House-sitting with a Puppy

Merlin in profile.

Puppy Merlin in profile.

I have taken on a house-sitting turn for some friends while they are away.

Yesterday, I drove from the San Fernando Valley to San Clemente. I’m really going to have to do something about the broken air conditioner in my car. It got very hot during the drive, which is debilitating. But, I arrived in one piece, and not even melted down.

My friends were still gathering their things together in preparation of their departure, so I got to relax a little bit. But I was introduced to my charge, and he accepted me.

Merlin chewing on plastic bottle.

Merlin, his plastic chew bottle, and his Lamb Chop.

Merlin is still a puppy, about 4 months old. So he is still learning things.

Another friend who has had dogs suggested that at this age, he’s teething, which would explain his desire to nip and chomp on things. One thing that he likes to chew is a plastic bottle. But he has a number of other toys, including a large stuffed Lamb Chop. I was told that he is a breed called a Mexican Shepherd, so having Lamb Chop makes sense.

He may still be far from having mastered such commands as “sit”, “stay”, “heel”, but he has learned other things. Most especially, where his treats are kept.

Merlin knows where the doggy treats are.

Merlin knows where the puppy treats are.

He is sweet tempered though.  I think we will get along fine during this time.

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The Illusion of Another Time or Place Through Words

Make your language use in your story illuminating.I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of words lately. I’ve had a number of editing jobs, covering different types of material: a biblical fantasy, a children’s book, an academic thesis, and a scholarly analytic volume. Each required a different type of “language.” After all they are talking to very different audiences. But they aren’t the only prompts for the musing.

I’ve also been going through the manuscript of my own (currently unfinished) fantasy novel The Ring of Adonel. As one way of working my head back into it (in order to finish this opus), I’ve been creating a database of people, places and things mentioned in the story. This includes the specialty terms I’ve created for that fantasy world. The thing is, when you’re building a fantasy world of your own, and you want to consider certain types of issues, you want to avoid “real world” terms that might pull the reader out of your imagined one.

So, the other day, one of my friends posted a link to an excellent blog about words to avoid when writing a period screenplay. And I agree with all the points made – especially the use of “okay.” That one word especially, when it shows up in a non-modern fantasy story, can bounce me out of the fantasy realm. It just does not fit. But I do understand for the writer how easy it is to pop that in during the flush of pushing the prose forward.

Several years ago, I wrote a column about style in writing for fantasy.  When I look back at it now, even the prose of the column itself makes me smile. It’s a bit on the stilted side, as it was written during the height of my scholarly days. But the points are still reasonable.  The language we use helps create the illusion of the world we are spinning into creation.

Now, certainly, there are plenty of films that break this mold. Certainly there have been period films that have not attempted to get rid of modern phrases or concepts (the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for one). But that very fact tends to keep the audience at a distance from the world. By contrast, the History Channel series Vikings, works much harder at keeping modern references out of the mix. The results there are immersive: we are drawn into that world, where even with its multilingual setting everything remains clear.

Some writers get anxious about this whole issue. They don’t feel confident about their mastery of the phrasings of another era, or familiar with the slang of a different age. But you don’t have to have all of that down. It’s possible to create the feel of an “other where” or “other when” just by avoiding too many modern references, metaphors, and clichés and contractions. “Pedal to the metal” belongs to the automotive age, especially once racing became prevalent, for instance. Know what the references are in the phrases you use, and you should be able to keep your historical period tale or fantasy or science fiction story uninfected by our present day effects.

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Check It Out – Throughout the Website

Check it outI realized this week that people who check out this news blog on my website, might not be aware of other things happening on other sections of the site – especially if I don’t mention it on the main blog. So I’ve come up with this new method of making general announcements.

“Check It Out” will point out new things added to the site over a recent stretch of time. Right now, I’m just going to point out some things added to the site fairly recently – or that have been updated. I just completed a massive revision of the site, moving content from HTM pages to the various WordPress platforms on the site. It gives the site a more unified look and much, much easier to update. Each of these notifications will have the graphic check mark as the post image (though they will all look slightly different – must have variety, after all).

