The Ultimate Man’s Man

I don’t know where they originated from or who had the idea to start them, but I love those Chuck Norris jokes. Here’s a few of my favorites for your enjoyment:chuck 1

Chuck Norris threw a grenade and killed 50 people, then it exploded.

When Chuck Norris crosses the steet the cars have to look both ways.

Chuck Norris has a diary. It’s called the Guinness Book of World Records.

When Chuck Norris was born he drove his mom home from the hospital.

Chuck Norris was once on Celebrity Wheel of Fortune and was the first to spin. The next 29 minutes of the show consisted of everyone standing around awkwardly, waiting for the wheel to stop.

We all have a different idea of what the ultimate man’s man is like, or should be like. Some equate it with Chuck Norris, and some link modern manhood to Homer Simpson, doing away with the Spartacus persona altogether.

Leadership, fatherhood and husbandry ought to be as simple and straightforward  as it’s laid out in the second part of the creation account in Genesis 2. This is the world God intended history to build itself upon. A world where God is worshiped as Lord over all, and His children exercise sinless dominion over the earth and submit to the prospective roles God has given them as men and women, husbands and wives.

I’ve heard it said that Adam and Eve were more prone to sin because they didn’t have life lessons to learn from. What is left out of that assumption is that Adam had direct and intimate communication with the Father of heavenly lights. One has to assume that a conversation with the Lord, without the existence of sin, had to result in the deepest form of spiritual, physical, and emotional satisfaction that could possibly be attained. True, Adam didn’t have support groups to meet with once a week, but he took nightly and daily strolls with the keeper of all wisdom and truth. The Word (whether in flesh or in spirit) picked berries with Adam and lead him beside streams of flowing water, and no doubt taught him about life and all that the earth had to offer him. No careful reader of the Genesis account can come to the conclusion that Adam’s sin (and Eve’s for that matter) was committed as a result of pure naivety. Even in the brief second chapter of Genesis, Moses makes very clear to us that God lays the example of true manhood for Adam in plain sight. As is stated in A Guide to Biblical Manhood by Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas, manhood is summarized as such: Leadership, provision, protection.

The Lord, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge of what His beloved creatures needed most, lead Adam to the garden (v. 15a), employed him there (v.15b), thus providing for his basic needs, and protected him from death by instructing him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v.17). These are just a few examples among many where God lead by example.

But God knew that even in his sinless state, Adam wasn’t able to follow perfectly in His steps, so He created a helper, Eve, suitable to propel him to exhaust his leadership over the garden. This is why we are to heed the advise of our wives as long as it is based off of Scripture, because we cannot follow God alone, so unreachable are His ways. Still, we are to look to Him as our sole example. We can and should look to others who are further along in bringing God glory through spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness, but we must not let those people replace the One we are to strive to be like. That is why God came down in the form of a man so that there would be a tangible, living, breathing example of how we could go about striving to be like God.

In what other ways do you see God demonstrating the role of biblical manhood throughout the Scriptures? (And, list your favorite Chuck Norris quotes.)

So You Wanna Write Part 6: Live Your Topic

59f287c6720acce890cb7ffed9aee965_research-imageSo you’ve got your idea. Now, you’ve got to nurture your idea. You’ve got to feed it, and help it grow. You can only do that so much with your own limited experiences.

So how does one go about this?

You’ve got to fill your mind with as much genre-friendly information as you can.

Technically it’s called research. But to me, that’s a dirty, word . So instead of research (or the R-word), were’ going to call it living. 

Throughout the entire course of writing your book, you’ve got to live your topic.

The year and a half it took me to write The Man in the Box, I constantly read books that were similar to its setting/genre. I read Jurassic Park, Hunger Games, John Carter of Mars, among many others.

And if you read Box, you can see inspirations of those novels.

I’m currently writing a young readers novel set in war-torn Europe. So for the past year or so I’ve been reading and watching anything I can get my hands on about the Holocaust or the German’s point of view of the war. The knowledge I’ve gained is invaluable and will make my book that much richer and accurate.

