks in hand. “Hey!” I yelled and he took off on lanky legs, flying like an antelope. I ran in pursuit but when I got through the door there was no sign of him.

Why would anyone want to steal my books of poetry? Was this a case of lunacy, over -the- top fan-dom, both, or neither? Was the thief going to read my poems and claim them as his own? I would never know. I spent days musing on the nature of my loss. I hadn’t computerized those books yet. My memory was inadequate. I knew there were some really good poems in the books. One of them was a game I played with time, space and words. The words occupied strategic parts of the page. The poem began in the upper left corner and said, “From which Point Of View” then it dropped to the middle of the page and said “Ever Shifting”, then dropped to the left bottom corner, said “Changing” and that’s all I could remember of how I structured this marvelous statement about the ephemeral nature of reality.

I had lost all those poems. Shit. I felt hollow in my belly, like I was hungry, but it was more like a mist of needle-like molecules of loss. Emptiness. Helplessness. I could never get back those poems. From that moment forward I vowed to make back ups. And I said goodbye to two or three years of excellent poetic momentum, my precious “middle period”, before I got old and detached from the world. Before I could see the world as a toy or board game or a scratchy reel of film from the twenties. Because…that’s what the world is, isn’t it? A game? A farce? A fraud.

A test of love, of strength, a breeding house of character. The world is so many things that as I age I appreciate senility…I mean, how much crap can a mind contain, anyway? This is why the memory folds like an origami and seemingly disconnected concepts join up in new ways. Origami. Poetry. Aha! I remember! My “from which point of view” poem was supposed to be folded up, then opened in a strict sequence. But I’ll never reconstruct that. It’s gone.

 

Here’s one that’s not gone.

 

I talk to the world

 

I know, I know,

you’re wondering what

it all is,

why it’s so damned

complicated

and why you can’t just

settle down

and make it good

why it’s so freaking hard

to work out

so impossible

to solve

why there’s no answer: no,

not even an answer,

just a way

to be

that isn’t painful

shameful

embarrassing

mistaken

poorly conceived

broken

half hearted

out of tune….

I know, I know…

What the hell is it?

What started it to go this way

and not some other

way,

some way deeper,

more satisfying

more noble

than the squalid human consequences

of being here

with all this motherstuff

fatherstuff,

bad uncle

mean neighbor

bullying enemy

conniving stranger

evil intentions

ugly ideas.

What is it that made our world

so crazy

that to get a drink of water

means murder

to own a house

to dig a well

to marry a total stranger

means ten generations

of violent feud

what happened

to human beings

how did we miss everything

so completely

why aren’t we quiet enough

thoughtful enough

to see a hundred fifty shades

of color

in a sunset cloud

why are we so noisy

so sloppy and clumsy

why do we breathe all wrong,

BREATHE ALL WRONG

what does it take

to be right with the world?

Look in the eyes of your baby.

Remember what you see.

Try very hard to remember

look in the eyes

of your lover

remember what you see

remember love

and its intricate rich depth,

DON’T FORGET!

Aaaah!

It’s so easy to forget

it takes but a heart beat

were we talking about love?

I don’t remember.

There was something that confused me,

bothered me,

I forgot

and now, see,

what happens?

Now, see?

 

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Jeff’s Pep Talk: Who Influences the Influencers?

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Who Influences the Influencers?

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

Are you an influencer? You might want to think about it a moment before you answer. In our culture, to influence is to make a big splash, to inform what individuals and groups value, how they think and interact. I’m an influencer because I’ve got a Mom and Dad, a wife, a brother, friends. I’ve had a huge impact on them, and it goes without saying, they’ve impacted me. We all influence each other, right? We can’t help it. If I know you and you know me long enough, we’ll start to get under each other’s skin. Science even suggests we’ll start to look alike, as terrifying as that sounds.

Human beings are the influential type. We’re social creatures, and usually, when one of us has trouble, there’s a whole baying wolf pack of supporters and naysayers coming up behind. One of the things I dislike most about our modern storytelling ecosystem is the fact writers today tend to favor death, tragedy, betrayal, all the nasty things in life. Whereas love, respect, loyalty, they seem to get left in the dust. So you’re a writer. You like to tell stories and communicate complex ideas that might otherwise mystify people. You’re an agent of truth, an avatar of righteous disclosure, and you need a clear mind and a firmly rooted foundation.