With that in mind, here are some recent things for you to check out (and I hope you enjoy them!) —

First off, for my editing and writing consulting information, the page has been totally revised and updated, including an updated rates page worked out on word count now, rather than page count (except for scripts).

On the Graphics blog, I posted a preview of some (quick) digital artwork I did to illustrate a Arveniem short story I’ll be posting soon.

Back in March, I posted a collective review of Chuck Dixon’s novel series Bad Times. Given that I just finished reading the latest volume, I’m going to have to update that review.

So, my visitors will in the future be able to use the “Check It Out” posts for what’s going on elsewhere on the site.

 

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“She’ll Never Be….”

Like many people, there are memoirs I want to write. Even if they are only for myself, to explain to myself what I see in my past. I have become very aware that the incidents that truly shape our characters are frequently invisible to those around us. They can be minor incidents in the eyes of the “outsiders,” but they can be tremendous to us.

Once such event happened to me when I was still very young. The following is from a memoir I’m slowly working away on (Making Everything Count), about those things that I believe influenced me to become the writer I am.

***

I took two years of ballet lessons when I was ages 5 through 6.  I loved dancing, and would lark about our living room to whatever classical music was playing on the radio or on my father’s record player.  As with the swimming lessons I was given during that period, my parents decided to give the natural inclination some formal training.  I was very happy to go along with this idea, since I had a book about ballet, and I loved the pictures of the ballerinas.  I wanted to be one.

Unfortunately, the two years of lessons became merely “just for myself” right at the very beginning.

At the end of the first class, when the instructor spoke with my parents about how I had done, he did it in front of me, in my hearing. There I was, the small child standing in the midst of a trio of tall (to me) adults. They were conversing way “up there.” I was way below their line of sight. The instructor commended me to my parents on my abilities, I believe.

But then he spoke the deadly words, telling them I would never be a ballerina, because even then it was obvious that I was going to be too tall.

I don’t know if they were aware that I was listening or that I understood. The little pitcher with big ears was too short to be noticed at that moment. But it stuck with me, to a negative effect, killing that ambition to be a ballerina. There’s a melancholy sorrow to a child receiving lessons in something she loves, all the while knowing her dream will not come true, because “the person who knows” had said it was impossible.

Nureyev and Gregory rehearse Raymunda

Rudolf Nureyev choreographed the ABT production of Raymunda.

The memory of that moment came back at me many years later when I attended a performance by the American Ballet Theatre of the ballet Raymunda, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev.

My final height is five feet, eight inches.  Most male ballet dancers are under six feet in height.  A ballerina of my height, when she is en pointe, will be over six feet tall, towering over her partners.  This is why, traditionally, ballerinas are petite.  But in the performance I saw of the ABT, the prima ballerina was the dazzling Cynthia Gregory – who just happened to be five feet, eight inches.

Unlike an experience with my second grade teacher and reading (she had not believed my claim that I could read at a third grade level, especially after I botched reading aloud, even though I’d been reading an advanced level silently all summer), whether I might be able to become as a dancer was not something I knew for sure.

He was the expert.  And apparently there was a factor that would have nothing to do with my ability: how tall I would be.

Cynthia Gregory as Raymunda

Cynthia Gregory as Raymunda.

So, right from the beginning, I knew that taking the dance classes would be only for my own satisfaction, for I would never be that ballerina I had wanted to be.  All because of what the instructor said in my hearing.

I have occasionally wondered what I would have done if I had not heard that.  Would I have pushed on, and been like Cynthia Gregory?  I don’t know.  But it did instill in me an outlook that would become much stronger later: not to quash the desires of others, just because they don’t fit the expected pattern.  If someone has the desire to pursue an ambition and is willing to do the work, I will not be the one to turn them away.  There is enough of that little wannabe-ballerina in me still, and she remembers how it stung to hear those words.

Young dancer seated

Never say “She’ll never be….” — especially not in the hearing of the child.

