Jeremy J. Jones – Stranded in Thought

August 8, 2010

Poor Communication Opens Door for Hate

Filed under: Opinion — Jeremy @ 8:29 am

I might end up with a ton of inflammatory comments about this, but I don’t care. I have to write about this. The New York Times published an article today titled Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition, wherein it discusses the fact that some Americans are rallying against allowing mosques to be built all across the country, not just the proposed one near Ground Zero in New York.

In that article, Mr. Mahmoud Harmoush, an imam (the lead priest of a mosque) and a guest lecturer at California State University, talks about the positive things his group does for the community. His group are living among the community and are involved in that community, having sent food to New Orleans after Katrina, participating in festivals around the area, and donating to food banks.

Now that they are trying to build a 25,000 square foot mosque on a property in Temecula, California they have owned for ten years, there is public outcry against the idea, and Mr. Harmoush notes, “We do all these activities and nobody notices. Now that we have to build our center, everybody jumps to make it an issue.”

He’s right. But I have to ask, if Muslims are doing such great things in their local communities, why don’t we know?

And furthermore, most people don’t know how much of our tax money we spend giving aid to foreign countries, including many predominantly Muslim countries. So if America does such great things around the world, why doesn’t anyone know that?

There are surely several reasons. One I can think of is the media, who would never report something positive if we paid them, because we won’t watch or read positive news, but don’t get me started on all that.

A bigger reason is, most of the time people are embarrassed to shout about the good things they do. Call it humility.

But here’s a potentially shocking fact: Muslims are no different than we are. We all feel that if we do the right thing, good things will come our way, and so we don’t run around talking about how great we are. We even frown toward those who do, as it’s considered bragging or self-involvement.

But that’s not how it works with inflammatory types. They only see what they want to see, and without strong evidence to the contrary, their flawed assumptions become powerful.

Think about this: if every time some radical Muslim leader preached to his group of followers that Americans want to see the destruction of Islam and the murder of every Muslim man, woman, and child, one of his more charismatic followers then later told the others, “Actually, I’ve found Americans to be quite wonderful. Last year, when I was living in Providence, my friends invited me to their home for Thanksgiving, and it was a really wonderful experience.”

That would diffuse the entire argument of the leader for some of them. The more jaded among the followers would still believe that we want them all dead. But it’s a start.

It’s also worthy to ask, what do you think would happen if that charismatic follower stood up during the speech of his leader and made that statement? What happened when people spoke out publicly against Hitler, Hussein, Castro, or any of the others? So no one does it, whether they disagree or not.

And the converse is true as well. If every time someone said that Muslims want to take over Congress so they can institute Shariah law someone else said, “That’s not true. They just want to have a place where they can worship in their own way, protect their children from drugs and gangs and give them a good education, and live a nice, safe life,” then the arguments of the radicals lose their power.

Of course, some people do try to make both those arguments, and they are shouted down as uninformed idiots by the radical masses on both sides.

I’ve been to many places around the world, and I have friends from, in no particular order: America, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, China, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, and I’m sure several other countries I’m forgetting (no offense to anyone, or no “offence” for those of you with other English spellings).

One thing I know is that every single person I know, from every single place on the planet, regardless of their age, color, religion, politics, and whatever other demographic we’d like to give them, want exactly the same thing.

We all want to have a safe place to live and prosper, and we want our children to grow up safe and protected, get a good education, and be able to have a good life. We build houses differently, we eat different foods, we worship differently, but those underlying goals are the only things we really want.

So, basically, we are all the same. If you don’t believe me, start asking around, and see who really is Muslim, and ask them what they want from life. Trust me, if you start earnestly asking people, you’ll be surprised what you learn. A few years ago I asked the gas station owner at my corner where he is from. “Pakistan,” he said. An overwhelmingly Muslim country. I asked him his religion, and he said, “Christian.”

He could have been lying, but I doubt it. He is incredibly friendly toward everyone who comes into his store, and it’s far too genuine to be an act. He’s just a happy guy who lives here because he can work hard and provide for his family.

So it seems to me that the thing we all need to do is start massive campaigns to inform the whole world of our true intentions. Muslims can show the world how much they just want peace by promoting it and showing how much they care about their American communities. America can do the same by showing how much we care for and support the people of the Muslim world.

