CHEESMAN PARK

     THE TALE

“I’m enjoying this picnic very much,” Tom said to Mary, after she finally accepted his invitation to a date. “But may I ask why you chose a picnic? We could be sitting in a movie theater eating popcorn, looking forward a romantic dinner. And picnics usually take place on a sunny Saturday afternoon.” He cinched his windbreaker, and then looked at the sky as dusk settled. Looking back at Mary, he shrugged. “This is everything a picnic is not.”

Mary looked at Tom and smiled, although Tom sensed her eyes were looking through him instead of at him. Her mind and focus seemed a million miles away, anywhere but on Denver’s Cheesman Park.

She raised her finger towards no place in particular, as though she fancied herself a professor preparing to argue a point.

“Can’t you feel it, Tom?” she asked. “They’re all around us.”

Creases formed on Tom’s forehead and his mouth slackened. “Don’t tell me you believe that crap about ghosts and spirits?”

Now it was Mary’s turn to frown. “I thought you’re an educated man, Tom. Don’t you know the history behind the park?”

“Educated, yes, but I’m also skeptical. If I don’t see it, or someone shows me proof, I’m not buying what they’re selling.”

“But, all those bodies . . .,”

“Yes, I know all about it,” Tom interrupted. “They converted a cemetery into a park but didn’t remove all the bodies.”

Without answering, Mary slid her palms on the moist grass next to the blanket, and then looked around the park as though examining the treetops. “We might be sitting on the grave of Abraham Kay.”

“Who the hell is Abraham Kay?”

“He’s the first one buried on these grounds in 1859, after dying from a lung infection. Oh, sure, they’ll tell you the first body was a man hanged for murder, but Abraham, he was the first. Most of the bodies were outlaws and paupers. Imagine, directly under us might be the restless ghost of a murderer.”

Tom shook his head. “And to think, I asked you out six times before you accepted. If I’d known you were so obsessed with the supernatural . . .,”

Mary sat back and folded her arms across her chest, narrowing her eyes to slits. “Tom Evans, wasn’t it you who said you like living on the edge, taking risks? Where’s your sense of adventure? You come across as macho, yet the presence of spirits scares you?”

“Hey,” Tom said, putting a hand to his chest, “I’m not scared. I just don’t believe in that stuff. No matter how you slice it, dead is dead. And yes, I know, I probably read the same things you read. There are still two thousand bodies buried here. People report spirits knocking at their doors at night, and moans coming from the park. People walking around the park at night and suddenly feel as though someone is watching, and feelings of sadness come over them for no reason; strange shadows floating among the trees.” He waved his hand. “So then, tell me, given your bizarre choice and time for a date, why don’t I see any shadows? Why don’t I feel a hand on my shoulder? Why don’t I feel sad or hear moaning or strange voices beckoning me to enter another world? I’ll tell you why, Mary, because it’s all hogwash.”

He stopped and stared at her, expecting a number of possible reactions, none good, but she simply widened her eyes and smiled.

“You’re forgetting about the singing woman.”

“Singing woman?”

“Yes, people reported seeing a woman singing to herself while walking through the park. When they approach, she disappears. Do you know she is the daughter of John Astor?”

“Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s John Astor?”

“He was a gravedigger. In 1893, he was stealing from the open graves when he felt a ghost land upon his shoulders. He took off and never returned.”

Tom’s mouth curled into a smile. “Astor, huh? That’s your last name. Any relation?” he asked, and chuckled.

Mary straightened her back and beamed. “He’s my father.”

Tom burst into laughter and turned away. “Yeah, right, of course, your father. That would make you, what . . .,” he counted on his fingers, “about one-hundred twenty years old.” He turned back and said, “I must say, Mary Astor, you’ve really taken care of yourself. You don’t look over . . .,” He stopped when she started softly singing a tune with words he didn’t recognize. With every note, her form grew dimmer, until eventually she vanished from sight.

Tom put his hands on the blanket and inched back, sliding on the ground onto the moist grass, soiling his pants. He looked around the park and swallowed, unable to move for several moments.

Finally, he scrambled to his feet and dashed away from the park, without stopping to gather up the blanket or leftover food. He never returned to Cheesman Park.


