Tuesday, August 30, 2016

8: What Writing Means to Me

  My wife, Tara, interviews me!

  What Writing Means to Me

 Welcome to HuntingTheMuse.com's Creative Writing Podcast. 

Today's podcast episode is a special one. My wonderful wife, Tara, interviews me and asks that tough question: what does writing mean to me?

We talk about my first writing experience and why I feel so drawn to writing. This podcast episode follows a conversational format, but under the surface of my own recounted experiences, you can see some of the underlying foundations of writing and what it takes to be a writer as it applies to your own story.

We all come to the empty page with different backgrounds. And if storytelling has taught me anything, it's that there are hidden gems of truth within every story. 

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When did you first develop a desire to write?

The first writing experience I remember was in Ms. Shupe's first grade class. We were supposed to write a short story and I wrote one that was very similar to The Lion and the Mouse. It was called, The Lion and the Turtle. It was a total knock-off.

But my mom worked at Hill Air Force Base and they had computers. So she typed it up for me and printed it out and put it into this very professional looking folio. I took it to school and, probably more because it looked nice, Ms. Shupe put it on the bulletin board outside the classroom for the whole school to read. It blew me away and I was so excited about writing, you know, in first grade... with my knock-off story. 

So, where did it go from there?

Well, for the most part, I only wrote for school assignments. There was something that went down in fifth or sixth grade. A couple of the guys in my class started writing a story about kids with super powers. But it got out of hand and nobody ended up wanting to finish it because we couldn't stop fighting about who had more super powers. So that didn't go very well.

But then in junior high I started to write poems. I wanted to write stories, but I got hung up on using the correct punctuation. I had questions and I tried to ask my English teacher but it never came out right, so I never got the answers I was looking for. It was really stupid stuff like, do you put the period before the quotation marks or after the quotation marks. If somebody asks a question, is it a question mark and then quotation marks, and then if it's 'he said' or 'she said' is the 'h' or the 's' capitalized?

We didn't have the Internet back then, so I couldn't just look it up and I never really got any good answers to those questions and I just felt kind of silly for asking them after a while so I stopped. But the stories that I did start writing, I would love to tell you that they were awesome, but they weren't. They were crap. I still have some of them. They were just utter crap, but what are you going to expect from a junior high school kid?

At the time you thought they were awesome, though?

I was pretty sure I was writing them with the punctuation wrong and I talked in the last episode about perfection and how that can be a total creativity killer and that totally killed it for me. Because I wanted them to be perfect. It was really bad cliche stuff. Yeah, I thought it was cool at the time, but it wasn't that great.

And then, it was before the Internet, right? So we had the Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and we would, I called myself a modemer, you'd use the modem on your computer and dial in over the phone line and connect to the BBS. It was basically a simple chat program that brought in all sorts of different users across different telephone line systems and you could chat with people. You could post files. So I posted up some of my poems up there and you read some of them, didn't you?

I did.

It was before we met.

Yeah, I was only on there because a friend who got me on. I wasn't computer savvy, even then. But I was just perusing the file section one day and came across them and the name 'Brady Frost' stuck in my head. And so when I met him later, after he mentioned he had written something, I... it was kind of crazy. Because your name had been stuck in my head.

You were stalking me.

No, I wasn't stalking you.

I was really excited about writing in high school, very passionate. I took Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing classes. I ended up getting in a semester of Journalism and I did a horrible job writing articles. I didn't have any beats. I just kind of pumped out pulp crap. But it was fun. It was a lot of fun.

I read some of  yours, they were funny.

They were humor pieces but there was no... nothing. 
So, yeah, my humor as a teenager was kind of borderline offensive... non-politically correct, slap and giggle type stuff. So, yeah, it wasn't great work, but I did enjoy writing a lot.
Then we got married and I joined the military. And I remember that I wrote a few poems when I was in Basic Training. But that whole time period really took a lot out of me. We had a little girl on the way and the doctor said, well, first... they saw on the ultrasound a dark spot?

There was an enlarged area in her kidneys.

So, why don't you tell that side of the story since I was away in Basic.

It was just during the routine ultrasound and I guess they kind of saw something. I got a phone call later that evening that she had been diagnosed with hydronephrosis. It just means that the middle of the kidney was enlarged and they thought it was filled with fluid. It could be something minor or it could be something very severe that required surgery and Brade was gone to Basic Training. So I had to tell him over the phone.

Yeah and it was really tough because we didn't have a lot of time and I had a million questions and I couldn't ask hardly any of them. It was really tough because I was so far away and I was cut off. I couldn't just call whenever we wanted to. 

