The crazy life of a “creative”.

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I can’t believe it’s been three and a half months since I last posted in this blog. I know I don’t have a large number of followers, but I also know that there are at least a few of you out there. If your life has been half as busy as mine, then you probably understand why I’ve been cyber-silent for so long.

One challenge I face as a creative person (or just “a creative” as I like to refer to myself) is that my creativity doesn’t stop (or even begin) with writing. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a musician, an actor, a designer (more on that in a bit), a computer programmer, and anything else that brings physical form to unique ideas. I like this aspect of myself, but it’s hard to focus sometimes because my mind is always at work. My wife, Lisa, frequently tells me that I have the uncanny (and sometimes annoying) ability to shut the rest of the world out when I’m creating. I’ve burned dinners, ignored children, and missed countless other things going on around me because I was caught in a creative groove. I’m thankful Lisa is understanding of me when I go into these trances. A lesser woman would have left me by now. I’m sure she’s probably considered it more than once but she’s too much of a lady to have told me so, and I thank God daily for her. There’s a reason creative people throughout history have had their marriages end when they never realized anything was wrong. One example I think of is the story of Georges Seurat that Sondheim tells us in the musical “Sunday In The Park With George”. This historically inaccurate George frequently ignores his mistress, Dot, in favor of his art. He would rather “finish the hat” than take Dot to the follies as he had promised. My favorite quote: “I am not hiding behind my canvas. I am living in it.” There is no other line in that play with which I can identify better.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Sorry about that.

So… What creative project have I been hiding behind for the past three plus months? I’ve started my own freelance design company. The decision to do it wasn’t really that difficult. About ten years ago, Lisa and I ran a small web design company for about a year. Unfortunately, our lack of business skills saw to the rapid decline of that company. I thought I knew how to run a business since I had spent years in retail management, but I quickly learned how wrong I was and found myself back in the world of the j-o-b. But I became hooked on design at that point. With guidance from countless books, web courses, and the never ending kindness of my brother (who has been a very successful graphic designer in Oregon for some time) I decided to open shop on my own. Over the past few years I have built up quite a portfolio from work I had been doing pro bono for local non-profits. I also had done some in-house design work for a radio station I had worked for during the interim years. I learned business skills – especially proper client relations – and figured there was no time like the present. My company, ThirdSide, is now up and running.

So… What does that mean for my writing? Well, aside from the brief hiatus I took to set up my business, hopefully not a thing. I plan to get back into the swing of things immediately – beginning with this blog post. “Eileen” is almost complete. I only have about three more chapters to write. I may post another chapter here, but I really would like to publish it as an ebook. Don’t worry. It’ll be inexpensive.

I have also completed the first in a series of short stories called “The Psychic Joker Series”. Lisa is in the process of editing it right now. This series originally started as a short story to serve as a back story for a business I had started with Lisa and another friend. The business is primarily an entertainment business that focuses on magicians as well as other forms of rare and unique entertainment. We have a long-term goal of opening a themed café/theater and decided a back story would be a good idea. Anyway, the original idea was to have a 15,000-20,000 word short story. But the universe in which the protagonist lives grew beyond 20,000 words very quickly. It wasn’t until I had reached that number (actually, it was well beyond 20,000) that I realized that I had begun an extensive novel that would work better as a series of short stories.

So within the next week, I hope to announce the release of “Gateway – Book One in The Psychic Joker Series”. I am just over halfway done with Book Two, and have concepts for Three and Four. I’d like to release these every other month or so until I get sick of writing them. I don’t see stopping anytime in the foreseeable future though. I’m really starting to love the characters and they have some very unique ways about them.

Anyway, that about sums it up for now. If you’d like to see some websites about my projects, just visit www.psychicjoker.com and www.thirdside.co (Yes, that’s “.co”, not “.com”).

See ya real soon!

Science Fiction Viral Theater

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So here’s my random thought for the day:

What makes something go viral? OK. Bad question, I know. Every marketer, musician, and 14-year old video editor want to know the same thing. So here’s a better question:

Why does BAD stuff go viral more than good stuff?

Case in point: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m sure many of you have heard of it. If you haven’t, you’ve been living under a Transylvanian castle. (And you might want to jump over to Wikipedia to get caught up.) At its core Rocky Horror is a really bad movie. I mean REALLY BAAAAD. If you don’t believe me, try watching it sometime and judge it based on its cinematic merit alone. The acting is over-the-top (even with Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry in the lead), the story line would play out better in a cheap novel, and don’t get me started on the sets… Actually the sets are really good. And the music’s pretty good too. But still, the movie sucks.

I’m sure many of you will argue that the movie is supposed to be bad, and I couldn’t agree more. It was originally written as a stage musical designed to parody science fiction B-movies. In 1975 some producer (actually it was Lou Adler of Cheech & Chong fame) decided to bring it to the silver screen. Much to everybody’s surprise it flopped.