Enter the influencers. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be that grade school teacher who first read you your favorite book. Or the acclaimed author who, after forty years of alcoholism, workoholism, and abject failure, produced that one brilliant novel that sets your soul singing every time you read it. You can be your own influencer, too. Who is it that forces you to sit down at the computer and write? Is it your work ethic? Where’d you pick that up? I’m an all-or-nothing guy, much more comfortable working in bursts and spurts. Also more likely to face periods of intermittent burnout because of it. But even I get uncomfortable when I’ve allowed myself to rest on my laurels too long. Knock me down, I get back up (eventually). Who influenced me to perform this way?

It may sound sappy, but I don’t believe people come into our lives by accident. I learned to work hard from my family. They taught me to laugh as well, which means my stories are par-boiled and strange as hell. I didn’t know I had talent until people close to me told me in no uncertain terms. Even as an adult, there have been those moments a special person has come out of nowhere and made me feel suddenly and delightfully valuable. A little encouragement goes a long way, right? And thank god for that.

But let’s not forget the negative influencers in our lives. The people who tell us we can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t, that we’d never. Sometimes, especially when we’re just starting out, our naysayers seem more numerous than our supporters. I was an indie singer/songwriter until I turned twenty-three and decided I was a writer. Just about everyone in my life, my family, friends, even my fiancé, were puzzled by the sudden turnaround.

“Don’t you still want to do music on the side?” they asked, oblivious to the fact I might interpret their concern as doubt in my abilities.

I wasn’t born to write, not really, and neither were you. We worked at it, honed our abilities to finely pointed instruments of literary destruction. Sure, people like us have a natural aptitude for this sort of thing. But for crying out loud, my first completed short story was such a godawful mess I haven’t had the strength to look at it in all the years since. No, my family wasn’t super supportive of my choice. I think they wanted to be, but perhaps they didn’t know how. To say they were unequivocally negative about my chances wouldn’t be fair, but I was their golden boy when I had a guitar in my hands, something substantially less than that when I started cranking out sub-par stories. Like you do. Because we all have to crawl before we can crawl just a tiny bit faster.

Here’s the thing. I’m grateful for their doubt. I recognize now that if not for a little healthy adversity, there’s no way I’d be the writer I am today. Do you feel the same? Who influenced you? Who told you you could or couldn’t? You may be surprised to realize you needed both groups in equal measure. We never really know how bad we want something until it’s denied us. Ask any hard-case of unrequited love out there, it’s always so much more romantic when the answer is a resounding “no.”

I’ve got a brief writing exercise for you, a small motivational tool to unearth where you’ve been and help you ponder where you’d like to go. Write down the top ten people who have influenced you on your writing journey. Could be anybody, teachers, authors, loved ones. Now for each one, assign a numerical value from one to ten. Your high school language arts teacher, what was her name? She gets a seven because she’s the first person to compliment your out-of-the-box ideas. Tally up the final score for all ten influencers and answer one very simple question: did you do this alone?

No! Of course you didn’t. There were people ushering your progress the whole time, laughing at you, cheering you, doubting you, praising you. There were ghosts of old writers in all the books you collected, urging you to follow in their footsteps, to find truth in their work, such that it could be found. The sheer joy of the struggle, the artistic and cerebral strains, buoyed by hearts buoying hearts, the ability to sit down and craft a narrative that takes everything you are, were, believe, love, hate, condense it into chalky baby formula, slap it in the food processor, and then ka-blam! Gourmet word smoothies (literally speaking, of course).

It’s no small thing to think about these people from time to time. For so many of us, real support doesn’t manifest until we’ve been working for years and years. Imagine you were raised to go into business. Mom, Dad, I want to be a writer instead. Professors, Dean, sorry I’m leaving your wonderful but boring academic program. I’ve got the bug, you see, and there really is only one cure.

