By day I work 60 hour weeks. At night I am a devoted father and husband to the world's greatest family. Somewhere in the non-existent time between the two, I am a writer. Join me from the beginning as I chronicle my adventures to become a successful published author.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 21 - A Writing Contest Diversion

Today I took a writing diversion. I did write a few paragraphs in The Militia, but decided to also try my hand at something short and different. So, over on Betsy Love's website Ramblings of a Random Writer, Betsy is sponsoring a short story contest, 1,000 words in length, in honor of Short Story Month. It's also conveniently the time she teaches her high school English class about short stories. At the last moment I decided to enter, so spent  an hour heavily modifying a shelved work in progress, and sent it off. Is it top quality? No, but for a YA market, it's fun and I think has a great surprise twist that is sure to amuse them.

Most importantly, I helped a fellow writer, contributed to helping others love story writing (or at least feel better about themselves by comparing their skills to my own!), and exercised multiple writing muscles I hadn't used for a while, such as reading out loud, flash editing, critiquing with my wife, and more.

Thank you Betsy for the opportunity.

As a side note, I accidentally said to Betsy in the submission email I was pleased she was a follower of this blog. Hopefully she will be in the future, but what I meant to say was that Betsy has participated with me in Sprint Writing and multiple AI conversations. I appreciate all of her participation with a new author in training such as myself.;-)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 20 - Memorial Day

I pondered writing Part IV of The Role of Morals in Writing today. Instead though I feel it most appropriate to take a moment to remember those who have served the United States and all countries in defense of freedom.

I do not agree with every war we fight, ever mission our soldiers are sent on, or the behavior of every soldier. I cannot agree though with those who choose to maliciously malign them, insult them, and categorize them as being immoral, murderers, baby-killers, and more. The reality is the vast majority of soldiers fight for honor, freedom, and the defense of the helpless.

My father, William D. Tandy Sr, joined the Air Force during Vietnam as an enlisted personnel. Later, he would go through Officer Training School after college and achieve the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He never viewed the military or the intelligence community which he worked in with the Air Force as being made of perfect people with perfect motivations, but he never wavered in his belief that the greater good was always the major moving force. On a personal side, my father, who lays in the hospital this Memorial Day with possibly incurable leukemia, was and is a good man. His service was one of honor, and I love him for it. My grandfather, who died several years ago, was also in the Army Air Corp, and is another example of someone who loved freedom and loved his country and fellow man.

Thank you to all those man and women in uniform who once served, do serve, and will serve their fellow man. You are an inspiration.

Day 19 - The Role of Morals in Writing - Part III: Graphic Realism

Graphic Realism

Graphic Realism is the term I apply to descriptions of people, places, events, or objects that goes beyond standard realism in writing. Often, too much graphic realism is found in loose, unpolished, writing wherein the author feels the need to describe everything in minute detail, usually all up front. Nothing is implied, no holes are left to be filled.

It would be wrong to believe that graphic realism is actually the same thing as a higher level of realism. In real life, we do not stop and study every minutia of a vase, we would not observe every detail of a body we just happened upon, etc. Certainly some characters might observe more than others, such as the person performing an autopsy on the aforementioned body, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

So what are the pro's and cons?


  • Useful for describing certain artwork in relation to the story
  • Easier to evoke extreme revulsion or sexual urge 
  • For fantasy worlds, may be necessary at times to convey certain landscapes, creatures, or customs

  • Slows down the pace of the writing
  • Information Overload
  • Leaves nothing to the imagination, making it harder for the reader to personalize/relate to the story and characters
  • When used in sex or violence, it becomes a major turn-off for a large swatch of the market, equating to lower sales. Mundane controversy over sex and violence in literature rarely equates to more sales, but rather the opposite. 
Viewing the pros, it should be noted that tight writing generally dictates that you don't do your descriptions on a massive block, but rather slowly paint the picture through character thoughts, conversation, and observation. Further, a skilled writer can evoke extreme emotion without extreme detail. Thus, I do not see many instances where graphic realism is good for your craft.

A few examples:

Setting: Tom Clancy, world renowned action-thriller author, was on the top of his game with books such as Patriot Games, the Hunt for the Red October, and other Jack Ryan books from that period. More and more however his books have declined in popularity. Where once he would give moderate detail (ie, they carried a Kalashnikov), he is now so technical that he can spend a whole page or more describing ultra-technical data about how the Kalashnikov functions, each of its parts, and more, while flooding the description with acronyms and swearing. Clancy used to be one of my favorite authors, and for his early work still is. How I and many others long for the days when his writing was a little sparser in the description arena.

Good: Johnson saw movement from the corner of his eye, a brief shadow. Without a second thought, he whipped his rifle around and fired a burst without verifying. He heard a scream, a thud, and the blood bubbling from his mouth. He didn't have time to look, he had to move.

Bad: Johnson saw movement from the corner of his eye, a brief shadow. Without a second thought, he whipped his rifle around and fired a burst without verifying. He heard the scream, turned and saw the body riddled with holes. He got him. Sections of his flesh were ripped open, exposing his organs, pulsing as the
blood gushed out. The man started convulsing violently, his head banging repeatedly into the cabinet next to him, blood curdling from his mouth and nose as his head... yada yada yada.

One is descriptive and real, making the point of death and success. The second is obsessed with the gory details. There is a grey moral line about whether you are obsessing or glorifying over the brutality, or are you being judicious in your use? Want a great horror flick without excessive gore and graphic realism, but plenty of normal realism? The film The Others is a prime example fo how to create atmosphere, mood, and more through judicious use of scene cuts.