So let’s fast forward to 2011. Here we are 36 years later and Rocky Horror is the longest running movie in history. With a budget of $1.2 million, it’s made that back over 100 times (115 times, actually). And it’s all because it went viral.

So this brings me back to my original question: Why?

I’m using Rocky Horror as a viral example for one very good reason. It existed before the words “viral marketing” became household words. There was no internet. Word of mouth was the only way it got around, and for it to gain word of mouth people had to like it (or at least like the experience of seeing it). So here’s the reason bad stuff goes viral (IMHO): People actually like seeing bad stuff, but they LOVE bad stuff when they can share it and laugh at it together.

I mean think about it. Trolololololo? Sucks. But if you share it with a friend it’s a party on a screen. Numa Numa? Ditto. And who can forget this gem. That last one came out over twenty years ago but didn’t become viral until recently. Maybe it just hadn’t gotten bad yet.

So to be viral, it has to be worth sharing somehow. I know it’s a stupid answer, but I think about it every time I write.

By the way, if you’re in Central Illinois and you’re interested in seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show as it was meant to be seen (with all your friends) then click here —> How To Be an Unconventional Conventionalist

Everything is permanent until it’s temporary.

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I’m a Twit. I admit it. I originally signed up for the popular microblogging site to blast out various opinions without having to defend my ideas on my Facebook wall. But since then, Twitter has become my primary news source. I receive tweets from favorite blogs (Gizmodo, Disney World) as well as updates from various news sources. I don’t remember the last time I got news from a newspaper, television, or radio. I don’t even own a radio except for the one in my car. (Ironic, considering my last job was radio advertising sales.)

This morning I awoke to a stream of constant Twitter alerts coming through my phone. The micro-urban community of Champaign-Urbana had a fire in one of its most popular locations: the 600 block of East Green Street. Newsmakers and ordinary citizens alike were tweeting every detail from scanner chatter to eyewitness testimony. When the smoke had finally cleared just after 10:00 and people were starting to get on with their mornings, we began to get a real idea of what had been lost. The business located on the ground floor where the fire had started, a restaurant called Zorba’s, had been in its location for almost forty years. The current owner started working there almost thirty years ago and bought the business in 1997. Zorba’s neighbors – another restaurant called Mia Za’s and a clothing boutique named Pitaya – will probably not be able to reopen before the end of the school year, and some have doubts if they will open before the fall semester. Other nearby businesses have heavy smoke and water damage. Parts of each of these buildings will have to be demolished. We have lost a little bit of what many thought was permanent.

Hundreds of thousands of University of Illinois alumni have walked the 600 block of East Green Street since it was first built ninety years ago. The idea of these buildings being gone has stirred up quite a bit of emotion for many. I wonder if the people who built those buildings ever thought about how their creations would someday cease to stand.

This brings me to the point of my post. Permanent is not permanent. Buildings are temporary. Civilizations are temporary. Life is temporary. Some say memories are permanent, but original memories die with their hosts. Some say love is permanent. I hate to disagree with such a romantic idea, but I have seen love die. It is human to try to push our temporary lives into permanence, so when we see change we are reminded of our own temporary existence and we naturally resist it.

Many of us try to leave our marks on the world in the short time we are here. I think about this when I write. When I finish writing this and click the “publish” button I would like to think that I am making my thoughts permanent, but I know one day this blog will go away. In fact, you may be the last person to ever read it.

I have stopped trying to worry about permanence. I have started to try and enjoy everything for what it is in that moment in time. Because once this world is gone, it won’t make a bit of difference whether or not something I did was permanent. The only thing that matters is if it was appreciated before it became temporary.

The Ringmaster

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As a child I was frequently called the class clown. A nut. A strange child. I was always looking for an audience, too. It didn’t matter to me if the audience came in the form of classmates in the lunch room or the principal waiting for me to make “the wrong move”. I loved audiences and I always believed my audiences loved me.

When I was six, my parents bought a magic kit for me for Christmas. It sat in the corner of my room collecting dust for almost a year. When I finally re-discovered it after all that time I had forgotten where it had come from, but I was immediately drawn to it because of the promise printed on the outside of the box. I’m sure all it said was, “Over 50 tricks inside,” but what I read was, “Amaze your friends! Fool your enemies! Be the life of the party! ” That was enough for me. I opened the box with the same care Fr. Hawkins used when opening the tabernacle on Sunday morning.

Inside the box was a collection of disappointment. There was a hollow finger made out of stiff plastic, a deck of “trick” cards (they looked normal to me), a photocopied booklet, three cheap plastic cups, and a tiny plastic ball. There were also a couple of handkerchiefs and some sponges shaped like rabbits. How in hell was I going to amaze my friends with a tiny plastic ball? I shoved everything back in the box and tossed it in the plastic trash can in the corner of my room. I forgot it was there just as quickly as I had found it.

