Posts made in January, 2014

Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Ron Walters (Part I)

Posted by on Jan 30, 2014 in Writer Interviews | 1 comment

Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Ron Walters (Part I)

Wooohooo, it’s interview time again. This time we’re headed to the wonderful world of fiction to speak with an incredibly imaginative writer out of Bitburg, Germany by way of Savannah, Georgia. His name – Ronald Walters. (Note: Read that last line in a James Earl Jones style voice. Here, I’ll give it to you again so you can hear it with the same resonant timber that Ron’s introduction deserves.)

His name – Ronald Walters.

Thanks for that wonderful introduction James Earl.

Ron is a stay-at-home father who has been tirelessly working on novels and short stories for the better part of a decade. Before moving to Germany (where he assures us that beer is blessedly cheaper than water) he worked as a reporter for a small town newspaper and supervised a college registrar’s office. I believe he’s the perfect person to interview for this blog because he represents so much of what being a writer is about. After many years of rejections and refining his craft, he’s finally broken through, getting at least a small dose of notoriety for his work, which you can check out here

Ron has a lot of great stuff to say about how he’s gotten to where he is, his favorite projects, and his definition of success. Enjoy.

GRANDPA HANK: Can you identify what tends to spark your stories if anything?

RON WALTERS: For what it’s worth, this was the hardest of your questions to answer. So thanks for starting with it.

If I do have anything like a muse or story spark, the fickle bastard lives inside my car. I’ll be driving along, trying to add up the numbers my four-year-old likes to throw at me (“What’s 152 plus 52? What’s 4 plus 87 hundred plus sixty-ten? What’s 3 plus 162-ten-forty?”), when all of a sudden a character appears in my head and is all, “Hey.”

Usually said character shows up with some sort of fantastical or supernatural baggage. If I’m lucky, he or she also lives somewhere. If they don’t, I’m kind of screwed because for some reason if I don’t have a setting in mind, it’s really hard for me to start a story. Settings are kind of my anchor, I guess.

However, until I sit down and start writing, I have no idea what the story is about. I’m not a planner. Believe me, I’ve tried. What I’ve learned is that attempting to outline a potential story is the surest way to kill it, at least for me. It works for other people, and more power to them. If I personally want something to work, I just have to let the words flow and not think about what I’m writing – which I know sounds super cheesy, and doesn’t make much sense, but such is my writing life.

Tangentially, I’m not the kind of writer who has a notebook full of ideas. When an idea does hit me, it’s usually completely unexpected. Sometimes I jot it down, sometimes I don’t. But I’ve learned that if it’s a really good idea—something I feel compelled to write about—it will stick in my head and start fermenting. I know, I like living life on the edge. I’m hardcore like that.

Overall though, I tend to gravitate toward stories in which an everyman sort of character finds himself caught up in a paranormal, urban fantasy type of situation.

Also, something usually explodes. Did I actually answer the question?

GH: Yes, Ron. You answered that question, but there’s a second and more treacherous question lurking. – How is your writing career different or the same than you envisioned when you first decided you wanted to be a writer?

RW: One word: Kids. Any notion of following “the rules” for writing got tossed out with the first soggy diaper. When you have kids, you cram in your writing time whenever and wherever you can. The problem for me is, I’m a morning person. But in order to wake up before my kids and be productive, I’d have to get up around 3 AM, and that’s just not going to happen. I’ve tried writing at night, but by the end of the day I’m totally burned out so I tend to write when my youngest is taking a nap. For that hour or two, my oldest gets to binge on cartoons.

When I’m actively writing—I’m a recent convert (by necessity, I guess) to the idea that you don’t have to write every single day, or even every week. I shoot for 2K words a day. (Editor’s note: He means “two thousand” not that he writes “kickboxing” and “kaboom” and calls it quits.) On a good day I can write around a thousand words an hour. Just imagine how many books I could write in a given year if I didn’t have kids! (Second editor’s note: Ron loves his kids dearly, he’s simply making a point.) Of course, then I’d probably have to get a job—I’m a stay-at-home dad, which is not without its frustrations, but for a writer is actually a pretty decent gig.

