Friday, December 3, 2010

NaNoWriMo Progress Report - Nope, no progress.

So I didn't win. Again. Two year streak. And yet, I am not upset. It is OK. I got a good start on a story, and didn't lose any sleep or family time. So, not a problem.

As I was debating whether to even try this year, one thing kept popping into my head: Do I really need NaNo anymore?

I can write, when I want. The reason I don't is because it is so dang easy to find excuses not to. And I am good at excuses. Trust me on this one.

Meanwhile, I wrote two pieces for the Press and began my new job as the Social Media Wrangler, which means I get to update the Facebook page. Also, I started a Twitter page for the Press (Follow us at @pikerpress) as well. Once I figure out what that means I will be working that pretty regular as well.

Along with work, kids, church, kids, wife, kids, and kids, I stayed pretty busy.

So, not a failure - a decision. A good one too, if I do say so.

Happy NaNoEdMo!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jonah and Heinrich in the Piker Press!

For those of you familiar with the saga of Heinrich the Beetle, and those who would like some background, I was encouraged by Sand Pilarski to write a sonnet about it. Of course, when I tried a sonnet, it was nearly impossible to write about something so whimsical as a boy and his pet bug in such a stilted format. So I just started rhyming, and out came the voice of Dr. Seuss.

OK, I will be the very first to point out many errors in rhyme and rhythm - but I still love the poem, and I hope to get my wonderful sister to illustrate it to make it into a children's book.

Stand by for more on that...


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

There has been little progress.

Although I still like my story, life has not allowed much time to sit down and work on it. And since I am not allowing myself to be pressured by the deadline and wordcount this year, I am feeling no pressure to work on it.

That is good and bad. Good that I don't hate the story yet, bad that it is still at about 5,000 words and has been since last week.

Oh well. I did make good progress on a Mes de los Muertos story today.

As long as I am writing, that is what is important, right?

This has been your NaNoWriMo progress report.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

OK - I did it. You happy now?

I started a novel. Remember The Education of Fred? Well, I am taking a run at that story this year. Here is the opening paragraph:

Fred was convinced that he was smarter than he was. Or at least smarter than everyone else thought he was. He was functionally illiterate, at least that was what they whispered about him behind his back. As if being functionally illiterate also meant deaf and dumb. Not that kind of dumb either. People talked to him like he was a child, explaining simple concepts that had nothing to do with letters or books.

So check back often to see how it turns out. OK?

Happy Noveling!

(1634, but who's counting?)

NaNoWriMo day one... not so much.

For the first time since 2005, I did not stay up till midnight on Halloween to start writing. I have a vague idea of a novel, even a partial outline, but no enthusiasm for completing the story. What I have is a question - do I even enjoy writing that much anymore?

It has been months since I submitted anything to the Press. It has been even longer since I wrote something new. (My last submissions were simply gleaned from old stuff I had sitting around.) I have worked separately on two different stories. Both of them stumbled and fell down and I have not yet found the motivation to go pick them up and dust them off.

Am I whining? Yep. Sho nuff. I just thought I would explore my reasons for not caring much about NaNoWriMo this year.

Exploration done. I will write. I will make the effort. Just don't expect me to enjoy it.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Truthiness revealed!

I edited a wiki entry today. This was a first for me, as I have never really paid enough attention to any type of wiki entry to really care about editing it before. My interest in wikis is generally limited to remembering the name of that guy that was in that movie - or the year that Ford started production of the Galaxy. This time, however, the topic was a bit closer to home.

I think you, dear Constant Reader, must be familiar by now with NaNoWriMo. You must also know of my involvement (obsession?) with the Urinal Cakes forum there as well. My association with the Piker Press began as a direct result of trading posts with Aser in that forum. This year, the thread has been running pretty well. One of the characters, who calls herself variously Queen Chaos, QAoaS, or just Holly asked some questions about past years, wondering if anyone knew what had happened to the archives. By chance, I had very recently found an unofficial wiki for NaNoWriMo called WikiWrimo that oddly enough has a page dedicated to the UC thread, and listed links to all of the previous year's threads (including one to this very blog, which is how I found it in the first place). I posted the link, answered the Queen's question, and thought we would go on with the hilarity.

Not so. I have recently acquired another job over at the Piker Press: Facebook Group Page Updater Guy. The poor group page was pretty neglected, and so I volunteered to come up with stuff to post to it periodically. Pretty good gig, but I am now constantly on the lookout for stuff to post. Since most of the regular Filthy Pikers are also big UC fans, I decided to post a link to the Wikiwrimo entry for the UC threads. This was met with some good response, but one pointed out some small factual errors in the entry. (Note, very pleasantly. Not in a nit-picky pedantic moron kind of way.) I suggested that the person sign up for the wiki and make the corrections, but then decided that I was being kind of bossy. Also lazy. So I did it instead.

I filled out the online form to request an account with editing privileges and then set about educating myself on the ins and outs of editing a wiki entry. I then moved on to the FAQ's and discovered something very interesting: the admin (and founder) of the wiki was in fact, the UC's own Sushimustwrite! Very soon after learning this, I got the email informing me that my account was approved and that I could sign in and start editing. Also that Sushi recognized me from the UC thread and that the entry on the UC thread was one of the first entries she made in the wiki after she created it.

