Upkeep 1

Well I don’t want to get too bogged down with writing just yet, it’s still relatively early and I have plenty of ideas. I wanted to start off by saying that it snowed, and I spent an hour clearing the driveway and sidewalk. This isn’t as bad as it has been in previous snows this year, and I was quite happy about that. I didn’t know how deep the snow was until I got out there, but all the same, I stuck a Yuengling in the snowbank next to my front porch (I know I’m writing snow a lot, bear with me) and got stuck in. I always thought that Yuengling tasted best fresh out of the bottle after clearing snow from my driveway. It was cooled to just about freezing temperature by the snow, and something about feeling like I earned it had always made that beer taste so much better than grabbing a cold one out of the fridge. My brother started this tradition of chilling a beer in the snow and drinking it after clearing the driveway, so I decided to carry on that particular torch. This got me thinking about tradition, however, I had to put that thought on hold, though, because I had class. Now it came back to my mind and I decided to follow this thread to some form of a logical conclusion. Now I won’t make the mistake of assuming to be a brilliant anthropologist and state my opinion as fact, but instead, I will base this off of my observations. Traditions are established for a reason, for better or worse. In my example, the beer in the snow was started as a reward for completing a fairly difficult task. It has since evolved into a nice reminder of some very entertaining shenanigans that I have gotten into with my brother. Likewise, I think involving a tradition in a story should have a well established backstory. For example, in a standalone story, I believe a tradition should be established over several chapters, and in a series, I believe it could take an entire book to establish a meaningful tradition. This is all from the perspective of the story anyway. I suppose this is going to devolve into a complaint now. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer fixing things to complaining about them, but I am unable to fix every instance of this, so let’s get on with it then. I think it is lazy when writers, be them authors, playwriters, or screenwriters establish traditions in the middle of the story without any sort of precedent. Having a tradition in place at the beginning of a story, however, I find acceptable. In fact, I think it can be a very strong plot device. Starting a story with a tradition, especially one that does not make sense, can help in forming a compelling plot around either gaining a better understanding of the tradition, or removing it.

The Bandit

As he followed the deer trail out of the village where he had grown up, Grzegorz thought on his new predicament. So blinded was he by his thoughts, that he failed to notice a hunting party from the village until he had almost walked directly into the leader “Woah, man. Are you blind or did you…Grzegorz, by God man, what are you doing out here, you’ll die of cold in this storm, where’s your coat?” The downtrodden teenager simply shook his head and fought to hold back tears. “They kicked me out Vanya, I brought a knife to the ritual and…” Vanya looked on in shock. “Don’t tell me you killed someone” Grzegorz shook his head, it was all he could do to keep from crying. “Here, sit down, we’ve got some of our lunch left and I know you’re gonna need it more. Konrad, give him the squirrel jerky and some pear cider if we’ve got any left. Come now, tell us what happened.” Grzegorz sat on a large stone at the edge of the path as Vanya gave him his cloak and Konrad gave him their food. He wasn’t exactly famished, but he really wasn’t in a position to turn down help from anyone. “I brought a knife to the gathering where my job was to be selected, the elders said I had brought the tool of a criminal, and without a job I could not stay.” He washed down the dry, stringy meat with a gulp of the cider. That didn’t help all too much, as it managed to be both overly sweet and incredibly bitter at the same time. “Gah! How do you drink that, it tastes like rot.” The hunters laughed and this time it was Konrad who answered him. “It’s still a work in progress. I brought a wine skin to my rite of passage because I wanted to be a brewer, the elders associated it with travel and made me a hunter instead. Glad to hear you like it, though.” Konrad took the wine skin back and tasted a gulp for himself. “Yeah, that’s pretty bad” He said with a cough, this time the laughter was directed at him. “Well, Grzegorz, if you don’t mind me saying, it sounds like you were set up on a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re gonna have to fight for everything you want now, but we know a good place to do that. Wait here for two days and we’ll lead you there.” Grzegorz shook his head, he knew what happened to people who helped outcasts, and all these men had families. “I’m not gonna have you risk your homes on my behalf, just point me in the right direction.” The hunters conferred for a few moments and, deciding that if he did not want their guidance, then they would allow him to be on his way with only directions and a bit of food. “Follow the sunrise for two days, you’ll come across a more established trail after that. If you’re lucky, you will run into someone else who can direct you to the next town or village.” Vanya told him. They shared a hug and parted ways. Vanya let his old friend keep his hunting cloak, it was probably the last bit of kindness Grzegorz would see for quite some time.

