Monthly Archives: December 2015

Swallowed Up

EmpireIt’s rare that I read a book in only two days. I managed to do just that when I read “Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, Book 1)” by Michael R. Hicks. Even though I spent hours reading it on my Nook, and gave myself a headache doing so, I didn’t care. It was that good.

What made it so good wasn’t the premise alone. He managed a perfect combination of exposition, detail and action that swallowed me up as a reader, and made it near impossible to put down. I even teared up at the sad parts, and for a book to do that to me, that’s saying something. Fair warning if you’re curious about the book. There’s a bit of profanity and explicit sex scenes (although thankfully few and short, and fit the plot instead of being — for the most part — gratuitous).

What I liked most about it is that the words disappeared in favor of the story. That’s something all writers should seek to achieve. Writers have to pay attention to every word they use and how they’re structured, so the reader doesn’t even notice them. It seems impossible, and even counter-intuitive, but every reader almost instinctively understands this, especially when it comes to science fiction, fantasy, and other “action” type genres. The last thing a reader wants is to be jarred out of a story because of a poorly written sentence or odd word.

Poetry is an exception, I think. In poetry, the words are supposed to shine. In other writing, whether it be fiction or even non-fiction, the words are the stage hands, not the actors. Mr. Hicks’ words were definitely the stage hands, the story and plot the actors, and he utilized both better than most. I’m a bit envious, but at the same time motivated. It can be done! With a bit more practice and study, perhaps I can achieve that balance myself.

Part of me wants to get the next book in the series right now, but I hesitate. There are other books on my list to read, and I don’t want to keep giving myself a headache because I can’t put down an eBook. If/when I do purchase the next in Hicks’ series, it’ll have to be paper methinks.

EDIT: If/when nothing! I just purchased the other two books in the trilogy (paperback!) and should receive them on December 30.

The main reason is because reading “Empire” inspired me to dive into my own unfinished novel that I haven’t touched in about a year. Gotta keep up that momentum!

Stop!

No CameraI’m not revealing anything surprising when I say how much I enjoy taking pictures. And not just any pictures, either. I want to take pictures that inspire, to encourage the viewer to stop and enjoy the captured moment as much — or more — than I did. Perhaps it’s a mere smoky dream, but I want people to say, “Wow.”

I took close to 1000 photos at Yellowstone in August. I’d say 10% were usable. Only a handful — according to me — had that ‘wow’ factor.

Some might ask, “Did you stop to enjoy what you saw, or were you too busy trying to take the perfect picture?”

I asked myself that very question in Yellowstone. We were standing at the end of one of the boardwalks, and a man comes up, snaps a shot of the feature with a cell phone, turns and walks away.

I stopped to consider if that’s what I was doing, too. Am I so intent on getting the perfect shot I’m not enjoying the moment? I’ll admit I do at times. I intentionally leave my camera at home or in the car, so I’m forced to enjoy my surroundings as well as the people around me.

That’s all life really is: a series of moments.

Especially this time of year with the focus on family, stop and enjoy it. The moments we have, only God knows how many. Guard them jealously, because we never know when those moments are no more. Life is too short for regrets over squandering them.

Lackadaisical Snow

Sitting at work this morning, medium-sized flakes of snow fall, but fall in such a way as if they’re in no hurry to settle on the ground. Pure contentment.

Hence the title.

Yesterday I received an email.

Yep. An email. The epitome of excitement right there, I tell ya.

I know I’ve piqued your curiosity enough you are literally sitting on the edge of your seat, nose almost touching your screen in electric enthusiasm awaiting what’s so exiting about one little email.

The subject gave it away: “2015 WWPW Winners: Here’s your eBook redemption code!”

Last October I participated in the 8th Annual Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk (WWPW) with other local photographers. That day was cold and dreary, so fewer than 10 people showed up. Each participant was encouraged to submit one photo from the walk for a variety of prizes. One photo was chosen from each participating city to win an eBook. Looks like my submission won. I could give myself a huge pat on the back, but it’s not that big of a deal. Considering so few participated this year, there wasn’t much by way of competition. It was more a lack of options than actual skill, or outstanding photo. Much like winning an election when you’re running unopposed. Here’s the photo:

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But, hey. I got a free eBook!

The book is called “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC book for digital photographers” by Scott Kelby.

I don’t know how many people read the Acknowledgements in a book, but I always do. You get a glimpse into the author and those who are important in his/her life. Not once have I ever choked up because of an acknowledgement, nor do I ever expect to. Until now.