So finally I got down to the business of editing the entry. My rusty old html skills came in handy, as I figured out how to post hyperlinks and such. The hardest part was to modify the entry to correct the information without utterly destroying the original entry. Also, to word the information in such a way that it made sense and didn't simply compound the errors I was trying to correct. I have done a bit of that type of writing before, but never editing a relative stranger's work. I really liked the initial article - how it flowed, the way the ideas were presented - and so I wanted to correct the information without destroying all of that.

I think it worked out. I have not received any kind of feedback on it just yet, but then I don't really expect any. It is not as if I re-wrote an entry detailing the mating habits of South American primate species. But you never know what people will take exception to.

For now, I am considering my next foray into the world of wiki-writing. My own bio.

How truthy should I make that?

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ink? We don't need no stinking ink!

Ink? What qualifies me to be a reviewer of ink? My normal attention to this topic is isolated to cursing the lack of ink in the pen I grab to jot down a phone message. Basically, it is a binary process for me: Is there ink, or is there not ink?

While serving in the Army, I did develop a phobia of using any color but black, since for some reason blue ink (or heaven forbid any shade of red!) was likely to inspire the wrath of some anal retentive lieutenant. However, in the years since then I have gently convinced myself that it is OK to use other colors. Still, it was never a question of quality; just whether I could find one when I needed it.

Then, I met a guy named Chas Wallace. (CW for short.) He is a fellow Filthy Piker, and a connoisseur of fine pens and ink. He has penned a series of articles for the Piker Press reviewing different brands and shades of ink. When he reviewed an ink called Noodler's Heart of Darkness, he remarked that the bottle of ink came with a free fountain pen. (Apparently no longer available...) I decided that a free pen was a good enough reason to try the arcane writing instrument out.

Being a child of the '80s I had never owned a fountain pen, though I remember finding one in a pile of junk in the back of a truck my dad bought once. While trying to figure it out, I squirted ink all over the floor and the pen was quickly disposed of. When I got my new pen, I was fascinated with how it worked. This particular pen must have been specially designed for inexperienced users like me. The filling process was as easy as unscrewing the nib from the barrel and pouring the ink in. No siphoning or bladders or anything like that. And I loved the way it wrote. The sound and the feel of the nib scratching across the paper fascinated me and inspired me to actually try and write neatly, instead of my normal impatient scribble. I even printed off a handwriting practice sheet and practiced the alphabet a couple of times.

Fast forward a few months. The managing editor of the Piker Press mentions to me that she has recieved some free samples of fountain pen ink from an ink company and wonders if I would be interested in some. Never one to pass up something free, of course I wanted some. Then she set the hook: If I took the free ink, I owed the ink company a review of it on my blog.

So, here is my review. Not that I am any kind of an authority on fountain pens or ink, but I will give it my best shot.

The ink showed up about a week later. It had been repackaged by Madame Editor, but despite her very careful bubble-wrapped packing job, the ink had leaked all over the box. I checked the bottle carefully to see if it had in fact cracked, but it seemed to be intact. The ink turned out to be Naples Blue from Private Reserve Ink.

Next, I felt I needed a fresh pen to try out the new ink. Honestly, I am not sure exactly how to change ink types in a fountain pen yet. I will have to consult with RW on that for future reference. For now, it was a good excuse to go out and buy a new fountain pen. RW is fond of discussing his pens, including one he paid over $300 for. I don't have the disposable income for that, so I went with the X450 Kurve Vanilla Fountain Pen for around $12. When it arrived I was a bit shocked at how very beautiful and solid it felt. I was very excited to get the ink in it and get writing. However, my inexperience with fountain pens became very evident here.

The instructions that came with the ink told me to dip the entire nib of the pen in the ink and then turn the knob to suck the ink up into the pen. This turned out to be a huge mess. I had prepared myself with plenty of paper towels, but my hands still got completely green. Oh well, on to the writing. (Sorry for the tiny image of the actual writing - blame Blogger. But if you click on it, you get a full-size image that is a bit more helpful.)

The ink itself is a nice bluish-green color. My daughter calls it Turquoise. But it seems to soak into the paper, leaving little strings of color leaching out from the letters like spider webs. Is that the ink or the pen? Since this is the only ink I have ever used in this pen, I can't really say. The ink dries moderately fast, it smears if wiped immediately after writing, but after a few seconds seems to become set.

So is this good ink? Hmm... I don't know. I used it for quite a while, wrote several pages in my journal with it and it performs as good as any other ink I have used, except for the spider-web thing it does...

Well, does that count as an ink review? I hope so, though I seriously doubt I will be getting any more free ink to try out. Oh well, I now have three or four bottles of the stuff and am doubtful that I will ever use it all. Unless the Apocalypse shows up and all ball-point pen manufacturing grinds to a halt...

Happy Writing!

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Sunday, October 10, 2010

To NaNo or not to NaNo...

Not to belabor the point, but I am not really feeling excited for it this year. The last two years have yielded a pretty good start to a novel that coincidentally also had over 50,000 words and a horrible start to a short story that barely surpassed 10,000.
So, do I participate this year? Or take a year off? Do I try a run at a brand-new novel or do I break the NaNo-Rules and try to re-write the halfway decent novel that has been wasting away since then?

I don't know. Probably just keep making jokes about Urinal Cakes and QWAQ-ing with my NaNo friends and forget the novel. Easier that way, right?

Yeah, right.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Do You Remember?

It was already an unusual day for me. It was my second day on a new job, and I was just getting used to the new routine. I lived in Lakewood, Washington just south of Tacoma at the time, and was commuting to Redmond for a new job as a helpdesk technician. The drive was new enough to not have become the mind-numbing drudgery it would become in the coming months, and I was still trying to find a good morning show on the radio for the trip.

