MIKE BOCKOVEN

On Writing Warm Ups

Jan
17

I haven’t fallen down the Tumblr hole quite yet, but I’m on the precipice.

For the uninitiated Tumblr is a social network of mini blogging sites carved into intricately fine niches and with its own way of sharing, interacting, praising and innovating. It’s a singular thing and, like Twitter, you either get it or you don’t. I’m not sure I get it yet but I’m almost there, at which point I will fall into a hole, never to return.

My Tumblr, which I’m not sharing yet, is stuffed with writing advice, tips and tricks and I’ve noticed a trend. Some people do warm ups or a couple hundred words of whatever is in their head to get their fingers moving and their brain pumping. Not a bad idea if, for example, you have a block of time in which you can write, uninterrupted. And, like anything, if it works for you do it and do it proudly.

Let me tell you about the last time I tried to write.

I was in the gymnastics studio where my daughter was taking class (she’s great, by the way. Fearless and enthusiastic, using force of will to make up for whatever she lacks in grace) and I was squeezed into a child’s sized chair. Less than two feet away from me was a young boy, whatever you are after you are a Toddler. Creeper Pain in the Ass, I think is the clinical term. This up and comer wanted candy from his mom, who had some in her bag so he asked “Mommy, candy”. She said no, but he got stuck on a loop. It took him about two seconds to say “Mommy, candy,” and before the “y” in “candy” was completely out of his mouth he was on to the “m” turning it into a sort of chant, pausing only for breath. When the mom ignored him (smart phones are a powerful thing) he took his act on tour, eventually making it to me where he stared dead at me and said “Mommy, candy” over and over with the mommy in question not paying attention.

I finally piped up, saying “I don’t have any candy, bud,” the “bud” being thrown in to prove I wasn’t upset or creepy. This caused the mother to take notice and quiet the kid and I went on with my novel (knocking on the door of 50,000 words).

Why tell this story? Because it’s the only time I have. It’s a full, mostly uninterrupted hour and even that doesn’t happen as often as it used to. Unless I’m up early (like now) or up late this is the only time during the normal, waking day I have to write and I have it once a week, twice if I’m lucky. And I really like sleeping.

Bottom line: If a kid chanting in my ear isn’t going to stop me from writing, I’m not going to let my brain being a little slow do it. That’s one of the joys of discovery writing – picking right up where you left off, even if your brain was on fire. And, yeah, like anything sometimes you have a slow start. And, yeah, sometimes you have a bad writing day. But I’ve found that thinking about it before hand, like on the drive over to the gymnastics studio, and then diving right in works for me and when I lock in, that’s a glorious feeling. I wish I had it more often.

Again, that’s not to say warm ups aren’t valuable. I like reading them. It’s just not how I work right now and with a year where I’m hoping to increase my output, I am going to stay away from them for right now. Come back in a few months when I’m extolling the virtues of warm ups and asking for suggestions.

You know. Whatever works.

Cheap Books = Lots of Reviews

Mar
27

My first novel, “FantasticLand”, was on sale in ebook edition for $1.99 a few weeks back and as a result, something happened that I’m still trying to process.

People seem to really like my book.

I’m not trying to be self deprecating. I mean, I like my book and there’s a team of editors and agents and such that also like my book. I trust in their taste but it’s one thing to get a book published and another thing to read reviews like this:

“I knew this book was going to be scary. The reviews on the back and word-of-mouth prepared me for that. But I’ll admit, when I started the book and saw it was written as a series of interviews, I thought the level of action and suspense would somehow be muted or diminished. Boy, was I wrong! I was hooked from the beginning and stayed up way too late reading, and even after I put the book down, I kept thinking about the story and the characters. I love how each interview built on the previous one but added a new perspective and dimension to the story. It gave enough information to get your heart rate up and left just enough to the imagination to really freak you out at all the right moments. I’ve never read a book quite like this, but I loved it. I highly recommend it!”