This is what Mr. Kelby wrote in his (in part):

I start the acknowledgements for every book I’ve ever written the same way — by thanking my amazing wife, Kalebra. If you knew what an incredible woman she is, you’d totally understand why.

This is going to sound silly, but if we go grocery shopping together, and she sends me off to a different aisle to get milk, when I return with the milk and she sees me coming back down the aisle, she gives me the warmest, most wonderful smile. It’s not because she’s happy that I found the milk; I get that same smile every time I see her, even if we’ve only been apart for 60 seconds. It’s a smile that says, “There’s the man I love.”

If you got that smile, dozens of times a day, for nearly 26 years of marriage, you’d feel like the luckiest guy in the world, and believe me — I do. To this day, just seeing her puts a song in my heart and makes it skip a beat. When you go through life like this, it makes you one incredibly happy and grateful guy, and I truly am.

So, thank you, my love. Thanks for your kindness, your hugs, your understanding, your advice, your patience, your generosity, and for being such a caring and compassionate mother and wife. I love you.

Secondly, thanks to my son, Jordan. I wrote my first book when my wife was pregnant with him (19 years ago), and he has literally grown up around my writing. It has been a blast watching him grow up into such a wonderful young man, with his mother’s tender and loving heart and compassion way beyond his years. As he heads off to college this year, out-of-state (sniff, sniff), he knows that his dad just could not be prouder or more excited for him, but he may not realize just how much I’ll miss seeing his big smile every morning before school and at the dinner table every night. Throughout his life, he has touched so many people, in so many different ways, and even though he’s so young, he has already inspired so many, and I just cannot wait to see the amazing adventure, and the love and laugher his life has in store for him. He, little buddy — this world needs more “yous!”

Thanks to our wonderful daughter, Kira, for being the answer to our prayers, for being such a blessing to your older brother, and for proving once again that miracles happen every day. You are a little clone of your mother, and believe me, there is no greater compliment I could give you. It is such a blessing to get to see such a happy, hilarious, clever, creative, and just awesome little force of nature running around the house each day — she just has no idea how happy and proud she makes us. She is awesomeness wrapped in a layer of chocolate with sprinkles. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I know it’s a bit lengthy (and I shared only half of it), but dang! As a writer, I can appreciate what he wrote (my only criticism is using “just” too often). The love he has for his family pops off the page with every word. I found it inspiring; not so much that I feel much of the same for my own family (which I do), but to motivate me to learn how to write as good.

The ‘No’ Photographer

I can’t say no. Which is why I learned to never let a salesman/woman to even begin their pitch. I have to cut them off after hello, otherwise I get sucked in and end up paying many a dollar for something I didn’t want or need.

About a one and a half years ago, my sister-in-law asked me to take pictures for her at her son’s wedding so she didn’t have to. I accepted and ended up having a lot of fun. The best part since I wasn’t the official photographer (nor was there one at the wedding, so I didn’t feel like an intruder), there was little by way of expectation. If only a few photos turned out perfect, some good and the rest okay, I wasn’t going to disappoint anyone. They got them all for free, after all.

Last night some friends invited us to a bonfire. The weather has been so nice lately, and the fire immense and warm, we didn’t have to wear coats.

The couple recently got engaged, and they’re starting to plan the wedding (although no date set, mostly due to expense). The subject of photographers came up, and she expressed a bit of dismay at the cost. They are not cheap. $3,000 is about the average.

Knowing I photograph and once took pictures of her dog for her, she asked if I would consider doing her wedding.

Hmm. I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t say no, either. I said I would consider it, though.

It’s one thing to take pictures when no one is paying you with no expectations as far as quality, but being hired is a different animal altogether. Brides — and rightly so — want everything to be perfect, and the photography is no exception. Since I know the bride-to-be, Jen, and her being one of the nicest people in the world, I’m not too worried about her going all bridezilla on me.

It’s her and her future husband’s family that worry me a bit. The groom’s family is large, and one even gave the bride a list of dates she’s free for the wedding. Yep, the family member (a cousin) actually expects the couple to work around her schedule when planning the wedding.

And if one is that audacious, what is she and the rest of the family going to be like when the wedding takes place. And I’m going to be taking pictures of them? Ugh.

The one thing I am going to have to do is not be a sucker, and be emphatic with the word ‘no.’ If I accept this wedding gig, I will have to tell the family from the get-go that my word is law when it comes to the photography. I even told Jen last night that she should tell all guests that no cameras or camera phones are allowed during the ceremony, or even during the official wedding photographs. At the reception is different. They can take pictures to their heart’s content.