CHEESMAN PARK

                                                                     THE FACTS         

Cheesman Park was once Prospect Hill Cemetery, converted to a park in 1907, named such in 1908 for Walter Cheesman, a Denver pioneer.

The cemetery opened in 1858, with the first “customer” the following year. In 1872, the U.S. Government determined the property was federal land, deeded in 1860 by a treaty with the Arapaho.

The cemetery was split into various areas to represent different religions, ethnic groups, and fraternal organizations. Eventually the cemetery fell into a state of disrepair, rarely used by the late 1880’s, becoming more of an eyesore. Before it became Cheesman Park, in 1890, named Congress Park.

To prepare for the park, families had 90 days to remove the bodies of their loved one. The Roman Catholic area was sold to the Archdiocese and named Mount Calvary Cemetery, although the Catholic Church eventually sold the land back to the city in 1950. The Chinese section was handed to the large population of Chinese living in a Denver district known as “Hop Alley.” Eventually, most of the bodies were shipped to their homeland China.

The majority of the bodies were vagrants, criminals, and paupers, the main reason why more than 5,000 bodies remained unclaimed. In 1893, the City of Denver paid undertaker E.P. McGovern $1.90 per body to remove the remains, provide a new coffin, and then transfer to the Riverside Cemetery. McGovern, an unscrupulous sort, saw an opportunity to increase his profits by using child-sized caskets one foot by 3 ½ fee long for the adults. Naturally, due to “space constraints,” McGovern needed to hack up the bodies, often using as many as three caskets for one body. Sloppy and hurried work resulted in body parts and bones strewn in a disorganized mess, enticing souvenir hunters to steal items from the caskets.

Once the city learned of McGovern’s travesties, they canceled the contract and launched an investigation, although a new contract to finish the removal was never awarded.

In 1894, work started to prepare for the park, completed in 2007, although a number of bodies remained. In November, 2008, while building a parking structure to serve the Denver Botanic Gardens, human bones and coffins were unearthed and moved to another cemetery.

Today, Cheesman Park is considered a gathering spot for Denver’s gay community.

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You cannot deny it. The Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays usually give you a good feeling about life in general. If you’re up North you have the snow. For those of us down south, we must rely on Thomas Kinkade to set the mood.

I am in a much better mindset to write during the holidays. Unfortunately, living in the Houston area rarely provides me with those heart-warming, visually appealing Christmas scenes . . . sleighs and snow-covered trees in the forest, so I improvise by burning a Vermont White Spruce candle while listening to a 24-hour Christmas music radio station on my computer.

Let’s face it, we need all the inspiration and help we can get.

There is a wealth of information available on the Internet on how environment nurtures creativity. I once read about one writer who wallpapered their entire room with an outdoor scene. Some writers need to get out of the house and write in coffee shops, their local Starbucks, or lug their laptop and writing materials to the library, one of my favorite places to get away. Surrounded by all those shelves of books, how can you not be inspired?

Many writers need a dedicated space or room, and that is generally where I do most of my writing, except when I decide I need to get out of the house. Yet the room itself is not enough for me. I have surrounded myself with my favorite painting genre, outdoor scenes. Nearly every wall has at least one painting of a scene. They’re not Thomas Kinkade, but they accomplish their need.

The desk, the lighting, and the look of the lamps, all contribute to put me into the writing mood. Several months ago, I substituted a flat desk 60×36 inch desk with an L-shaped desk, complete with a tall hutch and ample storage space. On the main section of the desk sits my desktop computer where I handle all the “non-writing” stuff. My laptop sits on the L attachment and faces the window in my office. I’d love to be able to look out on a stand of trees or rolling hills, but for the time being I’ll need to be satisfied with looking out at pedestrian and vehicle traffic on a residential street. Still, it is a welcome distraction.

My family laughs at me because I frequently change the look and organization of the office, but I believe it’s finally exactly where I want it to be. Comfort and convenience is a requirement, so I have a tall and soft executive chair for my workstation, with a recliner and a floor lamp next to the desk where I can relax with my laptop and hopefully create riveting stories, occasionally glancing up to admire the paintings on the walls.

The type of lamp can make a difference. A small desk “uplight” lamp for my desktop computer work, a banker’s lamp for my laptop work and a tall desk lamp I purchased from Kirkland’s several years ago have stood the test of time.