To be honest, though, I didn’t decide I wanted to be a writer until sometime in my mid-20s. I worked on my high school newspaper, cranked out college literature essays like no one’s business, and then after college got a job as a reporter for The St. Augustine Record. (St. Augustine, Florida) I always knew I had some sort of aptitude for writing. But it wasn’t until The Record that I realized two things…

One, I could actually write fairly well, and on a pretty strict deadline. (My personal best was when I had to write four articles between noon and 5PM on a Friday, without any prior prep on any of them.) And two, newspaper writing wasn’t the sort of writing I wanted to do. I kept trying to write more “flowery,” and that just doesn’t fly for most newspapers. At that point, I started writing really, really, really horrible “literary” short stories that were mostly flashbacks and had next to nothing in the way of plot or forward momentum. This went on for several years, until one day about six months after my first daughter was born, something clicked. I finally wrote an actual book. Which leads into the next question …

GH: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome so far as a writer?

RW: Writing an actual book. The idea of writing an entire novel is still daunting, and I’ve done it twice now. Before I wrote the first, the most I’d ever written was maybe a 4,000-word short story. But then my wife came across NaNoWriMo, and I decided to give it a whirl. The idea is, you’ve got the month of November to write a book. That’s right, 30 DAYS to write a book. It’s madness. But I did it. I managed 58,000 words. The “book,” if you can even call it that, was utter crap. But I’d never written so many words about a single topic in my entire life. And that became my watershed. Granted, I didn’t sit down and finally write what I consider my first actual book for another year and a half. But I’d broken my word count barrier, and that’s what mattered.

When I did finally write my first “real” book, what ultimately helped was letting my mind go, the whole not thinking about what I was doing while I was doing it. To borrow a phrase from a novelist I once interviewed, I had to learn how to enter a writing “dream state.” It sounds hokey, but it’s true. Also, I wrote the first draft on an iPhone 3. Crazy as it sounds, the small screen helped me ignore what I’d written and focus instead on moving forward. This was huge for me. I can rework a single sentence for days if I let myself, but that sort of behavior belongs in the editing phase, which was something else I had to learn. Namely, you’ve gotta wait to wipe away the unnecessary crap until you’re done pooping out the rough draft.

See what parenting has done to my metaphors?

GH: As a new parent, I can relate. All my metaphors involve poop. But that was true long before my kid arrived.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of the Ron Walters interview next week!

photo credit: szeke via photopin cc

Read More

The 4 Best Questions to Ask Vague Clients

Posted by on Jan 25, 2014 in Business Writing | 0 comments

As we’ve gone over a couple of times in previous blogs which you can read, here, here, and ALSO here, (But not here because this is a link to a hockey score from last month that we threw in for no apparent reason. Nice work, Maple Leafs) vague clients who give you no particular direction can be very tough to write for. Having the right questions handy, however, can make the process much, much easier. Here are four of them – because that’s the arbitrary number of questions we decided to highlight. There are literally trillions of questions you can ask your clients, although realistically most of them won’t help you much. Some examples of questions that WON’T help are….

“What are your thoughts on the designated hitter?”

“Is a dragon still a dragon if it can’t fly or breathe fire? Or at that point is it just a dinosaur?”

“How many raisins can you fit in your shoe?”

“Do you have any surefire ways to get pee out of a mailbox?”

“Hats. They’re sure, something, huh?”

There’s a pretty damn good chance none of those questions will help. So let’s move on to the questions that will.

1) What is your final objective? What do you ultimately want to get from this project?

I recently wrote a short film for a client who didn’t give me much to go on at first. He was a very visual client with a passion for high-end automobiles. All I knew based on his pitch was that he wanted a short film with a lot of badass cars in it. He was very thorough and when we met, he provided me with an entire folder full of bright, colorful images of engines, tires, and slick paint jobs. He was very enthusiastic, but when I pressed him for more, he’d send me a few more images of Lamborghinis and Ferarris instead of, ya know, plot points or a direction for the story, which was what I needed.

