Sunday, March 30, 2014

Talking dinosaur update 5: 8 days to release

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This morning's output: 1,869 words, completing Act 4 and beginning Act 5.
Session: Approximately 90 minutes.
Total words to date: 9,881 (goal 13,500)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Talking dinosaur update 4: Serenity, with 9 days to go

An hour's time stolen on a Saturday morning resulted in the extension of a vital scene in Act 3 of The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur, and a strong start to Act 4. I also diverted to begin an Author's Note that will come as an afterward, which begins:

What you have here is Serenity.

The reference, of course, is to the 2005 film that attempted to tie up some of the loose ends of the Firefly ’verse, the story of Malcolm Reynolds and his motley crew of fellow travelers, a 2002 television series that was canceled long before its time – after a mere 14 episodes were made and only 11 aired on the Fox television network. The series had a small but fierce crowd of fans that grew and grew after the 14 episodes were released in a DVD set. The collection sold so well that creator Joss Whedon was able to convince The Powers That Be to greenlight a cinema sequel. And oh, what a film it is.

At this writing Myke Phoenix has a tremendously smaller, fierce crowd of fans, but it does have a creator who wanted to pick up the story years after it fizzled. I first imagined this as a monthly series not unlike the wonderful pulp heroes of the 1930s and ’40s, but in shorter stories to fit the needs of the modern comic book reader. I wrote brief synopses for (ironically enough) 14 of these adventures, but only fleshed out four of them into completed stories, where they sat on a Commodore 128 floppy disk, then a Macintosh, and finally the iMac with which I type these words, until I published them in The Adventures of Myke Phoenix in 2008.

Five years later, after Kindle revolutionized the publishing industry and ebooks began to flourish, I finally saw a way to bring new stories to the world on my limited budget. I moved the tale along by 18 years and started over again, beginning with The Song of the Serial Kisser. Here and there I dropped hints of the adventures Myke had during the interim, but there was one story from the original 14-episode list that still needed to be told, because it involved the revelation of Myke Phoenix’s arch-nemesis: Deinonychus.

The opening scene of The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur was written two decades ago. Morty Davis has been awaiting justice that long. What follows is my attempt to replicate the purpose of Serenity: To fill in the gaps, leaving a few mysteries in case of a sequel, of course, but to condense the action of what could have been quite a few stories into one blockbuster. Whedon has estimated the seminal events of Serenity might have occurred during the second-season finale of Firefly, so let’s say the climactic scene you’ve just read would have occurred somewhere around Myke Phoenix Adventures #24, had I stayed on course back then ...

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This morning's output: 720 words, extending Act 3 and beginning Act 4.
  (Extra output: 500 words of an Author's Note)
Session: Approximately 60 minutes.
Total words to date: 8,012 (goal 13,500) 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Talking dinosaur update 3 - and Countdown, Day 1

QUOTIDIAN WARNING: I got up a little after 4 a.m. because of deadline pressure at the day job and spent most of the next four hours doing homework. I'm proud to say I resisted the urge to skip this project for a day, and instead I spent 20 minutes banging out a key "intermission" scene that takes place between Acts 3 and 4. Beyond the extra act (You have noticed that Myke Phoenix stories are generally four acts, haven't you?) there are a number of structural innovations in this story because of the important role it will play in the Myke Phoenix mythology, linking the early years to the present day.

COUNTDOWN, DAY 1: I have been making a habit of issuing a 10-day countdown to the release of each of these monthly adventures, and so I'm obliged to point out to eager readers (with no small trace of anxiety) that the next new Myke Phoenix adventure is due for release on April 7. Save your 99 pennies or their electronic equivalent!

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This morning's output: 636 words, ready to begin Act 4.
Session: Approximately 20 minutes.
Total words to date: 7,292 (goal 13,500) 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Talking dinosaur update 2

A breakthrough today: Act 3 finally finished, I sat down to map out the remaining three acts – only to discover Act 5 was fated to slow the action and drag down the story.

"Kill your darlings," said William Faulkner, who knew a bit more about writing than I do. By proceeding straight from the horrifying climax of Act 4 into the astonishing climax of the entire tale, without meandering somewhat aimlessly through a fifth act, the story gains a punch that it didn't quite have until now.

Not much actual writing today, but better: I gained an improved plan, and the fog has lifted over the final leg of the journey.