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Website Updating and Reorganizing

I’m currently in the midst of doing some revising here. I’m not eliminating anything, but I am rearranging some of the access points. The main intent is to move as many things from old HTM pages over to one of the WordPress platforms on the site. Right now, I am transferring the introductory pages to the sample scripts over. Originally, I had put three of them on the News blog, but I’ve decided they would be better suited on the Fiction blog.

The separate Works index will shortly be replaced by a WordPress page (which will be much, much easier to update!).

It’s all with the intention of making the visitor’s experience on the site easier. So please, roam around and enjoy!

Things being transferred so far:
X-Files: Sasquatch
CSI: Obsession
Burn Notice: Hostile Negotiations

 

 

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CAPS 2015 Holiday Party

I missed last year’s party, because I was in Oregon, so I was certainly looking forward to this year’s festivities. Once again we gathered at the Montrose Bowl for our fun evening. We had a good turn out.

Montrose does up their streets in this neighborhood with lots of lights, so it looks very lovely.

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Of course, the precipitation we had in Southern California on Thursday afternoon gave the street the reflective sheen.

The thing about parties is that we give ourselves permission to clown around.

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The location is a bowling alley, of course, so once everyone has settled in, some hardy souls try their luck at knocking down pins.

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One of the first things we do in festivities (after eating, of course) is the presentation of the year’s service award (named for member Scott Shaw! who is a model of service). This year, Tone Rodriguez, back in town from Arizona for the holiday, did the presentation, and the award went to past President Pat McGreal.

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Once the serious stuff like that is done with, we get on to the silly stuff like the gift exchange. The routine is to bring an inexpensive gift. Using raffle tickets, we get called up by our numbers and make a selection from the pile of wrapped gifts. It’s a mystery as to what might be in the package. For instance, below, we see that Kirby Shaw (Scott’s son) received an unusual apron.

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For most of the evening, Jim MacQuarrie had his outer shirt buttoned up over his tee-shirt but as the evening wound down, he remembered the reason he wore the tee. Something he wanted to show off: a benefit of participating in the press party for this big, upcoming movie release. Just a little thing that he got in advance of the general public.

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Premise Reunion & Farewell Party

Premise has been a prayer fellowship for Christians who work in the entertainment industry, with a history of 33 years of fellowship. But recently, the organization reached the end of a road. Whatever the dynamics are that lead to the end of a fellowship are an issue for another time. Last night, we held a Reunion and Farewell party – to celebrate the events and friendships that are shining spots in Premise’s existence.

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The last time the fellowship had gathered had been at the June business meeting. Because this had the aura of celebration and reunion, there was a lot of conversation going on. Happy conversation.

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Of course, there is always a good time when food is around.

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Looking back over the history of the group made for a period of good reflection – many blessings. Fun retreats together. Relationships built, including marriages. The loss of some friends to death, and remembering with joy what those individuals brought to the group.

Nobody was feeling that this event meant the end of all the relationships that had been fostered by the group, though. Indeed, the conversations seemed to indicate that many in the group will stay in contact, and even reconnect with former members who joined us at the party.

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I had had a long day prior to the party, so this gathering was a perfect ending to it.

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As individuals move forward, including some new options for fellowship and ongoing prayer together, this party marks a true celebration of what that fellowship can mean. It was a very good evening.

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A Day in the Life of Comic Con International 2015

My plan had been to leave Pacoima early – by 5:30, ideally. That would have meant reaching San Diego before 8, and taking the trolley to the convention center, picking up my badge quickly and being on the spot when the exhibit hall opened at 9:30. It was a nice plan. I failed at it.

I didn’t get myself out of the door until after 6:30. Then I had to get some cash and gas, so it was just before 7 when I finally got onto the freeway. Oh, joy. Morning traffic all the way. I discovered that I have no love for Waze because it won’t show me the whole route upfront. It expects blind trust for each turn, and won’t give you advance knowledge of route changes. This is why I prefer maps. Then, of course, there’s the way it eats through the battery charge.