When I turned the car on, the radio came on to the Howard Stern show. I nearly broke my finger hitting the "Seek" button. I detest that guy and all that he stands for. The very next station I landed on was a news report. The word "explosion" caught my attention. I began listening more closely.

Living on the West coast, most of the attack had already occurred. The initial reports were still very unsure of what had actually happened, in fact I recall a good deal of debate as to whether it was an accident or not. The initial report on the Pentagon did not even mention a plane, it simply reported an explosion and smoke.

When I learned that the second tower had been hit, I knew in my heart that this could not have been an accident. I called my wife and told her to turn on the television. Then I continued to drive.

That drive was probably the longest of all the commutes I made between Lakewood and Redmond in the entire time I worked there. When I got to work, everyone was going about their jobs somberly and quietly. Over and over we watched the footage of the second plane striking the tower, the people covered with white dust running down the street, the unreal sight of bodies falling through the air after leaping from the burning building.

Since that day, a lot of history has passed. We have witnessed many historical events, which will be studied by school children for many generations. Scholars will debate what really happened that day, pundits will twist it to suit their agenda, and politicians will continue to milk it for whatever gain they can.

But I will remember. The shock, the uncertainty, the fear.

More than that, I will remember sitting in my car, driving on one of the most congested freeways in the nation, and thinking that for once, there were no strangers in those other cars. I knew what they were probably thinking, I knew what was probably playing on their radios.

In all that chaos, we were united. And for a few weeks, we had a common cause.

Whatever else came out of that horrible day, at least there was that.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Here it comes again...

I had almost convinced myself that I would completely ignore November this year. Last year was such a let-down; I couldn't even get into the Urinal Cakes thread with any sort of enthusiasm. Is my NaNoMoJo gone forever? Maybe.

Nevertheless, my good pals over at the Piker Press have been exerting a bit of peer pressure. KK for example made his participation conditional upon mine. "I'll do it if you do it." OK, if the old guy can do it, why can't I?

So that decision is made. Now, what to write? Start something completely new? Just head on over to the Seventh Sanctum and generate a random plot and get to work? This might be a good idea. Starting fresh with no preconceived notions of where I am going has worked well in the past. And yet I still feel that I would do better with a well thought out outline.

There are a couple of works-in-progress (meaning moldering away in that huge "I'll get to it" pile...) that I could pick up. This would technically be a bending of the NaNo rules, but would be serving a higher purpose: to get me writing again.

There is "The Education of Fred" which I have written a few scenes from. There is Zeniff the Spaceman and his trusty mining droid. I really have been wondering how he will get off that desert moon. "The Boy Named Sue" was a pretty good idea I had a few years ago, until I decided to make it a sci-fi western and tried to insert some old characters from another unfinished novel.

Whatever I decide to do, what Lao Tzu said about a journey of a thousand miles is true about writing a novel: it begins with a single word. (OK, he said step. But I am sure you knew that already.) I haven't done any writing at all for several months. This blog entry stands as the first writing of any kind I have done.

It also serves as a single step. Only 50,000 to go.

Wish me luck!

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Curse you Frenchy spam-hackers!

For all of you arriving here following a link in a message I apparently sent you Sunday night, let me first offer my most sincere aplogies.

My g-mail account was hacked, and in the space of one minute, used to send out over 100 spam messages to everyone I have ever had contact with via my g-mail account. The messages consisted of a random combination of words (mostly names) as a subject, and a link to a random, innocuous sounding website. Although I have not been brave enough to actually click on the link, those who have tell me it is a pharmaceutical site, selling prescription drugs. The other link in the message is to this blog. This is because I have that link set as the signature line for all e-mails going out from my account. This has resulted in a spike in traffic here, which I guess is something of a silver lining. But I can promise you, I would rather nobody visited my blog than a single person get spammed in my name.

To summarize, here are a few talking points you should remember:

1. Nope, I am still a computer guy working a respectable, 9-5 job. I have not quit my job to start peddling Viagra via e-mail.
2. Can I repeat how sorry I am that you got spammed? I am even more worried that people might get infected with something by clicking on the link. Remember that even e-mail coming from people you trust could have questionable content. Trust your instincts, and don't click unexpected and/or unexplained links in e-mails. Call the person, like one very astute friend did (Thanks Jon, for continuing to call back three times when I didn't answer!) and ask them if they sent it. Or, just reply to the message like many others did without clicking the link to ask if it is legit. Or just delete it. Will it kill you if you miss a video of someone's cat playing with a cardboard box?
3. Keep your passwords complex. I got lazy and picked a password with all letters. This may not have been what allowed me to get hacked, but it certainly did not make it any harder. I have since remedied this (stupid!) mistake, by changing my password to a 10-character password including numbers, capital letters, and special characters. I already have it memorized, and I know you can do it to, if you really try.
4. G-mail has a handy feature that will tell you the IP address and location of anyone logged onto your account. It is way down at the bottom, in tiny font, but you can find it if you really look. Check it out once in a while. You might be surprised!
5. I am going to go and beat myself with some Cat-5 cable for a while, for being the IT guy whose e-mail got hacked.

And no, I will NOT be sending out links to the video. Sorry!

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Education of Fred - Realization

Another Round Table assignment:

...write a passage of 500-1000 words in which a character finally realizes something about him or herself that is obvious to everyone else.