I wrote yesterday about writing what you know. I can’t go back in time and live during WWII. I can’t know what it’s like to live in a bunker awaiting your next suicidal mission. I don’t know what it’s like to be starved or tortured in a slave labor camp. I can’t imagine the feeling of stepping foot inside a gas chamber knowing I have just minutes left of life as I’m being pushed and shoved by dozens of other naked, frightened men.

But I can get an idea by reading Night by Elie Wiesel, or returning to the classic account of Anne Frank’s diary.

So you’ve got to chew and gnaw on your subject’s genre. Do the research (or living), take notes. Even if you’re writing a fantasy born completely of your own imagination, you’ve still got to study the greats that came before you. Dissect their work and figure out for yourself what made them so popular, or not popular.

You’ve got to live out your topic or subject matter. Writing isn’t just making stuff up on the spot or taking the craft in your own untrained direction. You’ve got to hone your skill, live out your subject matter, surround yourself with the setting your writing about.

You know what sets Pixar movies apart from virtually every other movie in Hollywood? The creators and artists spend years researching (living) their subjects. Research (living) is a key ingredient in their movies (did you catch that?). Without research, those movie gems would just be like another Dreamworks cartoon.

Draw on real life. Take advantage of history books. Figure out those universal themes that keep pulling in generation after generation of new audiences, and then learn to retell it in your own way.

Live your topic. Study your subject. By doing this, you bring your story to life.

 

So You Wanna Write Part 5: What to Write

Keyboard-fingersSo we started this series off with a blinking cursor.

We’ve learned that writing can be a chore, there’s a difference between writing and storytelling, we’ve figured out  why we want to write, and we’ve bragged to everyone we know that we’re gong to write a book.

Only to be brought back to that blinking, taunting cursor.

Blink, blink, blink…

What do you write? It’s like when you were in grade school and you had one sheet of paper and a Crayon. What was it you asked yourself or those around you? What should I draw? 

That was the big question of your young life.

And now as you sit before a blank Word document, you’re constantly asking yourself, What should I write. I love this comment Tylowery of the blog, “Secrets in the City” wrote in a previous post:

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 7.50.33 AM

You’ve heard it said to write what you know.

That’s true. But that also kind of stinks. Because what I know isn’t really all that exciting. I grew THE WONDER YEARSup in suburban America where I spent my time mountain biking and playing roller hockey just like every other boy in the country. And The Wonder Years has already been told.

And back when I was developing my first novel I worked as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble.

Nothing much exciting there.

Not to downplay my life – I love it, actually. But not much to write home about – or write a book about, for that matter.

So sticking with the theme of write what you know, I wrote about how I felt about my mundane and anti-climatical existence.

I created a character, Robbie, who’s just like me but about fifteen years older and still stuck in the same uneventful life I felt I was in.

And I gave him an out.

I provided him with a box that he could climb in and appear in a fantasy world of his making anytime he wanted. And honestly, my book became my box. I would escape to it when I needed a break from reality. (Luckily the characters didn’t start crawling out of my book and threaten to kill me and my wife like they do from Robbie’s box.)

dead-poets-society-04But here’s the thing you need to walk away with. Yes, write what you know. But make it interesting. Flip things on their head. Look at life from a different perspective. Or like Mr. Keating says in Dead Poets Society, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

How did I come up with the idea for The Man in the Box? 

Well, as I said before, I worked at Barnes and Noble during the time. I was the head of the children’s department. And throughout the day I had to go back to the shipping room to retrieve more books to carry out on the floor.

I read a lot of those children’s books while I stood back there waiting for customers to walk past. So I was constantly diving into fantasy worlds during my dull job. And the shipping room was constantly full of boxes. So I put the two together.

Twain wrote about what he knew about the deep south. Dickens created fantasy worlds out of the slums of London. And I can’t imagine any scene duller than Depression-era Salinas Valley California, but Steinbeck used it in many of his beloved masterpieces.

If you’re creating a fantasy world that’s set far from our world, make absolutely sure to relate it tour world. Tie your personal life, feelings, emotions, to that world so that we can relate to it.