Objective: Release The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur on April 7
This morning's output: 107 words, finished with Act 3 of 5.
Session: Approximately 40 minutes.
Total words to date: 6,656 (goal 13,500)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Talking Dinosaur update 1

Wednesday, March 26 – Release date: April 7

This morning's output: 421 words, almost finished with Act 3 of 6.
Session: Approximately 25 minutes.
Total words to date: 6,549 (goal 14,000)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

1 reason why this little ebook must be finished on time

This is the most exciting part of the creative life: When the going gets tough.

I made a goal to write 10 new Myke Phoenix stories in 2014, for a total of 12 in the latest series. That’s one a month through October. My sub-goal was to have the next month’s story finished when I released this month’s. That means The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur was supposed to be finished by March 3, when I released Duck Man Walking.

I should have May’s story almost finished by now, but less than two weeks before the release date of April 7, I’m halfway through the dinosaur story. This is the exciting part.

Anyone who’s followed my creative journey – I think there are four or five of you – knows that I am pretty good at setting goals and getting started. The problem comes with the arrival of what Seth Godin calls The Dip and Steven Pressfield calls The Resistance. This is when, if I don’t watch out (and I usually don’t), the quotidian of daily life interferes and the project gets set aside. My office and the Internet are filled with partially finished Bluhm projects.

It would be easy to shift the deadline – sure, I could finish this story by May and just move everything back, because at this stage almost no one is paying attention – but that’s a slippery slope. Nope, I have to have this story done by April 7, and the May story not long after that, so that by June I’m a month ahead again.

Why? Why press forward to meet a deadline that only I, of 6 billion people on the planet, care about?

Because the alternative is to let inertia take over, to yield to the Resistance. And I prefer to keep pressing forward.

So: Ready or not, something called The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur will be released to the ether on April 7. I’m terrified. And excited.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Happy birthday from me
I haven’t taken the guitar(s) off the wall a half-dozen times since we moved into our new house a year and a half ago, and as I marked the end of my 61st cycle of seasons Saturday morning, I found myself listening to the homemade recordings I’ve made through the years with those guitars.

Once I fancied myself an up-and-coming singer-songwriter, but there’s something about being a musician that I never quite mastered, summed up by the observation that if you’re not living it and practicing hard every day, you’re talking about a hobby, not a vocation.
Every so often the passion would catch me, and I’d write some songs, then sit down with a tape recorder (or, in recent years, a computer) and make an “album.” I’ve made a couple of dozen of these albums since the fever first hit around 1973, although just four in the last 20 years. Most recently, after a burst of musical creativity in 2009, I put 12 new songs together and actually put the album, Ten Thousand Days, out for sale, with mixed results. Rightfully mixed: It’s a homemade album. Professional musicians would call these demos. Music is a hobby for me.
But I like some of these songs and albums, and I just enjoy sharing them and saying, “Hey, listen to this.” So here they are, or at least two of my favorites and a “greatest hits” collection. Buy my books and stories and newspapers; these are for fun and my gift to you.

The Will to Fly: A w.p. bluhm collection
Or find the individual tracks here

Ten Thousand Days (2010)

Watershed (1985)
Liner notes and some individual tracks here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

3 basic tenets for getting things done

1. You get what you pay for. 

2. The currency is time.

If you spend two hours a night mindlessly watching TV, you have spent two hours. Your mind does need a rest, and distractions can be useful – but did you keep a pad and pen, or some other note-taking device, standing by to record any stray thoughts that could be useful later? Then you probably spent two hours. 

3. Currency is better invested than spent.

A practice I learned from David Allen, author of the book Getting Things Done, during a recent interview: Write down every stray thought that occurs that is not related to the task at hand, while staying focused on the task at hand. Come back to that list later and create a plan of action for each thought. Rinse, repeat.

I have already found myself getting things done a little faster and remembering other things that need to be done. The practice may solve the time management mess that has plagued me all these years.

You get what you pay for: Either the time is spent on the activities that make and keep you whole, or it is not. Invest your currency wisely; it is a finite resource.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

152 years on the job and still counting

My column in today's Door County Advocate:

Tis the season called Sunshine Week, when the news media likes to pat itself on the back and perform exercises in government transparency and write columns about our important role as watchdog. And of course there will come the inevitable observations that the watchdog is a little too much of a lapdog in its old age, is barking up certain wrong trees, and has missed more than its share of instances where the government (or some other institution accountable to the public) has fallen down on the job or misused its power.

This week also brings the 152nd anniversary of the first edition of the Door County Advocate, which legend says Joseph Harris started largely because he wanted a platform to advocate for carving a canal through the narrow isthmus that separated the waters of Sturgeon Bay from Lake Michigan.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cutting the cable

We have been watching BBC dramas on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video (Foyle's War! George Gently! Call the Midwife! Downton Abbey!), we've been following the new American Idol season (Harry Connick Jr. has saved the show), we've caught Season 3 of Sherlock on the local PBS channel (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are a stupendous team).