I reached the Qualcomm Stadium parking a bit after 10 a.m. I plodded over to the trolley stop, and was fortunate enough to get on one that was loading up at the stadium and not further out on the line. I got a good seat by the window. The ride in was nice, as I struck up a conversation with a couple across from me: the wife was in a Star Trek: Next Generation costume (yes, she was in engineering red). The nice thing, though, was that I breezed for registration.

I walked into the Exhibit Hall, right by the Kotobukiya booth, and was confronted with some good looking statuettes and action figures that are supposedly coming out later this year. A very nice Wonder Woman in the group, but I was more interested in the Black Canary. There was also a pretty good Black Widow one. But they would all require some pretty pennies to purchase.

Checking the quick schedule graph, I found out that the Spotlight interview for convention special guest Butch Guice was happening at noon. I got a hot dog on the way to the panel (since I’d only had an egg salad sandwich at 7 as I hit the road).

Spotlight on Butch Guice

Spotlight on Butch Guice

It was good to see Butch again – we’d met face to face back in the CrossGen days. The nice thing was that I also finally got to meet his wife Julie. We sat by each other and snickered over some of the comments during the interview.

Given how stiff my knees turned out to be all day, I realized that I was not going to be flitting about the convention center. I made my way to the far wing for the next bit of programming I wanted to see. I did snag a pretzel along the way, however.

That panel was the Ghostbusters panel, covering IDW’s comics, what Sony is doing, and the games that Cryptozoic has created. I had one particular reason for attending this, and that is that my good friend Erik Burnham has been writing the Ghostbusters title for IDW.

Erik Burnham

Erik Burnham

It’s a very cool thing to see Erik get recognition. He’s always been a sharp writer, and he’s earned his place at that table. The rest of the panel arrived and settled in.

Ghostbusters panel

Ghostbusters panel

I got this shot of the panelists, minus IDW editor Tom Waltz. Seated next to Erik are the art team that have worked with him on the Ghostbusters book, and then the two gentlemen at the end are the Cryptozoic guys. They got to talk about the game they developed, after crowd-funding the development. Tom spoke highly of how supportive Sony has been of the work that IDW has done, and that they are taking the Ghostbusters franchise very seriously.

From there, I made my way around the Hall G end of the upper floor. I made a brief stop in the Industry Lounge because, hey! CHAIRS! I actually had a nice conversation with the guy next to me, I showed him a copy of Creating Graphic Novels that I had in my shoulder bag, and we exchanged business cards. (I finally had updated ones with me, having just had them printed from Vistaprint a week earlier.)

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Marvel’s Agent Carter cosplay

Seated across the table from me was a young woman who had pulled together a very good Agent Carter cosplay outfit. I had once again not been swift with the camera on the floor or in the halls, so I hadn’t taken pictures of cosplayers (I was sorry I missed the opportunity to catch the two Weeping Angels I’d seen in the Exhibit Hall). But my friend Corrina Lawson has really had Agent Carter cosplay on her mind the last several months, so I had to take this picture for her.

Then I was off to Barbara Randall Kesel’s panel on “Just What Does an Editor Do?” She’s taken to doing this fairly regularly, and gets good attendance at it. This time out, her panelists were Mike Marts, Joe Illidge, Diana Schutz, Shannon Eric Denton, and Joe LeFavi.

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Barbara Randall Kesel’s “Just What Does an Editor Do?” panel

I get a kick out of listening to what the editors have to say about pulling books together. And the Q&A from the audience was interesting as well. There are so many aspiring writers out there, who are serious about wanting to get things right. Barbara’s panels are always good listening.

Next up – fortunately for me, in the same room – was the Mouse Guard 10th Anniversary panel. Mouse Guard is a beautiful graphic novel fantasy series, that I’ve become very fond of.

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The Mouse Guard 10th Anniversary panel

Moderated by Mel Caylo, the panel included editor Cameron Chittock, creator David Petersen himself, and actor-comedian Hal Lublin. It began with Lublin performing a dramatic reading of a Mouse Guard short story, with the visuals displayed on the big screen. Then there was a discussion of the origins of Mouse Guard. It wrapped up with a Q&A from the audience.