Now alone, Grzegorz followed the trail. He drank the rainwater out of flooded streams and ate walnuts and berries, though this left him sick and weak before he reached the trail. By the time he got to it, he was filthy, exhausted, and a day behind schedule. Worse still, the travelers he did see took him for exactly what he was at this point. Two nights of sleeping in a muddy ditch and he was about to give up, then one night he was awoken by the toe of a boot in his ribs. “Alright lad, on your feet.” Having been in the middle of a dream where he was allowed to return home, the inevitable return to reality disappointed him. “I said on your feet” This time it was closer to a shout, and a pair of calloused hands dragged him up by his shirt. “What do you want from me?” He stammered, pushing the assailant away. “Your cloak would be a nice start. Take it off and give it here” The man demanded. “What? No, are you crazy? This cloak is all I have.” The stranger hit him on the side of the head, hard. “It was all you had, now you have nothing, give it here or I’ll take it off you.” At this point, the cloak was all Grzegorz had to lose, aside from his knife, and he didn’t want to part with either. Given the situation, he drew the latter and swung it wildly, nicking his attacker’s cheek. “You just cut me.” The stranger stated, more than a little surprised. He hadn’t needed to fight in years, at this point he relied on reputation to get his way. The pain rekindled a fire in his veins, though, and he lashed out again. His clenched fist collided with Grzegorz’s cheek and he went down. “I’ll have that knife, too. If you’re lucky, I’ll let you walk away” As he crouched down, it was luck, rather than skill that saved Grzegorz’s life. He struck his attacker’s leg with the tip of his knife, and this gave him enough space to make a break down the path. Tired, cold, and slowed by hunger, he barely made it to the next town. He collapsed outside the gate and was found the next morning by a priest.

Catch up

Well it looks like I have neglected this place for about two and a half weeks, so no time like the present to get back at it. Excuses really aren’t my thing, though if I cared to make one, I might craft a compelling narrative about how my classes, and indeed life in general has kept me far to busy to update my blog. While that is close to the truth, I believe that making up a story for this blog is a better use of my time than making up a story as to why I did not do my assignment. Some types of fiction are best left inside the writer’s head. Other types, on the other hand, seem best told through digital media. For example, I may go on for a page and a half describing a character hard at work, crafting some McGuffin that will aid an epic hero on a seemingly insurmountable challenge, however, it is much easier to show a montage where first a blacksmith is hammering a blade out of iron at his forge, then a wise and wizened wizard or witch carefully plants brightly colored gems and inscribes blessings on the weapon to give it certain attributes that the hero may need, and finally a cleric or regent of sorts bestows this blessed blade to our intrepid hero. Perhaps an alchemist has been given a chance to coat the blade in poison, or maybe it is a different kind of weapon, but either way the crafting process remains similar. An archetypal craftsman will form a mighty weapon out of raw materials, then a figure of intelligence will perform some ritual to modify the weapon’s power, occasionally there are multiple, depending on how the weapon needs to be modified, and finally the hero is given this weapon. Though a process like this often gives a writer the opportunity to introduce more interesting characters, sometimes it is more natural to have the hero craft the weapon for themselves in order to show a type of personal growth or experience. I know I should probably cover up before my bias shows, but I often feel as though a character making a weapon through their own hard work and ingenuity is more compelling than when they receive something which is undoubtedly better from a motley cast of characters. Often, it can raise questions. For instance, how do the craftsman, the scholar, and the ruler all trust this plucky adventurer? I have met some people I think would fit the plucky adventurer archetype and about them the craftsman would likely say that they were careless, the scholar that they were unfocussed, and the ruler that they were likely to cause more harm than good. I think, therefor, that my favorite type of fiction is also one I find better written down. If a character, let’s use the plucky adventurer again because I’ve grown to like them, makes that same weapon for themselves, it would wind up taking an entire movie, or at the very least a good portion of one. The same may hold true for a book, but here is where it is superior. In a movie where the plucky adventurer must create a weapon to fight against a generic mega-evil, they would be largely alone in their quest to create this weapon for the same reason as they had others make it for them before, the montage. In this instance, the hero is doing all the work, and the scholar, craftsman, and ruler play supporting roles if they are even present. However in a written work, that same craftsman, instead of working until sweat draws lines in the forge soot on his face, is now regaling our plucky adventurer with stories of his youth, perhaps he was once a plucky adventurer himself until he realized selling things to plucky adventurers was more profitable. In any case, a supporting character often has more opportunity to be given life in a written story than in a digital one. I believe this to the point where I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. Of course, if a plucky adventurer is crafting a weapon for themselves, then the genre is fairly obvious, it is probably and action/adventure story. It is not a necessity for it to be set in a medieval type of setting, but modern plucky adventurers can, and more likely will, buy a gun rather than going through the various complexities involved with milling, stamping, and otherwise manufacturing a firearm. Explosive weapons are also possible, however their damage does not discriminate between evil henchmen and innocent civilians. As the saying goes, “a bullet may have your name on it, but a grenade is addressed “to whom it may concern”. Perhaps an ally of the plucky adventurer could wield explosive weapons and likewise cause indiscriminate damage, that may form an interesting sub-plot, but it is for the best that the plucky adventurer does not frag a crowd of innocents while battling goons of the generic super-evil. In this case, blades are a safe bet. To my knowledge, most people have a basic understanding of how metallic edged weapons are formed. Let’s set the scene. According to the records kept by the council of elders, Grzegorz was in his 18th summer, and as with anyone born in the summer, his 18th meant that he was to undergo his rite of passage. After this he would be selected for a job in the village where he lived and probably work it until he retired to the council of elders himself or he died. The rite of passage was a significant event in anyone’s life, and though it had lost most of it’s practicality since the village had been founded a century before, it still held great symbolism in the minds of the villagers. Everyone needed to bring an object, hand made, to the council in order to be selected for their job. It could either be an object related to a job they wanted, or proof that they were skilled in a certain field. The and daughters of the hunters brought meat, the children of the masons brought mortar trowels, and so on for the multitude of other professions in the village. Grzegorz was an orphan, though, and as nobody’s son, he knew none of the trades. So it was that he brought the most important object he owned to the gathering. It was a knife, many speculated that it was left with him by his family, but nobody could ever figure out why this large blade was left with a young child at the entrance of the village. He had kept it with him ever since, no matter who was taking the time to raise him, that knife had always found some use in their house. Week by week he grew under the care of the villagers, and being an amalgamation of all their parenting styles, he was fairly well liked. The knife, while carrying many purposes, was seen as specifically the tool of a killer, and his most prized possession wound up making him an outcast. Without a job, he could not stay in the village, and was made to leave. His path had been chosen, as the elders said, and he would be doing the job they most closely associated with a knife, crime. So here we find him travelling the woods in search of a new home. Chance had set him on this path, so he decided to let it guide him from here on.