We basically need a promotional group that makes sure everyone knows about the positives the news won’t tell us about. Of course, the last thing we need that group to be is associated with any government or religious group. It needs to be a worldwide volunteer group of, say, Twitter followers who tweet about the good things they see happening among their communities.

Of course, for that to work, we’d actually need to know about our communities, and know that those people over there that just gave clothing to a clothing drive are Muslim. We need more openness and communication.

Communication equals power. In the absence of communication, hatred and ire rule.

Maybe I’ll start that Twitter group. Might be interesting.


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


July 12, 2010

Borders eBooks: anything but easy

Filed under: Opinion — Jeremy @ 5:53 pm

I am a huge fan of Borders. At least their bookish sections. I could really do without the coffee and other stuff they sell in their stores, but I understand why they offer all that stuff: to bring people in. I get that.

Yesterday, I traveled to my local one to buy a gift certificate for a friend, and I got a coupon from them advertising their currently running “Free eBooks” promotion.

I am not enamored with the idea of eReaders at all. I don’t like to read on an electronic screen. There’s glare, it’s too small, I can’t really be comfortable while I do it, et cetera. But I decided, since Borders was offering me five free eBooks, I would give them a try. Their advertising worked on me.

So I downloaded the Borders eBooks app (to my PC; there is no option for the BlackBerry Storm), and went to get the titles. I was pleased to find I’d already been provided with five titles: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; .

“That’s pretty cool,” I thought, and went about downloading the advertised five titles.

Here is where it became problematic and mildly irritating. First, I learned that I had to enter a $0 transaction for each book. I didn’t like that very much, but I understand that the system is set up for purchases, and probably the only way (they can think of) to provide free titles is to provide them in a no-cost transaction. “Fine,” I thought, and I went about purchasing the first, and here’s where the real trouble began that ended in my writing this post.

Despite having a preexisting account with Borders.com that contains billing information, I had to enter all this information again. That was a bit annoying.

The form requires a phone number, and that phone number cannot contain any dashes. No information is given that explains that, other than that at the time of purchase, a notice is given that the phone number “appears to be invalid.” In honor of Baseball’s All-Star Game, and the passing of the legendary Bob Sheppard, I’ll use a baseball analogy; that was strike one.

After I figured that out, I checked the box that indicates I can click to save all my entered information for future orders, and shortly thereafter realized that it was not possible to purchase more than one title at a time, meaning I would have to enter five transactions. Strike two.

On attempting to purchase the next title (for no charge), I learned that the billing information was not recorded and I would have to reenter it, and do it three more times after that. Strike three.

By now I was pretty pissed. But I quickly realized I could work it all out in words, so here we are.

I’ll probably flip through some of the titles, but the fact remains that I hate reading on a computer, which is odd since I’ve been working with them for about thirty years. Nonetheless, I prefer a real book in my hands. I would never discount the market potential, and I’m sure some day I’ll come around, but right now the technology is just not my cup of tea.

And Borders’ eBook app, while a great idea, didn’t work very well at all, for me.

July 5, 2010

Daft About Craft: Plot

Filed under: Craft,Fiction,Writing — Jeremy @ 10:17 pm

During the past month or so, I’ve begun my study of the elements of writer’s craft. Having completed a perfunctory examination of my first chosen element, Plot, I thought it time to post some observations. This is by no means an exhaustive, end-all-be-all guide to plotting. I am working through it to learn, and encourage dissent and discussion.

First, the obvious. Plot is that mechanism that moves a story from beginning to end. But it’s also more than that. We are all taught in high school that a plot summary consists of a point by point telling of the story, such as:

  1. Henry is at work, and he’s a hardass. He’s rude to his coworkers, and somewhat unlikeable.
  2. After work, or on his lunch break, Henry feels bad for an old woman and helps carry her groceries.
  3. He meets a woman in a bookstore, and he’s smitten.

Et cetera.

But plot is so much more useful than just a telling of the tale. It creates conflict and tension, drama, and suspense. It is the element by which the writer makes the reader’s heart race. It also can be used to pull at the heartstrings, but characterization is a strong contributor there (Character is next on my list).

