Monday, January 25, 2016

Queensryche Rocked the Worcester Palladium

A little bit of snow didn't stop prog metal icons Queensryche from rolling into Worcester Massachusetts Saturday night and putting on one hell of a show. This was a special one for me, as not only was it my first time seeing them with new singer Todd La Torre, but it was my son's first metal show. I couldn't have picked a better one, because Queensyche delivered, and proved they have moved on just fine from the Geoff Tate era.

Before Queensryche took the stage though, we got to see YouTube drumming sensation Meytal and her band put on a great set. Meytal's percussion is definitely the centerpiece of the band, but singer Eric Emery and bandmates Doc Coyle (rhythm guitar), Travis Montgomery (lead guitar) and Anel Orantes Perero (bass) were never overshadowed, as they're all great musicians in their own right. Their set was full of energy and they had the crowd in a great mood by they time they finished.

When the lights went down for Queensrcyhe, the crowd came to their feet, eager to see the new lineup live. While singer Todd la Torre has been around for a few years now, hearing him on an album is different then actually seeing if he can bring it live. I'm happy to report he confidently handled a variety of hits from the back catalog, as well as belted out some of the tunes he helped write for the last two Queensryche records. The setlist included classics like Queen of the Reich, Screaming in Digital and Take Hold of the Flame, as well as a slew of others.

Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson all sounded as good as they did when I last saw them over a decade ago, and guitarist Parker Lundgren (who's been with them since 2009) formed a perfect tandem with Wilton.

When the band finally closed out the show with "Eyes of a Stranger," any non-believers in the crowd had long since been won over. Queensryche proved they're still going strong, and there is plenty of life left in this band, which has been completely rejuvenated with the addition of La Torre.

As for my son, the second the lights went up after the show, he turned to be with a huge smile and said "That was awesome!" Awesome, indeed, and I'll never forget watching him be completely immersed in the experience. That memory will last a lifetime.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Percolation is One of My Favorite Problem-Solving Tools

Whether you're a pantser or a plotter, when you actually get down to writing your story, you'll eventually get to a point where something just isn't working the way you wanted it to. It could be a scene, it could be a character's arc, it could be anything. But when you you hit that point, it can kill the momentum you've been building up to that point.

An example came up for me this week while working on the first book in the Orchard Pointe series. Jolene and I have a wonderful villain for this story, who has been maneuvering behind the scenes for some time to this point. This villain's plans are becoming more bold as we head toward the inevitable confrontation with our main character. All of that is working out very well, but there is a particular piece of this villain's story that is not as good as it could be. This issue needs to be addressed for our villain to be the best version of the character we envisioned from the start.

Now, when I know there's a nagging issue out there, my brain wants to fix it. And if I don't do something to tell my brain that things are okay, I will only think about that one nagging issue, thus killing my writing momentum. BUT, only focusing on the nagging issue rarely solves the problem, because if the issue was easily solved, the answer would be more readily apparent.

So, I have to let it percolate.

Other people probably have plenty of names for this process, but I like percolation. One reason of course is because I'm obsessed with coffee. But another reason is that it actually captures how I envision the process.

So, for my story percolator, I need "idea grounds." For the Orchard Pointe character I mentioned before, these would be any ideas that Jolene or I have generated that could potentially address our problem. Some of these could be from the original outlines and brainstorming docs we created for the character, but many of them will be new ideas we generate either together or separately.

I put all these ideas into our outline doc, so they're all documented in one place. But I'm not choosing any one of them right now as the solution. Because most likely, one of those ideas alone will not be the solution.

So, I put these in the back of my mind and let the story we've created so far percolate through those ideas. As that process is happening, I go about my writing, continuing to work on the overall story. As I'm doing this, all of the potential solutions to our story problem are circulating through, until finally, the solution becomes apparent. This could be a few days later, or even longer, but in my experience, it doesn't usually take longer than a week or so.