That was brief, I know, but I decided to cut it short here and allow myself time to think before adding more. This will come up again, though, because our plucky adventurer Gregozh still needs to make himself a weapon.

A Fresh Start

Well, I must say that it has been an uneventful and tedious week, and you know what? sometimes that happens. I have always felt uneasy during uneventful and tedious weeks. With it being uneventful, I feel as though I should be doing more, but with the tedium, I feel like I can’t. In times like these I normally take comfort in doing something physically active. While I still view it as tedious, it is at the very least eventful. If I am lucky, I can even allow my imagination to wander during exercise and occasionally come up with an idea worth writing down. Unfortunately tonight was not one of those instances, at least I don’t think it was, otherwise I probably would have remembered what I thought was important enough to write down. Given that it wasn’t I will just assume it was another time my mind wandered into an adventure story or tale of military exploit that I had read and reread at least half a dozen times. I do remember the push-ups, though, so even that is unlikely. Since I have not given any formal introduction, I take kickboxing classes. These have recently shifted to online, much like our classes at Temple, thanks to Covid-19 concerns, and one of the instructors testing positive recently dashed any hopes of a return to normal any time soon. Still, I have a punching bag, MMA gloves, and workout clothes, so another zoom class began. I cannot stress enough how important a good set of gloves are, even for practice. Your fingers are fragile, and your wrist is unstable, with a tendency to bend one way or another if you don’t line up a punch right. While I do appreciate a well choreographed fight in movies, or a well written one in literature, I have long since stopped hitting my punching bag with any sort of force before putting my gloves on. The boredom never lasts more than a few days, which is always nice. In any case, I have decided to give writing a second chance. In elementary school, I never liked it. I never seemed to be able to write fast enough and my pencils had a habit of breaking on me at the worst moment. In middle school, things weren’t much better. Somehow flash games managed to invade Microsoft word around then, and I threw my lot in with the former. In high school, I just did not care. I graduated from the public school system, probably somewhere around the middle of my class, and went to what was basically a continuation of that. My local community college was alright, I was finally free to choose what I wanted to study, and as an added bonus, the cafeteria food was so much better. Gone were the days of eating lukewarm mystery meals, now I could stumble in after an opening shift at my part time job, before I got laid off, and gorge myself on eggs, bacon, pancakes, and half-decent coffee. Then I would head to the library and make use of the comfy chairs in their study area for a quick nap before I went to class. If I was lucky (read, “if I competently scheduled my classes”) I would also have some time around the early afternoon free, so I could go down to the cafeteria again and eat to my heart’s content before going home. The down side was that in my first semester I had one of my least favorite English classes to date. The next semester it was followed by one of my favorite, but the damage had already been done. I graduated from there with an associate’s degree in psychology and set my sights on Temple. I’ll be honest, I liked the food at my community college more, mostly because we got to eat in a climate controlled building then, and not on a park bench where it can be hard to enjoy any food due to the cold and wind. Then again I did take one of the kinesiology department’s camping classes last semester and that was just amazing. I suppose eating breakfast while shivering on top of a mountain the morning after Halloween is just more exciting by nature than eating breakfast on a cold metal chair in Philadelphia after an hour long train ride while nursing a minor hangover. By the way, the full moon was so bright on Halloween last year that our camping group managed a night hike, on the walk back I was alone and out of curiosity I just turned off my flashlight. Funny enough, I could still see the trail, so I just walked back to the camp by moonlight. I think I also ate 2,000 calories at dinner that night. It was absolutely worth it. Taking a sharp turn back on track from our detour, I had just decided that writing really wasn’t my thing, and I would only do it as it pertained to my course work for my major, not as an elective. I usually try to spend my Sundays at my Dad’s house. He is a fun guy and as an added benefit, my brother lives there, too. Hanging out with them is always nice, we usually do a whole lot of nothing that culminates in me staying there until half past one, driving home, and not getting to bed until at least half past two. As you can imagine, this is not the best plan in the world. I have a class at nine in the morning on Monday, so six hours of sleep at most before a class makes it hard to concentrate. Here I have to thank my Dad, I’ll thank my brother in a moment. My father bought me a French press style coffee maker, so, in combination with my mom’s electric kettle which she has lent me for the time being, I can roll out of bed and start a pot of coffee pretty much right away. This has become a massive help on mornings where I stayed up too late and I happen to be dragging my feet. In any event, I said I would thank my brother and this is where that happens. He likes to write. In fact, a creative writing course taught by the same professor that taught my second semester English course at my community college is what got him into writing as a hobby. He and I were talking and the conversation veered off toward the most recent short story he was writing. I found it interesting and recognized that, without his creative writing course, he probably would not have started writing as much as he does now. So thanks to him, I did something I never expected myself to do. I signed up for a creative writing course. I hope this fresh start turns out well.