We use plot to grab the reader’s attention in the opening. That initial hook is plot, definitely. And in character development, which often follows the opening, we would be wise to use plot — that is, dialogue and events — to exhibit our characters’ attitudes, rather than exposition, which can put any reader to sleep.

After we’ve grabbed the reader’s attention and got her enamored with the characters, the complications begin. This is all plot. We show the problem. (Actually, it can be better to start this very early, especially in a mystery, where the “who did it” is the whole point of the story.)

And so on.

Of course, skilled writers move plot around to create new, more exciting methods. Quentin Tarentino comes to mind as one of those who masterfully alters the traditional chronological plot to wonderful effect. And literary fiction often abandons plot altogether in favor of creating a surreal setting or feeling. But that’s not the point here.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned more than I can explain at this point, because it’s all still swirling around in my head. But what I have learned, I am applying in reading some of my earlier stories, where I can see errors. Not terrible ones, but definite areas for improvement. And that is really the whole point of this exercise.

For anyone seriously considering a career in fiction writing, I strongly recommend study. You must learn your craft. Some of it you will already know, seemingly innately, though in reality you’ve just automatically attuned yourself to it. Studying it will teach you what you already know, so you can recognize it when you see it, and what you don’t know so that you can improve on it.

Growth leads to success. Apathy to failure. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and I’m sure I will be again. But for now, I am solidly on the growth side, and plan to stay there as much as I can.

 


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


10 minutes to Oregon

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Jeremy @ 12:41 pm

Willamette River from Parrot Mountain, copyright © M.O. Stevens

After my morning workout in the gym this morning I decided to head out for a drive, searching to find Snake Den State Park in nearby Johnston, Rhode Island. I drove around it for a bit, never finding the parking lot and access to the trails. (This appears to be because the directions from the site are inaccurate; I believe the entrance to be on another road than the one named in the aforementioned directions.)

But what was interesting was what I did find. I drove up Route 6 (the ever-winding highway that travels east from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts), and turned onto Brown Avenue.

Once I did that, I nearly immediately came across farmland and felt transported 3,000 miles to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where I grew up. I felt a sense of nostalgia as I drove along that country road for a few minutes.

Eventually, I gave up trying to find the entrance to the park and instead resolved to find it another time. But that was a great start to my day, and sent me off to find this great shot from M.O. Stevens.

June 2, 2010

New month, starting the new challenge

Filed under: Miscellaneous,Writing — Jeremy @ 5:19 pm

So last month I created a goal to surpass my highest number of posts to date. It’s not a great goal, because it’s a very good way to get a lot of crap put up on my blog this month. But I’m going to do it anyway, when something strikes my fancy.

I’m working on my craft series now, starting with plot. I need to get a couple of books on that, and really study and learn. It’s going to be great fun.

I’ve also got other ideas for posts. One thing that comes to mind is the sheer number of available markets we can submit to. It’s staggering.

Another thing is the ease with which we can find the names of editors in the field, at magazines, major New York publishers, e-zines, and so on. These people want to be found, but just not by everyone in the whole world. So they make it a little bit difficult, but not impossible. We just have to know where to look. Veteran writers tell us the right places all the time; we just have to be listening when they say it.

So I’m off to study plot for a couple of hours, with dinner somewhere in the middle, and then I have a few short stories that will be submitted before the end of tonight. They’ve all been written some time in the past two or three years, but have sat stagnant. Time to submit and see what I get. Rejections, or rather their format, will tell me what the problems are.

Of course, I could end up with the opposite problem, and they all get accepted. That’s not likely, but it’d be a nice problem to have. I’m told that writers are terrible judges of their own work, and they should let the editors decide.

So be it.

May 17, 2010

A new challenge

Filed under: Fiction,Writing — Jeremy @ 5:01 pm

So I’m reviewing my blog specs, and something occurred to me; the highest number of blog posts I’ve ever made is eight, in February of 2009. That’s embarrassing.

So I’ve set a pseudo-goal for myself. Beat that maximum.