I won't offer an example of this. Instead, I will leave it at a very basic test: If it were portrayed exactly as you describe it word for word, would it be considered pornography, hard or soft? If so, I would like to say that any half-literate boy or girl can write that. all you are doing is describing physical body parts and basic actions. Can you become technical or even wax poetic? Sure. But does it add anything to the story other than porn and word count? Does it meaningfully move the plot or characters forward in a way that could not have been done the same as or better through allusion, selective scene cuts, and lead-up? Most likely it does not. 

So in summary:

Graphic Realism creates a detailed graphical situation in the mind of the reader, such that it allows little interpretation, While it may have a few uses, in general it's purely for cheap shocks and sexual thrills and indicates a lack of writing skills or effort and indicates a loose manuscript.

What are other instances you know of where graphic realism ruined or slowed down the story? What about where it really helped?

Writing update:

I was busy with family nearly all weekend. As you saw, I did not blog in any depth yesterday, but I kept my commitment. I have written more in the novel every day, including today. Still going strong. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 18 - Just popping in

Today has been busy with gardening and family. I have written a few sentences today in the Militia. NO other updates, going to spend time with family rather than write the next part of th eseries. Check in tomorrow.

Day 17 - The Role of Morals in Writing - Part II: Realism

Yesterday, we discussed the concerning trend in YA Fiction, specifically that an erotic first chapter won a second place. I pointed out the inconsistency with being okay letting kids read vivid sexual scenes (and sex scenes themselves) when most parents in their right mind would not allow a 15 year old to watch porn in the house. Marketing such literature and awarding it prizes for being groundbreaking is not only immoral, it's not even groundbreaking. Sex has been around since man (hence mankind continues to exist...). Selling it cheaply has existed for pretty much forever too.

Today I will begin to discuss a few different ways a scene can be described: Realism, Graphic Realism, and Hyper-Fantasy. Also I will be covering how the method pertains to your target audience. I was originally going to do one post for all of them, but I think it will need one post per item.  This series will now last a week. I hope you enjoy it!


Realism acknowledges the world is not perfect. Writing for a young adult market, or really any market, it is important that the author doesn't wash over the fact that there are both good people and bad people in the world. If you are writing a gritty urban suspense novel, people swear. There are hookers. Drugs are used. You can't create a seedy underbelly of society if they don't do anything seedy.

The aspect of realism that is most often forgotten is the reality of consequences. In most books that are overtly sexual, the depth of real emotional trauma, sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, and more is cast by the wayside. Instead of creating depth, the characters become silently impervious to the results of their actions other than minor aspects of betrayal. This is not all situations. Some really fantastic fiction authors bravely explore teen pregnancy, adoption choices and abortions, HIV, herpes, and other consequences of sex. I applaud those authors who deftly give these issues their due diligence.

The next consideration in realism is that it does not require everything to be spelled out. Saying "He swore like a sailor" allows the reader to use their mind to fill in the blanks of what that means, adding to personal immersion and character relatability. You could alternatively actually spell out the words.

You can also use situational implication with time-breaks. Thus, instead of explicitly describing an unwed teenage couple getting naked and having sex (or any couple for that matter), you can write about the emotional lead-up, the trepidation, the excitement, and the blood racing. If you were me, this would be written very generally and tamely. Then you use a time break and say something to the effect of "When he woke up to the cool air on his chest and looked over at Casandra, he realized what he had done...". The writing is real, the emotions are conveyed enough to move the story forward excellently, and everyone knows what happened without describing every nuance of their first sex experience. This gets into Graphic Realism, which we will discuss tomorrow, both good and bad.

Finally, realism includes the positive aspects of life. No person is completely devoid of redeeming qualities. The Nazi's, including Hitler, loved nature and caring for it. They were also psychopaths who treated nature better than the Jews, invalids, and political opponents. No underbelly of society is made up completely of people who only care about the money or power. There are always some who yearn for something more, even at the cost of their own lives. When you add the positive realism into the dark side of individuals, people,   and lives, it adds depth, character, and a level of realism that makes them all the more vivid in the reader's mind. It creates what David Wolverton calls Resonance. Even if we find the character disgusting, we find them believable and discover to our horror (or delight) that we have something in common with the monster. It allows us to see our own demons or redeeming qualities.

How much realism you should include is going to depend slightly on your market. You don't create complex characters and situations in a toddler board book. But some sense of depth and resonance should begin as early as early elementary grade reading. It is a powerful tool to help children understand early on that what they do has consequences. For older audiences, even a farce requires realism. Fantasy should have real consequences within it's physical and spiritual motif.

Just remember: If you shun realism for stereo-typed characters and environments, audiences of most ages will not feel resonance, and your writing will not succeed in the marketplace.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 16 - The Role of Morals in Writing - Part I: Disturbing Trends IN YA Fiction

In a blog post on the blog, the May 2011 YA Contest Winners were announced. First and third place seem fine. Second, while well written, can only be classified as Erotica, ie, literary porn. Essentially, a teenage boy finds a mysterious, fully naked woman in his room. She is described in a sexual manner, as is the boy's sexual reactions to her. The F- word is used in the very first sentence.

Now this might be suitable for an adult book. I wouldn't read it, but I don't hold it against others. What I find disturbing is that it is not just sensual, it is sexualized and is targeted for the Young Adult crowd, which is the 14-21 age range. So, essentially, they awarded a 2nd prize to porn targeted at 14 year old boys and girls. It doesn't help that at the end of the first page he closes his door so they can be alone, figuring since she's naked they're past the awkward stage. Way to promote safety! "Ooh, Caveman see hot she-man naked. Never seen before. Maybe dangerous to Caveman. Ooh, I go get her anyway." That's what ran through my head. That's a caricature of stupid actions, but in the first page it glorifies the same stupid behavior.