Or this one:

“FantasticLand is a fantastic voyage into the depths of the human soul and what lengths one might stoop to when faced with a tragedy. It is written in the style of interviewer and interviewee and quite believable at points. If you are a fan of the technique of investigative reporter ala Max Brooks and the post apocalyptic World War Z, this book is for you. While there are no zombies in this story, the real monsters are the young men and women who are set in a circumstance where there are no consequences to actions taken. Some times the real horror of this story is the things that are not said but rather implied. People pushed to extreme limits and the struggle to hold on to one’s own humanity give this book chops, a difficult thing to accomplish when dealing with horror fiction.

You have to ask yourself. “To which tribe would I belong?” I hope I am never put in a circumstance where I have to find out.

I look forward to other books by Mr. Bockoven.”

Of course, there are negative reviews, but just a few and none of them are of the “you suck” variety but more of the “I was disappointed” or “not what I expected in a negative way” sort of thing. And I’m used to disappointing people. OK, I’m being self deprecating.

You can visit the book on Amazon and read all the reviews here.

What’s the point, then? Two fold. One, I like pointing out any and all “gold stars” I get because part of me is still in awe that all this is happening. And I like selling books. But, secondly, I really want to give a hearty, heart felt and humble thanks to everyone who read and reviewed the book. I can’t go into this too much, but right now some folks are looking at my book for a project and while I’ve been told it’s selling “modestly” (I don’t find out until June), I was able to point to the reviews of “FantasticLand” as something impressive. I could not be prouder to do so or more thankful for everyone who took the time.

It’s going to take a while to process all the positive reviews but it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to have to work through.

Entry 2/20/17 – Escape…Good

Feb
20

HT to the Lincoln Escape Room, a place I’ve been to twice and enjoyed myself thoroughly each time. Check them out at lincolnescaperoom.com

Over the past few months everyone has heard varations on the theme “I want to bury my head in the sand”. This isn’t a political thing. I live in Nebraska and this winter we’ve received almost no snow and we wore shorts in February this week. Of course, it’s climate change, mankind’s greatest challenge that will eventually be the source of unimaginable misery and suffering but hey…70 degrees in February!

It’s easy to want to bury your head in the sand, is my point.

Of course, this is why many people read and read fiction in particular. It’s an escape, it takes up space in your brain that might otherwise be filled with some impending crisis, worry, fear or anxiety. I think that might be why anxious people read. You can worry about fictional characters with little or no consequence.

I’ve found this extends to writing, or at least the kind of writing I do, which was a surprise to say the least. As I’ve talked about before, I’m a discovery writer, a process which my fellow Nebraska writer Liz Boyle says is like “letting the characters take you for a ride”. I like that description because I’ve found it to be true. In the short amount of time I’ve carved out for myself to write each week I can count on coming out of that time in a pretty good mood, just like I do when I’m reading something particularly compelling. Not that my stuff is particularly compelling, but I’m surprised and sometimes thrilled at where a story is going and that functions as escapism.

This has two practical effects.

  1. It makes “working” on the writing part of my job pretty close to play time and
  2. It’s lent me a better understanding of why so many people take up writing.

The last few months have shown me there are a lot of writers out there – secret writers, aspiring writers, people who dream of having a bookshelf full of their work if not something more. I understood the appeal (obviously). The solitude is nice, the control is unlike anything else, the results concrete. But now I think there’s a bit more to it. Writing is an escape as much, if not more than reading is.

It makes sense. The characters you create occupy that same space in your brain as the characters you read about. Your sense of imagination and plotting kick in whether you’re reading or writing. The mechanism is the same, just slowed down in the case of writing.

The point is this – if you want to write, try to take into the process that same joy you find in reading. I think this applies for fiction and nonfiction (although as a former reporter, nonfiction takes a lot more work in my experience). The more you can enjoy what you’re writing as you’re writing it the more likely you are to come back and the more likely your brain is to have fun with it.

Let me know how that works for you.