Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tell Me Something Good #2

Robert E. Howard
[With all the bad going on in the world – the economy, politicians exposing themselves, the war on terror, Oprah going off the air, NFL season in jeopardy, cats and dogs sleeping together – it’s about time we celebrated the good things in life. Here at Defying Procrastination, Tuesdays have now become “Tell Me Something Good” Tuesdays. Every Tuesday I will post something good that has happened to me or someone else in my life and I want you to do the same. Leave me a comment and Tell Me Something good that is going on in your world!]

This Saturday, Alisha and I are taking a day trip to a quaint little town in Central Texas called Cross Plains. Why Cross Plains you ask? Well it just so happens to be where the Robert E. Howard Museum is located. Who is Robert E. Howard? Shame on you for asking that question. You lose geek and literary scholar points if you did.

Mr. Howard just so happens to be one of the Fathers of Modern Fantasy writers, dating back to the early 1920’s.  Howard was best known for his Pulp Fiction work for a magazine called “Weird Tales,” where is penned many stories spanning many different genres – from Westerns to Alternate History. During his short career he spawned many notable characters; Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn and Kull the Conqueror. However, he is best known for creating the character Conan the Barbarian. Yeah, I know, pretty awesome.

So Saturday we will be visiting the Robert E. Howard Museum – the house he grew up in and where he pinned the vast majority of his greatest works. From there, we are off to Brownwood, TX, just a short hop and skip away, to visit his family grave site. Alisha and I are super excited about it [NERD ALERT!].

Be sure to stop back by. I’ll share our experience and take lots of photos!

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

So now it’s your turn. Share something good that happened to you or someone you love this week. Lets share the love!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Child's Special Gift - Part 1

Brynn                                                          Gavin
[Read Part 2 here]
When you receive a gift from a child it warms the heart like no other feeling in the world. Handmade gifts are even more special, because often times those become family heirlooms that are treasured and then passed down generation to generation along with the story behind it. This is how our ancestors did it. Long before there were computers and video cameras. Long before there were typewriters and audio recorders. Long before there were paper and pencils to write with. In ancient times, stories were passed down through narrations and songs. If you had an item that was linked with that story – well that was a special treasure that was not only coveted by the person who possessed it, but of everyone who belonged to the village, clan, or tribe.

Recently I received some special gifts from my girlfriend’s children. As I had mentioned before [here], my little buddy Gavin was invited to attend the Lone Star Leadership Academy in Dallas. He took with him some money that he saved up from various gifts and chores that he had done around the house. This was his spending money - $50 - his only spending money for the entire week long trip. Now, it should be noted that Gavin isn’t afraid to spend money. The fact that he was able to save $50 in first place was a monumental accomplishment. Usually, once he has enough money saved up to buy the latest Star Wars or Marvel Superhero action figure, his money is gone faster than a Texas rainstorm in June.  

Gavin didn’t disappoint. True to his nature, upon returning from his trip, Gavin arrived with an arm full of items and an empty wallet. He spent it all. Only this time, he spent it on gifts for everyone else; his mom, his dad, me, and his little sister Brynn. He didn’t buy anything for himself. This also speaks to another trait that Gavin has – a big heart. I always thought he was an awesome kid, but this just took him up a few notches in my book. I thought his gesture was particularly special and thoughtful, especially for a 10-year old boy.

My gift? A “Professional Cowboy Golf Set” from the Ft. Worth Stockyards, comprised of a golf club made from pine, a pair of golf balls made from oak tree nuts, and a set of tees made from carved sticks. He was so excited; he couldn’t wait until Father’s Day to show me what he had got me. Oh, and I got a big hug too. Awesome!