That was a really hard time for me. I got pneumonia in Basic and carried it for four to five weeks because I didn't want to flunk out or get washed back or miss any of my training because if I missed any of my training cycles because I might have to wait until the next training class of people came through.That isn't a bit deal in Basic, but when you go to your tech school that next block could be like three months, whenever they have enough people to fill their quotas. And Tara was due like a month after I was supposed to get out of training, so that would give us enough time to get my orders and figure out what we were doing.

So with all that stress, I just kept pushing it and pushing it and pushing it. This included everything with the military normally.

Even beyond then, you weren't very creatively driven during your time in the military.

Yeah, but I'm just saying from that time period, running and everything with pneumonia. We had to run like five miles, we had to run three miles a couple times a week.. I can't even remember, it's been so long now. But by the time I finally collapsed after taking the first block test and getting a 96%, they took me to the emergency room. And I remember I was so hot and I hadn't eaten for days. It was all I could do to sip down some liquids and what-not.

It was interesting, they got me a cab. It was at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and they drove me from the school house for our tech school to the hospital. I must have looked like death, I don't know, the base taxi driver took one look at me and cranked up the AC all the way and turned all the vents toward me. By the time we got to the hospital I was feeling good, which was bad.

Here I was thinking... they told ya, if you're trying to fake being sick, don't think you're going to get away with it because a million people before you have tried before you. And here I am at the emergency room and I'm feeling great after feeling like crap for weeks, so... yeah... I was like, okay, I gotta act sick. So I tried to act sick, but then they took my temperature and it was at 104 degrees. And then they took X-rays and my lungs were substantially filled with water, or liquid. So I had pretty bad pneumonia and I had to convince them not to keep me in the hospital because I didn't want to miss the next training block that was starting on Monday, and this was on Friday. 

But yeah, that whole time period took a lot out of me and then my focus became doing well in the military, as best I could, so writing really just fell off to the side. But I still wanted to write.

You would still talk about it sometimes.

We would go to Barnes & Noble and I would buy a new notebook and write in a few pages.

Yeah, you did gather a lot of notebooks during those years.

I subscribed to The Writer Magazine and I'd get Writers Digest every now and then. That's when I amassed a lot of the books on writing that I have. I've spent so much money on writing and really I should have just been writing.

What would you say that writing means to you now?

I think that I've learned a lot of lessons over time and I'm learning more of what goes into a story to make it work. And it isn't necessarily the punctuation things I was getting hung up on before. Because really, learning how to edit and doing an editing pass and then getting outside input can help resolve those issues. 

It's the story part. Even a poorly written book, grammatically speaking, can do very well if it's got a great story. And people will keep reading even though the writing, itself, isn't that great. Which just boggled my mind with as a reader. And maybe it's because the books I fell in love with seemed to be written very well. But over the years I've read books and thought, this is crap! How did this get past an editor? How is this a best seller, because here's an error, here's an error, and here's an error... and over years I just became more and more and more critical of these books. 

I would tell you a book that I liked and then you would start reading it and you couldn't even get through a bit of it. You would say, "How do you like this? It's so awful this way and that way." And I just stopped telling him about books I liked because he would just knock on them.

It was really... a lot of that was probably an external manifestation of my insecurities as a writer on the inside, I would hyper-analyze. Because I wanted to be, and I still want to be, the best writer I can be. To see these errors and mistakes, all the books I had said "don't do this..." and there's thins book that's a best-seller that my wife loved and it does all the things the books I had bought said don't do... It... just... arrrgh.. it was so hard.

It's like I would tell you, they told a good story.

Yep, so that's one thing I've really learned, not just to make the writing as beautiful as I can (but not too wordy for some of the readers) and then encapsulate what really boils down to a great story. And that's a lot harder than it seems because you have to build a story so it's good.

You can't just say, why did the story cross the road? I mean, there could be a great story in there, but it's the difference between just telling someone something and the art of story craft. Right? So I'm learning a lot more about what writing is. Writing is about storytelling and it's not just the words you choose to use, but it's also the point that you're trying to get across and how you can strum the emotions of the reader with a good story. We're all kind of programmed to speak the language of storytelling. 

But I've also learned that writing is hard work sometimes and that's a big difference between when I started out and where I am now. I'm learning to push through the resistance I have. 

Because for somebody who's thought about writing and dedicated a lot of their mind space toward writing for a very, very long time, I'm a horrible writer. I mean I think I can write well, but I don't do it regularly in a lot of cases. It's really about hard work for me. I know I have to overcome so much to get the story out. There are so many days when I can say, "Uuuuuhng, I'm tired," "My head hurts," "I'm feeling sad." There's a lot of excuses and if I really want to be a writer I've got to learn how to reprogram myself. 