Like many writers, my space needs to be clutter-free, with as few objects on the desktop as possible. I recently moved my file cabinet and a large credenza out in favor of a smaller table for my printer. Naturally, I needed to keep my bookcase, if only for the imagery of books.

On the wall opposite the desk sits a 40 x 72” whiteboard, perhaps the most valuable object in my writer’s “toolbox.” The results I’ve gained from brainstorming on this whiteboard have been remarkable.

Many writers play music while working on their writing projects. I prefer easy listening, and my favorite collection of music are the Nature Quest CD’s all of which sit on my Itunes app, always at the ready for whatever I’m in the mood for, whether it be a thunderstorm, birds singing in a forest, or the crash of waves at the beach accompanied by a guitar or harp. On occasion, I enjoy listening to Enya and Gordon Lightfoot.

Take a look at the attached photos, and let’s share sources of inspiration. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll get ideas from one another.

 

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IMG_0141 IMG_0142 IMG_0143 IMG_0144

Every writer develops their stories in different ways. Some outline, some write from scratch and let the characters develop and the plot emerge as they write. Others might draft three or four chapters before they decide it’s time to step back and determine the flow of the story.

I’ve tried all of the above and other approaches, but always come back to, and finally settled on outlining. My “ideal” story will be mapped out with all questions and issues resolved before I write the draft. Of course, that’s in a perfect world.

Regardless of the approach you use, at some point the chronology of the events in the lives of your characters will need to be validated. Most, if not all stories involve background events for your main characters, which may or may not be included in the final version. But these events are important because you want to ensure, for example, that your antagonist (let’s say he or she is a serial killer), was in a certain location at a certain time when he or she claimed their first victim. You also want to make sure he or she was not six months old at the time of the murder.

Here is where a timeline is most useful and I believe must be part of the writing process at some point of story development. What you use to create a timeline is a matter of choice.

In the past I’ve used a Word document in the standard outline form and even used Post-It notes on a whiteboard, but a template I created (and am always “tweaking”) in Excel has proven its worth and stood the test of time. If you’ve ever ‘Googled’ the phrase ‘Timeline in Excel,’ you’ll find more examples than you’ll know what to do with. The truth is, figuring out which one best fits your needs can consume a lot of time.

I’m hoping to spare you that research time.

I’m a proponent on providing examples because I believe giving advice without suggesting how to implement that advice falls well short of being effective. It’s like your doctor telling you to lose weight then sending you on your way without recommending the best approach.

For the moment and the sake of this blog, consider me a caring doctor.

Here is my prescription – my timeline template in Excel in column listing form.

  • Event Month
  • Event Day
  • Event Year
  • Time of day (Estimate)
  • Time of day (Precise)
  • Event Character
  • Event Character birthdate
  • Event Character Age
  • Details (a short summary of the event)
  • Event Location
  • Where does the event become known?
  • Notes (a free form column to expound on event details, ask questions, or brainstorm

If you’ve used Excel for any amount of time, you’re aware of its flexibility and power. Using drop-down lists, tables, and calculations, I’ve saved considerable time filling in the columns in my template.

For instance, I created a character table in a separate sheet and use a drop-down to select the Event Character. This keeps me from having to refer to a separate source of characters.

I use drop-down lists to select Event Month, Day, and Year.

You’ll notice I listed two Time of Day columns. In the Estimate column, I use a drop down list of 24 values corresponding to the hours of the day. This is a ball park time for when the event might occur. In the Precise column I enter the actual time the event occurred, because multiple events are likely to occur within a given hour and it’s essential to list them chronologically. Are both necessary? Perhaps, perhaps not, but to each his own, and in the words of actor Fred Dryer who starred in the TV series, Hunter, “works for me.” I’m probably dating myself but you get what I mean.

The character name table includes birthdate which allows me to set up the calculated column to show the character’s age at the time of an event. This allows me to verify that the CEO of a company is not four years old, for example.

Hopefully before I progress too far into the story development phase, I’m able to create a drop down list for my scenes or chapters, allowing me to select from the list to enter it into the column where does the event become known? For instance, the event date and time our serial killer won’t become known until later in the story, after the protagonist investigates (and hopefully finds and stops the dude).

The Data –> Filter tool in Excel is a powerful and valuable assistant.