Write what you know. Take this advice with a grain of salt, then run with it. Don’t be afraid to simbatweak what you know. Simba only knew life in Africa. But watch the scene in The Lion King when he sings “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.” All the colors change, the style is dramatized; it’s a completely different, unique, and interesting world, because it’s Africa through his cub-like eyes.

Show us this old, tattered, familiar world through your eyes. How do you see life? What’s a hero to you? What makes a bad guy bad? What’s your biggest fear, and why should your readers be afraid of it, too?

If I may, think outside the box.

(Like my book The Man in the Box on Facebook for updates on the upcoming second edition, and earn a chance to win a free autographed copy.)

 

So You Wanna Write Part 4: Do This Before You Start Writing

announcementSo you’ve learned a few things so far. You’ve learned that writing is a chore, and not as much fun as storytelling (or vise versa). But since you lack the money or connections to get Hollywood to tell your stories, or you can’t draw comics, you’ve gotta write them down.

You’ve decided whether you’re a storyteller or a writer and that either way, you want to be an author.

And you’ve decided why you want to tell your story (or write).

So your writing prompt is blinking furiously at you just waiting to spit words out at your command. But there’s one more thing I recommend you do before we jump into the writing process.

When I was in the ninth grade I received the best advise I’ve ever decided to reject later. I told a friend of mine that I was going to write a book. A big, fat, long fantasy epic. A three-parter. Very Tolkien-like.

You know what he said to me?

He said, “Don’t tell anyone you’re writing a book. Because then if you don’t ever complete it, no one will know you gave up.”

I took his advice, and guess what? I gave up on that book.

So when I married several years later, I spun that advise around. I told my wife and all my friends that I was writing a book and I completed it.

Brag.

Yes, climb on a mountain top and shout it to the world.

Tell the world you’re going to write a novel.

I want to see the enthusiasm of Buddy the Elf when he storms into his dad’s office and yells, buddy-the-elf-in-love_o_gifsoup-com“I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!”

Go to your most populated social media site and share it with everyone: “I’m going to write a book!”

Why?

I don’t promote ego-stroking, but once you announce you’re writing a book, there’s a sense of accountability that follows. Suddenly you’ve got an anxious audience awaiting a sneak peak at your latest endeavor.

Oh, and here’s a word of caution. Don’t expect everyone you know to get super pumped about your novel. They may not be readers, or they may know of your track record of quitting, or they might be jealous. Or they just don’t care or are too busy with their stuff, and that’s all fine.

Most of the support I get for my writing comes from people I only know through social media.

Don’t take offense to this or take your friends’ apathy personally. After all, I don’t comment on their Facebook page when they post something about finding the best deal on bed sheets at Walmart, because I don’t care about bedsheets, nor Walmart.

So let everyone know you’re going to write a book. Even if you don’t know exactly what it’s about, that’s fine. Just get it out there. They may ask you about it later, which could get you back on track. But they might not.

Either way, it’s a good idea to set yourself up for success. Because even if they don’t ask you about it down the line, you’ll always be taunted with the possibility that they might. So then you’ll continue to write.

Look out, world – a new author is about to emerge!

 

Dancing to Ideas

blank-paperYou writers and creative-types – you’ve been there. It’s a hellish place, for sure. A chasm of fear, doubt, agony, frustration…

Idea-less.

It’s worse than a writer’s block because with that, you can at least skip ahead. There’s nothing to skip ahead to if you’re idea-less.

But take heart. Your idea is out there. You might feel like Horton standing at the edge of the field of pink clovers looking for that one tiny speck that’s out there calling your name.clovers6

“We are here, we are here, we are here…”

Sometimes you can just feel it, can’t you?

You know how I find my ideas? It’s embarrassing, and no one has ever seen me do it, except Sarabeth when I thought I was alone or I got carried away.chandler

I dance.

I talk out loud.

I sing.

I act.

And I’ve yelled.

It’s humbling, but true. I imagine myself standing before the heads of Universal or Disney Studios and I’ve got five minutes (I’m generous) to pitch them my idea.

napoleon-dynamite-danceSo I yell, I act, I pitch like a storyboard artist convincing the director that my idea is the only thing that will work. I talk aloud about something that I believe in.

I might not yet have an idea to believe in, but I believe that I will find one.