But I can’t just do it with fluff (like this post). Most of that will be with my up-and-coming series on author’s craft, which I am beginning the research on immediately after posting this.

As with any other writing, it’s all practice. It’s said that practice makes perfect, but it’s more accurate to say that sometimes practice ends up being perfect. So we submit all our practice, to see if it’s perfect for any market out there.

My blog is my own test market. I can submit in an instant, and see what feedback I get. I also get feedback on my marketing methods through Twitter and Facebook. I believe this series will help me develop a small following, but that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it to learn, in detail, the elements of author’s craft.

And I don’t mean like they teach us in creative writing courses. I plan to study contemporary works and analyze those for craft elements. It should be a good time, and I should learn considerably more by writing about what I study.

And then it will be on to something else. Who knows what?

 


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


April 23, 2010

The path my life takes

Filed under: Thoughts,Writing — Jeremy @ 11:37 am

I just had a realization. (I know, I have a lot of those, but bear with me.)

The less I write, the worse my life goes, and vice-versa. Why is that?

Most likely because when I’m writing, I feel like I’m in control and moving toward my goals. When I’m not, I feel out of control and hopeless. And as a result I make dumb mistakes, and life gets even more difficult than it normally is, which is difficult enough.

So there it is. Write and feel in control of your life. Writing! The magic antidote to all life’s problems.

An interesting comment was made by Dean Wesley Smith in the comments of his latest blog post, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Researching Fiction. (In this series, Dean is striking at all the myths of writing and publishing that irritate him; definitely worth a read.) He wrote in a comment, “Early on we all start calling ourselves ‘writers’ which puts a focus on writing sentence-by-sentence when in reality what we are trying to learn is how to tell stories.”

That gave me an idea, as it made me ask a question. Why do we call ourselves writers?

That’s a stupid question. Because we write, that’s why. Well yes, but that’s not really what we do. We’re storytellers. Ask any fiction author why they’re a fiction author, and nearly all will tell you, “Because I love making up and telling stories.”

So what we really should be called are storytellers. Some storytellers sing songs or play instrumental music pieces, some tell their stories orally, some paint or take photographs or sculpt, and so on. But we’re all storytellers; we just choose different a different outlet for our stories.

So in contrast with my earlier statement, it’s actually the storytelling and creation that makes us feel energized, excited, motivated, and what-not. The writing is just the communication method.

So I revise. Tell stories and feel good and in control and happy. Fail to, and feel the opposite.

I have twenty-two minutes until my next appointment. I can write a couple pages in that time.


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


January 23, 2010

Writing goals and motivation

Filed under: Writing — Jeremy @ 9:51 am

Like most writers, I have writing goals. Mine are quite specific: write at least 500 words of fiction every day, fill my fiction writing log up to 10,000 hours writing (and however many words that makes), write and submit one short story per week, write and submit three to four novels per year. (There are more of them, as well.) The first two goals are set because they help achieve the second two and are more manageable.

Image copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones

My writing goals are no different than my exercise goals or relationship goals. They become fixed in my mind and drive me accomplish them. That’s a good thing, because this is the point of setting them in the first place.

However, goals can actually get in the way a bit of anything, if we let them. Once set, the writer places a huge placard somewhere: WRITE TWO PAGES EVERY DAY! It might be pinned on a wall, the monitor, the desktop wallpaper, the mirror in the bathroom, et cetera. All these displays are intended to create a placard in one’s mind like an incessant drum beat: write, write, write, write. This is good, because the goal becomes a higher priority, and the writer will eliminate excuses for why he can’t write, and find the time to do it. Somewhere, anywhere, at all times.

But once we miss the goal, fear grabs us, but not in an obvious way. We don’t become afraid of the goal per se. Rather, this fear is manifest in the voice that says, “Well, I missed that goal. That was a pipe dream anyway. I might as well quit.”

And then the writer is done. That happened to me last year. I had many, very challenging events going on in my life due to some changes my wife and I made, not at all unlike billions of other people in the world. But that fear got me. My aforementioned writing log has a huge gap between two days of writing. I started on my “write 500 words of fiction every day” goal and successfully managed it for ten consecutive days. That was a wonderful feeling. But then I missed, for no better reason than because my niece and nephew stayed at our house and by the time they went to bed, I was too tired to write. So the last writing fiction in that log was August 5, 2009. It stayed there, mocking me, through increasingly difficult challenges, and the farther time got from that date, the more despondent I became about my writing.

