Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Autism Empowerment Events And Video Game Update

Just wanted to say that despite some standard Northwest April showers, the 3rd Annual Autism Empowerment Easter Egg Hunt was a great success! Much mahalos to all the volunteers and attendees. We ended up having to spend some extra money for canopy tents and such, so the fundraising portion of the event is still going on. If you feel so inclined, you can make a donation at this link.
You could also - if you live in the area - come out this Saturday to our fundraiser at Menchies and Five Guys Burgers & Fries at Mill Plain Crossing (details are in the link). Each place is generously donating 20% of their sales for that day to Autism Empowerment - just bring in the flyer that you can find here.
In gaming news, I'm currently playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the Wii U and Xenoblade Chronicles (again). With Xenoblade, I'm trying to do all of the side quests this time around, but man, there are a lot of them - over four hundred, from what I've heard.
As for MH3U, it's been pretty cool so far - it's like a cross between Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing. There's not much of a storyline, but the quests can be fun if you're an obsessive, goal-minded person like yours truly. Oh, and the graphics are incredible.

So anyway, come on out on Saturday if you can!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 7: The Start Of Something Big?

The search for a real rhythm section began with some classified ads in the local music 'zines and alternative weeklies. Yes, before Craigslist and such, this is how musicians found each other. We got some decent replies to our drummer inquiry, and after meeting with a few people, we chose one candidate that seemed to fit in well, both musically and personally. It was a pretty easy and painless process.
The bassist vacancy, however, was another matter. To no one's surprise, we had zero responses for a long time* until one day, I came home to find a message on my answering machine (yes, before smartphones, people had machines connected to their landlines that you could leave messages on) that said:

"Yes, um, I'm interested in applying for the position of bass player with your project. I have extensive experience playing in bands, including Zoning Chinchilla and Ground Zero."

Yup, it was our old bassist. And yes, he knew it was us. And so, The Krayons became a real band.

We played some shows and things were good. The drummer even converted his garage into a practice space, which was awesome. Eventually, we were able to book a gig at the Wave, which at the time was the place to play in town if you were an "indie/alt-rock" kind of band - which we were, I suppose. The Wave's graphics person even made us a logo that had our name in an oval on the label of a crayon, just like how Crayola does it.
After a while, though, it became apparent that things weren't quite working out with the drummer, even with the converted garage and all. We parted ways with him, quickly found a replacement**, and soldiered on.

Then, one fateful night, I wrote a song in five minutes called "Shampoo." When we played it at practice, everyone kind of looked at each other like, "hey, that song is pretty good - we might actually have something here." So, at that point, we decided that it was time to take our relationship to the next level. You know - record a CD, assemble a press kit, all of that stuff. It's like the band equivalent of moving in together.

Anyway, the drummer decided that he wasn't ready for that kind of commitment and bailed. When thinking about candidates for a replacement, our other guitar player suggested, "Hey, why don't we see what the ex-Ground Zero drummer is up to?" It was a great idea, because he was a great drummer, wasn't in a project at the time, and was totally down with our plans for world domination. Our new lineup was set. Now, because there was already a number of other bands around the country called Crayon or The Crayons or whatever, all we had to do was come up with a new name - something cool and original that would capture the essence of our sound. Easy, right? Well...

Next: A New Name

* Everybody repeat after me: "remember, no one actually wants to be a bass player"

** He appeared after a drum stool explosion, just like in Spinal Tap

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Two Status Update: WOOOO

After nineteen months and numerous starts, stops and re-starts, I am proud to announce that the first draft of Book Two is DONE.
How did this happen, you ask? Well, last December, I was completely at an impasse. I had been writing and plotting and outlining and doing all kinds of stuff non-stop, but it just didn't feel like I was getting anywhere. There was even a point where I thought, "did I really say that this was going to be a series?" So when 2014 rolled around, I made myself a goal: I would do whatever it took to get the first draft finished this year.

The first step I took was to contact Indigo, a local editing company that my friend and fellow author Courtney Pierce had recommended (thanks Courtney!) I met with their sci-fi/fantasy editor, Susan DeFreitas, who I remembered seeing at a Willamette Writers conference in 2011. Susan was very helpful and had some great ideas, and I came out of our meeting feeling energized and re-inspired (thanks Susan!)

So, I went back and read through all of my old unfinished drafts, and it turned out that one of them in particular made me think, "hey, this one has potential." At that point, I made a firm commitment to return to the process that worked so well for Book One, which was to just write something - anything - every day, no matter how bad or disjointed I felt it was while I was writing it. I told myself that I would write a minimum of one page (250 words) a day, and that if I could do that, I would meet my goal of having a finished draft before the end of the year.

I got a piece of paper and logged how many words I wrote each day. If there was a day that I couldn't write for whatever reason, I would make up for it on another day. The key was to average 250 words a day, no matter what. And wouldn't you know it - once I got on this path, it got easier and easier, to the point where I was averaging 300 words a day. Then 400 (which was the benchmark I used when I was writing Book One.) Then 450. Then 475. It was like an upward spiral that continually built on itself until I realized that I was going to be done ahead of schedule. Way ahead, in fact.