You’ll get these type of clients a lot – people who are great to work with and very passionate about their ideas, but simply have no knowledge of what your objective as a writer happens to be. They aren’t trying to be difficult, they simply don’t realize that what they’re providing doesn’t really assist you. It would be like if I commissioned him to do an engine rebuild by telling him, “I want my car to look freaking awesome going through downtown. And like on the bridge. It’s got to just make sweet ass sounds going over the bridge.” Me telling him all the places I wanted my car to look cool doesn’t give him any tangible information about the engine itself or what I wanted rebuilt.

Asking about his end game helped me immensely on the project. It turned out that he was an actor who was looking to star in a film that he hoped would feature his diverse on-screen abilities. Also, he wanted to feature the upscale cars because he had access to some amazing vehicles through friends at car shows and figured it was something unique his film could include that most others couldn’t. His instincts were correct. What local filmmakers have access to their buddy’s Lambo collection? For free?

This dude. And that’s about it.

Those two bits of information made it much, much easier to construct a script. Why? Because I found out his main objective – to feature his acting abilities in an action script that contained a lot of the cars he had access to. I now knew that his character had to be diverse and thrown quickly into varying scenarios that would let him show both a tough side and a softer side. I now had a framework to build a story around. Now every time I came up with a new idea, I could ask myself if that idea fit into the framework. If it did, I explored it. If it didn’t, I scrapped it. And together, we came up with a pretty sick little action script.

2) What is the tone we’re trying to establish?

This is a critical question and asking it will save you a lot of wasted work. This is probably the area where most clients and writers miss the high five most often. How can you and your client end up with completely different concepts about a project when you’re discussing exactly the same ideas? Trust me, if you don’t ask this question, it’s very possible – even highly likely.

I was once asked to write the landing page for a law firm that was described to me as “young & hip.” I was given the following overview of the company and a bunch of facts and figures about what they did.

We’re edgy, funny, and cool and that’s what we want to portray to the public through our website.

The trouble was I never asked them for their particular definition of “edgy” and “funny”. So I wrote a landing page that was edgy and funny, pulling no punches about the type of communication and copyright law they practiced. It was a chuckle fest and a right cross to the jaw at the same time, which is what they specifically asked for. The only problem was that their definition of edgy and funny was actually…
We’re marginally less stuffy than our competition.

What they REALLY wanted was dry and informative with a bad lawyer pun mixed in here and there.

At Stickles & Pudney, you won’t OBJECT to the way we do things!

EDGY! My god boys, be careful or you’ll plunge into the canyon. We’ll sell you the whole seat but you’ll only need STICKLES & PUDNEY!

Anyway, that’s why it’s always a good idea to ask about tone.

3) What is your intended audience?

This question basically acts as a follow up to question #2. Knowing the audience your client is attempting to reach will help with lots of things that simply knowing the tone and the objective won’t. For instance, if you find out the audience happens to be rabid football fans, you won’t have to explain terms like “the line of scrimmage” or “pass interference.” But if the client wants to market to casual football fans who might only watch once a month at their brother’s barbecue, then those terms might be too specific and require an explanation if you even use them at all. You have to approach the project differently.

As an example of targeting a specific audience, watch any commercial intended for the elderly. Apparently there’s research out there that suggests your script must contain older Americans carefully explaining all sides of their particular situation to their family around a dinner table.
You’ll need dialogue like this.

“Wow, this pot roast is delicious, Linda. I’m so glad you’re all here for my 71st birthday party.”

“Dad, what were you saying about your condition as we were outside shooting hoops with the grandkids?”

“Ah yes, as most of you know, I have a condition called fumplydosis, which is a rare and sometimes fatal thinning of the nipples caused by years of listening to funk music at high altitudes. I’m treating it, although rare but serious side effects of my medication include tooth decay, clubfoot, and a severe aversion to certain parts of your own garage.”

