My Ode to My Wife

I wrote a poem for my wife. Not just any poem, but lyrics for a song. It has been over 15 years since I have written any kind of poetry, but I felt moved to do so. At the urging of my fellow 5Artz Creative Affiliations members, I have decided to post the first draft of what I wrote to this blog. If any musicians decide to pick it up and use it, all I ask is that you give me the credit for the lyrics.


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My Quest

By

R.M. Almeida

You are my quest,

You are my dream,

My eternal crusade,

Even when we fought, you always stayed.

You are my quest,

I am your art,

Your strokes sometimes hurt,

But I’ll follow your heart.

~ Refrain ~

You are my quest,

You show the path when there’s none,

You make challenges simple,

The impossible…done.

You are my quest,

We’ve laughed and cried,

Lived through tough times,

To find each other each night.

~ Refrain ~

You are my quest,

You see past my flaws,

You forgive my mistakes,

And you break down my walls.

You are my quest,

My blue sky above,

You are my partner,

My eternal love.

~ Refrain ~

We’ve come a long way,

From those chats and retreats,

Such a long way,

From our texts and retweets.

When I look back,

From those cold days alone,

I think of your smile,

And your voice on the phone.

How an Image Can Sell Your Book

I just received an email from Martin Cavannagh from Reedsy about book covers. It was a simple, concise letter that reminded me how important a book cover is when selling a book.

As a bookseller with over 30 years of experience, I know too well, how books are sold. I cannot count the number of self-published authors who felt that they knew what they were doing when it came to book sales. Many of these are authors who have written many books. These authors consider themselves pioneers or self-made publishers. Yet, their sales numbers speak volumes to me as a bookseller.

The industry has changed in some ways. Old and new authors often feel overwhelmed at the prospect of marketing or continuing to market what they have written. Reedsy brought up an important tool that can be critical to selling or promoting your book: Your book cover. Here is an example provided by Chuck Regan:

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Make your own comparison. Which book cover would you feature to sell your book, the cover on the left or the cover on the right?

There is a reason why bestselling authors use a professional artist to sell their book.

One reason why we started 5Artz was to bring artists of like minds together. If you are a writer who is serious about selling your book, find a professional artist or designer to help you. If you are an artist or designer who feels that you are the right fit in developing book covers for authors, let the writing community know that you exist.

We started 5Artz to bring artists of different disciplines together. You can join our community or even join our Meetup community.

The Hero’s Journey: A Measure of Success

Tonight’s workshop at Barnes & Noble, Summerlin was a measure of success. By the looks of our workshop attendees, I believe I can safely assume that it was by far, a great measure of success.

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Yes…you are correct. I am the dumpy-looking one in the background, next to Bill Guthrie. If you don’t know Bill by now, here is a photo of him.

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I either need to get a new shirt or spend more time on the run. Guess I’m getting a new pair of tennis shoes.

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That is me, with my daughter.

I am DEFINITELY spending more time walking.

The Hero’s Journey: Storytelling 101, the Big Day

The day is here. Our first night of a packed venue, our second Meetup at Barnes & Noble, Summerlin. We may not be on the schedule, but after tonight, I hope that our store managers will place us on the map as a regular occurrence at the store.

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We will be discussing the “Hero’s Journey“, as penned by Joseph Campbell. If you don’t know anything about the “Hero’s Journey“, don’t feel left out. I was surprised at the number of writers, authors and scholars here in Las Vegas who have never heard of it. Use Google to search for Hero’s Journey however, and you will find at least 250,000 results. The sheer number of rich, informative websites that have been created to dutifully explain or simplify the findings from Campbell’s “The Power of Myth“, “The Hero’s Journey” and “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” is staggering (to say the least).