I can really enjoy writing, then the next day I HATE what I wrote, but then if I put it away and I read it a couple weeks later after I forget the whole process, I'm like, "Hey, that's not that bad." There's this emotional rollercoaster from like in the moment, "Oh, I love this! It's so great." And then, "Aww, I hate it, it's so horrible!" To the point where I'm having nightmares.

There are sometimes I wonder why you like it. Because you both love and hate writing from one moment to the next.

Another thing I've learned, what writing means to me now is that writing is not cool new gadgets.

You mean still, still learning?

Hey, I've held off! I've held off for the most part.

That doesn't stop you from looking at them all the time. "This would be good for writing, this would be good..."

But it would! It would make the process so much simpler, until my technical brain... because I mean, I'm an IT Specialist by day so my whole thing is like figuring out computers and problems and setting up servers and programs and applications and whatever. So, whenever I get a.. it's the funniest thing... this, analyzing myself on this whole process. I get a new piece of technology like a tablet or a Surface Pro and I spend the next two weeks getting it set up perfect and that's two weeks of not writing. 

In some ways, they are your new notebooks. Although, you still get notebooks!

You just can't beat a good looking notebook and a nice pen that flows well when you write and doesn't smear.

Yeah, you are a pen snob.

Mmmm, yeah. 

So, where do you see your writing five years from now?

Well, I would like to be writing full-time. 

So, I've worked really, really hard to get to where I'm at career-wise. It was a lot of time spent going to school and taking on tough, challenging jobs, but at no point in my career or my life, did I stop working to go to school. So whenever I've gone to school it was full-time work and full-time school and then spending time with you and the kids.

And it's been tough.


So, on one hand, I don't want to walk away from that, but on the other hand, I'm kind of burnt out. I want to write stories. I want to tell stories. I love telling stories.

Now, I would say you're good at your job. It's just not a passion for you anymore.

And, especially with some of the stuff I deal with after being in the military, I have days when it's really tough to do what I do and it takes a lot out of you. And those are the days when I come home and I say, "Yeah, if I were feeling better, today would be a good day to write. But my brain is just shot." 

I'm learning to overcome those because I know I have to overcome them if that's something that I want to end up doing.

And those are the days, when you overcome, you feel best about.


Are you in-line right now with where you want to be in five years?

Like effort-wise?

Yeah, with what you're doing.

Yes and no. So, I have productive days and I have not-so-productive days. But Chlorophyllium 9 and Final Hope, like that two-part story with the novella and the novel, this is the farthest I've ever got on a single project.

By quite a lot.

Yeah. I usually get really excited and there are different pitfalls I have. Like sometimes I tell you and it lets all the excitement out of what I'm wanted to do. I'm learning to do that better, though. And there's, like, I think the idea I had is stupid and I let those bad days overcome the good days and I let things go. But I'm really learning how to put a lot more effort into it and overcome.

I would say that Chlorophyllium 9 and Final Hope are on track for being finished hopefully in October, maybe I'll give it a push back into November, but I don't want it going further than that. If I just have to sit down and crank out the words and come up with a horrible first draft just to get it done and then go back and slaughter it in editing, then that's what I'll have to do.

Even though I've never seen you write a horrible first draft. You self-edit too much.

I do. That's the biggest thing for me, is learning how to streamline my process. I spend way too much time trying to find the right words when I'm writing. It goes back to not comparing yourself to other writers, and I have to respect some of my own process, but if I can learn how to do things better, that would be really good.

I've also released COMA: The Cataclysm, the first chapter on my blog. rbradyfrost.com/coma. You've read the first chapter. 


Do you remember that story?

I do. I remember from when it was originally done.

So, if there's enough interest, I will continue that. I'll just post a chapter at a time and I think spreading it out like that and only doing it if there's interest really helps free me from trying to do too much at once.

It kind of goes back to something I did this last week. I was a part of a multi-author project. We each wrote a chapter to complete a novel and all you really had, there was no preplanning, we just had the chapter that came before ours. Mine was the second chapter and I wrote almost two thousand words in one evening and that was after a long day in the office and driving home from Dallas. 

I was pretty beat, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to do it. But I had a 48-hour deadline and I ended up meeting it. And I thought I did pretty good.

I enjoyed it.

So, I think this is something I can do with COMA. And I really like seeing that old story kind of coming forward and getting some closure on that one. Because I think that one was actually a pretty good premise.

So to answer your question, if I keep working really hard and I keep learning how to write better stories, then I do think that within five years I could seriously consider whether we want to just rely on my income as a writer rather than as an IT guy.