The older I get, the clearer it seems to me our desires don’t come to us by chance. Plenty of people try their hands at penning their first novel and never make it further than a chapter or two. So take for granted the fact that if the urge to create is so strong in you you’ve never been able to lay it down, obviously, much gratitude and respect, you are MEANT (that’s all caps, MEANT) to keep working. Saying nothing about MEANT to be super rich or super successful, MEANT to win awards, MEANT to change the world. No, simply MEANT to write, which is no small MEANT at all, thank you very much.

Do yourself a favor today and give some gratitude to all your many influencers. Without their love, support, disinterest, and bad advice, you wouldn’t be able to influence others in kind. Oh no, you didn’t think you were getting out of it that easy, did you? Of course you’re the biggest influencer of all. We don’t live in bubbled slip-space isolation, present state of geopolitical affairs notwithstanding. You never know who’ll come knocking on your door. That special individual may become the most important author of the millennium. Then again, they might just be a friendly guy or gal who needs a friendly pep talk and a kind word or two.

Don’t make your job harder, and don’t make them feel they should abandon theirs. Writers who make a point of discouraging others give me indigestion. Probably for the best, in the long and short of things. I never really listened to their sort anyway. Until next time, folks. Dream large. After all, if you don’t, who will?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Jeff’s Pep Talk: The Big C(riticism)

Jeff's Pep Talk2

The Big C(riticism)

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

I don’t think there’s a soul on earth who likes criticism. There’s just something about it that can cut to the bone. Human beings have such fragile egos anyway, those pesky little conscious seats of individuality that get bruised and battered when others make us feel small, less talented, less competent, perhaps even less valid as people. Some more than others, right? I’ve had writers tell me they never feel offended, angry, upset, or in any way discouraged after a round criticism. I don’t think I believe them. I mean, not at all? Even just a little? Really?

And of course, if you’re checking out this blog, odds are you’ve seen your share of creative criticism. It’s essential to the process, right? Every writer can benefit from it, from the newest of newbs to the most seasoned authors. And a change in attitude often occurs once a writer actually gets neck deep in a viable career. At that point, criticism has become just another part of the job, kind of less of a hassle than, say, making deadlines you have no hope of making or enduring long, drawn-out revision cycles.

But there’s another dimension to writers that’s so common it’s a cliché. Many of us suffer from mental illness. I know I do, and lots of my associates and acquaintances are in the same boat. Most of the time their personal stories boil down to a bit of depression here and there, but look, there’s something about a creative profession that requires long periods of solitude that seems to attract folks who are maybe a bit less emotionally equipped than the rest of humanity. Plus, you know, the ubiquitous link between genius and madness. Some of the greatest writers in history should have been in the nut house. Some of them were.

Now there’s a big difference between getting your feelings hurt over some bad comments from a crit group and losing your mind completely. We subject ourselves to the honest (and often brutal) opinions of our colleagues because we understand in the end criticism will make us better. Especially when we’re just starting out. If we can find a few people who really get what we’re all about and who consistently offer good feedback, we’re wise to consider them valuable resources. The fact remains, writers pour ourselves into our work. In many ways, stories and novels, articles and memoirs, they’re like our children. Sometimes it’s hard not to take criticism personally. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it.

So as a writer who’s had one or two creative outbursts himself (sorry about that black eye, prof), here’s a few tips to soothe the wounded beast. Number one, and going back to the crit group thing, it really does help to know a few people who are on the same page as you creatively. It’s old advice, but it is enormously beneficial. Also, try not to work with writers who aren’t quite as skilled as you are. Likewise, learn to recognize when you’ve gotten in with folks who have a lot more ability and experience. Writers who punch in above your pay grade aren’t going to be able to help as much as you might expect, and you may even struggle trying to understand and disseminate their feedback.

Next tip: always keep a few pots on the fire. Okay, this new story didn’t work out for me, but at least I have that other one that shows way more potential. Dive into this process head first, if you can. Conceive, draft, and revise in cycles. Nothing blunts criticism like a sense of forward momentum. Keep an idea notebook handy. Never miss an opportunity to dream up something new and play with it a little. We’re still growing here. Got lots and lots of stories to tell in the future. Stagnation sucks. It crushes the life out of creativity. Avoid it if at all possible.

