Back to the Forest – Hyper focusing

You’ve heard the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees“. Well when I’m writing, my (AD/HD) hyper-focusing “gift” sometimes causes me to miss the entire forest, trees too, and spend oodles of time on the leaves of every branch, of every tree, in the forest.

Earlier this month I met with my writing buddy Joe to compare notes on our respective writing projects. I vented a little about my inability to move forward on my “Tin Man” (TM) story, even though I was spending hours every week on it. After I showed him all the detailed info I had been working on, he gently pointed out that I had strayed away from “the forest”, from the bigger picture. He was right. It happens more often than I care to admit. 🙁

Now understand that hyperfocusing is not all bad. It has it’s place. It is tremendously useful for getting me into the writing “zone” and keeping me on the write track (pun intended). During NaNoWriMo I spent hours at a time banging away at the keyboard, oblivious to the distractions around me. The cat could have run past me on fire and I would not have noticed. I was a writing machine.

The problem happens when I spend hours fine tuning small, not so critical, scenes or details … researching every iota of dialog or element … and it’s not even a certainty that the info will be in the final draft. That uber attention to detail, at the expense of the overall story, is not good.

So after a brief chat with Joe I have set a new course back to the forest that I had forsaken. I will focus first on updating my overall outline for TM and then slowly move into the forest, one tree at a time. And I shall resist the urge to climb a tree. 🙂


Hispanic Pulitzer Prize Winner!

Hispanic playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play “Water by the Spoonful” about an Iraq war veteran struggling to find his place in the world.  Read more here.

The Pulitzer Prizes award the best in journalism and literary arts. Any time a Hispanic can win this prestigious award it is cause to celebrate in the streets … and roast a pig on a spit in the backyard!

Asi se hace mami!


XMind – Mind Mapping software

I’m a visual non-linear thinker and my thoughts/ideas usually come to me in random order. Therefore I like to use mind mapping software for many projects. It helps me to organize my chaotic ideas into a format that is easier on my brain and eyes.

With this type of software I can just brain storm, putting my ideas down as nodes without caring about what order they are in. Afterward I can look at all the nodes and group them where they make sense. If I change my mind about the order, it is easy to change. And if I have multiple relations between nodes, I can also show that connection. It’s great for creating a family tree or outlining a complex multi-step project.

For writing, mind mapping software is an indispensable tool. It helps with the overall structure of the story, getting me to organize my ideas before I start to write.

I use XMind mind mapping software. You can download a free version from their website. They also have XMind Pro for $49 which will allow you export the finished map into Word (and other options). Since I don’t use the export function the free version is fine for me. With it I create a visual outline that is like a skeletal frame work.

I start with a central theme, add major points (nodes), add subtopics etc. I can move them around until the arrangement makes sense. With a quick visual scan I can identify thin areas that need more material or superfluous areas that may not be needed.

Since it is visual it works much better for me than a linear outline. If you are also a visual non-linear thinker you might want to try it out.


Movie: John Carter (of Mars)

The film is based on A Princess of Mars (1917) by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is the first installment in a movie trilogy based on Burroughs’ 11-volume Barsoom series of novels (1912–43). That’s right … written almost 100 years ago!

I admit I had not heard of this series before the movie came out, so many of my sci-fi loving friends gave me an immediate history lesson. Apparently Burroughs’s Barsoom series inspired many well-known science fiction writers (Bradbury, Clark) in addition to real life scientists (Sagan) over the years. It may have even influenced the early US space race. My friends also pointed out that, when comparing  any similarities between this movie/books  and contemporary sci-fi movies/books, you have to remember that Burroughs did it first.

Speaking of the movie … I loved it. I enjoyed every part of it. It did not disappoint in story content nor flashy shiny stuff. There was A LOT going on in this movie and it would be easy for anyone to get lost. There were many groups, characters, baddies and goodies … and a huge lightning fast puppy-critter.  I enjoyed following along with each plot twist and turn. It kept my mind thoroughly entertained, which is hard to do nowadays. Unfortunately the bean counters at Disney considered the movie a bomb and hopes for a sequel are on hold.

So while we wait for the Ferengi accountants to approve the sequel, run (don’t walk) to your local bookstore and buy one or all 11 volumes of the Barsoom series if you haven’t already read them. That’s what I’m going to do right now.


Bilingual, Multilingual and Monolingual

I am multilingual. I speak many languages, some better than others.

I give the thanks to my parents who spoke both Spanish and English at home. The neighbors and church congregation were also bilingual. Also thanks to my grade school teachers who, up to 5th grade, also spoke Spanish and English, and presented the daily lessons in both languages. Through exposure I learned both languages while growing up. Was I confused learning to speak both at the same time? Not really.

When I was very little and I was learning my colors, I didn’t realize that “redcolorado” was actually two words. I learned both words for red at the same time. And then there was “blueazul” etc. But as I got older I learned which words were Spanish, which were English and which were Spanglish.

A Word in Spanglish

That 3rd language was tricky. Yes, Spanglish is really a language, ask most bilingual Hispanic kids and they will tell you about the special words that only exist in the Spanglish vocabulary. It’s like a secret language, because to understand it you must first have a basic understanding of both Spanish and English. If you only know one of the 2 languages, you will be lost.