Once I fill in as much of the timeline sheet as I can, I can display by a certain value or values by selecting that value or values from the column.

  • I filter by character to track the events in their life.
  • I filter by date to see what events occurred on that date.
  • I filter by scene or chapter to isolate the events that will become known at that time, which allows me to start drafting that particular scene or chapter.
  • I validate that my character’s age jibes with the event, and check the time to ensure the facts of the story are presented as they occur in the story.

. . . All at the touch of a button!

Another benefit to this timeline manifests itself during the brainstorming phase. By filtering on an event for a certain character, I can create previous and/or subsequent events for any character I believe will contribute to the plot. This determines the flow of the story.

For example, I might have an event, ‘John discovers a dead body.

From this I can brainstorm and create previous and subsequent events for John as well as other characters. Who is the person? Who killed them? How did they get there? When did they kill this person? Did anyone witness the murder? Placing characters in a location and time will help to determine hints, clues, and witnesses.

I’ve discovered the best thing about this timeline approach to developing story is it’s more fun than writing the actual story.

Isn’t it “time” for your timeline?

 

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As writers seeking the one magical piece of advice making our names synonymous with Stephen King, John Grisham, Sue Grafton and a host of other best-selling authors, we’ve read it a hundred times –

If you don’t have interesting characters, you have no story. Forget interesting! The reader absolutely must love (or hate) your character and feel what they feel, as if they themselves were in the middle of that character’s world.

No argument there. But the biggest problem with advice is it doesn’t often include examples of how to bring those characters to life.

The “experts” advise spending time developing their character; come to know them as if you were playing the part.

This is called character profiling.

I’ve been at the writing game for longer than I care to admit. Through articles, blogs, how-to books, my own research, and a love affair with Google, I’ve produced an extensive character profile in Excel, my writing companion I would be absolutely lost without. As it is with most writing templates, it is an ever-changing and ever-growing work-in-progress.

My character profile is broken down into 36 categories, among them Name, Physical Description, Background, Education, Psychological, Sociological, Relationships . . . you get the idea.

The categories themselves are subdivided into 475 rows of detail. For instance, a character’s physical description includes height, weight, hair color, eye color, physique.

How much or how little of a character profile is recommended is directly related to the role the character plays in the story. A typical story will usually contain three main characters. Protagonist, Antagonist, and Love Interest, perhaps one or two more, and are the only characters requiring a “complete” character profile. Indeed, no more than a physical description is needed for the majority of the characters in the story.

It’s the “complete” in the above paragraph that bogged me down in my early days of writing, when I was naïve and took every piece of advice to heart. I wanted to be “complete” in developing my main characters, making sure I knew how they ate, talked, walked, spoke, and slept, all of which required extensive thought and decision. After all, we can’t have every character born in California and eating pasta every night for dinner.

The more I read and the more I practiced my craft, the less naïve I became. I started to take each piece of advice with a grain of salt, particularly when the advice, some from best-selling authors, often contradicted each other. You know what I’m talking about . . . you’ve been there, haven’t you?

I was spending so much time on the character profile; all it did was keep me from writing the story.

Yes, interesting characters are an absolute must for a good story, but if nothing happens to the most interesting character in the world, guess what? You have no story.

Now when I sit down to develop a story, I work my character profile and story structure in concert. By story structure I mean plots, obstacles, and conflict . . . in short . . . events, all of which need to be worked around the goals and motivations of the main characters.

I create the bare minimum of my extensive character profile, followed by at least an idea of what events will drive the actions of the characters. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a skeleton of scenes and chapters outlined, even if a particular scene/chapter description is simply ‘Detective Finds Body.’

Once I create a basic idea of the structure, I can return to my character profile and fill in only the appropriate details. For example, the fact my main character might have attended elementary school in Kansas is only relevant if something significant happened during that time and contributed to the makeup of the character. Unless I decide to write a scene in a restaurant, it’s probably not important to spend much (if any) time determining what foods the character prefers or how he or she eats.

Take it from me; filling out a comprehensive character profile should be done with extreme prejudice because it can chew up a lot of time otherwise spent writing the story.

More importantly, since the writer’s goal is to maximize show, and minimize tell, there might be a tendency to provide nothing more than a “laundry list” of a character’s traits without considering its importance. I fell into this trap early on and many times “threw” something together just to fill in the blanks.