“Wow, dad, in that case, you’d better make sure your life insurance policy is up to date.”

“I know, but how can I be certain my plan covers my condition?”

“Well I heard about a low cost life insurance plan through Mutual of Pennsyltucky that provides $50,000 of coverage for only $17.42 a month.”

“17.42 a month, huh? Are there any other options?”

“Sure there are. I’ll list the nineteen I know right now along with all the pros and cons while the audience is desperately waiting for overtime to start.”

“Boy, that’s a relief. I didn’t want all of you to worry so much about my final expenses.”

And who’s with me about “my final expenses” being under-the-radar creepy as a phrase. If it’s not the number one sneaky creepy phrase in America today, it’s squarely in the running. Anyway, on to question #4.

4) This is what I understand the project to be. Are we on the same page here?

This might actually be the most vital question of all because it lets you convey what you’ve heard. This question will allow the client to hear a summary of what information they’ve actually given you. Often times in meetings, people will forget stuff. Important stuff. They’re not doing it maliciously, it’s just that they’ve got a billion things to think about and one of the most important things they needed to tell you happened to slip their mind.

“So what I’m hearing is that your overall objective with this marketing campaign is to let people know about Mutual of Pennsyltucky’s low cost life insurance coverage, the audience we’re targeting is Americans over 65 and the tone of the project will be total information overkill. Do I have this right?”

“Oh no, I forgot to tell you that we also sell flavored oatmeal. We need to work that in there as well. For $17.42 a month you get life insurance and a box of flavored oatmeal shipped to your front door.”

“Ok. Well good to know. Tell me more about this oatmeal and why it’s linked to your insurance policies.”

It’s good for the client to hear what they’ve actually articulated – otherwise you might be halfway through the project already when they throw something insane like flavored oatmeal at you. And that’s not something you can easily just squeeze in. You now need to put in more work. The price goes up. The client gets cranky. Which leads to more work. And so on and so forth. It’s easier just to ask them if your grasp of the project is correct at the beginning.

So there you go – four questions that will really come in handy when working with vague clients. Whoops, actually, I thought of a fifth.

5) What’s the raunchiest thing you’ve ever said to a bus driver?

Nope, nope, sorry. That one was useless. Only use the first four.

Read More

Suppose vs. Supposed

Posted by on Jan 17, 2014 in Business Writing | 0 comments

If you’re ever not quite sure where to look for terrible grammar examples for your blog that features examples of terrible grammar, just go to any sports website and scroll down toward the burning muck that they call “the message boards.” Not only can you have a great laugh at the dregs of society lobbing hideously misinformed opinions back and forth in ALL CAPS, but you’ll also be privy to all sorts of incredible language mangling.

Some of the mangles and misspellings are so insane that there’s no reason to mention them – like the one guy in a Sixers cap furiously typing away about how much HE HATE HIM SOME BAWSTUN SELTIKS!!!!!!! Occasionally, however, the mistakes are actually applicable to the world outside of mommy’s basement as well. Take this one for example…

“I don’t care how hurt you are, if we’re paying you 15 million dollars, you’re suppose to make the damn tackle!”

With that in mind, here’s a little quiz. Which one is correct?

Eh) “We were suppose to go to the beach, but it started to rain.”
Bee) “We were supposed to go to the beach, but it started to rain.”

The answer of course is answer Bee. (I apologize. I let a Canadian entomologist type those) I’m pretty sure the reason people consistently get this one wrong is because the “D” sound at the end of “supposed” is immediately followed by the hard “T” sound at the beginning of “to.” When you’re saying it out loud, in almost any accent, the “D” gets completely lost. And if it doesn’t get lost, you’re probably boring people to death with the pace of the conversation. When spoken aloud, “supposed to,” really does sound like “suppose to.” But just remember, even though you’re hearing “suppose to” in your head, the “d” has just sort of blended itself into the “t.” Basically, the “d” at the end of “supposed” is like that friend you had in college who was awesome until they met someone sort of covertly manipulative at a tiki bar one night and your next real conversation with them came years later after their inevitable divorce.