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Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987) was a researcher, scholar and teacher who grew up loving mythology. He ate, slept and breathed mythology, to his dying breath. Like Campbell, I studied mythology as a child. I could not read enough fairy tales, fables or myths. I found a hunger I could not sate, bound by an incredible urge to learn more. I started my lessons in mythology, books written by Edith Hamilton. Those first stories were short and palatable. There was something about her use of the English language that felt simple…fast reads that would entertain me for hours. It was Hamilton, who would eventually lead me to “Bulfinch’s Mythology” as a teen, ending with Joseph Campbell’s “Myths to Live By” as an adult.

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Looking back, my need seemed more like a quest to answer questions, rather than to fill a need of my hunger for myth. My scholarly jaunt was a stair-stepping route that brought me forward to a discovery of Homer’s “The Iliad and the Odyssey“, Plato’s “Timaeus and Critias” and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses“. My discovery of their dramatic prose and profound discourses led to stories by more contemporary authors. I began a list of heroes taken from pages written by Isaac Asimov, “The Foundation“, Ray Bradbury, “Martian Chronicles” or Gordon R. Dickson‘s more scholarly “Dorsai!“. My thirst to find good stories have spanned more than 50 years so far, and show no signs of waning.

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Tonight’s meeting will be a challenge and discovery. I will be sitting next to a new hero, Bill Guthrie. Ever since I have met Bill, I discovered a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, cultivated by years of hard, unrelenting work as a writer, journalist and editor. I have an opportunity to share what I have found with others, hungry as I am to complete our Hero’s Journey as a writer and an author. Tonight is the opportunity for all of us to talk to a true writing professional, one who has lived by the written word for over 60 years. Tonight I can introduce new writers to Bill Guthrie as we all share our voices and opinions regarding one of the oldest of professions…storytelling.

Writer’s Workshops: A Way for Writers to Meet…IN PERSON

I checked how long it has been since I made my last post and was appalled.

My last post was made on June 25th of last year. I stopped because the advice I was given was that my writing was not ready. When is your writing…”ready”? I can agonize over punctuation, grammar or content until the moon turns blue (I believe the last time we had a “blue moon” took place sometime in the 1860’s). Wait a moment! We just had one, didn’t we? Well then, I suppose it is time for me to get my ducks in a row.

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I am re-opening my blog on the advent of what I hope will be a successful “Meetup“, due to take place on Tuesday, the 6th of February. We titled our monthly meeting “The Writer’s Workshops at Barnes and Noble, Summerlin“. This Meetup is our second public workshop of 2018 and our 5th workshop since we started in September of 2017. As of this writing, we have 163 members in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our workshops are hosted and opened by Bill Guthrie, an author, award-winning writer, sportswriter and columnist for over 40 years. I manage setup, posting and marketing of the workshops.

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This meetup will be a challenge for us since we will attempt to host 25 or more people in a very small space. I am hoping that we have enough chairs to handle all the people who have RSVP’d. In today’s climate, you would think that we would have other ways to reach a wider audience. Well, we do…but then there are issues that can arise, such as copyright, privacy, etc. We have taken so much for granted in this day and age of live streaming, Facebook, Instagram and other social media.

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Yes, there are all kinds of options available to us, but about 90 percent of those options involve money (which we don’t have). Besides, there is something to say about meeting people face-to-face, and the opportunity for other writers to talk to someone with as much experience and knowledge as Bill Guthrie is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Facebook live streaming is one thing, but exchanging questions with him in the same room evokes a different feeling than one would have with an exchange of text.

2So what can we do? We work with what we have. I’ve got our 5Artz meetings to also consider since we don’t have a venue for this Meetup right now. (The store will not sanction a meetup for 5Artz, because it involves photography, music, performing arts and art, rather than writing). I wish we could hold our 5Artz Meetups in the bookstore as well. Until that day arrives, I will continue my search for a venue that is not too loud (we tried a restaurant – too noisy), too expensive or too far away for everyone to meet.

Wish me luck.

The Personal Experiences of a Writer

I refuse to allow another week to transpire without publishing something of significance to this blog. I am still editing past blog posts, to ensure that they reflect a degree of professionalism.