The Education of Fred - Realization
Fred felt a little light-headed as he pulled into the parking lot at the country club. Paula kept up a constant stream of inane chatter that he was not making any attempt to follow, and she didn't seem to mind that she was the only one talking. Fred got out of the car and went around to open her door, but she was already out and checking her makeup in the rearview mirror. Fred shook his head in annoyance. He knew it was old fashioned to want to open the door for a lady, but he still thought it was the right thing to do.
"I haven't been here since Dirk and I broke up last month. I am SO looking forward to seeing him here tonight." Paula said. Fred's ears finally perked up at this comment.
"Why are you looking forward to seeing him here? I thought you hated him. After all of the bitterness and bile you have been spewing about him..." Paula rolled her eyes and sighed at Fred's utter naivete.
"I am looking forward to seeing the look on his face when I show up with YOU silly. He always said I was just arm candy, and that nobody would ever want to have an intelligent conversation with me. Now I am coming to a party at his own country club with the smartest man in the world. Who can't have an intelligent conversation?" She smiled at Fred, her perfectly aligned and whitened teeth gleaming in the dim light. Fred's eyes narrowed. He wanted badly to tell her that as far as intelligent conversation was concerned, that Dirk was spot on. Paula had nothing of substance to say about anything, and Fred had yet to have anything close to what he would consider a conversation with her, intelligent or otherwise. His brain screamed at him that he had plenty of meaningful and very stimulating conversations with April, but he shoved those thoughts back angrily. April could be here with him tonight, if she wasn't so unreasonable and jealous. He felt annoyed that Paula was so blatantly using him and his fame to further her own petty ends, but then again, his only reason for bringing her with him tonight was so that all of the other scientists would see him hanging out with such a beautiful woman.
Fred choked back his retort and held out his arm.
"Well, let's go show Dirk exactly what he is missing out on then." Paula graced him with another of her thousand-watt smiles and happily took his arm.
Once inside, they made their way directly to the bar, where Paula ordered something trendy and expensive, and Fred ordered the only domestic beer they had. It was still far too expensive and fancy for his taste, but it would have to do. Paula clung tightly to his arm, chatting up everyone around them with her constant stream of inane and meaningless small-talk while Fred scanned the room for familiar faces. He finally spotted his colleagues gathered around a cluster of tables on the far side of the room, and he pulled Paula away from a discussion on the merits of the various types of Botox injections and headed for them.
Glen spotted him halfway there and smiled and waved them in. Fred felt the shiver of anxiety he felt every time he saw Glen. For some reason his broad smile and cheerful banter had always felt just the slightest bit artificial to Fred, though he had no concrete reason for believing so.
"Freddy! Glad to see you could make it finally! No pressing mathematical mysteries to solve tonight eh? And who is this vision of loveliness on your arm?" Fred blushed and shook hands with Glen.
"Guys, this is Paula. Paula, this is Glen, Bill, Terry and Arthur. They work..." Paula interrupted him with her gushing, overly excited voice.
"Oh my gosh, you guys all work out at the University with Freddy don't you? I'll bet you guys are the smartest guys in the room! Right?" She asked, grasping Glen's hand tightly. Glen's eyebrows went up a fraction, then a smile spread across his face.
"Oh, well none of us is as brilliant as your Freddy here, but we can hold our own in a game of Trivial Pursuit." Glen's voice was taking on the acerbic tinge that Fred had come to associate with his sarcastic sense of humour and he felt anxiety grip his stomach. Perhaps bringing Paula had not been a good idea after all. April would have been more than capable of holding her own in a battle of wits with Glen, or anyone else at the table for that matter. But she had made her own choices hadn't she? The room was suddenly very hot and crowded and Fred felt an urgent need for a breath of fresh air.
"Hey Paula, I need to visit the little boys room. I'll be right back OK?" Paula barely heard him, as she had already launched a stream of patter at Glen and the others and was squeezing herself in at the table. Fred turned and pushed his way through the crowd. He finally found the men's room and burst through the door. He found an empty stall and locked himself in and sat down and held his head in his hands. He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe slowly and evenly. What was he doing here? Who was he trying to fool? He was more comfortable in his lab with a grease pencil and a wall full of equations, or on a creeper underneath an old Buick than he would ever be in a crowd of people. Why did he care so much what these arrogant people thought about him anyway? And why couldn't he get April out of his mind?
At that moment, he heard two voices enter the bathroom that he immediately recognized. It was Glen and Terry, and they were laughing loudly about something.
"Did you get a look at her dress? She was so close to falling out, I have never rooted for gravity so much in my life!" Fred's face burned with shame as he realized that they were talking about Paula.
"But what is she doing here with Freddy? I thought he was more into the cerebral type like his little community college girl than a glamor girl like her. Do you think... I mean, did he have to pay her?" Terry left the question hanging in the air, but Glen understood his meaning perfectly. He guffawed loudly, his voice echoing harshly off of the tile floors and walls.
"I bet you are right man. Let's get back out there before Genius Boy gets back and make her a counter offer and see if we can get her to come back to the lab and play naughty lab assistant with us!" The men's laughter echoed after them as they walked back out of the restroom.
Fred felt his face burning with shame. It was absolutely true. All of the nice things that they said to his face were lies. They were exactly like the folks from town, only with more education. They were just as threatened by his abilities as the uneducated hicks back home. Their disdain and petty insults were simply more complex and less obvious. He was still the guy that everybody looked at as inferior, regardless of how many discoveries he had made and regardless of how many papers he wrote. Fred felt utterly alone and lost.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Writer's Round Table assignment. A couple of days late, but at least I am writing again!