The "heat source" in this scenario is continuing to write. By continuing to work on the story instead of stopping until I figure out that one piece, I'm providing the creative "heat" that drives the percolation process. This reinforces the concept that I have to keep creating if I want to solve the problem.

This may sound like a bunch of gibberish, but it's the best way I can explain how I tackle a story problem without letting it derail me. I gather all the ideas--no matter how crazy they seem--and let them percolate until the right answer filters through.

What's your problem-solving process like?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie Will Inspire Forever

David Bowie released a new album called Blackstar on Friday, his 69th birthday. He passed away two days later, after fighting a battle with cancer that he kept secret. The man was creating right up until the day he died, and he will continue to inspire forever.

Blackstar itself is an amazing album. It's hauntingly beautiful, made all the more so when you realize it's essentially a chronicle of Bowie facing his own mortality. The album is filled with lyrics where Bowie is addressing his own death, his legacy and what comes after. It's also filled with the type of experimentation that Bowie was known for throughout his multi-genre-spanning career.

And speaking of legacy, when you stop to think about the one Bowie leaves behind, it's almost overwhelming. More than two dozen studio albums, over fifty music videos and some of the greatest solo and collaborative efforts ever heard in music. Oh yeah--he was a movie star as well.


For me, Bowie will always inspire me to take creative risks. He symbolized creation without boundaries or limits. And how he faced death might be his most inspiring work of all.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jolene Haley Brings the Love with the Shine Bright Gang

My good friend and co-writer Jolene Haley launched an amazing project this week, called the Shine Bright Gang. The project is all about positivity and self-love, and remembering what makes you awesome.

Jolene launched the SBG site with a very powerful blog post about depression and how it isolates you and turns you against yourself. In dealing with her own struggles, Jolene is creating a resource and a community where others can support each other as well.

Jolene is the most positive person I know, and the energy she brings to our writing projects is what makes it so fun working with her. Even when she isn't 100%, she is always supportive and encouraging to everyone around her. I am proud to call her my friend, and I'm extremely proud of what she's doing with SBG.

The Shine Bright Gang is a wonderful project that you should be checking out. You can download the first issue of the SBG zine for free over at the site right now.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Course Correcting a Work In Progress--Outlining the Main Character

Coming out of NaNoWriMo 2015, we had over 50,000 words written on the first novel in the Orchard Pointe series. By mid-December, that number was just over 60K, and we were fairly deep into the second act of the story.

But as December went on, I found myself stalling out a bit. And so I did something that I very rarely do--I made an outline.

I've both written and talked about how I see myself as a signposter, which to me means that I mostly a pantser, but I'll jot down some plot points and a general idea of the overall story just to make sure I'm staying on course as I write. But for the most part, I like to let the characters reveal the story to me as I write.

One of the biggest challenges for me with this new series Jolene and I are working on is that it's written in first person. Outside of a short fiction piece here or there, I always write fiction from the third person perspective. Writing in first person is new for me, and that means that I have to learn to write differently, and to use different tools as I go.

With this current draft, I felt like I had paid so much attention to showing readers the world through the main character's eyes that I'd neglected to give them a good sense of the main character himself. It's not that we hadn't developed a clear picture of our main character, it was just that I hadn't translated it well to the draft so far.

So, I put together an outline for our main character and his arc, to remind myself of the picture we wanted to give the reader. The format I used was a slightly modified version of the one Libbie Hawker suggests in her her book "Take Off Your Pants," which I read recently and found really helpful. It helped me take the signposts Jolene and I had come up with and marry them with a clearer vision for the main character. Jolene and I then walked through the outline together and discussed each of the points, tweaking it and making sure we were on the same page and everything felt right.

With a solid outline in hand, I dove back into our book and everything clicked. A lot of what we already had works perfectly with this outline, and the places where we need to make changes are only making the character more fully realized.

This book project is forcing me to get out of my comfort zone and take a different approach, and it's making me a better writer. I'm loving it.