My second gift was from Brynn. Brynn is very artistic and crafty, traits she gets honestly from her mother. Brynn loves drawing pictures, designing shirts for GeektGear, making handmade greeting cards and jewelry. One of her favorite things to do is write notes and messages on blank greeting cards and stationary, and then give them to you. The other day she gave me one that read, “I luv u Mick. Wil u mary mom?” There’s nothing like the subtlety of a child. Last week she gave one to her mother and I that read, “Mick, yur krazy an mom is to.” I laughed and laughed. She was mad at us because we wouldn’t let her do something she wanted to do, and as she often does, she expressed herself in the form of a greeting card. What made it so funny was the card she chose to express her angst on. It was a frilly card with a cute little teddy bear on the front holding flowers.

But the gift she gave me Friday was extra special. She made it with her own little hands, and it couldn't have come at a better time. I’d had a rough week, and when I came home, Brynn greeted me with a smile and a seashell tray that she molded and decorated all her own. It was a simple thing, but it meant the world to me. It also reminded me of the important things in life. It’s easy to get caught up in our day to day lives and lose sight of the special treasures right in front of us.

While the cowboy golf set and the handmade seashell tray were gifts I will always cherish, they pale in comparison to one precious gift - the love from a child.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

What are some of the gifts your child has bought or made for you? Do you still have them? Do you remember anything you made for your parents when you were a child? Share them. I want to read about them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Don’ts of Publication Submissions

The Writer by Michel Omar

In preparation for making my first submission to a publisher, I did some research on the topic. I wanted to make sure I understood exactly what was required, but mostly I wanted to make sure I didn't make any serious blunders that would rocket my manuscript straight to the trash in a blaze of obscurity. As it turns out, there are quite a few pitfalls ambitious writers commonly fall into that will get your submission or query letter rejected faster than an Obama impersonator at a GOP convention.

So to help out my fellow aspiring writers, I thought I’d compile a list of hazards to avoid at all cost:

Avoid any bad or off-color humor in your query letter. This seems obvious, but I’ve come across this advice a few times in my research. Depending on the topic of the submission and publication, some humor might be okay, but don’t overdo it.

Don’t be too wordy. Be concise and to the point. Avoid trying to impress the editors with flashy words and unrelated anecdotes. You have to remember that editors are usually short on time, and have even less patience when you waste it.

Whatever you do, do not call or e-mail the editor asking if they liked your material. Do not fret. If an editor likes what they read, they will contact you. Depending on the publication, it may take several months to get a response.

Avoid negativity about yourself. Let’s face it, a query letter is essentially a sales pitch. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, why should the editor? But don’t overdo it with fluff. A good editor will see right through it.

If making a physical submission vs. an email submission, don’t staple or bind the pages. It seems like a minor thing but think about it. If an editor likes your work, they will likely want to make photocopies to spread around the office. If your work is bound it just creates more hassle for them.

Never, and I mean never, print your submission on colorful paper or with colored text. Black text on quality white paper is all that will do. High quality watermarked paper is always a plus. Just make sure it is white.

Don’t use fancy fonts. Usually 12 point Times New Roman is the accepted standard, but make sure you check the requirements of the specific publisher you are sending your query to.

Don’t forget to include your contact information. This is especially important for email queries where it’s very easy to hit the [SEND] button a little early. Include your name, pen name (if applicable), address, and e-mail address.

Avoid the urge to douse your query letter in perfume, glitter, or potpourri. Yeah, I know. This one should also seem obvious, but I’ve seen it mentioned a few times so it must be a common mistake.

Don’t send gifts. Bribery will not work. It will only spark suspicion and likely insult the editor. If an editor doesn’t like your work, not even a year subscription to the “Jelly of the Month” club will persuade them. Let your work speak for itself.

You should avoid plastering the © symbol on your work. This is advice I should have taken myself. I had forgotten about this little tidbit of information when I made my submission until I was compiling this list. Of all the sins of submissions, I don’t think this one is particularly devastating. However, it can be a beacon to the editor that you are an amateur, since everyone in the biz knows that your work is automatically protected by copy write laws in the US. It can be seen as an insult to the editor that you don’t trust them, even though that wasn’t your intention.

Don’t start your submission with, “It has always been my dream…” Apparently this is the most overused phase in query letters for publications. It reeks of amateurism and unoriginality. I almost made this mistake too. Thanks, Alisha, for catching that.