I’ve found several this way.

When I worked in retail, I would often disappear to the shipping room when it was empty and I would plot my book out loud, pacing, lost in my imagination. 

“So this guy Robbie,” I would say, “he wants to be a good father and husband, like most men do. That’s relatable. But something keeps him from that. I want there to be action, but not much action happens in today’s reality… so he finds a fantasy world! In a… wardrobe! No, on a star! No. In a… in a…” I glance around the shipping room and I notice that I’m surrounded by – “In a box!”

Thus, The Man in the Box was born.

Working from home makes it really easy to do this on a regular basis. And if you are stuck in a creative rut, I encourage you to give this a try. Crank up some Fun., or Owl City, or Delta Rae on the ipad and dance.

Yes. Just start dancing. Let your body go. It sounds zen-like, but just release the stress of michael scotteveryday life. The last thing you want weighing you down when you’re trying to be creative is the rock-hard facts of  life that your readers are looking to escape from.

So… escape.

Dance.

And talk.

And then ask yourself later, What did I talk about? Anything interesting? Jot it down.

And keep writing.

And then get yourself a birthday cake for your idea’s birthday.

How do you  come up with ideas?

(Before you share your thoughts, Like my suspense/adventure novel The Man in the Box on Facebook for updates on the up and coming revised edition!)

From the Big Leagues to the Big Screen: The Story of Jim Morris

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I had the privilege of interviewing legendary major league pitcher Jim Morris a few months ago. Here is how the conversation went:

Baseball fan or not, it is very likely you know something about former Devil Rays pitcher Jim “The Rookie” Morris. You will recall almost fourteen years ago when Walt Disney Pictures began launching real life sports dramas starting with Remember the Titans (2000). The next in line was The Rookie (2002), led by Dennis Quaid as big league hopeful, Jim Morris.

Not only did Morris’s life inspire a movie, but he also wrote a book, The Rookie, formerly titled The Oldest Rookie (coauthored by Joel Engel) which gives fans further insight into his life. In the preface Morris states, “It’s not me who touches people; it’s what I represent: the possibility that dreams from long ago may still come true, even if they look lost forever.”

“But what about people whose dreams really are lost forever?” I asked him over the phone. “People’s dreams aren’t lost forever,” he said adamantly. “You’ve got to dream a dream and make it come true.” This stubborn persistence does not stop at just words, as exemplified by his life story of achieving the big leagues at the age of thirty-five (twenty-eight is considered elderly in the modern world of professional baseball).

But he’s more than persistent. Somewhere beneath the taciturn exterior is a big-hearted man who finds value in people and seeks to connect. In one episode as described in his book, Morris and a group of guys are playing Poker while a storm rages outside. Morris draws back the curtains and jumps at the site of Andre the Giant peering in (no joke), probably looking for shelter. All of them were too stunned to do the polite thing and invite him in. “What would you have talked to him about if you had invited him to join you guys?” I asked. His answer didn’t miss a beat:

“I would have liked to get to know him. Get to know the man instead of the persona. You want to see what they’re like and see what their hearts are like.” He then quoted his grandfather, Ernest, “Don’t judge anybody by the outside.”

His relationship with his grandfather proved to be tantamount in Morris’s life. It was his grandfather who taught Morris, among other things, to follow his dreams, and how to treat a lady, be respectful, and be a God-fearing man. It was his grandparents that helped show him the way to God. From fifteen on, he knew that the way toward God was the path he wanted to take. “After my surgery I went from 88 mph throws to 98 mph throws.” He went on to say that that could only have been God, and that no one’s complained about him publicly attributing his success and talent to his Lord.

Even moving from town to town (his father was in the Navy), Morris has been playing baseball since he was three years old. Even from that age, his throw impressed the neighborhood kids enough to invite him to play in their games. Even before he made it to the minors, he was told that it could take more than a decade to make it to the major leagues – if he made it at all. I asked him if any part of him wanted to throw in the towel at that point. “No. I’m stubborn,” he answered.

Though he hadn’t yet hit seventy home runs in one major league season, Morris struck Mark McGwire out early in his career. One could only imagine what Morris thought years later in 1998 watching his former competitor rewrite baseball history. When I asked if he wished he could pitch to him again, he said that you “always want to pitch to someone again, especially when they’re at the top of their game.”