What we haven't been doing is using our $85 monthly satellite TV service. So I called Monday morning and told an unusually cheerful operator we were canceling. She told me we were eligible to cut the monthly bill to $60, we could have two months of free premium movie channels, and a few other incentives not to cut the chain. I said, "I know you're obligated to tell me all this, but our minds are made up." Oddly, after about five minutes we were done.

This is the wave of the future. It's all migrating to the Internet. Why pay close to a hundred bucks for hundreds of channels offering you content you almost never watch at the times they choose to offer it to you? Oh, of course, you can record it on your DVR (which is how we watch the local shows – now with TiVo for $13 a month), but we have increasing opportunities to tie into the Web and watch what we want when we want it. OK, Netflix and Amazon charge, too, but I was already paying them. With the satellite raising its monthly charge to $90 this month, we have effectively knocked $77 off the monthly budget with no change in our viewing habits.

What would you do with $924 ($77 x 12) more to spend each year?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Duck Man Walking

Is a 10,000-word adventure a long short story or a novella?

I really don't know for sure, but whatever you'd like to call it, it's here: For Kindle and for other electronic reading devices.

As I said on Facebook this morning, if you buy only one ebook about a superhero and his half-man-half-duck nemesis who may have developed a secret formula to kill the superhero, let it be this one.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I still like old stuff

I haven’t changed much since September 1993, when I spun off these words for a four-minute radio report about the steam engine Milwaukee Road 261, which had been restored and was carrying an excursion train through Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley.

I like old stuff. I always have. I’d rather watch Charlie Chaplin in the movies, or Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby than tonight’s sitcom. I’m a comic book fan, but I’d rather read Captain Marvel battling Dr. Sivana than the stuff that passes for heroics nowadays.   
I prefer the warm sound of vinyl records with all their clicks and ticks to the cold, precise cleanliness of a CD. I think Emily Bronte and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote rings around contemporary novelists.  
Even on the information superhighway, I like clunking along in the rumble seat of our Commodore 128 when I exchange bytes with other computer buffs, even though we have a perfectly fine version of last year’s Macintosh at home. It’s in the genes, I guess: My father waited to buy his first color TV until the late 1970s.

Twenty years along the line, I still love old stuff. (Oh, the Commodore is packed away somewhere, but I type these words on a seven-year-old iMac.) I didn’t mention it at the time, but by 1993 I had already created a superhero named Myke Phoenix, whose adventures I have finally begun chronicling monthly, just as I’d hoped to do all those years ago. It just took a little time to get him off the ground.

The series, I think, can trace its roots to three influences of the 1930s and ’40s:

  • Captain Marvel, the Big Red Cheese who fought outlandish threats and bad guys with a sense of innocence and whimsy.
  • Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, and his band of friends who traveled the world righting wrongs. Here I am influenced as much by the creator as the creation: Lester Dent, writing as Kenneth Robeson, astonishingly published 180 short novels, one every month, for more than a decade and a half. I always wanted to try something like that.
  • The Spirit, Will Eisner’s immortal weekly comic book that was inserted into Sunday newspapers for many years. Again, the influence is as much the creator: Will Eisner wrote short stories set to the music of comic-book style art, stories about people, and sometimes The Spirit himself barely makes and appearance except perhaps to help clean up the mess. Search for a link between The Spirit and Myke Phoenix in stories like The Song of the Serial Kisser and Night of the Superstorm, where Myke is more of a supporting character than a centerpiece.
This week I release the fifth ebook in a series of 12, Duck Man Walking. My blurb for this installment is:

How do you trust a guy after he’s tried to kill you a few times? That’s the dilemma facing Myke Phoenix, superhero extraordinaire, in “Duck Man Walking.” 
One of Myke Phoenix’s most impossible foes, the half-man-half-duck Quincy Quackenbos, is released from prison. Rumor has it that after years of trying he cracked the code and has developed the formula that can kill Myke Phoenix.  
Are the rumors true? Or is Quackenbos telling the truth when he claims he’s turned his back on his criminal past? Find the answers mere moments from now in “Duck Man Walking,” just a click away.

I issued about 80 episodes of a podcast called Uncle Warren’s Attic; I have boxes and shelves full of goodies from bygone eras; and now I have a monthly superhero series that is best described as “new pulp” fiction, and it has all happened for a very simple reason:

I like old stuff.