They Risked All

The-American-Patriots-Almanac-365-reasons-to-love-AmericaThe following is taken from The American Patriot’s Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb.

On July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence. The men who issued that famous document realized they were signing their own death warrants, since the British would consider them traitors. Many suffered hardship during the Revolutionary War.

William Floyd of New York saw the British use his home for a barracks. His family fled to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees. After the war Floyd found his fields stripped and house damaged.

Richard Stockton of New Jersey was dragged from his from his bed, thrown into prison, and treated liked a common criminal. His home was looted and his fortune badly impaired. He was released in 1777, but his health was broken. He died a few years later.

At age sixty-three, John Hart, another New Jersey signer, hid in the woods during December 1776 while Hessian soldiers hunted him across the countryside. He died before the war’s end. The New Jersey Gazette reported that he “continued to the day he was seized with his last illness to discharge the duties of a faithful and upright patriot in the service of his country.”

Thomas Nelson, a Virginian, commanded militia and served as governor during the Revolution. He reportedly instructed artillerymen to fire at his own house in Yorktown when he heard the British were using it as a headquarters. Nelson used his personal credit to raise money for the Patriot cause. His sacrifices left him in financial distress, and he was unable to repair his Yorktown home after the war.

Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge, three South Carolina signers, served in their state’s militia and were captured when the British seized Charleston. They spent a year in a St. Augustine prison and, when released, found their estates plundered.

Such were the prices paid so we may celebrate freedom every Fourth of July.

So You Wanna Write Part 10 – “Take That Step”

5If you’ve ever been to church in your life, chances are you’ve seen this movie clip.

It’s probably the most overused clip in all churches ever.

And if it happens to be a church that doesn’t have a movie screen or projectors, then the youth pastor or the hip young intern has referenced the scene on stage at some point.

And the funny thing is, all these years later, these guys still get behind the pulpit and reference this movie scene as though they’re the first ones to draw in a biblical connection to it.

Cracks me up every time.

You know the scene.

Indy’s father is dying of a gun wound and he, Indiana Jones, must retrieve the holy grail. But IndyAbyssone of the last tests is for him to make a leap of faith.

He takes that step into a deep chasm, and behold! His foot lands on an invisible stone bridge!

Well, I’m not going to make the obvious (though unintentional) connection to Christian faith (lest we forget that The Last Crusade was directed by a Jew?). But I’m going to make the connection between that scene and writing.

When I was younger and my mind wasn’t carrying the weight of bills, mortgages, and 2 A.M. feedings, I was able to shower, drive, or just fall asleep dreaming up my stories. I would watch them play out in my head like a movie, and the next day I’d get to work and write what I had played in my head.

I worry a lot now, so I’ve lost the luxury to be able to let my mind play out in that way.

The bigger problem is that it’s another excuse to not write. Well, I didn’t come up with anything for a new scene, so I guess there’s nothing to write today.

Well, if that’s you, you need to stop thinking that way. So do I.

Instead, we need to approach that blank Word document like a cliff that we must hurdle. The words are already there; we just can’t see them yet. We just need to take a step, and write.

The words will come whether we think they will or not.

So You Wanna Write Part 8: Knowing When to Stop

 

bone

Ever read the Bone saga by Jeff Smith? You should no matter who you are.

Years ago I was reading an article by Mr. Smith and he said something that changed my writing habits for life.

He was talking about his writing process while developing Bone. He said something like, “You’ve just got to know when to stop and skip a scene and come back to it later.”

That tip has done wonders for my writing. And, it’s a great tool to combat writer’s block. If you’re willing to skip a difficult scene and move on ahead of the story to construct something further down the timeline, then your book or story isn’t just sitting in limbo.

Be willing to skip scenes. Heck, on your first draft, be willing to be sloppy! I’m in the process of writing a young readers historical novel and it’s very sloppy right now – the facts are all wrong, the setting’s a mess – but that’s why I’m going to go back and fix all that.

When you buy a building for your business you don’t start adding up your funds right away or upgrading your product line. You’re focused on one thing initially, and that’s location.

The same with writing. Don’t worry about the details on your first draft. Worry about one thing only – story, story, story!

John Lasseter, CCO of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios says, “Every single Pixar film, at one time or another, has been the worst movie ever put on film.”

In fact, no animated movie has ever been filmed chronologically. They may even start with the third act, and the opening scene may be the last thing they work on. For my historical novel, I have the entire ending drafted already, and I’m not even in the second act!

Be willing to skip around, get messy, get scattered, and in the end, it’ll all come together.

