Monday, September 30, 2013

The Power of Dinner Chat

Some of the best ideas come while eating.

Over the years, I've probably started two or three projects that never would've existed had I not met up with some friends for dinner on a Tuesday night. Often the conversations begins with "Wouldn't it be cool if..." or "I'd love to see..."

For five years, I participated in a traveling Ghostbusters "Tribute" Show...a sort of messed-up business seminar where some buddies and I tried to "sell" Ghostbuster Franchises to unwitting participants. It was a comedy stage show, not a real attempt at selling a business, and it was a hit where ever we showed it. And it came from an innocent dinner with a few buddies.

We were talking about things that would be fun to see at some of the conventions we attended. We'd just returned from Star Wars Celebration 3 in Indiana where we'd seen a "Star Wars in Thirty Minutes" play that was hilarious. A small con in Oklahoma needed entertainment for a dinner show, so my friend Rick volunteered us...even though we had no idea what we would do. We tried to put together our own version of the Star Wars play, but with Ghostbusters. The thirty minute adaptation didn't work, but soon the idea for our misguided business seminar was born. What followed was a sold out dinner show and then five years of touring the south and Midwest as our idea entertained untold thousands (or hundreds...or maybe dozens). All from a shared meal.

I know I've talked about collaboration before, but dinner chat is different. Shooting the breeze with friends, we've come up with ideas for our own conventions, solutions to political stalemates, solved world get the idea. Most of these 'what ifs" drift off in the wind, no more substantial than the breath used to voice the thought. However, every so often there is the seed of an idea that yields greater fruit than dinner-time conversation. Collaboration happens on a more structured level; meal generated ideas are much looser than collaboration and have fewer penalties.

If an idea is fun, we expand on it. If it is lame, we move on. No one is afraid of speaking up, because if a suggestion does not seem worthwhile, it may lead to something that is. If you're trying to come up with new ideas for a story, try inviting a friend to lunch. Don't be afraid to ask what sort of story they'd like to read. You might be out $15 for lunch, but you could walk away with a best-seller book idea.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Watching Play Time


Happy Birthday, Scott

The Superman to my Batman, the Luke to my Han

The McKinley Boys (Scott & Ryan), age 1 and 2 years-old, circa 1975
My "little" brother, Scott, celebrates the last of his thirties today but it does not seem that far past when we were running around the sunny streets of California in our shorts and tank tops. These days I don't get to see him often, but we had a good time during the years we had together. If you couldn't tell from the photo, we were attached at the hip during our younger years. My parents dressed us alike most of the time, probably because we were so jealous of anything the other had. Christmas presents, birthday gifts, treats all needed to be identical in order to avoid conflict, a concept that has informed me as I've become a parent to my own children.
This meant that when Christmas came around, our Aunt Sue knew to give us the same reversible Batman/Superman cape. What followed were hundreds of hours of Justice League swooping and swooshing, bam-ing and pow-ing, preceded, of course, with a debate about who would get to be Superman and who would have to settle for Batman. Those were great memories, Scott. I cherish them.
I mention this in my creative writing blog because watching kids play is a great way to reconnect with your own childhood memories. Those events, good or bad, can help us to tap into stories that no one could make up. Better than that is the fact that when children play they don't follow the rules we've come to expect in our adult lives. They invent rules, parameters, characters, all in a way that our "developed" brains could not fathom.
Of course a group of children can summon massive wells of creativity--a sidewalk becomes a dangerous lava flow; a pile of sticks becomes a den of poisonous vipers. But watching children play can give us insight about what they fear, what they desire. Most of the time, when Scott and I were playing we focused on the spectacular worlds of comic heroes and Star Wars. To me these worlds represented a bigger place with people and ideas that were far beyond the scope of my own existence and understanding, not unlike the protagonist Luke Skywalker (even though I identified more with Han Solo, 'cause you know, he was bad-a). I wasn't very athletic, so the super-abilities of my comic heroes allowed me to dream about what it would be like to have strength and agility.
What sort of things are children telling us when they play? Are they using their imaginations to pass the time, or are they allowing us to peek into the windows of their hopes and fears? Spend a little time at a park or playground this week and see if you can't suss out some of these characteristics for your own writing. If nothing is apparent, I'm sure you'll be inspired by something that transpires.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Writing A Memoir: Self-Serving or Community Service?

My previous entries into the world of literature have been fiction, middle-grade fiction to be precise. I've loved the opportunity to create a world and populate it with characters, conflict and creativity. And I'm a little burned out.

So I thought I'd try my hand at non-fiction. After all, if it happened, then all I need to do is re-tell the story and "bang" I've got a book! And if that book is a memoir, even better, right? All that requires is me to drop into "old man" mode and inform the reader about how my experiences will benefit them in every situation...