So that's where I am. That's what writing means to me, as of this week anyway.

I think that's good.

Okay. Well, I guess I'll give them their writing prompts.

Sounds like a plan.

Okay, stay tuned. You have this little intro and then you have seven writing prompts for the week.

And now, for this week's writing prompts!

What you'll find below is a series of creative writing prompts to help get you through your week. There are no rules as to how you should use them, but I recommend taking your muse's hand; wherever she may lead you.

Whether you find yourself writing a descriptive scene or dialogue, a poem or prose, or anything else (even if it seems entirely unrelated to the prompt), you have won. Happy writing, and may you find success in hunting your muse this week. 

1. Unknown City

A team of scientists have unearthed several rare artifacts from a construction site in a well-populated city. The discovery has all-but halted normal life in the area as experts from around the world flock to examine the unexpected discovery. 
All evidence seems to indicate the presence of a very prosperous civilization that existed tens of thousands of years ago in this location. The people of this era appear to be very advanced, using technology we can’t fully understand. This is all in direct conflict with everything we thought we knew. 
There are so many questions raised about the discovery. How did this civilization come into existence, where did they go, and what practical applications can we find for their strange devices?

2. The Inside Job

You’ve just discovered that someone very close to you might be a clandestine agent of unknown origin. You have no idea who they’re working for or what their objective is, but one thing is clear; they are not the person you thought they were. 
As tensions rise, you try to find out anything you can, all while pretending to be as oblivious and trusting as ever. What are they after? Why go to such lengths to get close to you?

3. The Reversal

People aren’t always who they appear to be. You’ve worked hard through the years and managed to amass a small fortune. Since you grew up in a disadvantaged situation, you always try to give back to the community and create opportunities for others to succeed. This means you can usually be seen out volunteering, and you save the fancy duds for special occasions. 
This has led to some very interesting misunderstandings, but today takes the cake. You’re running a little late on your way to the office after volunteering with a housing improvement project, when one of the candidates for a special fast-track program you just established literally runs into you on the street on their way to a one-on-one interview with… you. 
You’ve read their file and watched their application submission video, but the person yelling profanities and admonishments bears nothing more than a physical resemblance to the candidate you were sure you were going to pick. 
Deciding to allow things to play out, you apologize to them for being in their way and then slowly make your way to your building, stopping in a spare office to change into your business attire before walking in and calling them into a conference room.

4. Creature Comforts

While on a solo vacation adventure, you decide to pay for a cheaper seat on a returning flight of a small charter plane instead of booking a seat on the normal airlines. When you board the plane, you’re taken aback by the luxury that surrounds you.  
Halfway through the leg; however, the small plane experiences a mechanical failure and the flight is diverted. 
The owner of the plane insists on compensating you for the inconvenience and puts you up in a five-star hotel while the parts for the plane are ordered and installed. This strange glimpse into a different world soon affords you with unexpected opportunities and you can’t help but think that this is a life you could get used to.

5. Just a Little Bit Longer

Something is out there. You don’t know what it is or where it came from, but one thing is for sure. Where it goes, death follows. You’ve been on the run, dashing blindly through the dense overgrowth, for what seems like ages. The only thing you know for certain is that this creature, whatever it is, doesn’t like sunlight. With the first hints of dawn peeking over the tips of the mountains, you know you’ll be safe if you can somehow manage to stay one step ahead until the sun emerges in the east. But then you hear it somewhere close behind you. 
Without a second to spare, you don’t dare look back. Up ahead you see a small cave opening. If you can manage to squirm inside, you might have a chance. You just have to hold out just a little bit longer.

6. Community Survival

In the aftermath of a terrible disaster, a community must overcome isolation and a lack of supplies to rebuild. Together, they work hand in hand. Strangers who largely ignored each other before the event now challenge their vast differences in order to survive. 
There are many things once taken for granted that are now in high demand and your diverse character ensemble must figure out how they will cope until outside help arrives. 
How will your characters handle outside threats to their small community? What happens if new parties arrive and old bonds begin to unravel the cohesiveness the group has worked so hard to form?

7. The Super-Secret Admirer

It all started a couple days ago when you found a long-stem rose tucked under the windshield wiper blade of your car. There wasn’t a note and, as far as you can tell, there wasn’t a special occasion to celebrate. Another rose showed up on your doorstep the following evening. And now there’s an entire bouquet sitting at your desk. 
No one seems to know who they came from or why. Try as you might, you can’t think of anyone who would have a reason to shower you with gifts like this. Is this the beginning of something special, or are these strange gifts a small precursor to something darker than love?

I hope you've enjoyed this week's episode and creative writing prompts.

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