There is an obvious benefit to using this approach. Rather than get bogged down with what might be called the administrative details, it will encourage you to start writing the story, the goal of every writer.

The biggest reason not to spend too much time on profiling is you might end up “pigeonholing” your character. If you’ve been at this game for any amount of time, I expect you’ll agree that while you draft your story, your character will be shaped and reshaped through the events, conflict, dialogue and interaction between other characters, often rendering your original character profile you spent so much time on, null and void.

Give it a try.

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One of the more popular blog topics targeting writer discusses why writers procrastinate.

One recent blog asked whether perfectionism caused writers to procrastinate. At last count there were 171 comments on the blog. Many agreed perfectionism to be an issue and offered advice, the most popular to write the draft and let the revision stage improve the manuscript. Easy to say, hard to apply, isn’t it?

For me and I expect a lot of writers, perfectionism never factors into the equation because some of us can’t even get started. Now that is true procrastination.

The reason (to me) is simple. Sitting down to work on a writing project, whether it is an outline, a first draft, or revising an existing project, means you have decided to commit a block of time to essentially create something from nothing. Many writers fail because they realize that block of time can be used to accomplish other tasks. Housework, yard work, running errands, exercising, watching TV, playing video games, playing golf, or, too often, grabbing a nap, all of which I’ve used extensively in place of writing.

The remainder of this blog is not about why, or what you can do other than follow Nike’s advice, ‘Just Do It!’ You have probably read that ad nauseam.

It’s a confession of sorts and a success story of my own battle with the procrastination demon.

I use Excel extensively to maintain a daily to-do list of tasks ranging from taking medication to preparing for the following day, with a lot of the tasks listed above in between.

When it comes to writing, I track the time spent on each writing project and writing-related tasks. This serves not only as an incentive and a boost to my psyche when I accomplish what I planned, it also gives me an idea of how long it takes to write a short story, a blog, or a novel, which helps me plan my time for future projects.

Weird? Okay, I’ve been called worse, but it takes just a few seconds to record start and end times and nobody needs to see the log but me.

This is relevant because I have documented proof I should wear the crown (probably should be a dunce cap) as King of the Procrastinators.

Every day I review my task list. Writing is and I suspect will always be the hardest, not only because it’s creative, but regardless of how much time I allocate, I won’t know until I finish whether I’ve been productive or have created another deposit for the virtual trash can.

So, what do I do? The tasks that are the easiest and the ones which I can accurately predict the time required always take priority.

Writing always falls to the end.

What happens throughout my day is the “same old story.”

And so starts my “confession.”

Once I finish non-writing-related tasks, I write journals, filter through Emails and put in appropriate folders for later handling. Emails dating back several months are still sitting in the “Writing” folder.

Now it’s time to see how many friends I can request on Facebook and how many connections I can make on LinkedIn. By the time I “retweet” selected posts, I can breathe a sigh of relief and it’s time for lunch and a much needed (but not deserved) break.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I go to the gym. Yes, staying healthy is important, but given my age, I need time to stretch so I don’t pull every muscle in my body. Following the stretching and the workout at the gym, it’s usually late afternoon and I’m tired from the workout. Unfortunately (or conveniently) my mind is in no condition to write, so I will work on anything I can find other than writing projects, even if that means taking a nap or lolling on the porch.

The dinner hour has suddenly arrived and so there I am, the table is cleared and and I’ve now been up for twelve hours or more.

I could go to my office or take my laptop to another room and dedicate an hour to a writing project, but wait! Those emails are screaming for my attention. I should handle them, because once I get those out of the way, I’ll be free of all those distractions and I can spend the day doing nothing but writing!

Sadly, it rarely happens. Old habits die hard and yes, I ask myself almost every day what am I waiting for? What event will allow me to rearrange my priorities and do what I should and want to do, leaving everything else for later? Let’s face it, if you’re like me, most of what we do can wait until the end of the day, some can be delayed for several days or more.

I knew I needed to be the catalyst for such an event, because I felt my best when I wrote, even if the result was incoherent first draft material. I was making progress and I felt good about it. So why do I avoid doing the one thing that gives me so much satisfaction?