I'm choosing to write a self-help type book that will allow others to fall back upon my experience as an affirmation that they need not despair, someone else shares their adversity. It deals with my time at the age of 19 when I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. For those of you not aware, I'm LDS, or Mormon (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), and the nineteenth year of a young Mormons life is very important. It is when he sets aside two years of his life to serve a full-time mission, usually to a foreign country. That's changed a bit, now. A young man can serve at 18, young woman at 19 (it was previously 19 for males, 21 for females).

I pull out the laptop and the first 4,000 flow like water, lots of exposition about why I'm writing this book, how I believe it will help, stuff like that. But now I'm into the retelling of the facts, and I'm finding it rather challenging. Between all my written correspondence with my family (we wrote letters back in 1992) and my personal journal, I spent an entire writing session organizing the dates and events--without writing a single word!

Despite the challenge, I'm enjoying the process very much. It is a story I knew I needed to tell...lots of missionaries get sick, and the conflict between serving God and healing is quite a difficult one. But it feels so self serving. Have any of you ever tackled a memoir? How did you approach it so as to avoid being preachy or arrogant? I'd love to know, so drop me a comment and tell me how your memoir went.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fanboys On Fiction--Writing, Pop Culture, and Funny Voices

I don't know why I haven't introduced you, my reader, to the splendor which is my podcast. With 17 episodes in the can, one would imagine I'd have shared it from the start, but alas, I'm horrible at taking advantage of social media...but I'm getting better!

Roger Colby, a dear friend and fellow author, shares the "Fanboy" badge with me as we delve into the rigors of daily weekly consistent writing. Each episode covers a perspective on the art of word-smithing and then includes a geeky discussion about popular culture--comics, movies, books, etc.
Our recent podcast, Episode 17 "Dialogue Tips and Costuming Faux Paus" deals with the challenges of making your characters come to life through authentic dialogue and wraps up with us traveling down memory lane as we share some of our funniest moments in costume at cons or at charity events.
Give it a try. Fanboys On Fiction is free on Itunes. If you like what you hear, tell a friend and then write us at and let us know what you think about the current state of ficiton and pop culture.
Roger's Blog is Writing Is Hard Work

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mumford & Sons Live

When the biggest band in modern folk-rock decides to hold a 12 band festival 13 miles from your house, you'd better buy a ticket, pour on the sunscreen and get your handle-bar mustache out there!

Guthrie, OK, the festival's location, is a little town north of Oklahoma City. It's the original State Capital and home to a bluegrass and banjo festival--no wonder it caught the attention of Mumford & Sons.

Having started last night, Saturday's line-up includes the headliners Mumford & Sons, Yacht Club DJs, and Vaccines. Guiltily, I am really here to see Alabama Shakes (shh! Don't tell anyone!) Those guys are ready to blow up, I'm telling you. 

Right now the temp is in the high 90's, and why not? Shouldn't an outdoor fest be smokin' hot? But the crowd is calm and polite, there are free water stations and the music is awesome. What's a little extra sweat when so much awesome is in the air?

There is a really cool atmosphere that the event planners put together--banners, flags and decor. There are wandering actors hired by the organizers who put on demonstrations of pugilism, interact with the crowd and create a turn-of-the-century feel. 

My favorite detail has been the passport they distributed with the tix. It is made to create a feeling like you are off the train and a visitor in town. As one visits various stores and stations, there are agents to stamp your passport, giving you a fun keepsake that doesn't cost extra. I've heard that there is even a "secret" stamp that if one presents to the right agent will yield a prize. Sweet!

So enjoy the pics and your air-conditioned offices--I'm gonna put on my sun hat and dance like a crazy old man to a band named Half Moon Run. 

As much as I loved the vibe of the festival, all the day bands combined represented a sliver compared to the might oak which are Alabama Shakes and Mumford & Sons. Brittany Howard has such amazing range and emotion in her voice. I could listen to her sing Ikea instructions.  The crowds condensed for their set, which lasted about 50 minutes. I would have liked them to have played more songs with an upbeat tempo (after 7 hours in the heat, it would have helped), but all fatigue and dehydration disappeared the instant Mumford & Sons struck their first chord. They gave one of the most energetic, talented and diverse performances I've seen ever. Even with their full band on stage, eleven musicians produced a wall of sound. Most impressive was when the four core members were on stage...a keyboard, a guitar/vocalist/bass drummer, a banjo and a bass...and their sound was just as full and massive. If you ever get a chance to see M & Sons live, sell the comic book collection and get tickets!