Piercing the Clouds

And now we come to one of the patches of sunshine I’d mentioned in my previous post.

On my fiction blog, I’ve thrown myself into a few writing challenges to keep the creative juices flowing, and it’s paid off quite well!

A weekly challenge called Three Line Tales provides a photo prompt around which a three line story must be constructed. My entry for last week’s prompt went on to become my most popular post yet, which is pretty awesome! You can check it out here.

Another challenge I’ve been involved in since last year is WEP (Write, Edit, Publish), where a writing prompt is issued every two or three months. The first prompt of 2016 was the Valentine’s Challenge.

When the challenge was announced it left me stumped. Romance is not my genre at all, and I didn’t want to attempt to write something sappy. Part of me considered skipping it altogether, but then what’s the point of a challenge if you’re not going to challenge yourself?

So I decided to give it a shot. After a lot of thinking and several abandoned ideas, I finally came up with something that seemed like it would be a worthy entry. I was pretty happy with it overall, considering how reluctant I’d initially been about writing it. And it seemed to garner quite a bit of praise when it was submitted.

Just yesterday, I got an email thanking all the writers that participated in the WEP Valentine’s Challenge and announcing the winners. As it turns out, I had the winning story! Did not see that coming!

My WEP entry is posted here.

It’s those little victories that keep me chugging along and make me glad I decided to start blogging.

 

The Future is Full of…Stuff

At last, I’ve reached the end of Writing 101! This is the last assignment and I’m only over a month late! It occurs to me that the past few posts have started with some variation of ‘Oh wow, I’m so behind on this..’, but I’ll be done with that now, I promise! Well, maybe.

This assignment is about looking to the future. What does the coming month hold for me? The coming year? Decade? Well, truthfully, I don’t know. Some days I’m not even sure what dinner holds for me. Given the lateness of this assignment, I’ll be looking at the immediate past and the future, like Janus of Roman myth.

The month after the actual conclusion of Writing 101 was October, which ended up being a ridiculously busy time for me. Had I finished the assignment on time, I would have mentioned that I planned on writing a series of horror stories leading up to Halloween. And indeed, I did. It’s called 20 Tales of Terror, and you can find all the stories on my fiction blog, Tales of Unusual Strangeness. The plan was to write a story per day, starting in the second week of the month. This was mainly because I was burnt out from a crazy hectic September, so my original plan of 31 stories didn’t pan out. That wasn’t all, though! I also decided, in a stroke of genius (or ‘genius’), that I would create an illustration to accompany each tale! What fun! Except, of course, I had no idea what to draw.

At first I thought I’d draw a detailed scene from each story, but that would be too intensive. So I settled for something evocative of the story’s theme/tone, featuring some key elements from the story. Easier said than done. Writing the stories was no problem. I created an editorial calendar of sorts, outlining what stories I planned to write (this was mostly improvised for the last week or so). That was no problem. Barring the occasional bit of writer’s block, my fingers danced over the keys and produced stories I was quite happy with. Each day, I’d have a story ready to publish. The drawings, however, completely derailed my schedule. Conceptualizing the image was the hardest part, but drawing and coloring also ate up a lot of time, and I ended up missing a day here and there and then posting multiple stories the next day to catch up. All because my images weren’t ready. Shoot.

I got there in the end, though, and managed to post my last story on Halloween after a mad dash to get that picture completed. There was even time to participate in a Halloween story challenge earlier in the month. The downside, as the eagle-eyed reader (that’s you) may have noticed, is that this blog became a ghost town.

But that’s all over and done with. Halloween, sadly, is over. A new month is upon us. So, what does that mean? As I said earlier, I have no clue. I’m taking a short break from my fiction blog so I can devote more time to reading all the blogs I’ve been missing out on, and to develop some story ideas instead of trying to put them together on the fly, as I’ve often done. I’m also rethinking how to approach my fiction blog. In an attempt to get more (and more consistent) page views, I had gotten into the habit of posting a short 50-word story and a haiku every day. While that was fun, I found myself getting more focused on the quantity of my posts and let the quality slide now and again. Over the past two months, I’ve been writing stories that averaged 700 words (but usually more) and I’ve really enjoyed that, mainly because it’s allowed me to develop the characters of each story and give them some breathing room. So I’m wondering if I should fall back into the old routine, or only do one or two posts a week, with longer stories. Maybe even a mini series. Something to ponder over the next week or so.