Hello world!

Hello, my name is Michael Neidlinger, I am in my junior year of college, and I am a transfer student from Montgomery County Community College. I am majoring in psychology and I hope to join the police once I graduate. My experience with fiction is fairly limited, so if I pick up a fiction piece and finish it, then I believe it was a very well written book. That said, I mostly read non-fiction books. This is in part due to public education, I took more interest in history class than in English class, so I tended to read historical accounts. In an interesting twist, though, I found the stories that seemed the hardest to believe to be the most interesting, which I believe is where my current interest in fiction comes from. That said, I have moved from realistic historical fiction and broadened what I like to include multiple genres. This includes grimdark and fantasy, as well as science fiction and especially adventure as it hearkens back to why I got into fiction in the first place. I would not say that I have a specific favorite author, though I do have a favorite book. That would beĀ The Black Company by Glenn Cook. Company in this sense refers to a free company, which was a military unit hired by a private individual to fight in wars. In a broader sense they are mercenaries, and the men of the black company are fighting in a fantasy setting, a nation called Khatovar, in the midst of a civil war. They are hired to defend the empress from a rebel army, alongside her regular forces. There are no two ways about it, they are fighting for the bad guys. The book is narrated by the company record keeper who generally has a very cynical outlook that can only come from a lifetime of warfare. One of the things I most appreciated about this story is that, while it is centered around mercenaries fighting in a war, a large portion of it is dedicated to the simple boredom that the soldiers face on a day to day basis. They march more than they fight, some of them are illiterate and so the narrator’s job as record keeper is an important one and doubles as that of a storyteller to the men of the black company as well. There are card games, boring moments where the army is held on standby, or is used to set up a defensive position, and on more than one occasion, the soldiers get a visit from the “good idea fairy”. (this being a metaphor for people using quite stupid means to relieve their boredom). In short, it reads like a memoir from a soldier in a fantasy war, rather than a broad narrative of the major conflict he fought in. Transitioning smoothly on to the next question, my experience as a writer is closely tied to my experience as a reader, that being mostly tied to the public education system. I do not normally write all that often outside of classwork, and when I do, it is typically to develop a character, rather than a story. This may just be a personal preference, but I find it easiest, in my limited experience, to write from a narrative perspective and allow the plot to form on its own, if one forms at all. I signed up for this class so I might expand on what limited writing I do and I hope to learn how to more easily write to develop a broader plot, rather than just a fictional narrative. It just seems like a good thing to know if I ever decide to write anything that I want published. Looking over the syllabus, my main concern is this blog. I am taking a couple writing-heavy courses already, so the additional writing on this blog will only add to my stress. However I also think it may serve as a place to unwind because, as the title of the blog suggests, I hope to keep things lighthearted here.