...write a passage of 500-1000 words where your main character nervously enters a place he or she has never been before.

The Education of Fred - First Day of School

Fred couldn't remember ever being this nervous. He could only vaguely remember his real first day of school, a fuzzy memory of new shoes and a box of crayons that he kept sniffing because he loved the smell. A smiling lady in a billowing flowered dress pinning a name tag to his shirt for some reason evoked a sense of embarrassment. Fred sincerely hoped there would be no name tags here tonight.

He walked up the steps of the community center, glancing briefly at the wrinkled piece of paper in his hand to confirm, for the thousandth time, that he was in the right place. Not that he could read much of what the paper said; that was why he was here tonight. He could read enough to find an address at least.

Pushing open the door, he walked into the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting. A smiling woman in a billowing flowered dress sat on a stool behind a counter, and Fred caught his breath for a moment. Then he shook his head and answered her cheerful greeting.

"Hello, I am here for the Adult Literacy class?" He said, uncertain of what reaction he might receive. Except for Molly, he had told nobody else of his ambition to learn to read and write. The knowledge that he was already a laughingstock for being unable to read had convinced him that it would only fuel the fires of ridicule for people to know that he was taking classes to learn how. The woman at the desk however gave no indication that anything was at all abnormal.
"Third door on your right down that hallway." She indicated with a hand heavily decorated with gaudy jewelry. Fred nodded gratefully and turned in the direction indicated. The woman's cheerful voice stopped him.
"You have to sign in sweetie... it's how we justify our funding from the county you know!" The bejeweled hand was now pointing to a sheet of notebook paper clipped to a clipboard on the counter in front of her. Fred swallowed back a wave of apprehension and came over to the counter. Of course he could write his own name and address, but he knew full well how juvenile his handwriting was and hated for people to see it. A pen was tethered to the clipboard with duct tape and kite string and he picked it up and started writing his name at the bottom of the list. The pen didn't work, and Fred scribbled in the margin trying to coax it to life.
"Oh, that darn pen! I don't know exactly why they keep quitting on me! Every time I put one out there, it stops working after two or three people use it! I must be cursed!" She laughed, a loud and awkward honk that startled Fred. He forced a smile and nodded, hoping that she would stop soon. She started scrabbling in a desk drawer for a replacement, and Fred looked at the pen. It was one of the cheap clear plastic pens that seemed to migrate at will through our civilization, and which also seemed to choose whether or not to work at their own discretion.
At least this time, Fred saw the problem. The duct tape which fastened the makeshift tether to the pen was covering the hole in the side of the pen designed to let air in as the level of ink inside went down. He may not know how to read and write, but Fred certainly understood the concept of a vacuum. He peeled the duct tape off the pen and scribbled in the margin again. Sure enough, after just a few scribbles the ink began to flow freely again just as the woman came over with a stubby pencil with teeth marks in it.
"Oh! You got it to work! It must like you or something!" Fred smiled and nodded, finishing his name and address on the sign-in sheet.
"I guess you just have to know which swear words to say." He said, handing the pen back to the woman. "And don't cover the air-hole with tape. Pens gotta breathe too." He smiled at her and she answered him with her loud, honking laughter.
"I guess you are right! Pens gotta breathe too!" She honked more laughter, as if this was the funniest thing she had heard in years. Fred smiled, and turned away towards the classroom.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sonnet #2

For Valentine's Day, I wrote my second sonnet. This one is a bit less mushy and lovey-dovey, but I wanted it to be a bit more representative of the journey I have taken with my beautiful companion so far in life. So it may in fact be a bit more romantic. But it's a sonnet, right? It's supposed to be! (For those of you out there who are horribly interested in such things, the structure of this sonnet is not perfect. See if you can see where I broke the rules...)

Sonnet # 2

As day after day together we live
And year after year, together we grow,
Discover more of what life has to give
And learn more of what life would have us know.

Seasons change, years pass, we do all we can
To learn from mistakes, to grow from our pain.
We stop to look back, see how far we ran
lessons we've learned, since our journey began.

Wiser now, and so far we have traveled
Richer now, yet without fortune or fame
Plans of our youth we see are unraveled
Why do we press on? What goal to achieve?

It's the journey we live for, not the prize at the end
The roads and the trails, what's around the next bend.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Traveling With Kids - In the Piker Press

Another fragment of my failed 2009 NaNovel has made its way back to life as a short story on the Piker Press.

A short, semi-autobiographical story of my first road trip with a child in tow.

Traveling With Kids

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Education of Fred - Writer's Round Table assignment

More from our new friend Fred. This skips forward in the story a bit, and just a bit of expository material - nothing to really advance the plot, as I have not yet entirely figured out what that might be! However, it fulfils the assignment:

Write a passage of 500-1000 words in which aspects of the person the protagonist once was (beliefs, ideals, hopes and dreams, lifestyle choices...) come into conflict with who the protagonist is now.