And of course, there’s this blog. I am a fiction writer at heart, but I do enjoy posting my rambling thoughts here as well, and seem to get more feedback than on my other blog. But how to go about this? Shortly after I’d started both blogs, I thought I would do daily posts on both. My pull towards fiction makes that impossible, as I often put this blog on the back burner when thinking up stories. What should I do with this? Leave it as a place to post the occasional ramble or try to make it into something more cohesive? Hmm.

I think, taking a cue from a forgotten Writing 101 assignment, I’ll post a poll in another day or two asking for feedback on both my blogs. It might not give me an immediate answer, but should hopefully nudge me along in one direction or another.

So I guess in the immediate future, I’ll be charting out the course of my blogs. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

Halloween Roundup

I’ve finally reached Assignment 19 of Writing 101, about a month after the original assignment was published. Fantastic!

This assignment was about featuring a guest post as part of a collaboration we were asked to consider in a previous assignment. Needless to say, that plan didn’t pan out in any way. So instead, I’ll go with the alternate assignment, which is to feature a roundup of posts that we’ve enjoyed reading this week.

For me, that’s an easy one. A couple of months ago, I had participated in the first WEP (Write, Edit, Publish) Challenge of the year, a bi-monthly blogging event hosted by Yolanda Renee and Denise Covey. It was a lot of fun, and when they announced a Halloween challenge, I was on board right away. I mean, how could I not write a story based around my second favorite occasion of the year?

The challenge took place from October 21st to 23rd, and there were quite a few spooky entries to check out. They’re all included in the link below. Please do check them out, and drop a comment or three! My entry can be found on my fiction blog Tales of Unusual Strangeness, but the direct link to the story’s on the list (it’s number 16):

WEP Halloween Challenge

Happy reading! For best results, make sure you’re completely alone with not a single light on. Bwahahaha!

Where in the World…?

As the twilight of October approaches, I’m still limping along with the last remnants of Writing 101. I refuse to just give up on the assignments, and my OCD-prone mind won’t allow me to blog about anything else until all they’ve all been completed in order. I think it’s been well over a week since I last posted, because I’m having increasing difficulty in balancing two blogs, a full-time job, and other assorted hobbies. To honor my second favorite festival (that would be Halloween), I’ve started a series called 20 Tales of Terror on my fiction blog, where I’ve been posting a freshly-written short story (with an accompanying illustration, also done by me) every day. As such, the majority of my focus has been on that, and I’ve ended up neglecting this poor blog.

Anyways, we’re now on Assignment 18. Well, I am. Because see previous paragraph. For this one, we’re asked to draw inspiration from some town or city from around the world. It could be a place we’ve lived in, visited, want to visit or, simply one we picked blindly off a map.

Geography’s never been my strong suit, so it’s likely that if I go the map route, I’ll wind up landing on some city in eastern Angola or the south of Turkey, which will require a bit of research before I can even think of what to write about the place. So maybe I’ll ditch the map option. I’m also not extremely well-traveled. I’ve seen a lot of airports in my time, but not nearly enough of the cities outside of them. Instead, I’ll talk about a place that’s close to my heart, mainly because of the people I met there. That place is State College, Pennsylvania.

I have grown up in cities. The early years of my childhood were spent between Kuwait and Calcutta, and my formative years were in Dubai, which was a fairly bustling metropolis even back in the day. I was used to towering skyscrapers, cavernous shopping malls and only the barest hint of greenery, usually found in parks. However, I had grown up on a steady diet of TV shows where people lived in charming suburban houses with wide front lawns and picket fences. It was so different from anything I knew, and I fell in love with the idea of a quiet, sleepy community where everyone wasn’t in a hurry to go places.

Shortly after high school graduation, I went to visit my dad in Austin for a couple of weeks, where he was working at the time. It was my first trip to the US, and it was amazing. We went via Chicago, which didn’t look too different from what I knew (aside from a bit more greenery). But landing in Austin is when I really saw a different side of life. There no tall buildings near where my dad lived. He was in a small community, on the second floor of a townhouse. There was a balcony with an amazing view of nature spread out before me, with not a skyscraper or mall in sight.