Tip number three: make sure to honor your private life. I mean that. Some people throw themselves into their work at such high velocity their relationships and daily routines suffer. You’ve got friends, right? Hang out with them, have some fun. While we’re at it, don’t neglect your romantic life, either. Seems like kind of a toss-off to some people, but look, you’re human. Biology is a factor, and it’s just a basic fact that people tend to be happier when they consistently engage this part of their personality. Family, hobbies, even other, more practical career goals, these can all serve as a refuge when your creative mind is battered and tired. Conversely, writing itself can act as a pretty powerful refuge from things like, oh, family, hobbies, career goals, romantic life, friends…

Fourth tip: don’t worry about developing a thick skin. Focus more on developing a keen critical mind. Say someone tears your latest to shreds. You can either A) get emotional about it, B) decide this loser doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about, or C) penetrate the matter a little more deeply, choose which criticisms are valid, discard everything else, move on to the next thing. Your lizard brain is your lizard brain. It’s a given. But your analytical mind, that you’ve got to hone. So get clinical if you can. Easier said than done? For some it really is. You’re not a robot. At least I don’t think you are. I mean, you haven’t blinked in several minutes. I’m watching you…

Do the best you can to stay neutral during and after a round of feedback. Or if not neutral, at least receptive and pragmatic. This is a process. Repeat it to yourself if it helps. This is a process. This is a process. And don’t forget to ask plenty of questions. Stay engaged. Again, criticism affects people differently. I imagine some will read this blog post and think, “I don’t see what the big deal is. This Jeff Bowles guy must be a total train wreck.”

To which I might reply, “Stop staring at my mangled caboose!”

…Ahem, yes. Anyhoo, there’s no accounting for temperament. Look, it’s always seemed to me writers just aren’t honest when it comes to these things. And why should we be? Nobody likes a hot head. No one’s particularly desperate to work with a soppy, spongy mess. But there’s always the case to be made for blowing off steam when necessary. Never let it jeopardize your work, your reputation, or your sense of professionalism, but don’t bottle it up, either. If you find the situation becomes chronic, do a little soul searching. What’s really bothering you here? Why does criticism seem to affect you so much? Self-analysis, some say, is the path to divinity. Not that divinity has anything to do with the life of a writer.

Speaking of which, and if all else fails, there’s still good old-fashioned counseling and therapy. It might sound dopey and overwrought to even remind you of it, but sometimes in life, it helps to get serious about ourselves and consider our own triggers and shortcomings. No shame in it, and never let people tell you there is. Mental health is extremely important, much more important than the modern world ever seems to recognize. And even simple depression can become dangerous if left unchecked.

And now to spoil the mood completely, some depressed writer jokes!

“Well doc, I guess it all started when they said my steampunk riff on The Notebook was even lousier than my 50 Shades of Grey fan fic written from the whip’s perspective.”

“Really? And how did that make you feel?”

“Like we should have used a safe word.”

Why did the anxiety-riddled writer cross the road? Are you crazy? I’m not going outside. That road is clearly a death trap.

[end of joke digression]

Ready to tackle another round of critiques? Well, in a perfect world, I guess you would be. Do what you need to do to combat discouragement and self-defeatism. One of the healthiest attitudes we can adopt as professional writers is the macro, career-long perspective and an abysmal memory. If the fates allow, you’re in this for the long haul, so just remember this or that little hiccup will mean nothing in the end. It’s a basic fact that we learn more from failure than success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fail as hard as you can!

Pep talk concluded. Feel better now, don’t you?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

A couple months ago, I talked about YouTube and alternative ways writers can express themselves in order to clear out writer’s block or perhaps simply gain perspective on career or creative issues. I consider the writer’s life a long-haul experience. Very often, we go through bursts of creativity and sheer writing bliss, only to end up in a long, slow burn of doldrums and low output. The first five to ten years of any writing career are all about figuring out our voices, our skill-levels, our likes and dislikes, and most importantly of all, our individual thresholds for, let’s say, soul-crushing rejection. After that, ultimate longevity is kind of a crap shoot, right? Well, sort of.

