Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All Writing Is Travelogue

When writers put down words, they take readers on a journey. In this sense, all writing falls into the "travelogue" genre, the chronicle of a journey, first the writer's journey of discovery and then the reader's.

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the characteristics of travel writing, using tips from Laurie Gough's blog The Travel Writing Life.

Travel Writing Tips
  • Focus on interesting, different, and special qualities. "Usually this will be a combination of the place and the people."
  • Concrete details: "not 'fruit' but 'rotting pomegranates.'"
  • "Stay true to who you are." Let the readers find out as you go along.
  • Open your senses to the small things: oil-burning lamps, newly cut timber, cricket chirps . . .
  • Characterization: "How human beings are acting on this planet never fails to enliven a story."
  • Find the good, even in the lousy.
  • Backstory: history, facts, past events.
  • "Read your work aloud to yourself."
  • Tone/mood:"take in as much of a place as you can."
This summer one of my activities has been to bicycle tour to state and county parks near my hometown, day rides and overnight camping. I've also been reading journals from the website Crazy Guy on a Bike, which hosts thousands of journals and photographs of bicycle tours.

These Crazy Guy journals written by so many people vary in quality, as one might expect. I plan to add some of my adventures to the site, having already added a few, and I'm realizing I have a chance to use my adventures and the bicycling platforms to improve my writing.

Right now on my blog, Tom Kepler Bicycling and with my YouTube biking videos, I think I'm spending a lot of time on "turn left here" descriptions, not the best way to fascinate readers.

I'm looking forward to the challenge of writing about actual journeys, rather than solely journeys of the mind and imagination. Four opportunities for publication are immediately available:
  1. My blog Tom Kepler Bicycling
  2. YouTube bicycling videos
  3. Crazy Guy on a Bike, my journal and photos blog
  4. Adventure Cycling Association's Bike Overnight blog
Each platform has a unique flavor and focus. You might sit down, look them over, and take a journey. Have fun! You can even subscribe to my bicycling blog to receive emails of my bike journeys.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Writing Life of Digression--Personal and Professional Goals

As a writer, I've discovered that I write about what's going on in my life. 

Subjects include my imaginative life and writing a fantasy novel, my school-teaching life and writing a young adult novel, my emotional life and writing poetry, my family life and writing a memoir, a writing life and writing about writing, or my bicycling life and writing travelogues. These mention a few of my paths of written digression.
  • fantasy = The Stone Dragon and Three Stories
  • teaching school = Love Ya Like a Sister
  • poetry = Bare Ruined Choirs
  • the writing life = I Write: Being and Writing
  • family = A Day Out with Mom
None of the above address my random blogging.

The best advice about succeeding as a writer and especially as a self-published writer is to focus on branding your writing and yourself as an author. He's a fantasy writer. He's a poet. He's a travel writer.  

I think this is good advice, yet I find myself continually breaking it to the detriment of my writing career. Although the two are linked, I find that I value my personal evolution more than the evolution of my writing career. I care more about people than books, and since I really enjoy reading and writing, then my regard for people (including my own development) must truly be great. There's nothing wrong with this.
I'd rather be a good person than a famous writer. I recognize the two are not mutually exclusive, yet as a matter of time and attention, I find myself focusing more on my humanity than on how many books I sell.

A poet once told me that the limitations of time put too much strain on family for a writer. He told me the success of his career was at the loss of his marriage and family. A teacher once made a similar comment to me. "Teaching colleges don't instruct you on how to be a successful teacher and keep your marriage together." I don't think these perspectives are true, or if there is some truth to time limitations and career success, then I choose to not bind myself solely to career success. I guess I can turn this whole conundrum on its head: in order for my writing to be enlightening, then as a writer, I must be enlightened. I'm just trying to find enough light to write by.

Just for the record, though, I've written 1/50th of my next novel, a fantasy prequel to The Stone Dragon. I'm also intending to write short fiction pieces that are set in that same reality; I've written over a half dozen flash fiction rough drafts of these stories. I do have a writing plan that includes marketing. I consider my writing life important.

All that writing stuff, though, is number 2 on my priority list. Number 1 on my list is to be a person of goodness, a person I'd like to know. I guess I want to know my Self more than sell myself. After all, if I'm in a library and say to someone, "You know, I wrote that book," what if the person responds, "And who are you?" That is the big question, and I'd like to have a better answer than, "Well, I've published Ex and Wye and Zee."

I really think I can achieve a unity of writing and being. I'm just working on the scheduling.

Friday, September 4, 2015

New iPhone Update and Review

I'm writing this using my iPhone 6+. It's actually easier to use the laptop, but it's also good to demonstrate.

Actually, now I've switched to my laptop, which is faster and allows for establishing links and such much more easily.

As I mentioned in an article on my bicycling blog, "One Apple 6+ Smartphone Equals 6 Electronic Devices," the 6+ has replaced a pile of electronics I've been packing on my bicycle:
  • Kindle eReader
  • Canon movie/still camera
  • Tracfone (buy minutes of phone time)
  • HP mini computer
  • Verizon MiFi wireless 
  • Garmin Edge Touring GPS
Well, the weight and compactness cannot be beat!

I think the camera and video functions better than my previous camera, although I have to admit that I had not yet mastered all possibilities with the Canon FS10. The 6+ is pretty slick, though, as a visual recorder. I have also found the provided iMovie editor app very usable; in fact, I've been making all my bicycling videos on my iPhone. I'm still learning the software and plan to improve the audio, but the move to the new software was easy. Check out the videos on my YouTube channel.