In the interim, I have decided to share short original written work ranging from 500 to 1500 words that deal with my personal experiences over the past 60 years. My decision is based on past conversations I have had with friends over the years. Many felt that my personal life would make an interesting book. Alhtough I do not feel the same way, I feel that this short work will challenge my skills as a descriptive writer.

I plan to write about:

  • What it is like to be stabbed
  • Visit numerous countries
  • Experience near death
  • Undergo major surgery
  • Live as a sailor on a ship
  • Experience a 7.8 earthquake
  • Witness a volcanic eruption
  • Lose your children
  • Experience a beating
  • Experience racial prejudice
  • Experience the influence of drugs
  • Stop a destructive habit (smoking, drinking, etc.)

For my part, I will ensure that each submission is edited prior to each post. I hope that my descriptions help writers who have not had these experiences create lasting and meaningful characters and that they never experience much of what I will describe.

I am certain that some readers and writers have experienced what I will be writing about. Many probably will have experienced worse. My purpose in writing about these experiences is not to achieve any personal therapy. I want to provide information for writers who have not experienced what I will be discussing. My hope is that this endeavor will allow young and old writers to empathize in my shared experiences, so that they can refine their personal writing endeavors.

Creative Series IV: Mastering Dialogue

If we look back to our discussion in Creative Series III, we found that dialogue can not only make or break our story, but allow our characters to tell the story for us. When you create dialogue, there are no perfect words that you can give to your characters. As the creator of your world, you have to allow your characters to interact. The best method in learning how to deliver fantastic dialogue, is to become a good listener.

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Exercise 1

Your objective is to understand dialogue.

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To learn about people, how they interact with each other, you need contact with the world. Go to a “public location”. Any established business can be considered a “public location”. Bring a pad and a pen or pencil. Please notice that I did NOT include recording devices. I am certain that simply installing a voice recording app in your cell phone would make this assignment less painful, but there is a reason I am giving you this advice. Aside from other countries in the world, if you are in the United States, you can be prosecuted in at least 12 states for illegally recording conversations without someone’s knowledge (http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-recording-guide). For my award-winning short story I created my dialogue by listening to conversations that I jotted down on a notepad, snatches of conversations that I overheard from my fellow shipmates.

Picnic Party 002Even though I knew them well, I took notes of their conversations.

coffee-2425369_1920Lessen your risk as a writer.

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Learn how to write down snatches of conversations you may hear. A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public. Develop these skills. You will find that they can help you in your endeavors to create meaningful dialogue between your characters.

Exercise 2

Make an attempt to converse with a total stranger in a public place.

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You may or may not know what you are going to talk about. You may find yourself interrupting a conversation that is already in progress. The purpose of this exercise is for you to understand your own motivation in a conversation. Work on listening to the other person’s answers. Make a concerted effort to ask questions whenever possible, rather than making your own statements.

Understanding motivation behind dialogue.

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External factors can motivate dialogue. In my work as a bookseller, I meet many people. Over seventy percent of my customers were talking about the weather today, because the past week has brought the southwestern United States searing heat. When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, the entire world was talking about the eruption, because ash was drifting thousands of miles, even reaching the east coast of the United States.

Think about external factors as moments in time, that can be as fleeting as the wind.

Exercise 3

Create five characters, defining their motives for living life as they see it should be lived.

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Make each character different from the other characters, with the understanding that you will be forcing your five characters to interact with each other in the future.

Work on developing a conversation between at least 4 of your 5 characters.

If you are having problems, try some of these examples:

What kind of conversation could an atheist have with a person who believes in a religion. What could they talk about? Could they find common ground?

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What kind of conversation could a person who believes in peace have with a person who believes in war?

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What kind of conversation could a person who believes in liberal democracy have with a person who has conservative values?

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What kind of conversation could a person who is endowed with a beautiful face and body have with a person who possesses a normal face and body?

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What kind of conversation could a person from a city have with a person from a rural town?

Work on developing conversations between people who in “normal” circumstances may not meet each other. Use what you learned from your previous two exercises.