The last bit of the day for me was my friend Brandon Easton’s Writer’s Journey panel. This is one he does regularly, with a slightly varying rotation on the panel. It’s about breaking into comics and screenwriting. Often the subject matter has been literally about the basics of that, but this one also veered into the territory of diversity in the business. He was putting up information about the various fellowships that are available for television writing.

Brandon Easton's Writer's Journey panel about breaking into comics and screenwriting.

Brandon Easton’s Writer’s Journey panel about breaking into comics and screenwriting.

 

Usually, Brandon does not get personal about his experiences, but this time he opened up about some of the obstacles he’s run into. As he said, he’s a 6’2″ big black guy, and that at first meeting he’s often had the white executives that he’s met obviously mentally back away from him. Not having credits up until recently, he kept running into unconscious bias in many people. But now that he is taking part in the Disney fellowship, and is on staff for Season 2 of Marvel’s Agent Carter, he can get past that roadblock. His discussion of the realities of the hidden biases seemed to energize the audience a lot – everyone responded with excitement at his encouragement for people to persist.

After the panel, I chatted with Brandon briefly. And then I headed over to the Tin Fish, across the street and the train & trolley tracks from the convention center. It’s one of my Comic Con rituals, to have a meal at the Tin Fish. I still think back to one of my early experiences at Comic Con years ago: I had stopped into the Tin Fish on the Sunday afternoon before heading home, intending to have their clam chowder – and they’d run out. In the time since then, they’ve learned to keep stocked up for Comic Con. They do a booming business. I had a delicious grilled sea bass, with criss-cut fries and cole slaw.

Then it was back on the trolley, back to the stadium, and to my car. I knew I would not be able to drive the whole way back to Pacoima. It had been a long day. I’d made a motel reservation in Tustin. As it turned out, that was about as far as I could have driven: I was getting groggy at the wheel by the time I turned into the motel’s driveway.

All in all, I had a good day at Comic Con. I was disappointed that my hobbling kept me from visiting my friends in Artists Alley. But other than that regret and not having spending money for some of the goodies I saw, I enjoyed myself. I just have to work hard, save up, and plan ahead, so I can get back to attending the whole of the convention again.

 

 

 

 

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Piping Up At Hollywood Presbyterian

When I got back to LA after six months in Oregon, one of the things I looked forward to was music at church. I usually attend the Contemporary service at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, which means I do not get to hear the pipe organ every Sunday. I had vaguely hoped there would be an organ concert. And as it turned out, not long after I got back in March, our brilliant organist, Dr. Kimo Smith, was indeed going to be giving a concert on the organ. Which made me realize it had been nearly five years since the last time he’d given a full-on concert on the instrument. Time flies.

The concert was given on April 19 – so I’m a bit lagging in actually posting about it.

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He opened with “Sonata No.1, P. 42” by Alexandre Guilmant. And then followed it with the piece that everyone associates with pipe organs (thanks to the movies!), Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”. I have to admit that when you hear that piece in person on a pipe organ, it really is impressive. The big pipes vibrate with intensity, and you can feel the music build and build. It’s always worth it to hear it in person on a big organ.

He took the time to explain the pieces he was giving us. After the Bach, he played Joseph Jongen’s “Choral, Op. 37, No.4.” He followed that with “Three Jazz Preludes” from Johannes Matthias Michel, which were very interesting. The three preludes were each based on a traditional church tune (hymns, basically), but each given a specific jazz flavor.  “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast” became “Swing Five: Erhalt uns, Herr.” “Bosa Nova: Wunderbarer Konig” was from “Wonderful King.” And the last prelude, from “In Thee Is Gladness” was “Afro-Cuban: In dir ist Freude.” There was something very lively and smile-inducing about those three pieces. A joyful addition to the program.

The first part of the concert was rounded out by “Toccata in D Major” by Marcel Lanquetuit.