Don’t forget to proof read, and then proof read some more. Nothing will hurt your chances more than a poorly written query letter or submission. It’s always a good idea to have others proof read your work too. A fresh pair of eyes will often catch errors that you overlooked. Thank you Alisha, Wes, Keith and Alex.

Don’t forget to include a SASE. Publishers appreciate, and most expect, you to include a SASE if you want your material returned to you after review. Obviously this is unnecessary if you are sending your query through email.

And finally, the most important DON’T is… don’t forget to read the submission guidelines for the publisher you’re making your query/submission to before you do anything else. This is an immediate deal breaker. If you do not follow the publishers guidelines to the letter, your material will not be read, least of all considered for publication.

I hope this helps anyone who is considering, or in the process of, submitting their work for publication. Sometimes it can be more helpful to know what not to do.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

Do you have any other advice for query and submission letters? Have any war stories or words of wisdom to share? I want to hear them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tell Me Something Good #1

[With all the bad going on in the world – the economy, politicians exposing themselves, the war on terror, Oprah going off the air, NFL season in jeopardy, cats and dogs sleeping together – it’s about time we celebrated the good things in life. Here at Defying Procrastination, Tuesdays have now become “Tell Me Something Good” Tuesdays. Every Tuesday I will post something good that has happened to me or someone else in my life and I want you to do the same. Leave me a comment and Tell Me Something good that is going on in your world!]

Today marks the beginning of “Tell Me Something Good” Tuesday, and I have a few good things that I want to share with you.

*   My sister Janet, after years of battling the court system, had finally been approved for disability. She is in bad physical shape. She was told by her doctor that if she didn’t quit work she was going to risk serious bodily harm to herself, or worse. I’m so excited for her. Now she will get the medications and surgery she needs so she won’t be walking around in constant pain anymore.

*   My great niece Jaclyn is participating in the TN vs. GA Girls Softball All-star Game today. What makes the event even more special is that Jaclyn, along with her teammate Kayla, are the first girls ever chosen to represent Pikeville, TN. So very proud of her! Go WARRIORS!

* My little buddy Gavin spent all of last week participating in the Lone Star Leadership Academy program. Gavin was nominated by his teacher Mr. Poe based on his outstanding grades and being a role model for his fellow classmates. As part of the program he got to visit many amazing places; Cowboys Stadium, Ripley’s Palace of Wax Museum, Texas Stockyards, Amon Carter Art Museum, Cowgirl Museum, JFK Museum, Dallas Museum of Nature and Science, Electric Theater, IMAX, Texas Civil War Museum, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Ft. Worth Botanic Gardens, and the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. What an amazing experience and what an amazing young man.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

So now it’s your turn. Share something good that happened to you or someone you love this week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tick Tock

T-eye-M by: Francesca Sanna 
So the waiting game begins. The clock has started. The time from submission to acceptance or rejection - it’s the time all aspiring authors dread. It can seem like an eternity waiting for that letter. That letter - or now in the digital age - that e-mail, which can propel you from wannabe author to a bona-fide published author.

Self doubt creeps in. Did I do my best? Did I do my submission correctly? Will my work be accepted? Will someone actually take the time to read it? What if they are in a bad mood when it comes across their desk, or pops up in their in-box? What if the editor just got off the phone with his wife who just informed him that she is leaving him for Bob in accounting? Sure it seems far-fetched, but Bob is a really nice guy. Not to mention, he drives an eco friendly Prius. And not one of those cheap Prius II models with a busted radio. No, he’s got a Prius III with a blown-out stereo system and the optional sunroof. Oh yeah!

What if the editor is a woman who hates men? She hasn’t always hated men; she just hasn’t had much luck with them. Her man woes all began with Johnny Lester who stood her up at prom. Nice move Johnny. Then there was Peter, a blind date setup by a co-worker. The date was so awful she long forgot his last name. She just jokes and calls him Peter All-hands McGee when she gets together with her gal pals to watch reruns of “Sex in the City” and devour a tub of Rocky Road.