Next week: Creative Series IV: Weaving the Tapestry that is our Story.

Creative Series IV: Populating Our Story with Characters

This part of our Creative Series will cover characters.

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Characters are a very important part of every good story. Characters are the primary colors of your plot. Without characters, a story can become a lifeless, dull, carcass of a plot which loses the reader’s interest. It is the writer’s job to create interesting characters to populate their story.

Look at the world around you.

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Our world is filled with trillions of characters. In my eyes, there is no reason why a writer cannot imagine how to fill their stories with rich, colorful characters. Unless we live in a cave, we have a vast treasure trove of people around us to create our characters. A character can be a neighbor down the street. A character can be our best friend. A character can be the clerk who helps us at the grocery store. A character can be a fellow student in a class.

We can create prejudice for our characters before they open their mouths.

 

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What if our character wears clothing that is one color? What if our character wears clothing that is bright and filled with design? What if our character has a large scar on their cheek? What if our character does not smile? What if our character is always smiling? What if our character wears a worn T-shirt, shoes with holes and blue jeans that are tattered? What if our character wears a black suit, sunglasses and a cowboy hat? What if our character wears blouses with only 2 buttons buttoned? What if our character wears dresses that cover almost every inch of her body? Think about how we can dress our characters to cause certain ideas in our readers…a picture of our characters as the reader sees them out on the street?

We can create personal quirks for our characters.

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Our character can smoke. Our character may drink alcohol. A lot of alcohol. Our character might drink mint teas. Our character prefers diet sodas. Our character has a twitch. Our character stutters. Our character includes a specific word when they say anything. Our character holds their head down, never meeting anyone’s gaze. Our character shuffles. Our character walks with a limp. Our character has a cast on their arm. Our character winces with pain…constantly. Our character looks up all the time. Our character looks down all the time. Our character talks to themselves. Our character is very quiet and hardly says a word.

We can break rules with our character.

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Think of the character who is meek and mild, suddenly becoming assertive and angry. What happens when we have established a character who wears sunglasses throughout our story, suddenly deciding not to wear sunglasses? Imagine a character who is a bully one day, risking their life for someone the next day. Our characters can change or they can remain the same way throughout our book. Characters can change, just like normal people can change in our everyday lives.

Characters within our stories are like suns in a very large universe.

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Characters establish the rules and groundwork in our stories. Like a sun in the universe, characters can have friends (like planets) who revolve around them, caught in the gravity of their personality. Our surroundings can become characters in of themselves. We can create gentle surroundings or harsh, rough surroundings. We can create weather as a character. We can create a physical environment as a character. Our environment surrounds us, binds us together to resist or accept it.

Our story sample.

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5 characters will inhabit a house.

Last week, I created a house as part of a story, based on a photograph. Today, I will create basic character sketches as I begin to populate the house with people. For this exercise, I will describe two of my characters with what they wear. I will follow with 2 more character sketches that focus on their physical appearance as opposed to what they wear. My last character sketch will describe a character based on personal quirks.

Character Number One

Joquan emerged from the kitchen. He was always impeccably dressed. From his black leather cap that hung just over his eyes, to his black shoes. Joquan rarely shaved. He preferred to wear large, ornate cufflinks with a gold Rolex watch that just peeked out of the edges of bone white shirts. He wore the most interesting shoes, always a sharp, metal tip at the end of each shoe.

Character Number Two

Ismeralda walked out of the foyer. She preferred to show off her assets with low-hanging blouses and shorts, sheer wisps of material that seemed to look almost transparent in the bright sunlight. Dark sunglasses hid her eyes, while silver bangles hung from her earlobes, their weight so great that they caused the skin of her lobes to stretch dangerously low. Her hair was long, curled in a coif that ended in a point. Ismeralda wore open-toed shoes that seemed to raise her height by almost a foot, the heels clicked and clacked on the hard stone floor of the house as she made her way from room to room.