I finally achieved the goal again (the first day I tried – it’s an easy goal) on January 5, 2010. Precisely five months between writing sessions. In that time, I should have finished twenty or more short stories and one novel. But instead, I didn’t write a page. Fear. Excuses. And I’ve gone nearly another six months without achieving my bigger goals. I’ve got plenty of time left, but if I allow my fear to get the best of me, I will be eighty years old wishing I had followed my dreams. (That’s a measure I always use – I don’t want to be eighty, looking back on my life at all the things I wanted to do but didn’t simply because I was afraid to try.)

Since January 5, I’ve achieved the goal on January 15, 19, and 20, and I’ve now had a gap since then. And yet I’m taking the time to write this because it’s important and I want to cement it into my own mind as well as provide it to others. In those five months not writing, I adopted a bit more of a “try, try again” model. If I don’t hit the goal one day, it’s no big deal. Things happen. Life can get in the way. On January 21, I was just too tired to do it. Last night, I actually went out with my wife and we had a great time, coming in at about 1:30 a.m. in absolutely no condition to write fiction, though it might have been interesting. But I was very tired and skipped writing, know that it only delays me one day. I can write today, and get back on the horse. And I’ll eventually achieve that goal.

One of my high-end dreams is to one day meet George Lucas and thank him. Sure, he’s entertained me for thousands of hours of my life, and my childhood officially ended when the credits rolled on Revenge of the Sith, as the saga had ended. But the real reason is the mantra that I have taken with me for thirty years: “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” That simple dialogue has pushed me to accomplish nearly everything I’ve wanted to in life.

Writing is no different. I don’t try to write, I do it. Or I don’t. But I no longer allow my goals to make me captive. They are my tools, to help me achieve my dreams, not to stop me.

 


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


 

January 11, 2010

Where do you get all your ideas?

Filed under: Miscellaneous,Thoughts — Jeremy @ 8:58 pm
Work, work, work

Image copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones

Too many times to count, I’ve read or heard published authors say that by far the most common question they are asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” or some variation on that. Invariably these writers say that it’s not coming up with ideas but finding the time to write the stories the ideas generate before new ideas occur that is the problem.

I’ve really got a fire burning under my tokus the last couple of weeks, and it is due to my own drive, but considerable thanks are due to Dean Wesley Smith’s series on motivation.

I decided that I want to start working on a longer story that I’ve been kicking around, mostly because I love the idea and because my niece and nephew are aching to read it. So I went looking for my notes on the story.

I’m apparently like most writers; we all keep many notebooks, notepads, electronic versions, and sticky notes, all with scribbles about various projects and topics. As I flipped and clicked through everything, I realized that I have literally dozens of story ideas documented, in various states of development. I became overwhelmed briefly, before realizing that this is a good thing. I could work four hours a day for the rest of the year and not finish writing everything.

Yet I come up with at least one new idea per week, and I’m sure that pales in comparison to many.

So I had to stop what I was doing and write this. The internet can be harmful to the creative process. I really should be writing.

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


January 5, 2010

俳句中文 – paiju zhongwen

Filed under: Poetry — Jeremy @ 11:30 pm

Because I can, I decided to write a Chinese haiku, or a paiju zhongwen (俳句中文), as it were. This one is exceptionally simple, because my Chinese vocabulary is as of yet very limited. But I wanted to try my hand at it and make a nice, simple, childlike poem using simplified Chinese characters. I’m happy with it.

这里是晚上。
现在她在做晚饭。
晚饭很好吃。

Here is the pinyin romanization of the characters above. Note the 5-7-5 syllable construction:

zheli shi wanshang.
xianzai ta zai zuo wanfan.
wanfan hen hao chi.

And finally, for those who cannot read Chinese, the transliteration of this ridiculously simple text:

This is the evening.
Now she is cooking dinner.
Dinner tastes delicious.

 


Copyright © 2009 Jeremy J. Jones


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