After a short intermission break, Kimo relaunched the music with “Toccata para Organo” by Ariel Quintana – who just happens to be the Music Director at Hollywood Pres. Kimo teasingly called it “Opus No. 1” even though Ariel has not (yet) written another for Kimo to play.

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This was followed by “Three Hymn Preludes” arranged by Fred Bock, who had been the Music Director at Hollywood Pres until his untimely death in 1998. It was Fred who brought Kimo to Hollywood Pres, for which we are very thankful. The three hymns used were “Be Thou My Vision”, “In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified,” and “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

The program was closed out with Denis Bedard’s “Suite for Organ”.

All in all, it was a lovely program. I’ve always enjoyed listening to pipe organs, for it always takes me back to listening to my mother rehearse on the piano, during those years when she also worked as an organist.

I admit that I had hoped that Kimo would end the program with the rousing “Rondo in G” by John Bull. It’s a virtuoso piece, with a lot of hand work and foot work. It was one in particular that I remembered from my mother’s rehearsing. But as it turned out, there was a reason why it was not included in the concert. When the church had it’s annual Celebration Sunday, were all the choirs sang, and the bell choirs played, where we wind up our “year” with music from all levels, the “Rondo” was the piece that Kimo chose as the postlude to that service. So, all my music wishes were fulfilled.

Oh! I should add that one of the things I’d always hoped for was done this time around. A camera was positioned, with the image projected to the sides of the choir loft, so that the audience could see much of Kimo’s hand work on the multiple keyboards.  It wasn’t an ideal positioning, over his left shoulder, but it gave people the beginning of an idea of how much work being an organist is. If I were in charge, though…. I’d tried to position one camera directly above the keyboards, so we could get an even better view of the jumping around that has to be done there. And then I would also light the pedal-board below, and put a camera down there (if possible), so that people could see how much an organists feet get worked as well. Maybe some day.

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Bradbury’s Influence

I’ve been reading Ray Bradbury: the Last Interview this last week. I’d recently come to realize how much Bradbury had influence my own writing. I had not thought about it because I wasn’t a reader who was immersed in his writing. But definitely, I encountered Something Wicked This Way Comes at a crucial time in my formation as a writer. The lyricism of his prose always stayed in the back of my mind, sinking in roots in my own imagination.

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Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about his outlook on writing, both stylistically and in terms of craftsmanship. The following is a quote from the book, about the importance of writing for love of the work.

People will always give advice to a writer to slant, to write for the money. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. You will sicken and die. If you turn away from you— who you are, what you are, what you dream, what you need— you are going to wind up so unhappy , so miserable. It’s not worth it. Being poor isn’t so bad as long as you have your imagination and what you are. Being rich for the wrong reason is a lousy business. You aren’t rich at all. I’ve known a lot of Hollywood writers over the years who made ten times my income, and they were profoundly unhappy. Because they wrote things they never should have written. They never went on vacation. They never went to Europe and saw London or Paris or Rome. They were afraid that if they ever left Hollywood, they would be replaced. And they were probably right. They were replaceable. But when you write from within, if you write from within and are true to who you are, you are original and you cannot be replaced. No wonder these writers were scared! Nothing was written out of their hearts or ganglia. And so the lesson is, of course, that you must never turn away from the essential you. If you turn away from who you are, you will sicken. You will age ahead of your years. And so you must learn to turn inwards , to your own experiences, to your own memories, your passions, your loves and hatreds— you will then begin to summon the essence of you.

Bradbury, Ray; Weller, Sam (2014-12-02). Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview: And other Conversations (The Last Interview Series) (Kindle Locations 818-828). Melville House. Kindle Edition.

I am trying to hold onto that love of my stories, that love of the craft.  It’s so easy in the regular beat of trying to get on with life to lose track of loving your stories. It’s so easy to just be focused on getting the next patch written for the paycheck. I want to keep Ray’s words in my soul, so that even the “work-a-day” writing jobs are filled with that love that comes from the core of me.

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