Character Number Three

Haram came slowly down the stairs. His skin was a deep brown. His hair unkempt and unruly, his thick eyebrows almost came together as one brow. A ragged scar ran from the top of an ear, all the way down to the edge of his chin, while tattoos covered a bare chest, back and arms. His eyes flashed in the harsh glow of the lamp, one eye steel gray, the other an iridescent green. He smiled a toothy grin, many of his teeth brown and dull, contrasted with several teeth that glinted with gold.

Character Number Four

Theresa seemed to waddle out of the bedroom. Her arms were laden with folds of skin that belied heavy weight and years of eating rich, fatty foods. Her face was pudgy, rosy cheeks gave one the impression that she was once a hamster in another life. Her hips and legs were bared today, vibrating with every step that she took. Theresa’s eyes were almost closed, her mouth set in a permanent scowl that seemed to say, “Stay away from me.”

Character Number Five

George mumbled to himself as he reached for the patio door. His shuffle seemed as incoherent as his tendency to sometimes sing to himself, occasionally waving his arms from side to side as he made his way into the waiting boat on the dock. “Flibberty Flubberty,” he stated to himself as he cautiously made his way into the boat. George mumbled to himself again as he brought his hands together to fiddle with his fingers, reaching down to his zipper and pulling up on its extended tab. The boat rocked a bit as George sat down on a cushioned seat that was set into its very center. He rocked a bit, listening to the splish and splash of water that lapped at the edges of the boat. George stopped rocking. He sat still a moment, then laughed to himself as the boat continued to rock ever slow lightly, its hull responding to the waves that gently rocked it from side to side.

Next week: Allowing our characters to come to life with dialogue.

Creative Series IV: Meeting Your Muse

Today is the day that we begin to create a book, short story, poem or article.

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Today is the day that we meet our muse. What I will be doing from this point to the end of the series, is creating a storyline and finished product online. For the next few parts in our series, we will literally create a story from this blog, using all of the tools that we have covered.

First is our idea.

What will we write about? I am going to stick with a work of fiction. To start, I want to find something to write about.

I am R.M. Almeida.

Welcome to Meeting Your Muse. Our series begins and ends with the creation of a story. Let us begin with a rough idea for our story.

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Any external event in our lives, can influence our thoughts, our actions or our ideas. As writers, we can use external events to bring out those small introductions to create a story.

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A story can be born at the start of a hailstorm, perhaps a harbinger of events to unfold.

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What if your story starts in a location that is as innocent as a parking lot?

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Your story could be a park or a beautiful lake, surrounded by expensive homes, nestled in palm trees that bake in the hot sun. It can be a dilapidated shack in the slum.

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So, our story can start anywhere, anyplace or at any time. What we do know, is that we are beginning to meet our muse…that part of us that is able to become detached from the real world around us…a part of us that can begin to create a world not of this reality, with its own standards, rules and laws. A world that only exists within the very fabric of our imagination.

We are in our zone…we are ready to begin writing.


Our First Exercise

I have found a place close to home to begin writing my story.

It was a dream.

When I saw my dream home, I salivated as I looked at the huge bay windows that overlooked the swimming pool, garden and lake that sat next to the sprawling structure. A small boat tied to a landing that led to the house, was camped like a tourist on the blue-green lake that shimmered in the bright Nevada sun. Schools of fish lavished themselves on occasional insects that came too close to the surface of the water, their insect lives snuffed out as if they were candles being pinched by a butler as a fish jumped out of the water to engorge themselves.

It was a home that I could live in for the rest of my natural days, my own personal getaway where I could relax on a sofa, so overstuffed that I sank into its soft, velour pillows even before I sat down. A megalithic television screen offered me the delights of technology that only the filthy rich could envision. Each room was more inviting than the most passionate lover I could imagine, a nirvana holiday enervated from the most sensual Feng Shui dreams from a magazine in house design.

Who knew that such a gorgeous home could be one so putrid with the smell of death?

Next in our series: Populating our Landscape with Characters