Morris would have had no regrets if his journey to the big leagues stopped at the triple-A’s or lower. “I did something to help a group of kids trust adults.” And that’s where the Disney movie picks up Morris’s life. As a high school biology teacher and baseball coach, his team made a wager with him that if they won the District Championship he would have to try out for the major leagues. He became a superstar literally overnight.

They won, he tried out, and he was drafted by the Tampa Devil Rays, thanks to his 12 consecutive 98-mph pitches – not his age. By his second day in the big leagues, he had to change his name to get a hotel room because everyone from everywhere wanted to hear and report his story, and why it took so long for this old rookie to finally find his place on the pitcher’s mound. When he and his agent pitched the movie idea to Disney that week, he told them, “I want [the movie] to be about the kids and second chances.” As soon as those words were out of his mouth in the producer’s office, he thought, That’s it. I’m done.

The movie was not only green-lit – it was everything Morris wanted, lacking only the relationship between him and his grandfather, and the impact he had on young Jim’s life. Aside from that, Morris was pleased with the final cut of director John Lee Hancock’s 2000 film. Since then, he’s directed The Alamo, The Blindside, and most recently the critically-acclaimed Saving Mr. Banks, which Morris expressed enthusiasm for. “[He’s] one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said Morris about the director. He couldn’t emphasize enough how important it is for Hancock to get the facts right for his movies.

While filming, actor Dennis Quaid told Morris that if he sees anything wrong or out of character for him, stop him and correct him. Morris doesn’t keep in touch with his portrayer, although Quaid extended an invitation for him and his family to come out and stay at his ranch in Wyoming any time he’d like. “I feel like guys like him are on a different planet than guys like you and me,” said Morris when I asked if he plans on taking him up on that offer. “I just wouldn’t want to bother him.” I would love to hear someday that he took him up on it.

Jim Morris realized his childhood dream, with the help of a bunch of kids, at thirty-five. He pitched in twenty-one major league games from September 1999 to May 2000. Now, several years later, he’s travelling the world speaking to dreamers and baseball enthusiasts. He’s the official spokesman for Arms of Hope, a Texas-based non-profit Christian organization that assists children and single mothers in need of help. (You can check out their website at armsofhope.org.) He lives with his wife and children in Kerrville, Texas with their two dogs Max and Butter. Oh, and he’s still teaching baseball. I guess some dreams, even after they’ve come true, refuse to die.

For more information on Jim Morris, visit his website at Jimtherookiemorris.com.

Book Rec: City Lights by Dan Barry

City Lights

You’ve likely seen my raving recommendation of Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry – one of the greatest books I’ve ever read – about the longest professional baseball game in history.

Of course, being seduced by his clever writing style – attention to detail, a tip of the hat to subtle pathos, crisp dialogue – I couldn’t resist buying City Lights, a collection of his newspaper articles about life in the Big Apple. 

I’ve only been to New York once and still have dreams of returning one day to be swept up by its enormity and fast-paced life. But as it’s not yet time for another visit, Barry’s book places me right in the center of Times Square, and sitting in my Kentucky home, I can hear the hustle and bustle of cab cars whooshing past, and the street vendors calling out for you to buy their merchandise.

The collection is broken up into six parts about varying aspects of New York: New York, Starring New York; Vanishing New York; Seizing the New York Day; Leaving New York; New York, After; and Congress of Curious New York People.

The section about the aftermath of 9/11 was my favorite (New York, After), where readers were invited to the homes of victims’ parents years later and we catch a glimpse of redemption through the aftermath of that fateful day.

You’ll learn about businessmen that thrived once upon a time, but were forced to close down shop due to population growth, you’ll read first-hand accounts of immigrants vying for the American dream on crowded sidewalks, and you’ll be introduced to conmen who could talk you into handing over your wallet with just a few elegant words.

Meant to be read one article at a time, at times, I couldn’t put it down for pages on end. Dan Barry does his city – and country – a service with his articles, and gives us all the key to the greatest city on earth.

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