During this process, I did three things in particular that really helped me along:

(1) I put a gag on the internal editor, that little voice in your mind that says stuff like "that sentence doesn't sound quite right" or "that's a little out of character for him" or whatever. It was hard to do, especially with a second book, because you're thinking about all of the feedback and praise and criticism that your first book received. In fact, I had been trying - and failing - to silence that voice all throughout the entire previous nineteen months that I had been working on this thing. But what I discovered was that re-reading the draft after putting it away for a while was the key, because it made me realize that something that seemed really horrible while I was writing it wasn't that bad after all.

(2) On those days when I had a hard time getting started (we all have those, right?), I would just write the most ridiculous thing I could think of. It wouldn't have to make sense, or even be connected to the story at all. For example, if I had left off yesterday with Joel and Felicity fighting a shark-wolf in the jungle, I would start today off by having a fleet of giant flying purple microwave ovens swoop in and carry everyone away. Or Felicity would suddenly turn into Jean Grey from the X-Men and blow the place up with a blast of psionic energy. The point was to get the wheels turning and to just start writing. I knew that I wouldn't have to keep any of this nonsense, which freed me up and allowed my creativity to kick in. As an added bonus, sometimes I even ended up with something cool and useable that I decided to keep after all.

(3) I didn't stop to fix, edit or re-write as I went along. Instead, if I knew that something I was writing was creating a plot hole or otherwise didn't make sense, I just made a note of it on a separate document. My mantra became: just keep going. Because as I found out, you can keep starting and stopping forever, and in the long run it probably won't make a difference anyway. Previously, I had spent weeks - months, even - juggling stuff and connecting dots and fixing problems that ended up becoming moot or resolving themselves after I just kept writing.

So there you go. I know that what I have in hand still needs a lot of work - as any of you writers out there know, beyond First Draft Summit is an even bigger hill: Mount Re-Write - but I'm happy (and relieved) to have arrived at this point. I'll let you all know when you can expect the finished product.

Oh, and don't forget to come out to the Autism Empowerment Easter Egg Hunt this Saturday!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Musical Hist - Wait, Hold On

We interrupt this episode of the My Musical History serial to announce some present-day music news: my current band Second Player Score has just released four brand-new, freshly-recorded tracks! So, follow these easy steps:

1. Go to our Reverbnation page at this link
2. Click on "Play All" (near the top middle)
3. Turn it up
4. Come back here to read about them
The first tune, "Chosen One," is a nerdy love song that contains references to Harry Potter, The Matrix, Legend of Zelda, and The Last Story (bonus points if you recognized that last title). We're planning to make a video for this one.

The next song, "Gloria," was the first in our set to really get the three-part vocal harmony treatment. From there, we decided to spread that special sauce over everything else, and you're hearing the results of that today.

"BTMD" (the title of the third one) stands for "Better Than My Dreams." The original version of this song was a slower, grind-ier quasi-metal thing with a bunch of different riffs and chords, but then we decided to simplify it and make it our entry into the Four Chords of Awesome pantheon (that last link is parental advisory, by the way.) The lyrics - of "BTMD," not "4 Chords" - are dedicated to my kids.

Finally, "Falling Forever '14" is a remake of a song that one of my previous bands, Upper80, used to play (I wrote it, so I'm not ripping it off. More on Upper80 in a future installment of the My Musical History series.) We always wanted to have a vibraslap in that song, and now it does.

I'd like to mention that all of these songs, as well as the other ones on our Reverbnation page ("Sad & Glamorous," "Bend," and "More Like Him") are available on that same page as FREE DOWNLOADS. So download away, put them on your phone, put them on your computer, burn them onto CDs, and spread the word to everyone you know! Also, while you're at it, don't forget to "like" us and our songs on Reverbnation and Facebook.

Special thanks goes to Stephan Hawkes, our engineer and the owner of Interlace Audio, the studio that we recorded these tracks at. We're planning to do three more this summer, so stay tuned! And now, we return you to our regularly scheduled pro - oh, well, maybe next time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Autimism and the Annual Egg Hunt

This month (which is Autism Awareness Month, by the way), our good friends over at Geek Club Books are conducting the Autimism Movement, where each day will feature a story, interview, or photography by popular autism mom bloggers, autistic individuals, and organizations all making a positive impact in the autism community.
Be sure to check it out - here's the link again - and while you're there, enter to win some cool stuff, including a Nexus Tablet, gift cards, and (drum roll) a copy of the audio version of Book One!

Also happening this month is Autism Empowerment's 3rd Annual Easter Egg Hunt for Acceptance of All Abilities, a community acceptance event and resource fair serving all ages and abilities. For those of you in the Portland/Vancouver area, it will be on Saturday, April 19th, from 1-4pm at McKenzie Stadium (behind Evergreen High School). It's free to attend.
Besides Easter eggs (of which there will be thousands), there will be Easter Bunny photos, face painting, a silent auction, a martial arts demonstration, and all kinds of other fun activities. I, your friendly neighborhood author/musician, will also be there. So come on down that afternoon and have a great time with us! Or, better yet, consider signing up as a volunteer and/or making a donation.
As always, hope to see you there!