A couple of nights later, I had  a strange dream. In it, I was the ringmaster of a large three-ring circus. We were in the middle of a Sunday afternoon performance and I was backstage waiting to go on to announce a brief intermission. I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned around and locked eyes with an old man with a long gray beard. Before I could say anything, he began speaking.

“So, you’re the ringmaster,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “What do you need?”

“Oh, nothing,” the old man said. “Just wanted to ask you a question.”

“Make it quick,” I said. “I have to get out there.”

“No you don’t.” The old man pulled back the curtain slightly and let me peak into the tent. All the action was frozen. “Follow me.” He pulled the curtain back all the way and walked slowly to the ring farthest from us. The whole time I followed him I was aware of the hundreds of eyes in the audience that didn’t notice us. When we arrived at the far ring he stopped and turned to me. “What do you see here?” he asked.

“The Diaz Family,” I answered. In the middle of the ring there was a family of four – a Mom, a Dad, a son, and a daughter – frozen in the act of leading trained dogs through hoops. They had joined our circus about two years ago and I had seen the act at least five hundred times. I didn’t offer any more details, and I’m not sure he would have heard me anyway. He had begun to walk back toward the center ring as soon as I tried to answer his question.

The old man stopped at the center ring and looked up. “What about here?”

“Those are Alex and Ivan Vorobyov. They’re trapeze…” He started walking away again while I was mid-sentence. “Didn’t you want to hear the rest?” I called after him.

He stopped at the third ring. “Who is this?” he asked. Before I even opened my mouth, he was walking back to where we had started. He walked out of the tent and the action started again immediately. I found myself standing there with my microphone in hand. The three acts had just finished and the audience was cheering. The spotlight swung over in my direction but stopped before it hit me. Suddenly the lights went out. The people disappeared. The tent disappeared. I was standing in an open field.

The old man was near me. “So, did they like your performance?” he asked.

“I didn’t give a performance,” I answered.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t have anything to perform. I have no act. I just keep the other acts running.”

“Would you like an act to perform?”

“Yes, I would. Then people would pay attention to me. I want an audience to love me,” I replied.

“If you want an audience, the first thing you need to give them is an act worth seeing.”

I woke up. I got up out of bed and went to the trash can. I pulled out the magic kit and opened it slowly. It was time to become a magician.

The moment around an instant

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Do you ever take time and look at old family pictures? I don’t mean just casually glance through them, I mean really look at them.

To me, still photographs are just as engaging to the imagination as a good book or short story. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about the thousands of words that weren’t captured in the the seconds before and after the picture? I like to imagine that the moments that were photographed were special moments during special events. What is the event? What is the story behind the moment?

Recently, my mother has been sharing old family pictures with family and friends on her Facebook page. It’s been nice to relive some of the memories associated with them. The pictures that really grabbed my attention were ones of my grandfather from the 1970s. There are two things I remember very vividly about him: his love of chess and the cigarette that was perpetually connected to his hand. I was too young to really remember much else. I don’t remember his politics. I don’t remember his religion. I don’t even really remember his personality – except he was always smiling when he saw me. I don’t know if he was a happy person or not, but he always seemed happy to me.

As I was looking through some of these old family pictures I found myself imagining what was happening immediately before and after the picture was taken. I found myself creating stories around the pictures. There’s my grandfather. There’s my grandmother. There are some other people whose faces I remember, but whose names I do not. What were they all doing before somebody pulled out their Kodak Instamatic and said, “Say cheese!” to a group of people? In some of the pictures you can see the Florida sun creating harsh shadows. Was the sun in their eyes? How hot or humid was the air that afternoon? Was there a deep conversation interrupted to take a picture? And once the shutter clicked what did everybody do? Did somebody say, “Oh, could I get a copy of that?” or did they just carry on with their day and forget the picture had ever been taken? And what about the photographer – the one member of the group who was left out of the picture?

Take some time to browse through your old family pictures. In them, there are thousands of stories waiting to be told. It’s up to us to provide the stories associated with them – or create new stories ourselves.

June, 1971

It’s happening again.

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You never really know when it’s going to strike, but my creative juices have been flowing over the past couple of days. I’ve completed chapters three and four of Eileen – the first drafts at least.

I’ve been thinking about holding off on publishing them here though. I hate to sound too capitalistic, but I’ve discovered that it’s very easy to publish e-books directly to Amazon and sell them for Kindle. I had been looking into that and discovered that there are quite a few writers doing that. It might be a way to make some extra money – especially since I’ve been unemployed since last May.