To eh-speak eh-Spanglish you must mix up your Spanish and English words in your sentences. And you do it on the fly. Sometimes the sentence will follow Spanish grammar rules and other times it will follow English grammar rules. When you can mix up the grammar in addition to the vocabulary, and understand when another is doing the same, then you are a true Spanglish speaker. Don’t laugh, es verdad.

In adulthood I began working for international companies and I learned other languages. I can speak a little of Italian, Portuguese, French, and German. I’ve also noticed that I can muddle my way thru a few other languages some European & some Asian. I seem to have an eye and ear for languages.

Language is about Culture

Learning another language is more than just a means to communicate with other people from different countries. Any language course worth it’s salt will not just teach you a new language in a vacuum, they will also teach you the culture of the peoples that speak that language … and variations of it.

The language of a group of people carries with it several customs and traditions. Learn the language and you’ll learn their culture. Learn their culture and you’ll learn their ways. Learn their ways and then you’ll finally understand what you are saying when you speak the words.

In James Cameron’s Avatar, the Na’vi phrase “I see you” carried a special meaning. The main character Jake Sully didn’t get the full meaning of the words until he learned the Navi‘s culture and traditions. Most cultures have similar idiomatic expressions – phrases whose meanings cannot be determined by the individual words that comprise the phrase. If you don’t know the culture and traditions behind the language, then how can you be sure you know what you are saying (or hearing someone else say to you)?

Language opens your Mind

If you can speak, read, write and/or understand another language and culture then you are opening your mind to other people’s way of life. It’s a big planet and we don’t all do things the exact same way or even for the same reasons.

I hate to generalize but, with almost very little exception, I have found that most monolingual people don’t care to learn about other peoples or their language. If they just want to live in their little corner of the planet, ignorant of other cultures, then fine. To each their own. But when a monolingual insists that others have to learn their language & culture (mostly because they are too lazy to learn anyone else’s language), then I take issue. I believe that everyone has the right to live in ignorance, but no one has the right to impose their ignorance on anyone else.

Now if that Tower of Babel fiasco hadn’t happened then we would all be speaking one language. But it did, and here we are, all on one planet with hundreds of languages and dialects between us. An invading alien force would have to bring along a damn good universal translator in order to communicate their intentions to the whole world… or just a few well placed warning shots should do the trick too.

Literature in other Languages

And if you are a student of literature, just imagine all the stories that are waiting to be discovered in the libraries of these other cultures. Some tales may seem similar but most will probably be very different from those found in your own culture. And as the saying goes “it loses something in translation” … and that is true. So instead of reading the English version of a foreign book, try learning the language and you’ll be surprised at how different the story reads.

And finally lets not forgot that Shakespeare can only truly be experienced in the original Klingon. 🙂


Book: Fight The Gods

I’ve recently picked up a copy of “Fight the Gods” by one of my favorite Star Trek authors Michael Jan Friedman. I had the opportunity to meet him in person and he signed my copy, personalized it too!

Here is the official book description:

At the age of thirty-eight, Zeno Aristos is trying to find himself. Much to his girlfriend’s chagrin, he’s quit the New York City police force and can’t figure out what he wants to do with his life. A job in security doesn’t appeal to him. Bodyguard work leaves him cold. Only single-wall handball, with its street culture of razor-edged competition, seems to get his juices flowing.

Then someone close to Zeno is kidnapped, and his search for that person leads him through a gauntlet of increasingly dark and cryptic forces, taking him from the sullen streets of gang-ravaged Brooklyn to the manicured cemeteries of suburban New Jersey to the slick corporate penthouses of midtown Manhattan. The deeper Zeno digs, the more certain he is that he’s dealing not with a mere earthly adversary, but with an entity steeped in the deepest and most malevolent of ancient mysteries.

In Fight The Gods, Friedman takes a major creative step beyond the Star Trek novels, comic books, and television scripts with which his name has become synonymous, and braves the sinister rooftops and mystical back alleys of urban fantasy. Whatever you think you know of him or of his work…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

If I get a chance to finish it, amidst everything else on my plate 🙂 … I will post a review. Buy your copy today!


Tin Man Synopsis

For those interested, here is the “working” synopsis for the first volume in the Tin Man series. I started this story during the 2011 NaNoWriMo contest and I am hoping to have a completed first draft before November 2012.

“A very special and unique military unit was thought to have been killed in an explosion near the end of the great war, but one of them was accidentally discovered. The military scrambles to take custody of the soldier and secure the sensitive information he possesses. But the technology company Cyber-TEK gets to him first hoping to use him to locate his teammates and protect their interests.

On the run from both Cyber-TEK and the military, the rest of the unit comes together to protect not only themselves but also their secret, which forced them to fake their deaths years earlier and go into hiding. Only one man can unite them and lead them, but he has gaps in his memory from his traumatic war experience. Can he regain his lost memories in time to save his unit and more importantly to protect their secret?”

I’m sure this synopsis will change again and again as I flesh out the remainder of the story, but you get the basic gist.


Movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I recently saw the 2011 movie “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and I enjoyed it very much. I have not had a chance to read the novels but it’s on my list of things to do.

I couldn’t help but be drawn into the  character of Lisbeth Salander. There was so much of myself that I saw in her. There was so much of my life that was like hers … it was frighteningly similar.

Another reason I enjoyed the movie was because I found Lisbeth Salander to be the best bisexual character I’ve ever seen on the big screen. It’s nice to see a bisexual character that is not stereotype and not the bad guy.

Lisbeth’s a strong woman even after everything she has endured in her life.  She is powerful, a damsel that doesn’t wait around to be saved by the dashing strong man. She is independent, trying her best to gain back control of her life, control that was wrongfully taken from her.

She’s not perfect… she has flaws, fears and weakness like all humans do. But that’s okay. No one should be expected to be perfect, just be real.

If the average movie goer can get past her outward appearance, the piercings and tattoos, they’ll see a woman that is an excellent role model for young people today, especially for women.

For more on this trilogy and is quality writing, check out this link.  You might enjoy it.


Too Detail, or Not To Detail

I was reading a science fiction paperback novel this past month, just got thru the first 7 chapters and I didn’t like the pace. The chapters were wordy and overly descriptive IMO, and the story didn’t move much. I understand that the author is just introducing the major characters in these first chapters, but it was painful for me to read.

I was reminded of another science fiction paperback novel that I read last year, that seemed to fly thru the pages with lots of action. That story moved at warp speed! It lacked flowery descriptions and internal conversations. However it allowed you to get to know the characters as you went along by virtue of their words and deeds… kinda like real life.

So which is better?

It’s a personal preference really. I’m a very analytical thinker and I can’t tolerate too much fluff. I want every piece of information imparted in a story to have relevance, either immediately or later down the road. If it doesn’t serve the characters or the story then cut it, you don’t need it.

Weeding the Garden

In January I took a break from “Tin Man” (my 2011 NaNoWriMo project) to clear my thoughts. I focused instead on cleaning up the various volumes of my “Son of War” (SOW) series. It was a time to ask myself “does this serve the characters or the story?” If it didn’t, I needed to cut, prune and weed it out of the story. It’s harder to do than you would think. We writers tend to get attached to dialog, scenes, situations etc like they were our own children. I put alot of work into those sections and don’t want to see it “on the cutting room floor“. But just like weeding a garden or pruning a tree yields better results in the end, cutting the fluff yields a better flowing story.

So I’m planning to invest a few more weeks this month on SOW and get it back on track. Then I can hopefully look at the details I already have and decide what to keep and what to put into cold storage for use later in another volume or another story.

Never throw anything away or delete it permanently. You might be able to use it elsewhere or down the road.


Son of War Series – My Dark Soul

As planned I set aside “Tin Man” (TM) for this month, to give myself some space. I’ve been staring at it for over 2 months straight and now I can’t even see it anymore. Time for a change of pace.

For January I’m headed back to my “Son of War” (SOW) series. This one is my baby. I’ve been working on it off & on for more years than I can remember. It has changed shape several times and its current form vaguely resembles its initial one. I guess you can say it is growing up big & strong like a baby should.

Here’s a little history on this series…

It began as an attempt at a Star Trek fan fiction piece, set just before ST6: The Undiscovered Country (one of my favorite Star Trek films). Then I fell in love with the original characters that I had created. I enjoyed writing for them more than the preexisting Star Trek characters. After all, Spock, Kirk and Sulu were already established characters, so there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room there.

That’s when my story took a left turn.

I dumped all the preexisting Star Trek characters and moved the focus of my story away from the Federation. It’s still in the Star Trek universe with Klingons, Romulans and Vulcans …oh my! But the point of view of the story, the main character, is not your typical Feddy viewpoint. In fact the entire mood of the story is very non-Trek. There’s no guaranteed “happily ever after” ending. There’s no safe character that can’t possibly be killed off. And those that are killed off (surprise surprise) … actually stay dead. No, I took the holodeck safeties off for this series. Nothing is off limits.

That is probably why this series has such a dark and ominous tone to it. I often refer to it, and the main character, as having a dark soul. There are a lot of depressing elements in this series:

  • Death
  • Suffering
  • Persecution
  • Helplessness
  • Discrimination
  • Isolation
  • Manipulation
  • Hopelessness
  • Despair

And that’s just the first volume! It’s no wonder I named the first book in the series “The Dying Soul” (TDS).

This first book introduces the main character at the most vulnerable point of his life. It is about passing thru change/death and being reborn. Before he can become the man he is destined to be, he must first die and leave his past and his pain behind. He then can embark on a journey of self-discovery, to learn who he is.

(Now before you start commenting about “it sounds like a religious theme”… let me point out that “dying & being reborn” is more a nature theme and its in everything. Religion does not have a lock on that particular theme.)

One of my many goals for 2012 is to finally finish the first draft of SOW:TDS. With TM also on the playing field vying for some of my very limited free time, we’ll see which one gets to the completed draft stage at the end of this year. It would be fabulous if both stories made it. Wouldn’t that just frost my NYE cake!!


step into my parlor