The workhorse model for professional writing doesn’t suit everyone. You may not believe me on that, but trust me, pragmatic holistics matter. Yes, in general it’s best to stay productive and avoid periods of low output, but it’s also a bare bones fact people seek and find inspiration in their own unique ways. For instance, it’s not uncommon for some very successful authors to disappear from the literary scene for years or even decades at a time, only to return in incredible, blinding flashes of brilliance. What do they get up to during those so-called creative droughts? Mostly, on an internal level, they live and experience a few more things until they feel they have something new to say.

If you’re the kind of writer who must hit the brakes every now and then, and by the way, I count myself among you, it may come as a surprise that there doesn’t exist a whole lot of information and support for your way of doing things. The workhorses of the world would have you believe you’re failing if you don’t put down your 2,000 words every single day. But you aren’t. Trust me on this. You’re still doing the job. Even quitters are doing the job. You’re smelling the roses, paying the mortgage, getting married, divorced, remarried, having kids, whatever it is. In essence, you’re telling the story so you can, you know, tell some more stories.

Quitting is a misnomer anyway. I’m not sure good writers ever actually quit. We say we want to, go through the motions, but sooner or later, the bug bites us again. Shamefully, we may disappear into our little domiciles and caverns and pine away for all the stories we never got to tell. But this attitude is borrowed, I can assure you, from a culture that sees reflection and seclusion as things slightly lower than sin.

Just quiz yourself for a moment. The last time you got yourself into a writing funk, wasn’t it because you had something bigger to do? You had to work on your insecurities or your fear of success, or maybe your great aunt died and left you a billion coupons for that buffet place she loved so much but that only serves your favorite brisket on Sundays. An unlikely scenario, sure, but you get the point. Writing doesn’t occur in a vacuum. As much as we may dislike the idea, every word we lay down reflects who we are, who we’ve been, what we believe and value, and the places we yearn to go.

It all depends on your purpose as a storyteller. Does anyone really have a purpose in this world? Yes, I believe we do, though you may feel free to disagree. As an avatar of the workhorse archetype (Family: workhardimus, Genus: unflappabilititus), your purpose may be to write whatever, however, whenever, and for as much money and prestige as possible. A worthy fate if there ever was one. If, by way of alternate example, your countenance and mean represent the BIG IDEA archetype (Family: trickleinspirationmaximus, Genus: deletekeywornout), you may make a habit of cooking a single manuscript for fifteen years before realizing it was good enough to show people eight years ago.

Is there a wrong or right answer here? I don’t think so. Is one of these writers lazier than the other? Arguably, but I don’t think dedication is the ultimate watch word. We’re looking at the sum rather than the parts here, and that makes all the difference.

Art, like life, is a product of time and gestation, and some ideas simply can’t be rolled out in the span of a few months or a few years. Let’s say all you want to write about is a clan of trolls that need to hatch a plan to infiltrate the King’s armory (why not? Substitute a diatribe for or against the Trump Administration, if you like). Every one of your writer friends tells you to plug away until the damned thing is finished, but instinct screams at you to put the story away because you don’t fully understand family dynamics during wartime, social patterns in relation to ground-dwelling malcontents, or the trials and tribulations of Diet Coke-swilling Presidents. I’m telling you to follow the instinct.

The relative complexity of the story you want to tell and your ability to execute it depend entirely on where you’re at as a person and a creator. An eighteen-year-old could write her magnum opus as easily as a fifty-year-old, it’s just the soul of one finds itself prepared many years prior to the soul of the other. So prep your soul a little. Here’s my recommendation if you’ve tried the 24/7, 365 model and found it wanting: live a little between projects. Forget what you’re working on right now, shelve it; yes, I’m giving you permission to quit. Here’s a real test of mettle. Can you forget all about your big dream? Can you go back to being a regular civilian non-writing-combatant? Knowing in the back of your mind when you return to work at some distant point in the future, you’ll be changed, the world will have changed, you’ll have packed on a few years, losses, wins, regrets, and that your stories will thank you for it?