I want to be clear, just as I was on the comments I made on their blogpost: I do not advocate banning books. I do find it most offensive that they would select this to be the second place winner for a Young Adult contest! Sure, sex sells. But let's consider the comparison outside of literature: movies and photos. Kids have been arrested for sexting, which is the practice of underage children taking naked or sexually explicit photos of themselves and sending it via cell phone to boy/girl friends. Often these get passed around a high school. Now, if kept between the two original participatory parties, I think much of the legal punishment (distributing porn to a minor is the most frequent charge) is a little much, considering those same two kids can see each other naked and legally have sex within their age group. But if those kids are making and distributing porn videos and photos for distribution to other teenagers, they would be shut down so fast and booked with criminal charges they wouldn't know what to think. So why is it okay for an adult to write kiddie porn, market it, and be awarded prizes in the literary community for targeting teenagers?

So let the person self-publish. Let the book die in obscurity. Let wise parents help teach moral principles to their children that let them know these things are not right. Let concerned parents speak out, which can be done without legislating. Just make your voices heard. Let adults make adult books for adults. But DON'T give these people a pass or even an applaud. Were there really no better submissions in the entries? Really? I think there probably were. It's not enough for a book to be well written, it must be age appropriate.

Tomorrow, in Part II of this topic, we will discuss realism, graphic realism, hyper-fantasy, audience, and moral persuasion. Part III will be how I view moral obligations in my own writing and how literary skill allows the full gamut of emotions without obsession.

Be sure to join me tomorrow, comment, and share this three part series with friends.

Writing Update:

I realize I had forgotten to give writing updates. Let me be clear: I have not missed a single day since the last time I noted it. I am now at 5,628 words, or 7.035% of the way complete. Pretty good, steady progress! I wrote 410 words today. I've come to realize while writing today that, when analyzing from the Katherine Freedman method (see yesterday's post), the character Joshua is the Safe Character, the one who is constant in guiding principle and dispenses sage advice. He's a good man, he's seen a lot of tragedy, and he's still out there helping people, especially my main character, Levi. How it turns out will be interesting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 15 - Katherine Farmer on How to Crack the Story Code

Tonight was my first meeting with the League of Utah Writers, Provo Chapter. I wasn't sure if I would go, as I have started coming down with a sinus infection. It was tough making it through, but the effort was worth it.

Tonight they had a presenter, Katherine Farmer. She doesn't have a website or blog, but you can find a brief bio of her on the UVU website, as she is currently the Interim Director of the Noorda Regional Theatre Center for Children and Youth at Utah Valley University. Basically, she has spent her last 30 years running high level analysis of successful stories. Let me say here it was both awesome and slightly frustrating. Awesome because she has some incredible knowledge, analysis, and direction for writers. Slightly frustrating because she is so deep in her field and research, her presentation was overly complex and is full of technical terms that could be greatly simplified. A full college-level course (for which she is writing a textbook on this for) would allow the time to handle it, but ti seemed she simply did not adjust it for a group of diverse ages and technical backgrounds not immersed in the same field. For the rest of us who get an hour or two, it was over-the-top enough that several people left within ten minutes of their arrival. 

With that out of the way, let's get to the over-view of what was taught. I can't make copies of the material, as it's all part of the upcoming textbook.

The basic premise is that most people can intuitively understand if a story is a comedy, tragedy, drama, farce, etc. We don't spend a long time analyzing it, we simply know the feelings it evokes. We can also tell if a story seems somehow incomplete or just not right. This indicates that with the right data, it should be technically possible to pinpoint the exact factors of a story that essentially created the formula for a story. Not only that, but research identified the character, world, and plot elements that make successful stories successful. She drilled it down to the point that she now can say that if a story doesn't contain the elements of successful writing that she has identified for the genre, it will have a 91% chance of failure in the marketplace. 

Katherine did this by identifying first, second, and third level roles and elements. In order to be successful, certain genres need a character that fulfills a minimum of three roles, with some needing up to five.

In the first level, there is a:

  • Primary Actor - the main person or group who moves the story forward
  • Central Viewpoint Character - Can be active or passive, but it is who the story is told through, even if only in an episode fashion
  • The Game Changer (she calls it something more complex, but I am trying to make it actually simple here) - The person or force that "changes the existing dynamic balance and starts the flow of the central story." 
  • The System Character - I would call this the worldview/setting and/or the champion of the story. This can change through a complex story. So this would be a mother who sets rules for her children, a faith belief system through which the story is told, etc. Nature is one of the best and most frequent System Character in children's books (nature includes death by nature, age, etc). Thing the girl drowning in Bridge to Terabithia. 
  • The Anti-System Role (again, changing the name here) - This is the person or event that works against the System Character, on purpose or not. Can be good or bad, but essentially this is the person who struggles against the system. Think an action fighting against the worldview of a terrorist while trying to work with Washington bureaucracy. 
  • The Primary Noise and Chaos Creator - Essentially the person or force that is most responsible for the "noise and chaos in a story's action." Usually functions as the dark side of a story, it can also be the same character as the Anti-System role in certain types of tragedies and modern dramas where the character is struggling with themselves. Otherwise this could be the serial killer who keeps killing, or Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. Using that last example, sub-plots or episodes can have different ones, such as Snape, Malfoy, etc.
  • The Hero - It can be represented in six basic ways (not going into, these are basic), but recognize that one is there may be no hero. So your hero can be good or bad, tragic, roguish , etc. You get the idea, and all can be expanded in some way.
So again, your character/unified group should represent at least three of those. There are sub aspects, such as the need for a Safe Character, who is stable and constant (think of the Oracle in the Matrix, God in spiritual stories, or a wise grandma giving advice to her grandchildren) especially in successful children and youth stories, characters who align with the System character (like the idealistic terrorist, the bodyguard and best-friend of the President, etc), and characters who align with the Anti-System role. 

Finally, this information is plotted out on a diagram that looks like an ice cream scoop in a cone. These elements are plotted along the cone and scoop in such a way you can immediately recognize plot and character holes, unclear messages, and more. It should be noted that along with this you plot certain elements of which roles win or lose in the end (the System or Anti-System), with an additional complex option of the System aligning with the Anti-System, such as if in Toy Story 3 where the nursery school cabal (mostly) flips over and protects Woody, Buzz, and the others. 

There is more to this, and if I was allowed to copy the diagrams, I would for you. I however respect intellectual property, so not going to happen. For now though, we will have to wait until she publishes her major textbook, then pay the major textbook costs to show more! Or of course, just go to one of her presentations or ask her to give one to your group. The amount of information and research is astounding, and if you can sit through the initial technical wording until you get to the case studies, you will be richly rewarded for your time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 14 - A Shout Out and Learning to Network

I have three goals with writing it seems. I only knew until late last night about two of them.

The first is of course to write at least one sentence a day. Doing great!

The second is to write a blog post a day. So far so good.

The third I did not even realize I was doing until last night. It's that I always aim to do one extra thing a day that moves my writing career forward, be that improving at least one feature on my blog, networking, making concrete plans for steps I need to take, or researching an aspect of writing, marketing, or publishing. I think it's a good thing, and now that it is defined, I will ensure to the best of my ability it happens. Some days are more ax sharpening than others, but every day should have a little bit of time at the grindstone.

Today, I decided to take a break from finishing the new blog up and focus instead on reaching out to other bloggers. Here was my problem: Lots of people have blogs. I will admit I did not visit blogs much before I embarked on this odyssey. It was hard to go through the lists and keep current, which was leading to massive amounts of guilt. How could I ask others to follow my efforts and participate in the comments, if I wasn't able to do the same myself? Blogs I wanted to follow were stacking up, but I was slightly petrified, only clicking to join a token few.

Then a couple of people over at Author's Incognito mentioned something called Google Reader. It allows you to view updates/new posts for all your blogs, and even news feeds in one place. I admit I was dubious. In some ways I am a tech genius. In other ways, I am still banging two rocks together and hoping for something awesome to happen. Apparently, Google Reader is an RSS reader (RSS apparently has multiple possible meanings, but in general it is Really Simple Syndication). I still had no idea what it was. Some people explained it on the AI message board, but it didn't really sink in.

Then I ran across a blog post over at Writer's Digest back from 2009 that blew the door wide open for me by Jane Friedman at her No Rules blog. It is titled Save Time Tip #1: Become More Efficient at Online Reading. Thank you Jane for your great post! It has a great video on YouTube that lasted about three minutes, was amusing, and used paper and a dry erase board to explain it to my archaic mind. Rather than me explain it all, hop over to the post from Jane Friedman and give it a gander.

So I started using the reader. I added in the Post Rank plug-in for Google Chrome (my browser). It's fantastic. Suffice it to say, I can now look at all the new posts in about ten minutes in one location and don't have to visit blogs where there are no updates. It's brilliant. Apparently it's been around for years. Who knew?

One of my improvement activities  in the next day or two will now be to go back and subscribe to all the really awesome blogs I was too afraid to join before. So if you have a blog (including your own) you think I might enjoy following, let me know.

One final note: James Duckett mentioned my Day 10 blog post on his blog the other day ( I wanted to say thank you James for the exposure, and also for reading. Keep up the writing, a little each day.   You haven't posted a lot on your blog yet, but what you have posted has been thoughtful and well written. You were also one of the very first people I selected to follow. Now get writing more so I can read more!

Day 13 - Massive Overhaul, Blog Under Construction

Today has been a massive overhaul of my blog. I am, for the record, using the term "today" loosely. I started work on it at around 9:00 PM. It is now 3:50 AM. I stopped once about 15 minutes before midnight to write a few sentences on The Militia, ensuring I kept to the most critical task at hand, being the novel itself.

I am not finished with the overhaul, but I think you will be able to see the direction this blog is headed. Slowly but surely, the ax is becoming razor sharp.

A few items of note:

  • There is now a photo of me. I am sorry to scare you like this, but what's done is done. 
  • There are now (uncompleted) tabs at the top, with sub-tabs available in the future. There are a few placeholders for the moment, so don't be concerned if they don't make sense or don't actually have a link tied to them.
  • There is a short Biography about me under the "About Matt" tab
  • There is a Contact tab. This will be updated in the future with more methods of contacts
  • There is a great slideshow style navigation near the top, where I will put highlights to various blog posts, web page elements, and even outside bloggers and other resources from time to time. What is featured there will change week to week.
  • The blog is a lot cooler than before.

As always, if you haven't selected to follow my blog, I encourage you to do so. This site will continue to grow and improve, and I can't do it nearly as well without you.

Thank You,
Matt Tandy

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 12 - Model Websites

Before I jump into the post itself, I want to report that I did write yesterday. I told my wife I would be to bed with her in just a minute, and ended up closing the computer 20 minutes later. I ended up writing a page and a half rather than a sentence.

This morning I also wrote before church. I know some don't write on Sunday, and I respect that. But writing is therapeutic for me. I feel better having done it, having placed some the thoughts swimming in my head down onto the (electronic) paper. I wrote another full page, or 294 words. And I referenced the classic "mamby-pamby land" Geico commercial. It was too perfect not to! Check out to check it out if you haven't seen it.

Something that has been on my mind today has been my need to expand my media presence sometime in the next six months. When I get to 100 followers on the blog, I'll start tweeting. It should be known, I am deathly afraid of that. I hate texting, love email, blogs, etc. I don't want to particularly get into it. I also know I am running a business alongside my writing, and one isn't going anywhere without the other, so I will do it.

The other aspect of media presence I've been reflecting on is a personal website. It's too early for it yet, but I've been keeping an eye out for what I do and don't like. Today I came across what I think is the best example of an author website I have seen so far:

It is the website of Peter Orullian. His first large novel just came out last month, and he did everything right. He created a large web presence. His website is clean. It's organized. The text is easy on the eyes. It has a rotating highlights banner. It has a brilliant world map. And it has a new innovation that I think will take the authoring world by storm in terms of marketing: Webisodes set in your book world.

Now, many of us have heard of or seen "webisodes" for TV. These are mini-episodes that are web exclusive and flesh out a world or tell a short story. We also know how big book trailers have become in just the past three years. Peter has combined them. He does have an official book trailer, but he didn't stop there. He created a short series of stories centering around one side event in his fantasy world, told from various perspectives, ala Vantage Point. It's read brilliantly, has excellent music accompanying it, and beautiful artwork. Each one is about 4-5 minutes in length, and are both self-contained as well as building on each other.

The brilliant part, aside from the execution, is that they were released BEFORE his first book. He hooked people in to his brand new world a few minutes at a time and created buzz before the book was even released! And, if you pick up the book, you may feel like you are "in the know" versus the average reader because you already know what parts of the world are. You already know some flavor information about some of the characters that others don't. I'll say it again: This man is brilliant and is one to watch.

Do yourself a favor, hop over to his website, and check it all out.

One other shout out, for the thriller genre though: Vince Flynn is a mega-star thriller writer. His website is also excellent for his audience.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 11 - Sunshine

It was stunningly beautiful for the vast majority of the day. So much so that I couldn't wait to get outside, leaving work and writing far behind. Writing wasn't really that far though. Certain events in the day, visuals that caught my eye and conversations I had made me think "You know, that may work in my novel!" I'm not becoming obsessed. These moments were a handful lasting just seconds, flitting through the mind and departing as a memory. Like my sentence a day, it's the small things that help move the story forward.

It has been a busy day: shopping with my wife and son, playing in the grass, going to the birthday party of a best friend’s daughter who just turned two, my in laws coming into town for the weekend (and staying with us), going out for dinner (Sean's Smokehouse in Saratoga Springs... best BBQ in Utah), playing games, and trying not to fall asleep. It was just too beautiful today to sit inside on the computer. 

I haven't written today. I still have an hour and fifteen minutes as of writing this sentence. Enough time to get at least a sentence in. The temptation is strong tonight to say that with family in town (in my living room to be exact) and a headache coupled with exhaustion, I would be fully justified in skipping a day. But I won't. It's easy to find perfectly legitimate reasons to call it a night and feel good about myself, but I think to me this blog and my writing says something about me personally: my work ethic, my dedication to my goals, and my ability to press forward in both good times and bad. I gave up so many times for so many years after just a few days of research or paragraphs of my books. 

So perhaps I am motivated out of a fear of failure. Perhaps it's a sense of honor. I also hope that there is someone who does now or will follow this blog and may be inspired to reach their own goals. Whatever the combination of these factors really is, the result is the same: I will write tonight. 


Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 10 - 10 days, 16 followers, 1,312 words

Step by step I progress. At the end of 10 days, I thought I would take a moment and look back at how much of a difference 10 days has made.

My first two days had minimal writing and was mostly setting up the blog and orienting myself with Author's Incognito, writing tools, and more. It was sharpening the ax time. Then my blog went down because Blogger accidentally deleted it. Looking back, it was like dropping my nearly sharpened ax on my foot. All my effort had served to make me feel not only had I wasted my time, but I was less motivated/capable than before.

It took several days of no help from Blogger before I gritted my teeth and started again. The effort of pushing past the resistance was another turning point for me. I could have given up, like I had before with writing when problems arose, but I didn't.

Then I started writing a sentence or two a day. A few days later I was writing paragraphs. I did a writing sprint last night. I rewrote a section and faced my dialog demons. The past two nights I've actually dreamt about my story! Not only that, it was harder to go to sleep because I had plot elements and dialog running through my head. 10 days ago, I only had the vague notion that I wanted to work on some novels I had touched off and on every few months for a few minutes at a time. What a difference 10 days can make.

To those that have followed me on my blog, thank you. I'll be here every day. It's accountability for me, and I probably need more than most! Spread the word, share the blog if you like it.

I did write more today again. More importantly, I wrote dialog. And it came to me easier than ever. It wasn't a ton, but I set out to write my single sentence and wrote a conversation, complete with palpable tension. I love it, though I admit to some heavy bias!

I also want to note that while 1,312 words isn't a massive amount, I am thrilled. My pace has been steadily increasing. If I keep it up, keep writing steadily, then I'll probably finish my first draft around the end of the year (throwing in a few larger writing sessions). Pretty exciting stuff.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 9 - Sprinting, Falling, and Sprinting Again

Karen Hoover ( from Author's Incognito recently set up a writer's "Sprinting" website. For those as ignorant of what this means as I was, the premise is simple: It's writing in set segments of time (the sprint)with other people doing it at the same time. There's a chat system for checking in, comments, etc, and someone keeps the time. Doing it as a group, even though you are working on your own thing, adds encouragement to make it through a session just as a workout partner does. Tonight I decided to give it a go.

I started off with my fingers flying across the keyboard, then suddenly stopped dead. It suddenly hit me. I needed to rewrite nearly an entire chapter. What happened? Dialog, or lack thereof.

Let it be known, that dialog is my Achilles' Heel. I write very intensive scenes. I think I am pretty awesome at body language and using the environment to evoke emotion, mood, tension, etc. My problem is that I have very little white space on my pages, and I've been thinking hard the last few days about how badly I need to fix that. My mind freezes when I think to hard on it, and that's what happened in the sprint. I was typing my usual heavy paragraphs, thinking the whole while about how I shouldn't be, and simply froze.

I committed then and there to rewrite the chapter properly. And so I did. Twenty minutes later. That's how long it took me to even know what the first sentence should be. I finished the first page, coming in at 340 words, right as the timer went off for the 50-minute run we were on. In one sense I feel like I accomplished so little. Some people wrote a few thousand words in that time. I didn't clear 500, but the time commitment forced me to take on my problem head on. It wasn't as insurmountable as before because I knew at a set time I would stop for the night, and it made all the difference. Tonight was a quality, not quantity night.

I want to be clear: my dialog needs a lot of work. I know I can and should do more, and I will. The story is still great, but now it's being told better. So I sprinted from the line, fell on my face, picked myself up, and pushed onward. I didn't finish first, but it was the race that counted tonight.

Thanks Karen, Tristi, and John for writing with me tonight.

Thanks also to Celtic Moon, my favorite radio station on for thinking and writing. Couldn't do it without you!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 8 - Little Changes

Today I added a tracker for my novel progress to the top right hand side of the blog. I based it off 80,000 words being about standard that editors and publishers look for in a debut novel. I was at 3,653 words when I put it up, or 4.57% of the way there. While it seems insignificant, it's not bad considering two weeks ago I was at less than 1%. That 1% had taken a year of research and aborted writing attempts

Yesterday I set out to write at least one sentence, as always. I wrote nine, which came out to 205 words or a little over a paragraph. I could have written more, but I needed to get to bed for an early day at work. A few minutes ago I wrote six sentences, or 92 words. Heading to bed, but pleased I have made more progress. This time I even got to it earlier than my blog post.

It's getting easier to write. I can think quicker, recall where I am in the story and where I was going sooner, and can figure out better ways to convey the story than before. I am also more prone to not nit-picking it to death.

Little changes, constant progress.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 7 - And So It Was Written

Life is busy for me, as you have seen. My goal however of writing at least one sentence a day stands, and more when possible. My post yesterday had me at 11:30 PM and nothing written. I was, to be quite honest, out of my mind tired, more than I had been in a long time. It had been a very long, very hard day not just work wise, but emotionally for various reasons. The room was literally spinning and I felt like I was fighting a rapid current threatening to pull me under. I actually found myself lying on the couch at an odd angle and having lost five minutes at one point!

Nonetheless, I persevered and wrote not just one, but the following two sentences just before the clock struck midnight:

Eventually, it was purely by imposing on their friendship and Levi’s respect for him that won out. He did it out of a sense of loyalty.

They are at the end of a paragraph, so they don't make quite as much sense, but hey, it's written! There was definitely a sense of achievement as I stumbled to bed a minute later, and I'm glad I pushed through.

So tonight it's 10:00 PM and I need to write another few sentences. It's the first time I've had to sit down all day outside of work. I do need to make time to write more each day, but for now, it's baby steps. As the great aquatic sage Dori once said, "Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim swim swim." Truer words have never better uttered. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 6 - New Beginnings

Today, Blogger won. After having no answers about what they were doing, if anything about those of us whose blogs were semi-deleted in the outage, getting only one note days ago saying "We are aware of the problem", I decided to attempt to re-register my original blogger account, unsure of how it would work out seeing as how the blog still existed in Blogger Dashboard. As it turns out, it worked fine on the registering. Except now I have two different blogs in my dashboard, the new and the original, with the same URL but different content, one existing one not. It's a rather confusing state to be in honestly. On top of that, they could suddenly roll back the old one on top of this. No idea, but I am forging ahead. It is a new beginning.

They did this morning restore my second post. This is what gave me the courage to forge ahead, as I started a word document with my original posts in it just in case I lose them again in the future. I've gone ahead and reposted both of them in here as well as one I wrote yesterday to keep up with my blogging ambitions. It chronicles my adventures with Blogger these last few days.

Please note I did lose all my followers in this process and comments, so if you were following me before, you'll have to follow me again.

I did sit down and write a whole page yesterday (Sunday) on my thriller, 367 words. I was so proud of myself! I was busy, but pulled through despite the desire to be lazy and watch a movie. And those 367 words were quality too. A few false starts, but once I got the concept down, it just flowed. I would have kept going for several pages, but dinner was ready, and I can't resist that!

I have yet to write today. It's 11:27 PM as I write this sentence. I worked from 7:30 AM - 7:00 PM, then went to visit my mother at my parents home to talk about my dad. It was good, and I am grateful that I am able to help in these difficult times. Christina reminded me today that one of the promptings we had that helped us make the decision to move to Utah from our beloved Texas was that we felt we needed to be closer to my parents because they were going to have medical problems in a few years and it was important I was close enough to be the main helper to them in those times. It seems it has come, and I am playing the role first revealed to us four years ago. It is both comforting and heart-rending.

I will be writing at least one sentence as soon as I hit send on this blog post. I promise! I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Day 5 - Blogger Service Hates Me, Plus Day 3-4 Summary

No one will initially see this or possibly other posts for a few days (or longer). After triumphantly posting two days in a row, I logged on a third day to do another post, which is a record for me! However, instead of being able to work on my blog, I was greeted with the following message:

Blog not found
Sorry, the blog you were looking for does not exist. However, the name matthewtandy is available to register! 

Apparently, Blogger (a part of Google Services) went down sometime Thursday. They rolled everything back a couple of days, but a small percentage of people lost years of posts, and most lost their comments and post labels. An even smaller percentage, of which I magically am a part of, had their blog entirely removed... sort of. I can still see me original blog in my dashboard. It shows Day 1 post as editable, but my lengthier, and arguably more personally important second post is completely gone. It had a lot of thoughts on what has recently driven me to both blog and write. I don't know if I'll ever get that post back, so the short of it is that my dad's leukemia and the LDS StoryMaker's conference the first weekend of May have had a major impact on me.

Blogger says they are working to restore the missing posts and comments. Until yesterday, they didn't acknowledge the growing chorus of people like me who were missing their blog completely. For now, the answer is that they'll look into it, but won't make any promises. I am fairly confident they'll get me up and running again, since it's still in my dashboard. The question is when, and will it have my Day 2 post?

The blog is a major motivator to keep me writing. I have done none since the end of Thursday. Losing the blog took a lot of wind out of my sail. But I still checked in at Author's Incognito Yahoo Group, and regularly refreshed my blog, hoping it would be back. But no more. When/if it's back, great. In the meantime, I am pushing forward, writing on a temporary home. I will migrate these posts over should my blog come back. If it doesn't, then I'll re-register the original blog address and migrate them over anyway. No more dilly dallying. 

A quick summary of Days 3 and 4:

Day 3 - The Plague

Sickness has been knocking on the door of the Tandy household. Starting with my little boy, continuing on in lesser degree with Christina, and ending with me, nausea, vomiting, and other unpleasant aspects of being ill found open homes in our bodies. I was still at the office from 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM, despite having thrown up 3 hours before heading in. You do what you have to do. 

Aside from that, my car was in the shop for a gas tank recall, and they had me going from my luxury-line Mazda 6 (in the shop) to a bottom of the barrel Nissan Cube (rental paid by the dealership). The rental agency tried to convince me how much I would love the Cube, how people are always so surprised with how awesome it is. Not me. I respect that it's very easy to get into, and that's where it ends. The thing is ugly as sin, has weird interior design elements, tinny audio, uncomfortable seats that hurt my back, and an unpleasant cheap plastic and fabric smell that didn't help my nausea. I was determined to be near the dealership the second they said my car was ready. Sadly, that was at 5:15 PM. I got my car back though. It made me happy. I'm not materialistic. I swear. 

No writing. Spent my writing time figuring out what happened to my blog.

Day 4 - In Celebration of My Birth

It has been such a busy and stressful year, I opted for a very quiet birthday this year and taking care of some items around the house. I was tempted to go the Renaissance Festival in Ogden, but didn't feel like the drive and spending the cash for it when we still weren't fully up to par.

So what did I do? Christina got up with Levi, which is normally my job on the weekends so she can sleep in for a change. I still woke up around 7:30, but that's sleeping in for me. Showered, ate breakfast, then mowed the lawn. After that, I rested, pulled out my heavy duty tiller, and finally got the garden tilled this year. We did pull out a random potato we found first, as well as a row of parsnips we had forgotten to harvest last season, all of which were doing quite well and adds a bit of fresh produce early in the season for us. The rest of the day? While Christina watched Levi, I sat in bed, read, took a nap, read some more, and played a computer game over the internet with my brother, brother-in-law, and friend (Left for Dead 2 in case you were wondering). I did have an enchilada dinner (my favorite food!) and a great birthday cake made from scratch. I was still somewhat sick and in the evening was suffering from major back pain and a weird pressure, almost like swelling, the the lower right side of my throat and upper chest that made it difficult to swallow. It's gone now, not sure what caused it, but it lasted for about six hours.

Once again, no writing I had the time, but I didn't. I did work more on trying to get them to fix my blog, but to no avail, other than they finally acknowledged that some of us lost ours. Probably would have been more productive to actually write, but I find writing about writing motivates me to work on my books.

Day 2 - Motivators and Writing Time

Note: This blog post was originally posted Thursday, May 12. See Day 5 to read about my travails with Blogger and their accidentally deleting my blog...

Day 2 has come, and in an amazing, even historical moment, I am writing on a blog for a second day. But this blog is going to be one of my main motivators to greater writings and consistency, so I plan to keep up with it.

There were two key motivators for me to become serious about my writing. The first is my father. About two years ago he started to become serious about his writing. Last year he became even more dedicated as he was officially retired. He had always spoken about writing and his love for it, a passion he passed on to me. He had even completed a manuscript in the mid 1990's for the LDS Fiction Market called "The Traitor's Son". He had worked on that manuscript for almost 2 decades, first on paper and typewriter then in a DOS program, then finally in various versions of word. The first time I saw it printed off, it was on those old dot matrix printers that took ages, assaulted the ears, and each page was connected and fed via tear off strips on the sides with holes in them. It took hours to print a single copy.

He has three WIPs now. One of them earned a first place last year in a local Young Adult First Chapter contest. He had submitted several chapters to a contest associated with the LDS StoryMakers Conference he had signed and up for, which was May 5-7. On Friday, April 8th, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The next day, he was in the hospital to begin treatment. He's still there being treated, and no one knows how it will turn out. When he finally found time to write and was starting to focus on what he loved and felt the inner drive for, he faces a large delay, even the possibility of not seeing any of it be published. I know he is happy that he was just able to spend the time writing. In the past two years he's made some great friends. It has not been time wasted. And honestly, his growing enthusiasm helped get me excited.

I am not one who particularly fears death, though there are certainly ways I prefer not to end my life, such as tortured in an Iranian prison. I have taken steps to ensure my wife and son are cared for financially should I perish, and we have had candid conversations about the matter so mental preparation is as good as it can reasonably be. This may sound rather macabre, but when I was a financial advisor in Houston I saw the consequences of those who didn't plan ahead. But, and this sounds cliche, the illness of my father made me realize that I don't want to wait until I am retired to find joy in writing. Some things I have no problem avoiding so that I can be there for my family: skydiving, swimming with sharks, etc. I'm the main breadwinner and life-insurance doesn't cover death in a lot of those situations, plus there is no replacing a father for a young family. But writing... what reason can I give to not do so? I do not want to look back and say "I could have done it, but I spent all my down time playing games or watching movies." In fact, it is my concern about my legacy should I die young that is helping motivate me more. I hope that my wife and son, if I were to pass away, would be able to have something solid, tangible, like a book, that has an element of their father in it. After four years of barely touching writing for fun, I know it's time to get going.

The second motivator was the LDS Storymakers Conference this last weekend. It was, to put it simply, spectacular. My dad asked if I would like to go in his place and take notes and audio recordings for him. I did it mostly for him, but what I got out of it was mostly for me. It helped take the inner yearnings and impressions I had and gave them direction and purpose. I learned more than I thought possible about the world of writing, agents, and publishing. It gave me several new book ideas, made me aware of ways I could improve what I have already written, and helped motivate me to achieve excellence going forward. In fact, a blog was one of the aspects I had never supposed was important before the conference, but now I know better and here I am.

I attended the Thursday Boot Camp. It was the first time I had let anyone read my writing. Truth be told, I had no idea I was supposed to be bringing anything until about 8:00 PM Wednesday night. Before then I had been acting under the assumption I was bringing 10-15 pages of my dad's work to be critiqued for him, only to find out I was mistaken. I had only two pages of my thriller written, and feverishly wrote another eight pages that night and morning. As it turned out, everyone had fantastic writing and mine was well received for its emotional impact and great first page. Most of the corrections made were typographical (I didn't proof read, no time), which really encouraged me. In fairness, I had been researching the book for nearly two years. I'm a researching fiend, and my main problem is to know when to say when and begin to write. Boot Camp helped me to do just that. A shout out to Gregg Luke, who was the leader of the table and to everyone else who shared their writings that day. All of you were awesome and helped me greatly.

While there is much I could mention about the rest of the conference, I will leave it the following: The MC, Sarah Eden, was fantastic. I cannot offer enough praise for how great she did, supposedly even on her first time. The organizers and volunteers of the conference also did great, though early on I was a little confused on some aspects. I imagine less than others, as I am known for being forthright and outgoing, so when I had questions I took matters into my own hands to find the people I needed with the answers. The classes helped tremendously, and two instructors in particular: David Wolverton/Farland and Traci Abramson. David opened my mind to what real world-building is, the concept of reader resonance, and was the key instigator in giving me solid direction on how to press forward with writing (Habits of Successful Writers class). Traci, who writes thrillers, was an excellent instructor and had great elements on pacing that are directly applicable to me. That said, I learned from every class with every instructor, and the panels I attended were equally engaging.

This post is now rather long, so I'll leave it with this question... for those who work a lot as I do and care for your family, how do you find time to write? It will be the focus of my post tomorrow, as it is my biggest roadblock right now.

Day 1 - In the Beginning...

Note: This blog post was originally posted Wednesday, May 11. See Day 5 to read about my travails with Blogger and their accidentally deleting my blog...

In the Beginning, there was Matt. And he beheld his years of unfinished writing projects, and...

Okay, just kidding. This blog will be readable without *too much* eye rolling! For now, let's just outline the nature of the blog, a syllabus or mission statement if you will:

1) I have in the past four years begun four different large-scale writing projects for eventual publication. None have made it further than a few chapters or sections, let alone brought to the level of a completed first draft. I intend to change that, beginning today.

2) Today is the day I get serious about my writing. Will I become a successful, published, professional full-time writer? The statistics say no, and if it doesn't happen, I love my job anyway. If it does, well... I'm not one to complain.

3) In light of this focused effort, I will establish myself in writing support and critique groups both online and in person, establish a blog for those who will undoubtedly find amusement as I navigate the perilous path of the publishing world and beleaguered attempts to find time to write, and more. The blog will contain clips of my writing and stories related to my effort, as well as future guest bloggers. There will be insights I want to share, and writing tips I think are great for everyone, myself included, to follow.

4) With this blog, I take the first step in creating the larger presence I need to successfully bring my works to a national audience. This is not out of vanity, but it is a key to success after the first draft is finished. Besides, with billions of people on the planet, surely a few of them will enjoy my writing. If I do well, then maybe more than a few. I believe the hardest work isn't the writing; it's helping the people who do care to find your writing. Over a period of time I will expand to a full website, twitter, Facebook fan-page, guest blogging, and more.

5) Finally, I hope to gain the support and friendship of those who learn of my quest. This is a first step, but life is complicated and difficult at times. I need all the encouragement and feedback I can get, so please sign up to follow me, make comments, correct me, offer new ideas, whatever you feel like. Improvement and progress are the name of the game.

I look forward to working with all of my readers on this fantastic journey from an inexperienced writer on a whim to a professional, experienced, storyteller and word craftsman.

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