Because I bought the 6+, the entertainment possibilities are very robust.  Watching movies or reading e-books when I'm traveling Amtrak is comfortable. The screen size is great for both movies and e-reading. Because I bought the 64G memory, I have plenty of room for all my entertainment.

I also have been writing, using the iPhone. If I'm writing straight text, then although the hunt-and-peck touch keyboard is slower, it's still functional. When writing blog posts, I've found it easiest to write the text as a Google Doc and then to paste it to the blog. After that, I add a photo, centered. Getting fancy with the formatting doesn't work well or quickly. Perhaps I'll learn more with time, but (for instance) I switched with this blog post because I was still trying to find how to locate and copy the URLs I needed for establishing links. Using Google Docs is easy, and making them accessible offline is great for when I'm out of mobile range, like in the Rockies.

As a phone, the Apple 6+ is fine but a touch big. It's one of those trade-offs that come with "one size fits all." One size doesn't fit all, but packing one 6+ in my pocket is a lot more convenient than a bagful of electronics. If I mostly used the smartphone as a phone, then I would probably have purchased the 6 rather than the 6+. I really like Facetime for talking to my grandson or talking to my wife when I'm traveling. The face to face communication keeps the kid happy and keeps me from missing being home as much.

As a bicycle traveler on daytrips and overnighters, I've found the GPS function works well. I was at an unmarked gravel crossroad in SE Iowa and didn't know which road to take. The GPS had no suggestions for getting home (not enough information, it said), but I expanded the map and used some orienteering and common sense to choose the right gravel. In California I was on a dayride and didn't want to turn around and retrace my route home, so I checked the GPS, which gave me a new route home. Very pretty and enjoyable to continue on new roads! Therefore, I can say the 6+ can supply my GPS needs, and the screen is much larger than my Garmin Edge Touring, which is great for my older eyes. I've also found than I can save maps and locations for offline use, so if I'm out of mobile range, I've still got a map. If I were heading on an Adventure Cycling route, I'd probably still get the physical maps because of their anecdotal suggestions (and because they are so colorful and fun to open and look at).

As a bike traveler, I also have to say having a compass, flashlight, and weather forecasting service at hand in one device is also great. The charger that I bought at the phone store, which was touted to be able to charge the phone "many times," appears to be a rip-off, but I'm going to work with it some more and talk to the store before naming the brand. It's probably best to check out the reviews online before buying a charger. My charger purchase was a "Gee, I'm in the store and why not? purchase--and the phone folks must know what they're talking about" purchase. Oops!

I have to pay my mobile phone fee every month now, but I consider it a communications utility fee. It's really easy to use the 6+ for my communication and electronics needs. I find myself using it at home just because it's so quick and portable. I don't have to fire up the laptop to check emails.

The other day I read an article that used the word "phablet." I hate the word, but for me the Apple iPhone 6+ really is more a small tablet I use as a phone. Since I spend 4 days out of every 3 months traveling Amtrak (or two weeks a year), and since I spend a lot of time on my bicycle on country roads, having a phone that's a touch too big and a tablet that's a touch too small but all my electronic needs in one highly portable unit is juuuust right!

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Trapping Chipmunks Ain't So Easy

Two chipmunks have been relocated.

They were tunneling in the window wells and burying the drains, threatening a flooded basement in a deluge. And deluges do happen in SE Iowa!

We all know chipmunks are cute. Sometimes we feed them when camping or at the park. However, the chipmunks that came to dinner at my house decided "tu casa es las casa de nosotros," so I bought a live trap to get rid of them. It wasn't as easy as the instructions of the box indicated.

My first learning curve was the trap. The trigger for the trap was burred and did not trip easily, resulting in several days of loading the trap and finding the next morning that the bait (peanut butter and sunflower seeds) had been eaten. Using a screwdriver and some bike chain oil, I created a hair-triggered trap. Look out, rodents!

The next morning, the trap had been triggered, the cage door had fallen, the bait had been eaten, but the cage was empty. I'm still not certain (and this has happened several times, including last night), but I think mice eat the bait and then squeeze out of the wire openings. It's that or really smart chipmunks.

I finally caught one chipmunk and relocated it to the Pleasant Plain lake area, dropping it off in the weeds at the edge of the parking lot. Go, Trapper Tom! Then several days of tripped, untrapped, baitless failure.

Last night I saw a chipmunk near my coiled garden hose in the front yard. It looked at me as if saying, "Hey, what do you think you're doing in my yard?"

I baited the trap and set it next to the hose. Success! A second chipmunk was relocated, right where I'd dropped off the first, in case they are friends.

I baited the trap again, leaving it in the same location. This morning the trap was sprung, the bait gone, and the cage empty.

It's a mystery, but I'll keep at it. I don't want to wake up in December with Alvin and his chipmunk friends singing "Christmas Time Is Here."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Movie Review: The Expendables 3

Just viewed The Expendables 3, and I can remember the entire script even after only one watching.

"He's one of us. We gotta break him out. You in?"


(15 minute action sequence. Things blow up.)

"We gotta new job.  Got your guns?"


(30 minute fight sequence. Things blow up.)

"The bad guy . . . ain't he supposed to be dead?"

"He needs to be. Let's do it."

(30 minute fight sequence. Things blow up.)

"That SOB's got half our team. We gotta get 'em back. You with me?"


(45 minute action fight sequence. Things really blow up.)

(Denouement: a bar. Drinking. Man hugs--even from the women woman. Vocalizations that resemble human speech. Credits.)

It's OK to mute this movie if things blowing up get too loud. Any dialogue you imagine will probably be better than the original. Or you can just read lips. Yo.