Sometimes alternative means of expression require us to express nothing at all. To me, making something from nothing is a lot like breathing. The inhale, the brink, and then at last, the release and relief of a nice grateful exhale. Take in oxygen like a prize fighter or a Buddhist monk. Breathe until your belly fills with all the desire and longing you can stand, and then let it rightfully explode. Awaken to the possibility of laziness. I mean that. Sit on your butt and watch The Price is Right, or go to work every day and pretend to care about earning a living. In one hundred years you will be dead. Sorry if that’s a bit of a spoiler. Now did you write two books or forty? Would you rather have written fifty? No doubt, but tell me, was it your role to do so? Were you driven to do it? And can you really call that life of yours a waste because you lived how you were compelled to live?

To be blunt, don’t live by other people’s standards. Just in general, don’t do it. If you’ve got the drive and the nerve to chase your star, chase it as hard as you can. But if survival and struggle are all you know and you’re damn tired of it, understand there’s nothing to be gained by producing a mountain of crap for your name to sit atop as you relax into a neat pile of old bones. Individuality is far more central to our world than most people have the ability to recognize. One-size-fits-all only works in plumbing fixtures and baseball caps. Don’t knock yourself out with this story or even the next. Put it down if you need to. Put it down. Put it down. Put it down.

Then go for a walk and pick up a winning lottery ticket, meet the love of your life, or get an autograph from the leader of the free world that sends you reeling back through space and time to meet the man who invented Diet Coke. Stranger things have happened. I’m sure of it. Until next time, everyone.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Rumi, Spirituality And Poetry

Ego within the Ego

The oldest poetry of all is in the Holy Books. The Rig Veda, The Maharashtra, the Buddhist Sutras, The Old and New Testament. Then there are the extended legend/poems that have become embedded as virtual racial memories of mankind. The story of Beowulf, the Icelandic Eddas, The Iliad and The Odyssey. It seems as if poetry came first, was the primal form of literature, handed down from The Gods to human beings.

More familiar to us today is the work of the Sufi mystics like Rumi. I know that Rumi’s poetry has become a consumer commodity. His work is immune to vulgarization, however, so I’m not worried about Rumi. He is said to be the most widely read poet in the world. His work has survived eight hundred years. He nearly vanished to the western world until Sufi scholar Coleman Barks translated Rumi into English and it took off…again!

Rumi addresses himself to God, to Allah, as if to an intimate lover. He gives all of himself to the Highest because he is in love with the Highest. Rumi is also very human, rooted and ordinary. He offers us practical insights on daily survival. He writes, “Don’t worry about what doesn’t come. By not coming it may prevent disaster.” He may as well have been speaking directly to me. I’ve waited for a lot of things that haven’t come.

Poetry and prayer are inseparable. Isn’t every poem really an address to the Divine? Isn’t it laden with hope, desire, confusion, supplication and maybe even surrender? Rumi’s poetry attracts modern readers because it retains its purity, it can’t be trivialized by the consumer paradigm that dominates our world. It doesn’t matter that Donna Karan uses Rumi to sell fashion. Or that rock star Chris Martin uses this poem on an album by Coldplay.

 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I can’t think of any more appropriate response to the maladies that afflict us in these times.

This, then, is my poem, a poem very much influenced by Jalalladin Rumi of The Mevlevi School of Sufism.

A Worthy Destination

I haven’t found peace.

I don’t own peace,

rent peace,

buy or sell peace,

though I do encounter peace

from time to time.

Peace is like a friend

who comes for a surprise visit.

As my life takes on a shape

in which peace feels comfortable

I see peace more often.

Peace is not easily found in this world.

Peace comes like an accident,

a good mishap.

Peace lands in my heart like

a bird that’s raised its young

and is looking for a new place to nest.

I thought I would know peace by now,

but it’s taking longer than I expected.

The biggest problem is my mind.

It’s like a bag turned inside out, its contents

are the world, spilled and crazy.

Peace is not comfortable

in the world. When I’m with peace, I feel as though I’ve brought a guest

to the kind of party

that’s broken up by the cops after midnight.

I need to make peace more welcome here.

I should send peace an invitation, find a good solid tree

where peace can perch and sing

before taking flight

to a more worthy destination.