About six months later, I was on my way to Penn State, an excited (and nervous) young freshman embarking on life away (far, far away) from home for the first time. I was completely torn up over leaving everyone I knew behind, and worried about how I would adjust to college life. That all changed once I landed up in State College. It felt like home. There was no greenery when I got there, as it was early January. But I did get to see snow for the first time in my life. The world that I had seen in so many Christmas movies and TV shows was now all around me. Like Austin, this was a place that was built horizontally, not vertically. There were fields and trees and wide open spaces to walk in. Even during the rush between classes, everything moved at a much slower pace than what I was used to. It was idyllic.

Granted, it was still a college town, so things could get a little rowdy on weekends, but drunken tomfoolery aside, it was a great place to be. Even better are the surrounding townships, all with a quaint charm of their own. Bellefonte, one of the neighboring towns, prides itself on its historic roots and is like a doorway to the past. On occasion, I took trips to neighboring cities and states, which involved traveling across long stretches of highway with rolling hills on one side and a river running through the other. State College itself, nicknamed Happy Valley, provided a majestic hilly view on the horizon no matter where you went.

Returning to Dubai from there was quite a shock. Chilly country breezes replaced by hot gusts of smog and sand, towers of steel and glass instead of farmland and greenery, and then there was the pace of life. I had forgotten just how fast people moved in Dubai. Everyone’s in a rush to go somewhere. There’s hardly ever time to stop and breathe. I remember having long, relaxed conversations about absolutely nothing with my friends in college as we sat on a porch overlooking a gorgeous hillside. All anyone can talk about here is work and money.

I’m hopeful that one day, I can find myself living in a smallish town again, living a simpler life. Until then, I’ll just have to try my best to walk in a world where everyone runs.

Artifacts

This assignment involved scanning through online history, such as old Facebook posts or blog drafts, to come up with a post. Basically, we had to use our past as a creative platform for something new, which is always fun. The thing is, I’m not the most ‘social’ guy online, and I’ve been on and off Facebook so many times that there are no old posts to look through (except in Facebook’s own database, I guess, where they’ll store that information for all eternity).

In today’s world, people are obsessed with documenting every mundane moment of their lives, creating a virtual shrine to themselves for others to gawk at. You might gaze reverently upon the pictures of someone’s lunch or be amazed as you see their smiling faces in front of some famous monument. It give you the opportunity to live vicariously through them, and creates a patchwork vision of their lives. When you’re stuck behind a desk all day, seeing an unending stream of vacation photos could make it seem like everyone else is having a party you’ll never be invited to.

Anyways, this post isn’t supposed to be a rant about social media (with which I’ve had a loooong love/hate relationship). Though it does make me think about legacies, and what we’re leaving behind. We’ve seen the election of the first African-American US president, advances in equal rights for homosexual couples, and serious discussions about gender inequality. Will all that be overshadowed by poorly worded cat pictures? Oh sure, the history books (or ebooks or holo-transmissions) will cover the major events, as they always do. But what image will we project as individuals? Will our grandchildren know us more for our contributions to society or for our super sweet achievements in online roleplaying games?

For me, it’ll definitely be the latter. My video games, action figures, comics and books will be the artifacts of my life. They’ll be like the treasures of the pharaohs. Maybe I’ll stash them away somewhere and design an elaborate treasure hunt for my descendants. They’ll probably think they’re going to uncover some sort of huge secret that might change the way they look at their family history, or even the world. They’ll think they’ve got some sort of Da Vinci Code on their hands. I wonder what it’ll feel like when they finally find it, and see that first Batman action figure scowling at them. It’s gotta sting when you find out that Grandpa’s just saying, “Gotcha, suckers!” from beyond the grave.

So…yeah. This post may have gotten away from me a bit. But I suppose it’s just another piece to add to the puzzle that is my online life. Maybe one day, someone will go through my archives to learn more about the stranger in this strange mind, and come across this post. I hope they read it, and I hope they react the same way I did when I re-read it myself:

“What?!”

Searching for the Unknown

The 16th assignment of Writing 101 tasked us with finding inspiration from our stats page, looking for any trends or anomalies to structure a post around.