Now it’s her boss, Mr. Tidwell. He refuses to give her a promotion. He has a lot of nerve considering he keeps her after work playing patty-cake with him until all hours of the night. That, and you would think her eyes were located on her chest when she talks to him. Way to ruin it for me Mr. Bossman. I can’t blame her for hating men. What a perv!

Thankfully I’m not worried about any of that - even though it could totally happen. I feel confident that I put my best foot forward, thanks in part to my good friends Wes, Keith, and Alex who helped me give it a good polish before sending it off.  A very special thank you goes out to my love, Alisha. Without her guidance, support, urging, and endless belief in me, I may not have taken that first step in trying to fulfill my dream. Thank you honey!

The hard part is done. Now is not the time to sit around and wait. NOW is the time to start on that next writing project, honing my skills, and reaching for even bigger and brighter stars. The time is now.

Tick tock…

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Are you an established author? If so, what was it like waiting for your first response? Anyone have any good submission stories or words of wisdom to share? I want to hear them.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Dream

Charles E. Walker - Taken just a few months before I was born.
My father was born during the heart of the Great Depression in the hills of Tennessee. He lost his mother when he was barely two years old after she gave birth to his baby sister Omah.  The death of his mother left his father with the burden of raising five children – one infant and a toddler - while trying to carve out a living in the harsh environment of a Tennessee lumber mill. In a time when there wasn’t any daycares, televisions, or video games to keep the children occupied while he worked from sun up to sun down, my grandfather made the decision to give his newborn daughter up for adoption and send the rest of the children away to live with various relatives and friends - a decision of contested debate amongst our family.

I’m sure that decision weighed on my grandfather heavily the rest of his life, but like all of us, sometimes life forces you to make tough decisions, and being human we don’t always make the best choices. I believe in my heart my grandfather did what he thought was best for the children. I can only imagine how hard that choice must have been.

My father was sent off to live with his uncle, my grandfather’s brother. There, my father told me he endured a great deal of abuse and neglect for many years. He would tell me stories of how his uncle beat him and made him work in the fields from dawn to dusk as a child. When he was old enough to do a man’s work, he was taken out of school to work the farm every day. My father’s academic career ended before he could complete the 7th grade.

He had a hard life, but it never stopped him from dreaming.

It never stopped him from believing he could accomplish anything he set out to do, even though people repeatedly told him he couldn’t. Despite his lack of education and his rough and rugged upbringing, my father accomplished a great deal in his life. He was a whiz at math. When I was in elementary school he developed a horse betting system based on numbers and formulas that he sold nationwide. When I was in junior high he invented a camera that could take pictures from different angles and blend them together instantly. Shortly after that, he sat down and wrote a complete murder mystery novel. When I was in high school he taught himself how to program a computer, and would write code that often times left me speechless. When I was grown and out of the house my father developed a script for a movie idea he had. His passion to never give up his dreams now lives on in me.

This day marks a monumental step in my life. Today, I have submitted my first entry to a publishing company. It marks the beginning of fulfilling a dream I’ve had of becoming a published author. While I expect there will be many rejection letters in my future, I will have my father with me in spirit to help me endure the lashes and whelps as I pursue this dream.

My father taught me many things, but the one thing he taught me above all was to never stop dreaming. Never stop believing in yourself even when others have. This is why I have chosen today, Father’s Day, to begin this quest in honor of him – pursuing reality one dream at a time.

This is for you Dad.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

Tell me about some of your dreams. Have you set it  things in motion to pursue them? What are some of nuggets of wisdom or character traits your father has pass down to you. I want to hear them!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Desperate the Times

Railroad by phatpuppy 

Desperate the times of life's weary short comings
Closer by the hour, our life begins
Boastful by nature, an uncontrollable demise
Tomfoolery for those who entice
One's wasteful presumption of heart’s content
Compassion for those of an unfortunate descent
Quick, hasten to those who scorn
The broken promises of the unborn
Truth by justice, a fatal mistake
Illusion haunts us to cleverly partake
An overwhelming desire of one for another
Deception of an unruly departure
A tattered soul on a deserted course
No chain can sorrow my heart's remorse
Piercing by the other's watchful attention
Restless upon a timeless dimension.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

What kinds of emotions does this poem invoke in you? 