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:

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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 3: Why Write?

whywrite2

People write for many different reasons. Sure it’s romantic to say we’re all in it for the art or the love of the craft, but that’s just not so for most of us, not even for me. Now, you do have people like Katherine Rebekah who has a genuine love of writing and will likely carry on with it through thick and through thin. Take a look at her comment from part 1 of this series: “Let’s be Real”:

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I applaud writers like her.

As I’ve stated, I write to tell stories. I take the craft of storytelling very seriously. So seriously that I watch audio commentaries of many movies I own to get a glimpse into the minds of the guys who created the stories that I love. (For a great experience and wealth of knowledge, I highly recommend watching the audio commentary for all the Pixar films, an activity my wife introduced me to).

So far in this series we’ve talked about how writing is not romantic, and that there is a difference between writing and storytelling. Now let’s discus why we write – or why we tell stories.

Many people commented in my last post that they are storytellers but want to be better writers.

Like GDR from Altered Egos:

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Others stated in some ways that they are writers. Sort of. Like Christopher Kokoski, Author and Speaker:

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All of them want to be authors, or better authors.

But why?

To make money? To get your name on the New York Times Best Seller list? Bragging rights? (None of these are bad reasons, by the way. Okay, maybe bragging rights is a little narcissistic, but otherwise you’ve got to get food on your table somehow, right?) But the thing is, these aren’t realistic, and deep down you know that.

Sure, it’s my goal to see my book The Man in the Box on the New York Times Best Seller list, but I know that’s not going to happen anytime soon. At least not with a lot of work and a plan set in place (which I’ll discuss in later posts – for instance, Like it on Facebook for a chance to win a free autographed copy).

Don’t fool yourself into thinking your award-worthy book is going to sell. Despite my almost-perfect star rating and raving reviews, and respectable sales, The Man in the Box hasn’t brought in a single penny to my bank account after having been out since November 2012. Which is why I’m re-releasing it later this summer (more on that later, as well).

So let’s be real. You and I aren’t writing for monetary gain (at least not off the bat). So, why are we doing it? I write this blog to inspire people, to inform, and, honestly, to build a fan base for my upcoming novels. (Is it working?)

One of the times I teared up most in the movie Saving Mr. Banks was when Walt Disney explains to P.L. Travers why they, as storytellers, tell stories. “We [storytellers] restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

I cried at hearing this because there is a deep truth to these words. That, at least, summed up why I wrote The Man in the Box. I spent literally the entire book devising ways to tear my protagonist’s life apart one shred at a time only so I can build it back up again in the end (it’s not as predictable as it sounds). Because I wanted to show readers that no matter how far down the wrong path you’ve gone, no matter how hopeless your life is, hope always remains. Or, as my pastor says, “There are no hopeless situations, just hope-less people.”

Many people write for different reasons. Some to excite, to thrill, to impress, to scare, to inspire, to experiment, to humor, to captivate, to fulfill, to provoke, to challenge… and these are all very good things.

But others write for the wrong reasons. Such as E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy) and many of her wannabes. Don’t write to seduce or “awaken passions and lusts.” Just don’t. There are literally thousands of cheap romance books that have already been written; the world doesn’t need another one. It’s disgusting, degrading, and just plain stupid. I mean, really, are we all still in junior high, trying to get worked up over page 63?

There’s no talent in that kind of writing. We all know how it all work – we don’t need to read about it.

If that’s the reason you write, turn off the computer, and reevaluate your motives. If you’re not comfortable with your grandma and your ten-year-old reading your work, then maybe you need to pick up a new hobby. I’m not trying to upset anyone here – I’m trying to help. If you can write something that both your grandma and your ten-year-old can both relate to, then you’ve achieved a higher call in writing than most people can only dream about.

Respect the craft. Honor the great storytellers before you by carrying the torch they’ve passed on. They’ve left us with big shoes to fill, and our audiences are craving more than just cheap flings and seductive vicars.

Now it’s your turn. Share with us all why you write.

Find this helpful? Retweet @atoy1208 

So You Wanna Write? Part 2: The Big Difference

campfire-stories-615x313

I stated in my last post that I love storytelling but I hate writing. Think of it this way: I love my loft – it’s cathedral ceilings with floor-to-celing windows, its open living room and dining room – and I love living in it with my wife, daughter, and dachshunds.

But ask me to build one, and that would not appeal to me in the least. The only things that can make me turn my head and run faster are shopping malls, HGTV, and snakes.

However, if I did build a house, I’m sure the rewards of a finished project would be gratifying (just don’t enter through the front door because the roof might collapse on you).