I committed to and finally made the change on October 1st, 2015. Why not? A new month – why not a new approach?

At the time I was working on a short story and a novel, which I was revising for the (I lost count) time. I needed to make those the top priorities on my to-do list.

I did, and at the time of this blog, more than two weeks later, not only has it become more of a habit, each day it gets easier, and even though other tasks now get pushed to the bottom of my to do list, to my surprise and delight, the sky has not fallen.

Making this change wasn’t easy. I wasn’t yet fully awake and not in an optimal mental state to write. Even once I rearranged my priorities, I still wrestled with the perfectionist demon, and needed to constantly remind myself that the revision stage would make the writing better.

In the first few days, although I didn’t spend a lot of hours, I accomplished more than I ever imagined, and as time passed, I allocated more hours of the day to working my projects.

To put these accomplishments in perspective, I referred to my writing log.

From October 1st to October 18, 2015, I logged a total of 38 hours toward my two projects. In the process, I completed the first draft of my short story/novella (almost 21,000 words), and revised 17 chapters of my mystery novel (total word count of almost 54,000).

Over the previous 4 months, I logged a total of 85 hours on both of these projects.

If I continue at this pace from the last 18 days, over the next 4 months I will log a total of 272 hours, more than 3 times my previous four months.

The moral?

If the self-proclaimed King of the Procrastinators can win a battle with the procrastination demon, so can you!

Give it a shot. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

I welcome all comments.

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The State of the World

“Please give me your report, Agent 302,” The Supervisor said.

“Sir, you assigned me to follow an average man on an average day while he completed his tasks.”

“I trust you found it interesting as well as productive.”

“Somewhat. I followed him to the grocery store. He dodged and weaved through the aisles as if in a death-race, sometimes bumping into other carts, raising his voice at others to make way, as though there was nothing more important than the gathering of his food and supplies.”

“He sounds like an impatient fellow.”

“Indeed. On more than one occasion, he encountered someone who left a cart in the center of the aisle and wandered off, leaving him little choice but to knock the cart out of the way, sometimes a little more forceful than I believed necessary. The look on his face spoke volumes, and if he chose to vocalize his thoughts, I’d expect he’d say, ‘not everyone has all day to read the labels of every single solitary package in the store without consideration of other shoppers!’”

“Your man seems on a mission,” The Supervisor observed.

“Yes, not made any easier by the reactions of the label readers.”

“How so?”

“Responses ranged from an idle shrug, a blatant display of apathy, more often a dirty look, or in a few cases, a nasty comment which often included profanity. The more of these types our man encountered, the more impatient he became, and impatience breeds frustration, which I feared might have led to anger and perhaps violence.”

“That would not be good.”

“In another aisle, he encountered two women with carts facing opposite directions, standing next to each other, making conversation without regard to other shoppers, as though that particular aisle was designed specifically for them. This left the man with no choice but to turn the cart around in a huff. He certainly could have made a scene, but thankfully chose a path of lesser resistance.”

“Your man possesses a degree of self-control.”

“Yes, but he continued to be tested while speeding through the remaining aisles. Some shoppers lingered, appearing to analyze every possible brand of a particular food product to perhaps determine the best choice.”

“Finally the man arrived at the checkout area and chose the 20-items-or-less line, but when he counted the number in the cart, there were 25. His face once again betrayed his thoughts. What if he stayed in the line? Would the clerk actually count the number of items and ask him to choose another line? The person ahead clearly had in excess of thirty items and if they could flaunt the sign and disregard others, why couldn’t he?”

“It seems it is one thing after another.”

“I agree, and at this point he probably felt like a higher power had singled him out for a life of frustration. He stood there for a time, lips pressed together, knuckles turning white, but to his credit, he finally turned the cart around the chose a different line.”

“I expect by this time you gained a measure of respect, perhaps even admiration for him,” The Supervisor noted.

“Most certainly, but his burdensome journey was far from over.”

“Please explain, Agent 302.”

“When he found a line with only two people in front of him, each with carts no more than half full, his face clearly brightened and his shoulders relaxed. Less than a minute later the light above the register flashed and the clerk called for a price check. His eyes closed, his head dropped. He appeared defeated and deflated. He turned and looked behind him at two more shoppers who joined him in line and apparently realized at this point it’s futile to try another line. With the way the day was going, it would most assuredly be worse, so he remained and waited his turn.”