My stats are fairly boring, mainly thanks to my sporadic posting schedule. The most recent posts have the most views and most of my readers are from the US, UK and Australia. Alright. Great. The most common referrers to my site are Google and the WordPress Dashboard. Nothing groundbreaking there. Nobody ever really clicks on any links. That’s not too surprising either. When I read an article or blog post, I usually don’t click on a link unless it leads me to something that’ll lend more context to the article in question. The most common search terms that lead people to my site are ‘unknown search terms’.

Hmmmm…

Unknown search terms. That’s intriguing. What are people searching for that’s bringing them here? Presumably, they’re searching for a fun, quirky and exceedingly well-written blog created by a charismatic, intelligent and devilishly handsome young man whose scattered gray hairs are a sign of refinement and not premature aging. But that seems a tad wordy for a search engine. So, after conducting some thorough search engine research (which primarily consisted of sitting slack-jawed in front of my computer and daydreaming), I have come up with the top 10 search terms, presented in no particular order, that may have brought people here.

  1. How to woo a vampire
  2. Do minotaurs lay eggs?
  3. Cheating death, chess, checkers, cards
  4. Making the perfect souffle
  5. 15 secrets to flawless skin
  6. Mastering golf, time & space
  7. Marilyn Monroe wendigo
  8. What is human existence really worth as we go through our brief lives on this tiny rock careening through a vast universe whose furthest corners are unknown to man?
  9. Batman
  10. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

Bear in mind, these are just my best guesses based on rigorous analysis. What are people really searching for as they stumble onto this humble little blog? I am afraid the real answer shall remain…unknown.

Dreaming with Open Eyes

During the second week of Writing 101, we were supposed to ask for reader feedback, in the form of a poll or some other suitable method, on what sort of content they would like to see on the blog. I forgot to do that on the day it was assigned, and completely forgot to come back to it. Oops. Though I intend to set up an independent reader poll later on this month.

The 15th assignment was about writing on a reader-suggested topic, based off the poll. Needless to say, I’ve come up empty on that front. Fortunately, the good folks at WordPress provided some alternate topics to post about. One of them particularly piqued my interest.

The topic was: Have you ever felt awake, but in a dream?

I find the phrasing of that question to be a bit ambiguous. It could mean, have you ever had a dream so vivid, it felt like you were awake? Or it could mean, have you ever felt like you’re living a waking life inside a dream? I think one of those interpretations is definitely more valid than the other, but ultimately, both work for me!

Many people can relate to the former, I’m sure. You’re having a dream, either about something wonderful or something extremely terrifying, and it feels like it’s actually happening. Then you wake up and realize it was all a dream, but the world feels strange. You can still recall the dream so vividly, remember every detail, every sensation…and yet, none of it was real. You shared a romantic moment with someone you couldn’t pursue in real life, reconciled with an estranged friend, discovered that a long-dead relative was somehow alive again. And just like that, it all vanished, but those moments lingered. Heartbreak and disappointment was all you woke up to find.

If your dream involved being chased by zombie dentists, though, perhaps it was best that it turned out to only be a dream. Not that it’ll stop you from shrieking any time you hear anything that remotely sounds like a drill for the rest of the day.

The other interpretation, about living a life that feels like a dream, is something I experienced a lot in high school. My family lived in Kuwait until I was 6, at which point the first Gulf War broke out and we had to leave. I remember being woken in the middle of the night by my mom. We had to pack up all our things right then and go over to a friend’s house (serving as a temporary safe house), and in a few days, we’d leave the country. I was drowsy and confused and don’t remember much else about that night. It almost feels like we wound up at the safe house instantaneously.

For many years after that, I often had the weird idea that maybe I was still asleep back in Kuwait and everything that had happened from the point my mom ‘woke’ me was just a dream. Moving to a different country, changing school, making new friends, going through adolescence. All of it was just a strange fiction dreamed up by a 6 year old boy. Kind of like the ending of St. Elsewhere.

It was a ridiculous notion of course, and one that I grew out of, but it’s creepy to think about, the idea that everything I know and love might disappear in the literal blink of an eye. I might just wake up one day as a little boy who had a really long, vivid and confusing dream, one that haunts him for a while but is forgotten as soon as he sits down to watch cartoons.

Keep sleeping, little buddy. Keep sleeping.