The “d’ and the “t” are in love. It’s complicated and you just don’t understand!

Anyway, if you’re unsure, just remember that the word “supposed” and the word “expected” are almost always interchangeable in these cases.

“We were supposed to go to the beach, but it started to rain.”
“We expected to go to the beach, but it started to rain.”

Using “suppose” would be like saying, “We expect to go to the beach, but it started to rain.” In that instance, congratulations on creating your own time warp. Although, condolences about being ripped apart by the black hole you created.

Going back to our original example provides another good look at how the two words can often be swapped.

“I don’t care how hurt you are, if we’re paying you 15 million dollars, you’re expected to make the damn tackle.”

See, interchangeable.

The word “suppose” is for situations where you’re trying to convey uncertainty …

“Yeah, I suppose Cleveland could one day win the Super Bowl.”

Or a proposed situation…

“Suppose for a second I ran off to Vegas with your mom.”

Although, as we all know, the proposed situation usually ends up being a situation that already happened. There’s a 92% chance the person proposing the situation has already run off to Vegas with your mom and they’re simply trying to gauge how you’re going to react when you inevitably find out. Which will probably go something like this…

“Suppose I punched you straight in the teeth.”

So that’s it. Follow those easy tips and next time you’re slamming your general manager or star linebacker on some website, at least your grammar won’t be as crappy as your opinions.

Read More

The Art of Beneficial Procrastination

Posted by on Jan 8, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

The Art of Beneficial Procrastination

So in this blog, I’m going to expound upon a tiny point that Allen Ivers made in his interview. If you missed it, check it out here. What I want to focus on is this particular statement in which he refers to his favorite project…

I’ve been writing it for going on seven years. I’ll bury it as a dead idea, and sixteen months later, when looking for something new, a thought occurs – I should resurrect that.

Allen has been working on this project for seven years. And he’s not that old. That’s like 28% of his entire life. What it shows, however, is that we as writers often have an idea that just won’t go away. And while that’s a bad thing when it comes to things like rashes and deadbeat roommates, it can be a very good thing when it comes to a complete, well-rounded story.

I’ve been around many writers whose entire focus was the story’s end game. “Gotta get this done. Got to finish so I can get it published by the spring so my CV looks better when I apply to jobs over the summer. I have to get this story DONE so that the story is DONE because I need to be DONE.” We can spend so much time fixating on the finished product that we’ll forget to enjoy the ride our characters take us on while it’s happening.

Now obviously what I’m about to say doesn’t apply if you have a firm deadline. If your publisher wants the draft by the first of the year, you best get it to them by the first of the year. If your play is being workshopped on Thursday, you probably should have a play for people to read by Thursday. But if it’s just a grand idea that you have – the kind of idea that occasionally makes you stare off at a hill in the distance for ten minutes as you work out connections, dialogue, and plot points, what’s the damn hurry?

Most times in life, procrastination is an ugly word that implies laziness. But that extra time can be an amazing thing for your story. A writer like Allen who keeps revisiting a particular idea now has seven full years of emotion, understanding, knowledge, and life experience woven into that particular script. Due to Allen’s own journey through life and time, his characters pick up traits that he couldn’t have accurately written about when he first opened the document and wrote FADE IN. Those characters are richer seven years later simply because if he’s mentally aged as he should’ve, he’s become a more nuanced human being capable of producing a more nuanced story.

My mom has this ancient crockpot. It’s got these weird one-eyed birds on the side of it, which I’m pretty sure means it was crafted before the world discovered vanishing points. She’ll throw a roast in there sometime around the Fourth of July in anticipation of the family coming over for Christmas. And I’m not sure what happens inside that magic cauldron, but that roast is so juicy and succulent that it causes me to say the words juicy and succulent out loud in front of other human beings. It’s the complete opposite of what I’ll do with the leftovers she sends home with me. Those I’ll throw on a plate, zap with microwaves and ninety-three seconds later I’m watching hockey.

