How a Writer Beats the Coronavirus Blues

If we turn on the news today or just ride around in a car listening to the radio, it’s not long before we hear another report of deaths or another statistic that takes the wind out of our sails.

It is important more than ever to social distance, wash our hands, and generally take care of our loved ones who are immunocompromised. However, one of the worst problems for this writer is being down in the dumps about this virus and what it’s done to my life. The truth is, I haven’t written anything in a while.

I tried doing a daily post about works that inspire writing, but that fell flat pretty quick as I was working to take care of my mother who is elderly and suffers from congestive heart failure. She’s fine otherwise, just staying home with her little dog Chester, watching Netflix shows and eating snacks, but I’m finding it harder and harder to keep her there. She went to church last Sunday and wore a mask and took wet wipes. I’m praying she didn’t contract the virus and that has really bummed me out, too. She says not to worry, to put our faith in God (and I am) but I also am not going to go run off a cliff and hope He’ll catch me.

God gave us a brain, after all.

In this daily horror show, a scenario much like that of Stephen King’s “The Stand”, we see both extremes of human behavior. I mean, people are showing up at state capitols toting automatic weapons, for crying out loud. The flip side of this is that people like John Krasinski is trying to keep us positive by airing Some Good News from his home every Monday.

As a creative, someone who is hyper-sensitive to emotional cues, I am bombarded with this so much that I am overwhelmed. Sitting down to write about it is at once therapeutic and also necessary. I’ve decided to do a few things to get me through it, and also to help me actually get back to writing:

  1. Stop Watching Skewed News – There is a tendency to watch the news every day, just like it was during 9/11, and this can be damaging. You can spend a lot of time just perusing news services and many of them are biased to the left or right. Ad Fontes Media has put together a very accurate interactive media bias chart to see where a news service falls on the scale of bias. According to their research, the Associate Press is probably the most reliable, so I’ve downloaded their app and just look at current news stories once in the morning and then I QUIT. One can spend all day watching talking heads during this crisis. It doesn’t help, and none of them really say anything new. Mostly it’s just pundits theorizing about possible future events. It wastes valuable writing time.
  2. Stop Streaming Stuff – There is a temptation during this crisis to just veg out in front of your television streaming all kinds of shows. Sure, you could catch up on Tiger King, but really what does it add to your life? It adds nothing to your own writing goals except staring at a screen and letting them create for you. The same goes for playing video games as I have explored Tamriel now for probably a week straight. I have YouTube TV, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. There’s always something to stream. I have to limit my viewing of anything until after I’ve written SOMETHING for the day. If I don’t, I could find myself going down the digital rabbit hole for hours.
  3. Exercise – In December I moved into a house in a southern suburb of Norman, Oklahoma. The benefit of living here is that I have a nice mountain bike and tons of bike routes to ride. Yesterday I took a 12 mile trip through town, snaking around secret biking trails that run through neighborhoods. During that time I was able to clear my head and really think about my WIP and hash out some of the plot problems I’ve been experiencing. Not only that, sitting in front of a TV or a computer for long periods of time is not healthy. From blue screen damage to the eyes to the bad habits of eating junk food the dangers are massive. Exercise will clear your head, get the endorphins flowing, and help you take care of that wonderful brain from which all the creativity flows.
  4. Schedule Writing Time and Goals – I have to schedule about two hours in the morning for writing. This blog is where I’m using up some of that time, and I plan to work on my WIP after I finish typing this thing up. The point is that we have to schedule writing time during a period when we’re not working on other things. The only reason I’m doing this in the morning is because I’m a teacher who is currently doing distance learning with students, my kids are teens who don’t get up until later in the morning, and mornings are the quietest time of the day. I can drink a cup of coffee, turn on a bit of movie soundtrack, and get to work. I usually set a goal of 1000 words a day, but today I’m going to set a goal of just plotting out my WIP and going back through David Trottier’s “The Screenwriter’s Bible” to familiarize myself again with his method and align my WIP to that method. You pick whatever it is you need to accomplish day by day, taking baby steps, and soon you will have a daily routine to completing your own WIP.
  5. Stay Positive – As someone who suffers from depression, it is very easy for me to wane negative. I have a lovely wife who tries to keep me grounded, but often when I’m alone I have horrible thoughts and worries. It is a faith struggle with me as well. I have my own regimen (scripture, prayer, journaling) that help me cope with the negativity that wants to ruin my day. You might be one of those bubbly positive sparks in the world, but I am a wet blanket by nature. I’ve had to fight this my whole life. I stay positive by writing, as it is a natural medium to vent my heart to the world. Writing allows me to get out all the negativity and angst I’m feeling in a therapeutic way. It doesn’t mean I write depressing stuff. Most of my stuff is full of snide humor and is adventure-driven. The point here is to make sure you keep a good attitude through this pandemic.

I hope these tips were helpful. I’m off to try to meet my daily goals right now. If you have any other ways you beat the coronavirus doldrums then write a comment below.

Happy writing!

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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