“Some days it is not worth going out of the house.”

“Or getting out of bed which for him would have been a better choice. Fifteen minutes later, he paid for his items and walked out to the parking lot, his jaw tight as he muttered under his breath.”

“I get the distinct feeling his day of frustration is yet to end.”

“You are right. He walked outside and stopped for a moment and looked around the parking lot, which at this point contained rows of vehicles as far as the eye could see. He seemed to struggle with recalling where he parked and threw up his hands in disgust. Finally he decided he’d better start searching, because it certainly wouldn’t come to him. He walked down the aisles with purpose and was fortunate to find his car in the first row he selected.”

“Things are improving and the future looks bright.”

“Not for long. When he arrived at his car, he noticed someone parked their pickup truck in the space next to him who either didn’t see the freshly-painted white lines or didn’t understand their meaning.”

“What do you mean?” The Supervisor asked.

The pickup truck parked too close to the driver side of his car to allow him to open the door wide enough to enter.”

“So much for a bright future.”

“He cursed aloud and kicked the fender of the pickup truck with his foot.”

“It would seem he approached the breaking point.”

“It would appear so, because he brandished his keys while looking in every direction. I believe he planned to deface the pickup truck in some manner, but he saw me and changed his mind.”

“What happened then?” The Supervisor asked.

“He opened the trunk of his car and put in the packages, then went around and entered through the passenger side door. I noticed he struggled a little with maneuvering over the console in the middle, perhaps wondering if he should have purchased a car with a bench seat.”

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

“Truly it is. I wondered whether he planned to wait for the owner of the pickup truck to return, but the ice cream was melting, the milk was getting warm, and given the attitudes of others to this point, what good would it do? He decided on discretion and started his car.”

“It sounds like a wise decision.”

“I believe so. He needed to back up and pull forward a number of times before clearing the space without inflicting damage on the pickup truck. What happened next bordered on the ridiculous.”

“Oh?”

“He needed to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision with a car coming straight at him.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The rows in the parking lot are all one-way and large white arrows painted on the ground clearly indicate right-of-way, not to mention anyone with a speck of common sense would notice the cars pointed at an angle and even if one missed seeing the arrow, it should be obvious they were going the wrong way.”

“What did he do?”

“First, he pounded on his steering wheel, then put the car into gear with the engine still running. He got out of his car and walked over to the car in front. The driver rolled down the window and they engaged in a shouting match. He asked whether the man was blind or stupid or both. The other driver simply told him to ‘get a life, what’s the big deal, and can’t he just move to the side because there is room enough for two cars.’ He threw up his hands and walked away before turning and said, “you know, I don’t think blind people should be allowed to drive.”

The Supervisor chuckled. “It would seem our man is prone to sarcasm with a dry sense of humor.”

“After what he endured to that point, I expect he wanted to buy a gun and blow his brains out.”

“Indeed. Please continue.”

“He returned to his car and by this time several cars were behind him waiting for the situation to either escalate or resolve. One driver beeped his horn but it might have been directed at the oncoming car going the wrong way. Our man got into his car and moved to the right to allow the “blind driver” to pass, not bothering to look in his direction. I mean, what else could he do?”

“A sign of surrender, perhaps.”

“Perhaps, but it doesn’t end there.”

“I find it hard to believe he could endure much more.”

“At the end of the street he stopped at a red light. There were three lanes. The ones on the outside were left-turn and right-turn only, while the middle lane offered the option of turning right or going straight. Our man waited in the middle lane with his right turn signal flashing, and a red sports car driven by a young man with a young girl in the passenger seat pulled up to the right-turn only lane. The window was down and music blared from the car radio. Our man didn’t so much as acknowledge their presence, keeping his eyes focused straight ahead. When the light turned green . . .,”

The Supervisor raised a palm. “Don’t tell me, the red sports car drove straight ahead and cut off our man before he made his turn.”

“Naturally. He slammed on the brakes and laid on the horn for a good ten seconds. The response from the other driver was a one-finger salute out the window.”

“More apathy and blatant disregard for others.”