The Education of Fred
Fred worked late, alone in the lab before heading out the door. He was in no hurry to get back to his apartment; in fact, he chided himself once again for not taking the time to find a new place. None of the familiar places seemed friendly anymore, none of the old acquaintances seemed to want anything to do with him. Perhaps that explained his new habit of working late into the night, whether or not he had something pressing to finish.
Despite arriving home well past midnight, the landlady's lights were still on. Fred actually drove past the house once, like a skulking stalker, to see if she was still up. When he saw she was he parked his car at the end of the street and walked up the back alley to enter the house by the back entrance.
It was an old house, in its heyday it may have even been called a mansion. Now it was simply Miss May's Apartment House, as proclaimed by a hand painted sign wired to the railing on the front porch. Some shoddy carpentry and plumbing work had divided the house into five different apartments, and Miss May, the great-granddaughter of the man who originally built his dream home with his own hands spent her few remaining years haunting the lives of her tenants.
It was for this reason that Fred snuck in through the back door, opening and closing it as slowly and carefully as possible before removing his shoes and starting to creep down the darkened stairwell. He was about halfway down when the overhead light suddenly turned on, and Miss May's tremulous old voice startled Fred into dropping his shoes and nearly falling down the remaining stairs.
"You should turn the light on when you go down the stairs Freddy." Miss May remarked. "You might fall and kill yurself, and then how would I 'splain that to the cops huh?" Fred bit his lip in an effort not to retort angrily. He turned and looked up at the old woman, his heart still hammering in his chest as he pondered the most polite thing to say. He finally settled for the tried and true: meek and obedient. It seemed the most likely plan to keep from getting trapped in a conversation.
"Yes ma'am. You are right. I will keep that in mind next time. Good night Miss May." Fred mumbled, then turned and started back down the stairs. However, Miss May was not giving up that easily.
"Well, since I'm still up, I might as well get you something to eat. Come on up and make yourself comfortable. I have some spaghetti left over..." Fred sighed deeply and interrupted her, a bit more brusquely than he intended.
"Ma'am, it's been a long day, and I already ate. I just need to get some sleep so I can get up early in the morning. Thanks anyway." Miss May's face registered shock, and then suspicion. Her eyes narrowed and she cocked her head to the side.
"Freddy Mace, are you smoking that cocaine? You been spendin' so much time over t' the big city, I been wonderin' how long it'd be afore you fell in wit' bad cumpny. I'll have none a' that in my house, y'hear?" She shook a crooked old finger at him, her fragile voice shaking with emotion.
"No Miss May, I am not using any drugs, and I have not fallen in with any bad company. I just have a research project that I must complete for my Master's thesis..." Fred trailed off as he saw Miss May's eyes glaze over. She had no idea what he was even talking about, to her it probably sounded even more suspicious than "smoking cocaine". He sighed heavily again, and started to turn away. Miss May's voice stopped him.
"What's happened to you Freddy? You used to be such a nice boy, the kind of kid I could sit and have a conversation with. Then, you start hanging out with that uppity lady from the college, you close your garage and put your friends out of a job, and now you're keeping all kinds of late hours and driving back and forth from the city all the time. If you ain't smoking cocaine, what is it? Somethin' just ain't right with you anymore. You ain't the Freddy Mace I remember."
Fred stared at her openmouthed, absorbing her words and finally understanding her recent agitation with him. He still felt like the same person he had been a year and a half ago, the uneducated, illiterate mechanic from a small town. But he was not. He was a brilliant scientist who had catapulted through a four year degree in six months, and was now performing research for one of the leading physicists in the world in preparation for writing his Master's thesis.
Fred had definitely changed, and he wondered that it had taken a temper tantrum by a petulant old maid to show him just how much.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Roger's Revenge - Writer's Round Table Assignment

Write a passage of 500-1000 words in which a character has a> less-than-pleasant encounter with technology.

Roger's Revenge

"Mako Corp., this is Bill."
Bill answered the phone while continuingto type with one hand.
"Bill, this is Molly at the front desk. The Xerox repairman is here,but I can't get a hold of Roger. Do you know..." Bill cut Molly off impatiently.
"Yeah, Roger's out today. He filled me in already. I'll be up therein just a second." Bill slammed the phone down and finished a rather bitter e-mail to the manager of a user who had complained that her e-mail was not working.
"Stupid users..." Bill mumbled to himself as he locked his computer and stomped out of the office.

At the front desk a rather frumpled old man stood chatting withMolly. He was wearing a ridiculously large overcoat that trailed its fraying edge on the floor behind him. His thin, gray hair waved a friendly greeting at everyone who passed, and his bleary yet friendly eyes looked almost cartoon-like behind a pair of glasses which had to be at least a quarter-inch thick.
"Hiya there! Name's Harold, from the Omni Office Equipment Repair company. You must be Roger..." Harold held out a hand towards Bill who pointedly ignored it.
"Roger is out today, follow me." Bill said, walking brusquely past Harold whose hand was still extended in a friendly greeting. His friendly smile remained fixed as he bent to pick up a toolbag that was even more tattered (if possible) than its owner and shambled after theBill.

Bill arrived at the copy machine a full minute before Harold, whose relaxed pace included time for a friendly greeting for each and every person he passed. Bill stood waiting, impatience evident in the tense set of his body and the frown on his face. When Harold finally arrived, Bill showed him the problem then walked away without a backwards glance. Harold stared after him for a moment,a bemused grin on his face. Then, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, he set down his toolbag, removed the oversized raincoat, and began disassembling the copier.

Two hours later, Bill’s phone rang again right in the middle of analyzing the event log on a server to find the source of an irregularly occurring network error.
“Bill, this is Molly, the Xerox guy is finished, but he needs you to sign his work order.” Molly’s voice was hesitant; she hated calling Bill.
“You can sign it, just make a copy or something to verify that damn thing isn’t jamming anymore and sign the damn thing. I don’t have time to do everything around here myself!” Bill snarled into the phone. Molly persisted.
“He insists I can’t sign it, he says it has to be the person who requested the work.” Bill thought he saw an opening here.
“Well then, he is out of luck isn’t he? Roger is out today, and can’t sign it. So he will have to make do with your signature or come back tomorrow for a signature.” He slammed the phone down without waiting for a response and turned back to the event log.