I Killed A Mouse Today

The tick of the calendar had just notched forward,
The new day still very young,
When Reba came to her master.
She sat beside me, her obedient eyes gazed skyward.

She nudged and whimpered, and got my attention.
Her ears were lowered,
And her eyes glued to mine.
I sat there a moment and contemplated her intention.

The day swallowed by hard work and determination,
I now sat idle at my desk;
Pondered where time had escaped.
Reba nudged again, she cared not for my rhyme or literation.

I patted her head lovingly; I knew she had to go.
My bladder sought relief too.
It had been long since,
My eyes had strayed from the screen; prose I did sew.

I rose to my feet, my shoes secured in hand.
Before I knew it,
She had bolted out.
Guilt and pain sat in, her eagerness I did understand.

Out the door and down the hall I did flee,
But to my surprise,
Reba was not at the door.
Her tail and ears were raised, her nose buried in debris.

Bags of old toys and clothes bound for Goodwill,
Littered the floor,
Where she stood.
Her tail wagged with excitement; what was the deal?

I strolled over to the bags and moved them around.
A muffled chatter,
Came from the pile.
Reba tilted her head quizzically; she did not give ground.

It was an old doll I had determined, my mind cemented.
I ushered Reba along,
Up the stairs and into the night.
The wilderness our quarry, we did our business; our midriff contented.

She wasted little time; her movements were swift and sure.
Through the door,
And down the steps she ran.
Eager to bed I thought; my reasoning empathetic and secure.

I followed her lead, shutting off lights and closing doors as I went.
When I reached the bottom,
She was not in her bed.
Her nose buried again, her insistence renewed upon a foreign scent.

I hastened my steps; my curiosity now peaked.
I moved the bag,
And Reba lunged.
Out ran a mouse, quick and nimble; how it did squeak.

It ran for its life, darting and zigzagging across the floor.
Reba pursued,
And she pounced.
In her mouth it did land, its hope for escape was no more.

I gave command to drop her newly acquired prize.
Reluctantly she did,
As she was told.
A motionless heap, wet with slobber and blood; dead I surmised.

Another sharp command, and off to her bed Reba did go.
My attention now diverted,
The mouse sat up.
Chattering in protest and pain, it lived; my heart filled with woe.

My pulse raced, my frazzled mind followed in suit.
What to do?
Let it go,
Or stamp it out and render it mute?

The drool pooling at her feet told me what Reba would do.
Was it diseased?
Who could tell?
It was suffering, its blood ran red was all I knew.

I bounded around the room, desperate to find,
Something, anything,
That would give me a clue.
Wrapping paper will do, with it I shall bind.

I tore off a piece and made my approach.
I grabbed the mouse,
The paper enveloped.
Its fate I held tightly, it squealed in reproach.

In my hand the harmless invader became alive.
He kicked and squirmed,
The will to live not inhuman.
He begged to be set free, but I knew then he would not survive.

The mouse was persistent, hell-bent on escape.
I squeezed harder,
His heartbeat I felt.
The paper compacted and conformed around his diminutive shape.

Back up the stairs and into the bathroom I went.
A quick toss,
And a plunk.
The paper writhed, but the watery tomb he could not accent.

I watched in horror, my mind lamenting, my heart filled with dread.
Little bubbles appeared,
The water now still.
What once shared air and space was now most certainly dead.

I killed a mouse today.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination 

Ever have to kill something you didn't want to? What better ways do you think I should have chosen to put the little mouse out of his misery?

This has been submitted for Dude Write #25: Please go checkout these other fine gentlemen who write. Read. Comment. Share.  Thanks!