After all, why pay for a professional photographer if everyone with a camera phone jumps up, blocks people’s view (including the paid photographer) to get their shot, and try be the first to post on Facebook and Instagram?

Not only is it rude, but guests taking pictures are so busy clicking and sharing away, they don’t take the time to enjoy the actual ceremony.

Whether or not I have the wherewithal to be the “no” photographer remains to be seen. I hope so, but I don’t know. I’ll have to keep reminding myself that I am there for the bride and groom first, their parents a distant second, and the bridesmaids, groomsmen, remaining family, and other guests have zero say in the matter. Not unless they want to pay me more than what the bride and groom are paying me — cash up front, no checks or credit cards accepted, no discounts or rebates, no exceptions.

And I do expect to get paid. Just not $3,000. I’m not professional enough for those prices.

In the meantime, I have a lot of studying to do on how best to take pictures of weddings.

Assuming I say yes, that is.

All Too Human

Recently a lady and I engaged in a short conversation pertaining to the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA.

My first comment was in response to a young person who believes the only solution to prevent mass shootings — as well as accidental shootings — is eliminating all personal gun ownership.

Me:

Hence the importance of personal responsibility. Did you know that if you touch a hot stove, you’ll burn yourself? Or if you misuse a knife, you’ll cut yourself?

No one is denying guns are dangerous. But they are necessary to a free state, both as a nation and as an individual.

The lady (whom I will call GG) added her own thoughts starting with this one:

GG:

It’s my opinion that anyone who kills another human being, except in self-defense, is insane. (I know, PP supporters don’t agree with that opinion.)

Me:

Not insane. All too human, which is why self-defense is so necessary.

GG:

Unfortunately insanity seems to be a human trait. Notice I did say killing in self-defense does not indicate insanity.

Me:

Oh, I wasn’t trying to sound argumentative, and I apologize. I was agreeing with you on the self-defense part.

I just take issue with calling the darker parts of our human nature insanity, because given the right circumstances, we are all capable of murder. I prefer to call such acts by it’s real name: Evil.

To further expand on my thoughts, we need to avoid labeling mass shooters, and any other murderer (regardless of weapon used) as a form of insanity.

Insanity is defined as (per Webster’s):

1) a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia).

2) such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility.

3 a) extreme folly or unreasonableness
3 b) something utterly foolish or unreasonable.

When we describe horrendous acts as the result of insanity, we are basically saying the perpetrator is not of sound mind, and as such can’t be held responsible for the crime.

That’s dangerous ground to travel on. It not only prevents criminals from accepting responsibility — and the consequences — but it’s a way of blinding us to evil as if evil does not and cannot exist.

It’s also an insult to those who truly suffer from mental disorders — many of whom would harm no one as a result of that disorder.

We need to consider that most criminals — even mass murderers — are quite sane, and made what they thought was a hard, cold, rational, and reasonable choice. It’s a scary thought, but that’s reality. And we can’t fight that reality — that evil — until we first acknowledge that it exists.

 

Risky Business

Since I decided to avoid Facebook for a year, a few people have warned me that I will lose friends due to lack of activity, and potential publishers won’t want to publish my novels, because I’ll have a reduced online presence.

All valid concerns.

If I used Facebook to market my books, absolutely taking a break is a bad idea. Since I have no books to market, it’s really not an issue. All my friends are literally that (and family), so short of death, I doubt I’ll lose any of them. The nice thing is, I’ve had more positive feedback than negative when I posted my intention. If it were mostly negative, then I’d rethink my decision.

As for an online presence to potential publishers, sure taking a year hiatus is a risk. Facebook isn’t the end-all-be-all of social media, however. There are a slew of others such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Even if it were, there comes a time for a person to prioritize, and in doing so, sacrifices need to be made. To keep myself focused on my spiritual journey as well as my writing, Facebook is one such sacrifice. Will I regret it in the end? Maybe, but I doubt it. I need to look at life and my actions in terms of eternity, not simply the here and now — or a mere one year in the future.

Lately I’ve tried to model my own life after Jesus’. He, too, had to take a break now and again to renew his strength and spirit. Maybe not for a year at a time, but his ministry didn’t start until he was 30 years old. Before that, I’m sure he spent many of his adult years learning and growing so he could have the best ministry possible.

Writing is my ministry, and I feel that my ministry has suffered because I’m too busy delving into the daily details and distractions of life. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back and taking stock once in a while. I’ll still be writing. I’ll still be posting entries here and my other blog on my website. I’ll be sharing those entries on Twitter and LinkedIn. I may even set up a Pinterest account.

I’m not disappearing, I’m merely closing one window in a room full of them.