I would keep the cost very low – most likely not more than a couple of dollars. While I’d like to be paid for my work I’d still like to make it affordable for anybody to purchase. I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll do this with Eileen yet. If the story gets long enough (more than 25,000 words) I definitely will. But if it stays under that number it’s still a maybe. I don’t know what magic number (as far as word count) separates a short story from a novel, but 25,000 words is about a hundred pages. That seems like a good cut off number. My wife suggested I sell it as a serial novel. Maybe break it up into three parts and sell them for $1 each. That idea might work too.

I thought about publishing it in both places, but I wouldn’t want people who actually purchase it to feel as if they’ve been ripped off. I have another story I’ve been working on as well, so maybe that one would be a better smoke test for Amazon.

I’m open to suggestions.

 

Consistent blogging fail

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Yeah, so I haven’t kept my word 100%. Sue me.

One thing about the creative spark is that it doesn’t always start a flame no matter how much you fan it. This has been one hella busy month though. It’s amazing how busy a person can be even when they’re unemployed.

But as of right now the tinderbox is open, the flint and steel are in hand, and it looks like the wood is finally dry enough to burn.

See ya real soon.

Eileen – Ch. 2

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The next few days were business as usual for Steve. Get up. Go to work. Come home. Tinker. Go to bed. He worked as a security guard for a local tool manufacturer. In spite of his age, he was the most senior security guard there. Most of the other guards who had come and gone were using the job as a stepping stone to bigger things – mostly police work – but Steve was happy to stay there until retirement. The work was what most people would consider dull, but he didn’t mind. It gave him time to think about his electronics hobby without anybody bothering him. He didn’t mind interacting with people when he had to. In fact most of the employees thought of him as a very friendly person, but given the choice he would work in a room alone. He never gave anybody else much thought, but since that one phone call to Illinois Electronics he couldn’t get Eileen out of his head.

He wondered daily if he had spoken to his old girlfriend. He kept pondering that for some time but figured he’d never get the chance to know for sure. He searched Illinois Electronics’ website to see if her name came up in the staff directory, but there was no Eileen listed. He searched online for her a couple of times to no avail. Figuring she had married and changed her last name, he dropped the idea of getting back together with her. Besides, he didn’t really feel as if he could maintain a relationship.

“Good evening. Thank you for calling Illinois Electronics. How may I help you today?”

“Hi. Is this Eileen?”

“Yes it is. I show that this is Steve Parker from East Peoria, Illinois?”

“Yes. You seem to know who I am.” He couldn’t get the nerve up enough to ask if she was the same Eileen he knew before. “The ball’s in her court. If it’s her, she’ll remember and say something,” he thought.

“I remember you calling about an XF-1126 resistor. Did you order that online or did you want to order it today?”

“Actually, I ordered it online the day after we spoke. You have a remarkable memory.”

“It’s a gift. I don’t forget much unless I crash.”

“Oh. Are you a caffeine junkie?” Steve asked, remember Eileen’s addiction to coffee and Mountain Dew.

“You can say that. What can I do for you today Mr. Par-, uh, Steve?”

“I was calling to place an order. I’m building a ham transceiver and I have quite a list here.”

“Not a problem. What’s the first part number?”

Steve started reading from his list. Eileen repeated each item back to him accurately and efficiently. As they were carrying on their conversation, Steve’s memory started to wander back to the days he and his young girlfriend had spent together. They never really talked about their future except that she would be waiting for him every night when he came home from work as vice president of a large electronics company. She was going to be a stereotypical 1950s-style all-American housewife.  Then it hit him. At one time he had dreams for his future. When she left, she took those dreams with her.

“Ok, Steve, your total comes to $58.53 with tax and shipping. Did you want to put that on the same credit card you used online?”

“Yes, please.”

“Ok. I just need you to verify your address.”

“This is it,” thought Steve. “If it’s her, she’ll remember the address and respond.” He quickly rattled off his address, but Eileen didn’t show even a hint of familiarity.

“Ok. Your order is complete. You should have everything with a couple of days. Will there be anything else?”

“One thing.”

“Go ahead.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Steve Parker from East Peoria, Illinois.”

“Is your last name Corbin?”

“I’m sorry, Steve. I’m not permitted to give out personal information.”

“I understand.”

“Thank you for calling Illinois Electronics, Steve.”

“You’re welcome, Eileen. I’m sure we’ll talk again-” He was cut off once more by the sound of a receiver click.

The source of an idea

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Where do ideas come from? I don’t know most of the time. Sometimes I know exactly where they come from. Today I came up with two completely new and unique ideas for two completely different stories. I know the source of both.

Fortunately, I remembered to write them down before I forgot them. That doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes it’s harder to know where ideas go rather than where they come from. But if I remember to write them down when they come to me I don’t forget them easily.