Not a minute later, the phone rang again.
“Bill, this is Kevin. Molly needs you at the front desk to sign the repair guy’s work order.” Bill’s eyes narrowed angrily. It was just like that stupid receptionist to go over his head and call his boss. No way he was going down that easily though.
“Kevin, that old idiot needs Roger’s signature, not mine. He can come back tomorrow and get it. I am in the middle of...” Kevin’s calm voice cut through Bill’s excuse.
“Bill, do you really want Xerox to charge us for a second service call just because you don’t want to come to the front desk? I am not sure that would be a wise use of your budget...” Kevin left the unspoken threat hanging, and Bill had to admit defeat.
“Yes sir, I will be right there.”

When Bill arrived at the front desk, Molly and the old man were laughing at something, and Bill felt a fist clenching around his stomach. He just knew that they were laughing about him, that Molly was telling Harold how she had just gone over Bill’s head to get him out there. Indeed, when they caught sight of Bill, Molly flushed a deep red and suddenly became serious. Harold on the other hand, continued braying laughter even as he reached his hand out to Bill again.
“Boy, I’ll tell you Roger, this girl is one of the sweetest things I have met in a long time! I wish I had the time to stand around talking to her all day long!” Harold turned and winked at Molly, who ducked her head and pretended to be looking something up in a binder on her desk. Bill ignored the proffered hand again, and glared angrily at Harold.
“Where do I sign?” he hissed through clenched teeth, his anger and annoyance washing off him in almost tangible waves. Harold was completely unaffected.
“Well, I have to show you that the copier is in proper working order first, don’t I?” Harold’s hand was still held out in front of him, as if he expected Bill to suddenly have a change of heart and shake it. Bill didn’t.
“I don’t have time to follow idiots around all day to check their work! If it is not in proper working order, you can simply expect a very nasty phone call to your supervisor!” Bill looked over to Molly,who was watching out of the corner of her eye.
“I know how to go over people’s heads just as well as other people around here...” Molly blushed again, and returned her focus to the binder. Harold’s demeanor was absolutely unchanged.
“Well, if that’s the way you want it Roger, I guess that’s the way it goes. Sign here...” Harold indicated a piece of carbon paper on the reception desk. Bill scribbled madly then turned and stalked away. He heard Harold remark to Molly just before he turned a corner:
“Wow, I remember Roger being much friendlier!”

Not an hour later, Bill’s phone rang again.“Mako Corp, this is Bill.” He answered tersely. The troubleshooting of the server was not going well, and he was still in a bad mood from being bested by Molly earlier.
“Bill, it’s Kevin. That damn copier is on the fritz again. Did you check it before the repair guy left?”Bill felt his blood pressure boiling, and for a few seconds, he could not even formulate a coherent response. When he did, it was a string of curse words that he knew his boss would not enjoy hearing, so he bit his tongue until he regained control of it. Finally, he was able to stammer a reply:
“OK, I’ll take a look at it.” The words were bitter and dripping with acid, but Kevin seemed not to even notice.
“Next time, make sure you check the repairs before you sign the workorder.” Kevin’s even voice said, and then the line clicked as he hung up without waiting for a response.

Bill sat at his desk, pondering several different possible courses ofaction. Most of them were intensely satisfying to consider, but with consequences that Bill was not yet willing to face. Eventually, he took a deep breath and pushed back from his desk, resolved to find a new job as soon as possible. A minute later, he was standing in front of the copier tapping madly at the touch screen display. When he had finally found the error code he needed, he opened the doors and peered inside at the complicated mechanism. He immediately noticed a frayed red wire sticking out from the midst of the various gears and levers that made up the copy machine.
“I knew that old fool was utterly incompetent. I will have him fired for this...” Bill thought as he reached out and grasped the wire.

Molly looked up from her computer monitor as the lights in thebuilding dimmed, and from somewhere across the cubicles she heard a loud sizzling sound followed by a loud pop. The lights came back to normal, and Molly shrugged her shoulders and was about to return to work when she heard the first scream.

Across town, Roger sat at a table in a nondescript diner on the wrongside of town. He slid a thick brown envelope across the table to anolder man with thick glasses. The two said nothing to each other as the old man glanced briefly at the contents of the envelope, then bent down and placed it in a tattered old tool bag at his feet.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Sonnet? No, Seriously!

I was digging through some old poetry to submit to the Piker Press, when my wonderful wife said: "Why are you submitting that old stuff? Why don't you write some new poems to submit?" Well, that was a good question. Why not? I think because my poetical muse has gone on a permanent vacation. My life is too easy now, not enough pain to inspire poetry. Maybe I have grown up, and my taste in writing has moved on to more mature material. Or maybe these are all just excuses.
This morning she made me promise to write her a poem today. I thought about it once or twice during the day, but nothing came to mind. Then, when I got home from work I was working on my assignment for the Writer's Round Table and she asked if I was working on her sonnet. "A sonnet? Seriously? I have to write you a sonnet?" Of course I did... that was my punishment for taking all day long to write her poem.
So I wrote a sonnet. It reminded me of why I hate rhyming poetry, but it also reminded me that poetry can be fun.

I also remembered how much I love my wife, and how important she is to me. No matter how cheesy and overly sentimental this poem may sound, every line is true.