Such as it is with writing. It may seem like a chore to tap endlessly on that keyboard, but the satisfaction of a completed book or chapter (or sentence, in some cases) is very fulfilling. But without a lot of money and a film crew (which most of us don’t have), really writing is the only way to tell stories.

There is a difference between writing and telling stories.

People write notes all the time, and school papers, and cooking instructions. Now, you can be annoying and insist that there’s a story to be found in each one of those elements, but don’t. We don’t live in a Dick and Jane world anymore. A story nowadays has to include characters, depth, emotion, layers, plots, ethos, and much, much more.

This blog post is not a story.

Writing can be tedious (i.e. papers, memos, accident reports), or it can be fun (love letters, to-do lists, list of potential baby names).

And storytelling can be the same way. Some stories are difficult to tell, like post-9/11 articles, or the dangers of kids playing too close to the pool. But more often than not, storytelling is a wonderful adventure.

You’ve read many books by storytellers, but likely very few from writers.

Everyone who writes a book is an author, but very few are writers.

Take John Grisham for example. Back in his glory days, he told great stories, gripping and fast-paced. But if you get down to it, he’s not much of a writer. Not compared to the likes of Dickens or McEwan.

There’s not much symbolism in his novels (nothing wrong with that), nor flourishing sentences that could be elegantly quoted at your next dead poets meeting (nothing wrong with that, either).

Few people can blend the two, most of us are good at one or the other. I’m a storyteller, because I’d rather my readers walk away with an experience rather than a newly-worded thought.

So, decide for yourself what you are. Are you a storyteller or are you a writer?

Figuring this out will ease the road paved before you toward becoming an author.

So You Wanna Write? (Introduction)

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 8.13.23 PMWriters, I’m sure you’ve been there. You wake up and you say, “Today I’m gonna write 15,000 words!” You jump out of bed, eat your Cocoa Puffs, switch on the computer, and ten minutes later when it finally powers on and the curser beckons you in a blank Word document, you blank out.

Hmmm… maybe some music will help. So you go to your iTunes playlist and play the one called “Inspirational Songs.”

“The Call” by Regina Spektor starts playing. Then you start wondering, What movie is this song from? So you google the song and come to find out that it’s from Disney’s Prince Caspian. Then you’re wondering if that’s a Narnia movie or a Lord of the Rings follow-up. So you google Prince Caspian and find out that it’s the second movie in the Chronicles of Narnia. Then you start wondering, Who played Prince Caspian, and whatever happened to him? So you hop on over to IMDB and type in Prince Caspian and find out that the title character is played by some guy named Ben Barnes and see that his filmography is filled with a bunch of movies you’ve never heard of. Killing Bono? What’s that? you wonder. You click on it and don’t recognize it one bit, but you notice that the director’s name rings a bell. So you click on it. Nope. Don’t recognize anything he’s done, either. Just a mistake. By this time “The Call” ends and the next song starts. “Well I fell down, down, down, into this dark and lonely hole…” The song makes you well up, so you figure if you’re going to get emotional, you might as well throw open the floodgates. So you Youtube the guy who’s singing this song, Zach Sobiech, and watch the 22-minute video for the fourteenth time. Next thing you know you’re in the bathroom using the last of the tissues and now you don’t even know what you got up so early for on a Saturday to begin with.

Meanwhile that curser is still blinking off and on behind your Youtube, Google, IMDB, and email windows.

Blink, blink, blink.

And it’s just waiting to hear tap, tap, tap from your keyboard.

And then when you collect yourself, sleep for a few more minutes, you return to your computer only to find yourself scrolling so far down your Facebook feed, Romney/Ryan campaign pictures fill your screen.

But when you finally get around to closing all your windows (by now you’ve digested your dinner), you’re met with that blink, blink, blink once again.

Blink, blink, blink goes the cursor.

Blank, blank, blank goes your brain.

The numbing drug-like effects of surfing the Internet all day has worn off. And now you’re met with resentment and bitterness for not having even come up with a synopsis or a one-page outline for your bestselling, Pulitzer-worthy, all-American novel (twelve-million copies sold).

Won’t you join me for the next few weeks in dissecting the difficulties of writing and how we can overcome the challenges of procrastination, distractions, and wrier’s blocks? I’ve written two books so far, and I’ve got two more in development, and I plan to write many more.

I want to teach you some rather unexpected tricks I use to accomplish my writing goals. I’m not saying I’m perfect and that I don’t get distracted (just ask my wife). But I have met goals, and I have learned quite a bit about the tedious craft of writing (all this from an easily distracted child of the 80’s.) And I want to share some of my tricks with you. See you in the next few posts.

Blink, blink, blink.

 

 

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