 

To see more of my writing, photography and music I highly recommend that you take an excursion to

http://www.artrosch.com

email writernuts@gmail.com

 

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A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography.  In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders.  The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression.  He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy.  It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience.  He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Always One More Story to Tell

jeff black and white

Always One More Story to Tell

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

I’m good at giving pep talks. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not my life’s purpose to encourage others to success rather than to achieve a huge amount of it myself. If that’s the case, I think I’m okay with it. It’s not in my nature to divide or mislead people. I’ve got a slight carnival barker element to my personality, I suppose, but other than a little ill-timed self-promotion every now and then, it’s never gotten me into much trouble.

In this world, in this day and age, contention and cultural separateness are extremely popular trends. It seems folks today are primarily interested in defining themselves by what they are not and what they dislike, abhor, or disagree with. Maybe my personal philosophy comes from some other time, some other place. I’m more interested in the things that unite us, that remind us just how similar we are; I’d like to see people come together and acknowledge the good in life rather than the bad.

I’m an optimist by nature, even and especially when things in my own world seem askew. In grad school, I adhered to a certain ethos that served me pretty well. It became popular enough among my classmates I heard it repeated back to me more than a few times, especially as my academic cohort entered the home stretch of thesis prep. That ethos is simply this: there’s always one more story to tell. It actually applies to more in life than just writing, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll narrow its definition to its most literal meaning.

There’s always one more story to tell means a good writer understands a career is not built on a single world, character, or narrative. It means no matter how hopeless or defeated you feel, your imagination and will to create are completely under your own power and can therefore sustain you through the hard months and years. There’s always one more story to tell implies none of us should ever stop dreaming. Dreams are the stuff of joy and expansion, not cold, hard, practical facts. Cold, hard, and practical wants you to see a slew of form rejection letters as a personal condemnation from the universe. “How dare you try to be a writer? Don’t you know you’re lousy at every single thing you do?”

I believe it’s possible to see through the illusions of life. Here’s the biggest illusion for writers who have yet to realize their goals: no one’s believed in me yet. It’s safe to assume no one ever will. Contrary to what you may have been told, belief is not required for success. There’s no secret recipe for super-stardom containing one part perspiration and nine parts yeah, but I believe so much. It’s not a badge of honor or a sign of a superior mind to keep the faith even when you’re feeling battered and bruised by every creative endeavor you’ve failed to launch. The truth is, there’s no room for belief in always one more story to tell. In fact, it’s antithetical to the entire basic philosophy.

Choose to be rather than to become. Were you born a human being or did you choose to become one? Did you draw your first breath naturally, or did it just seem the most prudent thing to do at the time? Oh, well I guess oxygen is a thing here in this hospital room. Didn’t seem to need my lungs down in that womb, but what the hell? I’ll play along with everyone and just breathe.

What is a writer? Honestly, have you ever stopped to ask yourself that? A writer is a person who writes. That’s it. You either are the thing or you aren’t. So in acknowledging you always have one more story to tell, you’re giving yourself permission to screw up a little. Or maybe even a lot. Man, that last story was a real loser. Well, so what? Remember that idea you had the other day while you were driving to work? The one about the race of rat-people who secretly control the international rat poison industry? Didn’t that excite you to think about? You know, excitement is the one and only key signifier of a creative avenue worth walking. Enthusiasm carries, after all, so ditch the last story that didn’t work and start crafting a new one. You’ve got to learn to harness your creativity before you can engage it with discipline. In a perfect world, a writing career would contain plenty of both, discipline enough to get the job done, creativity enough to ensure the stars in your eyes rarely dim.

So how does always one more story to tell work in practical application? For starters, don’t wait to start dreaming up your next masterpiece before you’ve finished with your current one. In fact, don’t ever stop dreaming, not if you can help it. Also, never stop watching, reading, playing, or listening to the types of stories that really get you going. Every single storyteller on the face of the planet was a fan before they were a creator. Never stop being a fan. You very well may become a huge success one day, which means you’ll meet some of your heroes. Don’t lose interest in their work once you discover they’re human, just like you. Know and understand the kinds of stories you enjoy most and devour them whenever you can. Don’t lose perspective. You’re a storyteller because you like being entertained and wish dearly to entertain others. That’s a noble goal. Really, it is. Writers are folks who allow others to be someone else for a while. We help people dream, just like other very noble writers helped us.