Some ideas are just crockpot ideas. (Read that carefully. I said crockpot ideas, not crackpot ideas. Crackpot ideas should be scrapped immediately.)

Unfortunately, a lot of writers run across a crockpot idea and think they’ve failed. They think that because they don’t immediately have all the answers available that the idea is futile to pursue. And it might be. At that particular time.

That doesn’t mean, however, that two years down the line you won’t be riding the bus and suddenly struck with a totally plausible way to get Dennis the Elf from one side of the canyon to the other. But if you’ve cast off the idea itself as a failure simply because it wasn’t going to be done before a self-imposed deadline, Dennis might be stuck on the wrong side of The Great Chasm of Glorgisballs forever. And trust me, he won’t be happy about it. Then you’ll have to face more than Dennis’s immobilized rage. The bigger issue is that you’ll never get to write the grand scenes that inspired you to put Dennis on the edge of the cliff in the first place.

Some characters need to grow. They can’t be told what to do – they just have to evolve on their own. While your characters are fictional, I’m assuming that you aren’t. And since they, in essence, are a part of you, there are indeed stories and characters that you just aren’t able to make whole for weeks, months, and sometimes years. And the great thing about it? This is ok.

At any point, I probably have six to ten unfinished projects in various files on my computer. Right now I have a quirky comedy about some Georgia chicken farmers raising a Velociraptor that’s been waiting around for page 27 to appear for going on three years now. I have the characters, the feel, the setting, and the setup. I just haven’t yet figured out what’s going to happen past a certain point. But one of these days I will. I’m confident of it. Because the story is always lurking there somewhere in the backwaters of my mind. I know that sometime in the near future I’ll be on a long car ride, or in the shower, or in the middle of a set of pushups and I’ll go, “Well there it is.”

I guess I could force it. I could get it done for the sake of getting it done. But in that scenario, it wouldn’t end up as the story I want it to be, so I guess it wouldn’t really be finished anyway.

So feel free to procrastinate on occasion if the situation warrants. Just because an idea needs some time doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It just means you care enough to do it right.

Don’t worry. Dennis will wait. He’s a patient elf.

Read More

Happy New Year from Grandpa Hank!

Posted by on Jan 1, 2014 in Business Writing | 0 comments

As a thank you gift to all of you who decided to sit down and read the silly junk I decided to write about in 2013, here’s a FREE and incredibly timely writing tip from Grandpa Hank.

Wait, haven’t they all been free?

Why yes they have! And this one continues the wonderful and generous tradition we started way back in August.

Quick quiz. Which of the following is correct?

New Years Eve
New Year’s Eve

Congratulations! You’re right if you picked the correct answer!

And the correct answer is the one with the apostrophe.

The eve belongs to the forthcoming new year and thus requires the apostrophe. It isn’t any different than something like “Tuesday’s specials” or “Thanksgiving’s slate of football games.” This should also go without saying, but it applies to New Year’s DAY as well.

New YEARS Eve would throw the world into utter chaos because it would somehow be the eve of multiple new years at the same time. No one would have any idea how old they were or what they had scheduled for the following weekend. Are your vehicle tags expired or not? Are your pants still fashionable? It would be a damn nightmare.

To be honest, this is one of the most common mistakes you can possibly make. In fact, it’s so common that it’s likely that no one will even notice. For instance, with a quick Google search of “New Year’s Eve” in my hometown, the first fifty results only yielded a 76% success rate. Nearly one in four major websites got it wrong. (By the way, this includes the event calendars for BOTH our major newspapers) Great job, guys!

So anyway, that’s my FREE tip of the day that comes as AT ABSOLUTELY NO COST TO YOU! Also, Happy New Year. Here’s hoping all of our readers have a wonderful and mistake free 2014.

Read More