I hope you enjoy it too.

Sonnet Number One
In your face I see my life, my love, more.
In your heart I find my destiny too.
In your hands I feel safe, loved and secure.
In my mind life is empty without you.

When I looked for direction you found me.
When I hoped for a friend you were the one.
When I wondered what happiness might be.
When you gave to me new life in the sun.

How did I live before you came to me?
How did you bring me such meaning and joy?
How did your love change my life so fully?
How to express what so much I enjoy?

Each day I wake and thank God for your love.
Each hour I live like a gift from above.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Writer's Round Table

And you thought I had abandoned the RT forever! The assignment this week gave me a really great idea, however, I started late, and though I got the word count required, I didn't even get close to finishing the story. So, look for a continuation of what I have tentatively titled: Fred's Education.

But first, the assignment:

For Friday, write a passage of 500-1000 words dealing with a New Years resolution that succeeds, but with unintended consequences (timely, huh?). You may make these consequences good or bad, or some mix of the two.

Fred penciled the title at the top of the page, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. He sat back and looked at his title. Something in the back of his mind told him that something was not right about it, but he shook the thought from his mind and went back to work.
That annoying voice in the back of his mind told him once again that the words he wrote were not quite right. Of course, that was kind of the point wasn't it? Fred was tired of people treating him like he was mentally deficient just because of the way he spoke and wrote. He knew he was at least as smart as the folks that came into his garage to get their cars fixed. It was easily apparent that he was smarter than his the guy who did his books for him. Even though Fred had no idea where to even start checking to see if anything was wrong with how he managed Fred's money, he was convinced that the garage made a lot more money than he saw in his bank account. That was another reason for Fred's resolutions.
Fred dropped out of school in the fourth grade when his Dad put him to work in his auto-repair shop. Fred had a natural talent for fixing anything mechanical, and his Dad had a serious distrust of the "brainwashin'" going on in the red brook schoolhouse in town. "I ain't never suffered for not going to school." He was fond of telling anyone who would listen. Fred's mother was the only reason he made it as far as the fourth grade, and once she died Lyle quickly took advantage of Fred's natural talent. Fred didn't entirely mind, he loved tinkering and what fourth grade boy really wants to be in school anyway? Twenty years later, Fred's reading and writing ability had not progressed much beyond what he had learned up to that point. He fully understood that as a result, there was an entire world out there that was utterly closed to him, and he was tired of wondering how to get in.
The auto-parts distributor in the next town had been a good friend of Lyle and Fred, and so he didn't mind putting forth the extra effort to look up the part numbers for the parts they ordered. However, when he retired and sold the business to a national chain, Fred found himself confronted by unsympathetic telephone operators who didn't know a catalytic converter from a hole in the ground. They refused to take his orders unless he came up with the correct part number, and so Fred had to hire another employee to order parts for him. Another person who looked down their noses at him as they pretended to respect him to his face but made jokes about his intelligence when they were getting drunk at Sherman's Pub on Friday nights.
Fred's list was complete. He sat his pencil down and picked up the paper. He knew he had a lot of hurdles to overcome to accomplish his goals, but he was determined to prove that he was as smart as anyone else in this crappy town. He was going to relish being able to prove that Duane was ripping him off, and he was going to take a picture of Susanne's face when he told her that he could order his own parts now.
The next day as Fred sat in the office of a guidance counselor at the local community college. She was examining the results of his placement test with a furrowed brow. "Fred, you say you haven't been in school since fourth grade?" April Summers was the kind of guidance counselor who was perennially disappointed by the narrow-minded bureaucracy of a small-town community college. She truly cared for her students, and did her best to give them the best advice she could, but the administrators of the college could care less what was best for the kids, they cared about their federal funding. And federal funding required students with high test scores. Not students like Fred.
"Yes ma'am, my Dad never sent me back to school after my Ma died, said I would learn better in a man's world. But I learn good, I mean quick, I mean..." Fred blushed. He knew exactly how he sounded, but he lacked the knowledge to sound any different. April looked at him sympathetically but shook her head.
"Well, you see Fred. We have to ensure that the students who sign up for our classes have a certain level of..." she paused, searching for a kind way to phrase this. "...ability. You understand that this is not a measure of your intelligence, or your worth as a person, it is just..." Fred interrupted her.
"Ma'am, you don't need to put me in the hard classes. I just want to learn how to read and write more so that I can manage my own shop. I am tired..." He paused again, not wanting to get angry in front of this obviously kind woman. She nodded in understanding.
"Fred, I completely understand. However, a college is not really the place for you to start. Let me give you the name of a friend of mine over in Lakeland. He teaches some free classes at the community center there for adults like you who just need a bit of help to improve their skills." April started writing on a sticky note but Fred stood up.
"Thanks ma'am, but I don't need no charity. I have enough money to pay for my schoolin'. I'll just..." April interrupted him.
"This isn't charity Fred. Just because it's free doesn't mean its for people without money. And I am sure that he would be happy to accept a donation to his program if that will make you feel better about it." She pulled the note off the pad and held it out to him. Fred considered it for a moment before hesitantly taking it. His pride and his self-doubts put up a mighty fight for dominance, but eventually were beat back by his desire for improvement. "OK ma'am. When I am finished there, can I come back and take your test again?" April smiled broadly and nodded her head.
"I am looking forward to it Fred!" She stood and shook his hand, then watched as he turned and walked out of her office.

(To be continued...)

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved