Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hitting the road

A big thank you needs to be sent out to my niece Samantha and sister-in-law Cristina. Why? Well, Samantha volunteers at the library in Mechanicsville, VA (which is noble in and of itself). She talked to the good folks there about having me come as a visiting author to speak at the library, which I'll be doing on August 7th at 11:00 am.
Cristina has been my biggest fan in Virginia, doing all sorts of PR work for me--and one wonderful thing about Cris, when she sets her mind to doing something, she gets it done.
I'm not really scared to go speak, as much as contemplating what would be the best way to approach it. I, for one, have never really been a big fan of going for an hour and listening to someone drone on and on, even if the subject was somewhat interesting.
I've come to the conclusion that it will be more interactive with the audience. After all, most haven't read my book, and so I'll spend more time on what it is like to be an author, how to get ideas, what type of stories to write, and so on. I think by getting the audience to participate, it will be a better experience for all of us.
In addition, we'll be raffling off an autographed copy, as well as selling copies after the presentation.
For anyone that reads this blog before I go, I'd love some feedback on what you would like to hear an author speak about. Below are some general ideas I've been kicking around:
*What makes a story? To quote one of my teachers, "trouble." There is always some sort of conflict or problem in stories. Sometimes the trouble is manmade, sometimes nature made, and even sometimes it is self made. I'm thinking of bringing up several different well known stories to point up the trouble. Example: Jack and Jill went up the hill. . . Why did they go? What did they need the water for? How come Jack fell down? And why would Jill go tumbling after? There is all sorts of trouble in that story.
*What inspires you to come up with stories? Do you like to daydream? Do you like to pretend you are a hero of a story? Is it something that happened in your life that makes you want to tell the story? What do you do when you get stuck in writing your story?
*How do you go about writing a story? Do you write an outline or fly by the seat of your pants? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?
*How do you build a name for yourself? What are some marketing tools? What is blogging? (I'd read a blog or two--some of my funnier ones.)
*I also want to cover the subject of playing by the rules you create in a story. It doesn't make a good story if the ending "comes out of nowhere" or doesn't make sense (instead of Jill tumbling after Jack, she turned into a zombie and flew to the moon.)
I was also thinking of starting off by having people tell me what kind of stories they like to read. Aliens? Vampires? Knights in shining armor? Modern day events? Ninjas? And what would be the problem of trying to include all these elements into the same story.
Whatever happens, it is sure it be an interesting experience.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's a kind of magic

The 24th of July is a special day for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's the day that is celebrated to remember the pioneers arriving at the Salt Lake Valley, and being told this would be their home.
There is a great series, called The Work and the Glory, which describes the trials these pioneers went through--things that are hard for us to imagine. But as hard as it is for us to understand what it would be like to pull a handcart across Wyoming, I would imagine it would be just as hard for them to understand some of the things we take for granted every day.
If I went up to one of these pioneers, pulled out a small black box that fit in my hand, and told them I was going to talk to someone in China, they would think I was crazy. And what if I showed them I could do it? Could it be perceived as magic?
Or imagine going to King Arthur and using a laptop, showing him a satellite image of Camelot. Of course, it would have to be magic, wouldn't it?
I recall my 9th grade electronics teacher posing this question: "What would life be like without the use of electricity? How different would your life be?" It blew our minds to list all the different ways it would impact us.
Then he asked a question that really blew our minds: "What hasn't been invented yet, or isn't widely used, that in twenty five years from now people are going to wonder how we lived without it?" Now, this is dating myself some, but I graduated High School in 1987.
So what is this "thing" that is now in everyday use that we would have a hard living without? It's a little thing called the "internet." Yes, believe it or not, it wasn't until I was in college that I had any exposure to the internet. Even then, it was America Online with my speedy 2.4 K bits-per-second modem (I think that was how fast it was, or slow as the case may be). Back then, you would type in a webpage, then go make a sandwich, take a jog around the park, come back home and take a shower followed by a little nap, and by then the page would be loaded.
So things we can see but don't understand may seem like magic, and perhaps that could even be considered magic.
This point was driven home to me one day by then 3 year old daughter Amy. After work one day, she was so excited to see me because she had a magic trick she wanted to show me. The trick was in the bathroom, which made me a bit leery since she had recently been potty trained.
Her trick was this: she rolled off about three feet of toilet paper. She lifted up both lids of the toilet and put one end in the water, with the other end hanging outside the bowl. She then closed the lids and flushed the toilet. Very soon, the toilet paper outside the bowl moved up and into the toilet. Tada! Magic!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

You load 16 tons, and what do you get?

Clear Creek, Utah was where I went to summer camp between my 5th and 6th grade years. We spent a week learning all sorts of things about nature and the wilderness and so on. Naturally there was the story of the "hermit" who haunted the area--it seems every camp has to have a ghost story attached to it, or it doesn't qualify as a summer camp.
One of the many things we learned there was about the old west. Now remember that this was a few years back, so I'm just writing what I recall. Back then, some of the more unscrupulous business men came up with a plan to keep men working for them. They would hire them to come work in these middle of nowhere places to mine ore or (ore or?) any other number of jobs. Because they were so far from anywhere, the workers couldn't really pop over to Target to get their needs. So what do you do? Simple: the owner creates a general store where the workers can buy supplies. And even better, they don't have to pay for them, they instead will just deduct the goods from the worker's pay. Sounds pretty good, right?
Unfortunately, some of these owners figured out that if they charge more for the goods than what the workers could make, then the workers ended up owing the company money--and would have to work to pay it off. It was a downward spiral for the workers.
I believe this inspired the song "16 Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford (who was actually from Tennessee, believe it or not). It was one of the songs we learned at summer camp. The chorus went:
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

It's hard to believe they could get away with something like that. But, times were tough and people would do anything to get and keep a job. Hmmm. Not so unlike today.
There is an interesting word in the business world. It is "salary". If you make a salary, you don't qualify for overtime pay. What this equates to is owners and companies using that as an excuse to work someone as many hours as they can.
But those hours don't have to be at your physical job location. With the increase in technology, we can now have access to our work at home. Heck, you can even have work access in your hand with a mobile internet device. Then there are also the company issued cell phones, so they can reach you "whenever it is important." It's amazing how many things are "important" these days.
The line between home life and work continues to become more blurred. And I am going to go out on a limb and say that isn't a good thing. If you are a married, you need time to spend with your spouse to keep your relationship healthy. If you are parent, you need time with your kids. And yes, you even need time for yourself. I honestly believe people work better when they have a good work / life balance.
If good old Tennessee Ernie Ford were to write that song today, it may go:
You sent sixteen emails, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I'm a salaried employee and my boss will say no.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yellow car! I win!

The western part of the United State of America is a big place. When you look on a map of the USA, you see all these big states, most with straight lines for borders. Then you look to the east and see all these funky shaped states--many much smaller than what is found out west. Heck, one of my daughters even pointed to Rhode Island once and said, "Aw, how cute! A baby state!" (No offense intended to those wonderful folks in RI)
My mother's parents (my grandparents) lived about four hours north of where I grew up in Utah. So, how do you entertain four small children on such a long trip? And remember, this was before the invention of the DVD players. You play games!
One game we would play is the alphabet game. Basically, someone would say "go!" and then the game was on. The object was to find signs or words on cars that contained the letter of the alphabet you were on. You had to say the name of the letter, point to it if you could (not a good idea if you are the driver) and then what the word it was in. For example: "C, (point to the sign) Salt Lake City!"
Once someone used a word, no one else could use it. As you can imagine, we would get stuck on J, Q and Z. You would think "X" would be tough, but with all the exit signs, it was one of the easier ones. I still remember "Zims"--a store in SLC that would be a great place to win the game.
When I traveled from Utah to Buffalo, NY for my internship, I drove alone. That was a long trip. I played the alphabet game a couple of times, and then decided to make it harder. I played the number game. The goal was to go from 1 to 100--and to make it more of a challenge, the numbers had to be by themselves; they couldn't be part of a larger number. Two days and who knows how many miles later, I finished the game. I even pulled off the side of the road and did a little dance (driving alone for that long when you are not use to it can make you do odd things).
Taking a trip last year to Atlanta with just my wife, during the six hour drive we got a little silly. There were these billboards that said in big letters: "Donate your boat!" So, every time we saw a boat being pulled, or parked on the side of a street, we'd point to it and yell, "Donate your boat!"--sometimes with a Scottish accent. (Things happen like that when you are being silly)
In Connecticut, I would drive my kids to school. If for no other reason, to be able to spend some time with them during those forever days. To keep them from bothering each other, we would play all sorts of different games. One was the fire hydrant game. Simple rules, really: count all the fire hydrants you can--everyone helps look for them and as a group, and we saw how many we could find.
Our latest game? If you see a yellow car, you point to it and say, "Yellow car! I win!" I'm not sure exactly what you win--perhaps some parting gifts like Rice-a-roni (the San Francisco treat) and a home version of the game. Granted, there are not a lot of yellow cars inside my house.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The night the port-a-potty burned down

When I think of culture shock, I think of visiting a foreign country and experiencing the differences in how people act (or react) to different situations. I have experienced culture shock a few times in my life. I grew up in Utah County which most certainly has a certain type of culture. When I moved to the Yucatan area of Mexico, that was a culture shock. Aside from the heat and the humidity, and the different language, there was also the lack of concern for time. There is a word in Spanish: ahorita. Despite the official definition, it seemed to mean, "right now" or "in a minute" or "in a little while" or "when I get around to it" depending on the person saying it or the circumstance. It took some getting used to.
The next major culture shock in my life? Moving to South Western Connecticut. As stated before, Utah Valley has a certain culture. In general, people tend to be careful of what they would say as not to offend. Again, this is a broad generality. Where we moved to in Connecticut, the general culture was to speak what was on your mind--because you had the right to do so, no matter how it made the other person feel.
Mixing those two cultures together made for an interesting experience. Also, people tended to be pretty guarded in public. In our neighborhood, we kind of knew the people right next to us, and also the woman across the street, but not really anyone else. At the end of our street was a little league baseball field. Open spaces in Connecticut were few and far between where we were, so we thought it was great to live next to an open field like that.
Sadly, it turned out not to be the best of experiences. The parking lot for the field wasn't lit, so it seemed like every night there was a car or two parked there. Why would you park your car in a dark parking lot? Well, it isn't to read scriptures or to have a quilting bee.
Our girls always wanted to ride their bikes or go play in the field, but I'd have to go check out and clean up the parking lot first. There were broken bottles that had a number and then the word "proof" written on the labels, beer cans, and other things my wife said I shouldn't mention.
One summer the town put a port-a-potty in the field. The blue stall stood like a beacon of relief at the edge of the field. Then one night, someone (more than likely one of these ne'er-do-wells that parked there at night) lit the port-a-potty on fire. Now, I'm not exactly sure how you do that, but I can tell you that when it caught fire, it really burned. The neighbors came out to watch while the fireman let the port-a-potty burn--it was beyond saving.
For the first time since we had lived there, we shared a moment with our neighbors. We talked about how it was a shame that someone would burn down such a defenseless port-a-potty, or mentioned how humid the summer had been. Heck, for a moment there, I thought we were going to hold hands and start to sing "Cumbia."
Time passed and we moved to North Carolina. Though the culture was more like where I had grown up, I still had some culture shock. The two things I noticed right away were: 1. There was no graffiti on the stop signs. 2. People you didn't know would wave to you. Now, the second one needs a little clarification. People who didn't know you in Connecticut would wave to you as well, they would just use a lot less fingers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Getting lost (not the TV show)

There is a great song by Michael Oldfield called "To Be Free" off his Tres Lunas album. (Can you call them albums? We can't really call them CDs or LPs or Cassettes or 8-Tracks or. . .) One of the lines in the song is "And if I get lost, I really don't mind. I'm free--doin' just fine."
At one point in The Hidden Sun, one of the characters comes to a favorite garden of hers and hopes to get "lost" in it--to forget the troubles of the world for a while. It may sound strange that someone would intentionally get lost, but there is a certain freedom attached to it.
Once in a while, I'll take a different way home. Or perhaps, I'll take a road I've bypassed before just to see where it takes me. There was even a game we played when we were teenagers. My car back then was a killer Datsun 200sx--yes, that was pre-Nissan. It was a sweet ride. I had a friend that told me it looked like a spaceship--all low to the ground with its hatchback fitted with sun blind things (neither my wife nor I could recall the name). It also had a digital clock that showed the seconds!
We would get into my car, and we would drive until we came to a stop light or stop sign. If we stopped when the seconds were odd, we would turn left. If the seconds were even, we would go right. For zero? That meant to go straight--if we could.
This game led us to some pretty strange places. Keep in mind, this was in Utah Valley--a pretty darn safe place to live. There was one night it took us into Provo, up against the mountains. We found ourselves driving down this back alley behind some pretty big houses. On one of the walls behind one of these houses was an old, stone wall. In the stone, there were shapes of crosses--the kind you would see on a Crusader's shield or Knight's crest. It was kinda freaky. This was about the same time the third Indiana Jones movie had come out, so we let our imaginations run wild and claimed we found where they buried the knights who were protecting the Holy Grail.
To this day, if I need to clear my head, or look for inspiration for the next section of whatever project I'm working on, I'll go try and get lost. Granted, more often than not, after I've found that peace or inspiration, I'll have to pull out my map to find my way home.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Examples of proofreading gone bad

A good writer depends on others for proofreading their work. Even after having several people read The Hidden Sun, the final version still has a few extra words, wrong words and typos. My wife makes me feel better about the mistakes as she will point out the same issues in books she is reading--there are even some in the Twilight series! *gasp*
That's a risk you take when you display your work for public scrutiny, there is bound to be people who will find flaws in your work. Some people actually make a living from it. They are called critics.
However, there are some mistakes that could, or more likely should be caught and fixed before being put on display.
Here is what I mean:

Perhaps they should look up the word "always".

So what happens to the other dollar?

Not even during kid hunting season?

Apparently the 24 hours aren't in a row.

Dang it! Now where am I going to park my blimp?

How about I just go really slow. Is that ok?

Little known fact: this is what Ebay was originally called.

It's part of a new marketing plan. We put the "cool" in "shcool".

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Love and Spam

Growing up in the 80's, there were (was?) a plethora of "hair bands" or "heavy metal" rock bands that came out. It seemed that the bands had a competition to pick the scariest or most dangerous names they could think of. Example of a dangerous name? Poison. Then there was Motley Crue, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Venom, Dark Angel, (I'm not making these up) Possessed, Motorhead, Nitro, Slaughter, Extreme, Thunder, T. N.T., The Scream and Hurricane. The most dangerous name of all? That would have to be Danger Danger. You can tell they are dangerous because they used the word "danger" twice in their name. If only they had been bold enough to go with Danger Danger Danger.

If you couldn't think of a dangerous name, (and who could after all the good ones were taken as noted above) you could always go with naming your band after an animal. That brought us Whitesnake, Scorpions, W.A.S.P., Ratt (spelling didn't matter), King Kobra (not to be confused with Cobra), White Lion, Faster Pussycat, Jackyl, and of course: Def Leppard. Pretty scary, eh? An animal with a hearing condition.

Then there were those that tried to sound cool, but didn't quite hit the mark. Twisted Sister (Okay, maybe twisted, but it is still a girl!), Quiet Riot (The sound of mute discontents roaming the streets), Guns 'n Roses (Ah, how sweet, you brought me roses. . . and guns?), Killer Dwarfs (insert your own joke here), Y & T (because those letters are much more dangerous than X & Q) and Kix (Finally! A heavy metal band that is kid tested, mother approved!)

Being the smart aleck I was, while working in the meat department of a grocery store, I would pass the time by making up names for bands. I came up with the best one ever--it was the most ridiculous name I could think of. My fellow co-workers loved it too and so we would joke about it anytime a customer came in wearing a T-shirt from one of the bands mentioned above. Then one day, a customer came in wearing a T-shirt that bore the name of my made up group. At the time, I couldn't believe it. But then, it was only a matter of time before someone would use the name Megadeth (yes, to make it even cooler, they left out the "a" in death).

With that joke taken away from me, I turned to something I thought was sillier: Spam. Now, back then, Spam was only mystery meat--it wasn't used to describe unwanted emails. Spam was just inherently funny--no doubt due to a certain sketch by Monty Python.

So what do you do with a funny word? Simple, you replace the word "love" in all the song titles you can think of with the word "spam".

Imagine the following:

"I will always spam you"--Whitney Houston
"Lost in spam"--Air Supply
"Endless Spam"--Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
"Tainted spam"--Soft Cell
"Addicted to spam"--Robert Palmer
"Can't help falling in spam"--UB40
"Greatest spam of all"--Whitney Houston (again)
And of course, the one that sums it all up:
"I want to know what spam is"--Foreigner

Don't we all, Foreigner. Don't we all.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The right to choose actions, not consequences

The 4th of July in the United States of America is called Independence Day. It marks the day when the leaders of the young country stood up and basically said, "We are tired of being told what we can and cannot do."
People wanted to be able to worship what they wanted: Freedom of Religion
People wanted to be able to speak up when our leaders were doing wrong: Freedom of Speech
People wanted to be treated fairly: All men are created equal.
It's my belief that the basic concept of freedom is having the right to choose. And I also believe that every person on the earth has this right and ability. What we all do not have is the right and ability to select the consequences of our actions.
If you stick your hand in a fire, that is your choice. The consequence is that you will get burned.
If you don't eat or drink, that is your choice. The consequence is that you will get hungry and thirsty.
Too often people confuse the right to choose their actions with a right to choose their consequences. I had an employee once tell me, "I won't be coming in to work today. It is too snowy outside." While in some lines of work and areas of the country that is acceptable, and actually a good idea, when you work at a 24 hour news station in New England, that doesn't really fly. They couldn't understand that they got written up for not showing up for work--though the expectation was made very clear when they were hired. They said they had the right to choose not to come to work--and I agreed. What they didn't have is the right to choose the consequence for not coming to work.
In my professional life, I've often gotten in trouble for speaking my mind on certain subjects--even though I was 100% in the right, and I knew it.
My first job was at a fast food restaurant. When working in the cooking area, it was required for us to wear hats. However, when the managers came back to help, they never wore hats. When working on a cash drawer, we could only be off 50 cents by the end of our shift or we would be written up. However, when we went on break, a manager would take over our drawer. In one of our staff meetings, I brought up these two points--especially about the cash drawer. "If I am held accountable for the money in my drawer, then I should be the only one with access to it." The answer? "Managers are managers because they don't steal and don't make money changing mistakes."
On my last review I worked there, I got a very low rating for having a poor attitude.
I can imagine that if the founding fathers of the United States of America were given a review after they declared their independence by the king of England, their rating would have been similar.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What nickname would you give Nick?

When we were first married, I got a call from my wife one night telling me that we were "going to have an addition to the family." I was in shock! I was going to be a dad! Or at least I that is what I thought until she continued, "I'm bringing home a puppy!"
Home comes this little fluff ball--a terrier / poodle mix, also known as a terri-poo. This cute little puppy was smaller than my shoe, and promised not to be much bigger as he grew. Since my wife made the executive decision to add to the family, she agreed I could name him. I looked at this little doggy and thought, "This little dog is going to need a big name." My selection? Armageddon.
Now Armageddon is a bit of a mouthful, so a nickname was needed. A traditional nickname would have him be called "Army", but we didn't like that. So, I borrowed the "g" further down in the name and tada! The nickname "Argy" was born. (Also known as "Argy Dargy")
I've always found it interesting how someone has gotten a nickname, even though no one can always explain why they "stick."
There are many strange nicknames that have stuck in my family. My oldest sister? Fred. (Much to the dismay of my mother that her only daughter was given a boy's nickname) Why Fred? I don't know.
My little brother? Hose, short for "hoser", as in a term from the 80's meaning "dork, goofy head, and silly pants." If you ever met my little brother back then, you'd know why. To this day, I'll call him that, and my kids affectionately call him "Uncle Hose."
My kids have had all sorts of nicknames over the years, but none more interesting than my third child which for the first few years of her life was "Ba-boo". She was an early walker, which also meant she fell a lot. When she would fall, she'd look up at us like, "Am I ok?" We'd respond "bonk-a-boo!" in a light, happy voice, letting her know she was fine. However, she would fall so often, over time we shortened it to "Ba-Boo!" There was even a time when she wouldn't answer by her given name--only to Ba-boo. (Though if we call her that now, she gives you the evil eye)
Growing up, I never really liked my middle name. It came from my grandfather, who I thought was cool, but "Lloyd" sounded so old-fashioned. My little brother caught on to this fact and would call me "Lloyd" every chance he could get. (He still calls me that to this day)
But then it came time to pick a pseudonym, or pen name, for my book. My given name, Jason Morgan, is way too common (I went to high school with another Jason Morgan) as well as being a character on General Hospital. I also wanted the pseudonym to be reflective of the real me, so J. Lloyd Morgan was born.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

-9v + 4:40 am = @^#$&!

There is a classic lyric that states, "Those who know what's best for us, must rise and save us from ourselves." Of course, in the context of the song, the author is being sarcastic. However, in life it is amazing how often we are constantly being saved from ourselves.
I'm still amazed at the story of the person who sued a certain restaurant because she spilled coffee on her and it was hot. Her complaint was that no one warned her the coffee was hot. So why are there not warning signs on ice cream cones warning us they are cold?
Please don't misunderstand--I am strongly in favor of anything that will keep me and my family safe. There are times, however, when these safety features or warnings get out of hand.
Last night, our ten year old came to our room at 4:40 am complaining that her radio/alarm clock was making a beeping sound and was keeping her awake. My wife, bless her, came to her wits first and instructed her to unplug the radio/alarm clock. The ten year old said she already had, (Smart girl!) but it was still beeping.
By now, I heard the beeping she was talking about and recognized it as the smoke detector warning that the battery was getting low. Understand that we've had our issues with smoke detectors before. In one of our previous houses, we had a smoke detector right by an inside door--and if you closed the door too quickly, the air caused by the closing of the door would set off the alarm.
We've also had smoke detectors so close to the kitchen that when my wife was cooking certain items, (don't ask me what--she's the chef) the smoke detector would go off. I would joke that there had to be a better system to let me know dinner was almost ready.
So, back to last night: We got up and I verified that the sound was coming from the smoke detector in our ten year old's room. No problem, right? Just replace the battery. What? It takes a 9 volt? Who uses 9 volt batteries for anything anymore? Didn't those go out of style the same time as VHS machines? We don't have any of those on hand. Alright, well, we'll just take the battery out and get one in the morning. There are smoke detectors in the hall, in the other girls' room and in our main bedroom--we'll be fine.
We took the battery out of the smoke detector and that was the end of it, right? WRONG! The other smoke detectors in the area started that beeping now. To be clear: this is not the beeping that there is a fire, but a little "chirp" that happens every minute or so. What in the world? So, upon further inspection, I note that the 9 volt battery is actually a backup in case the power fails and each of the smoke detectors are wired into the house power--and linked together by some sort of communication network.
In taking out the battery of one, the rest of the detectors then started freaking out. Of course, this had to happen at 4:40 in the morning--it couldn't happen while we were all awake. We tried everything. I looked for a breaker to turn off the detectors--no luck. (Plus, not the safest thing to do, either) Finally, I got out my tools and was going to just disconnect the darn thing. As I got up on a chair with tools in hand, I noticed there was a way to simply unplug the smoke detector from the house power. That did the trick.
So, the lesson learned here: always keep some extra 9 volt batteries on hand, or replace them every 6 months like you should. And while you are buying some extra 9 volts, you may want to pick up a few extra VHS tapes as well--you never know.