“Yes, but by this time I expect our man felt too tired and defeated to do much else, so he continued on his way. He arrived at a four-way stop sign in a subdivision. I learned later his house was two hundred yards down the street. His car was the only one waiting at this time and when he pulled ahead, a car from the left drove through the intersection with clearly no intent of slowing down, much less stopping. Our man slammed on the brakes and turned his car to the right in an attempt to avoid a collision but in my opinion, it was not possible. The other driver slammed into the back door on the driver’s side, which was fortunate. Otherwise, lives might have been lost.”

“This is very sad, especially since he was close to his home.”

“Most certainly. The noise of the crash attracted a number of homeowners, which turned fortunate for the offending driver.”

“How do you mean?” The Supervisor asked.

“Our man was bleeding from a head wound but otherwise his injuries didn’t appear life-threatening. He flung open the door to his car and jumped out and ran over to the other car. The driver was a young man, probably no more than eighteen or nineteen years old. Our man dragged him out by the shirt collar and threw him to the ground. Two men who came out to respond to the accident stopped him before he inflicted harm upon the young man.”

The Supervisor sat back and tented his fingers in front of his mouth. “Our man had a quite a harrowing day and it sounds as if everyone he encountered couldn’t have cared less.”

Agent 302 took a deep breath. “I don’t know whether this average day in an average man’s life is typical, but it seems these people all have their heads stuck in a dark and foreboding place very offensive to the olfactory nerve.”

The Supervisor smiled. “You do have a way with words, Agent 302, and I must tell you, your report coincides with that of our agents around the world.”

“Thank you, sir. The people all seem to be in a hurry and won’t take a few seconds to obey the laws decreed by the powers on the planet, and from what I’ve learned these laws do not seem overly restrictive or demanding. Like most laws I suppose, they exist to keep the planet safe, but most people appear too focused on themselves.”

“I see. What is your recommendation?”

“I believe we need to abandon our plan to insert ourselves into this society and find a different planet to harvest. These earthlings will most certainly be more trouble than they are worth.”

“I agree. You have done well, Agent 302. We will leave this decaying world.”

My Author website:

http://jstrandburg.wordpress.com

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

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Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

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Process or Program?

This is for all those unfortunate writers (like me) who aren’t blessed with the ability to start writing and keep writing a complete story without the need to stop and outline or at least brainstorm a plan for the flow of the plot.

Frankly I don’t know if there are many out there like that but whoever you are, you have my respect and admiration (and more than a tinge of envy).

I’m prolific out of the gate when I have an idea for a plot or a character and have started a story with as little as three random words, using the almost unlimited resources from books and the Internet for creative writing prompts. You could open up a dictionary and pick out three of four random words, although realistically they do better when referring to a character, a place, an object, and/or an event.

It’s what follows that initial burst of flowing words where I usually come to a screeching halt. What happens next? Why are these characters doing what they are doing at this place? What are they after? It’s time then to start planning, outline, and brainstorm the answers to these questions.

There are a number of ways to approach outlining, one of which is to employ a writing software application. Dramatica Pro, Wizards for Authors, Scrivener, Write Now, the list goes on and on. There are a number of free applications available for download, a few of which I’ve tried. There is a market for writing software, mainly because writers are looking for help in organizing their work, and like me, are searching for ways to write a novel or short story faster and more efficiently, minimizing the time between the germ of an idea and a work worthy of submitting for publication.

I won’t make any claims as to the worth of any of these applications. I’m sure there are writers who use them with some degree of success. I have experimented with a few of them and they all have redeeming value.

Given over twenty-five years in the IT field, I’m well aware of the work required to design, code, test, and implement these programs. The developer must anticipate the errors which might occur and the responsibility to stand by to support their product is an awesome one.

I prefer a process to organize and design a story. Software programs will do only as much as the developer allows, even if they are is a writer or consulted a writer while designing the application.

A process allows the writer to design, outline, and organize a story on a piece of paper, a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, a whiteboard, or a chalkboard without restrictions on rules.

In the coming weeks, I will document my experience in using Excel for things such as timelines and character profiles.

My Author website:

http://jstrandburg.wordpress.com

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

http://www.amazon.com/Appointment-Ordinary-Journey-Through-Prayer-ebook/dp/B00CWRZ5GI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144792&sr=8-1&keywords=an+appointment+with+god%3A+one+man%27s