The dream is the thing that binds us. The dream is elemental and necessary. Rather than showing us who we aren’t, it defines us deep down to our very cores, who we are–or rather, who we’d be if we could take off our disguises and dance, as they say, like no one’s watching. I love to dance. You know how kids need no prompting when it comes to make-believe? It’s because no one’s taught them yet to avoid dancing at all costs. Above all else, writers are individuals who never fully integrated the lesson that adults do what they have to do 100% of the time and nothing else, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And the world needs people like us. Perhaps now more than ever.

I recently went through a period in which I stopped writing completely. I had a few pretty major personal setbacks, and I needed time to recoup. I don’t regret it one bit. The me that worked my butt off in grad school would have told this other me to soldier on, work through the pain, never stop writing. That old me would’ve been dead wrong. Always one more story to tell also accepts the fact that sometimes there’s no story to tell right now, but that this won’t always be the case.

I always preach self-forgiveness to budding authors. I think it’s paramount. Writers are often a depressed bunch. Sometimes I think it must be the key to our tenacity, that we couldn’t do what we do without a little self-doubt. Writers are perpetually Linus clutching his security blanket. We need a hug and a little friendly reassurance from time to time. But then, well, who doesn’t? Be the storyteller who’s willing to cut herself or himself a break. You won’t forget how to write, not ever, not as long as you’ve still got a pulse. The lessons you’ve learned, the work you’ve put in, they won’t suddenly disappear overnight. Uncertainty will always be a factor. It’s probably best to get used to that. There are things you can control and things you can’t. C’est la vie, right?

Do yourself a favor and keep a running ‘story ideas’ notebook. I’m a digital guy, so I use an app called Evernote. It’s a pretty helpful tool, because it allows you to save and sync individual notes across all your mobile devices and then backs them up into the cloud. The next time you’re watching an old favorite movie and one line of dialogue gets you thinking about some great new concept, write it down and save it for a rainy day. You’ll be glad you did.

The best thing about collecting ideas is that the process is cumulative, which means one idea lends itself to another, lends itself to another. One good concept can change your life. Dr. Martin Luther King knew that and spoke highly of it when he told us about his dream. His vision of an America, a world, in which all people were truly thought of as equal was perhaps the best conceptualization in human history. It was so damn good it seemed like a no-brainer and still does, even if we’re still fighting to see it realized. I suppose that’s another thing. Bringing something new into the world will always be a fight. Remember, enthusiasm carries (as in, it can help carry your lazy butt to the door). Never underestimate your ability to conceive and create the future. MLK didn’t, and nor should you.

It’s natural to doubt yourself and your abilities sometimes. Everyone has done so at least once in their life. And really, the work of a creative soul is doubly hard, and fraught with personal perils deeper the the Grand Canyon and twice as cleft. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” Indiana Jones said that, and he hated snakes and had a thing for whipping the competition.… Okay, maybe that’s not the greatest motivational allusion, but you get the idea. Take a breath, do something fun for a while, come back to your work, start again, knowing with certainty you never really stopped anyway. Life’s a continuum, a big lopsided wheel bouncing through space. One day you’re on the bottom, sure, but guess what? That’s only a prelude to being back on top again.

You’re reading a blog post written by a guy who dislikes divisiveness. The pendulum, it seems, has swung in that direction. But it doesn’t mean any of us has to like it. It also doesn’t mean you have to accept it in your own creative endeavors. Competition is everywhere in the writing world. Don’t play that game. Honor the success of others, and feel and express gratitude for your own, no matter how humble it may seem. Sometimes choosing to sit down and put one word after another is the biggest victory you can claim. So celebrate your abilities and your work, and get excited for your future. Whatever you do, remember the following: there’s always one more story to tell, there’s always one more story to tell, there’s always one more story to tell.

Like the one about the garden fountain that pitches quarters at people to make wishes. Or the cybernetic super-being who wants to trade his metal heart for a plastic one that can break. Or the…

See what I mean? Until next time, people. ¡Viva la creación!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Black Static, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!