On Writing: Curing the Creative Rut

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

While everyone else around you seems to be excelling in their craft, accolades are given to everyone but you, your neighbors hit the jackpot…

Come on, I’m not the only one. You’ve surely been there, right?

Idea-less.

A hellish place for sure. It’s worse than that moment you’re about to start the first sentence on a blank page.

It’s worse than having to wait 119 days until Jurassic World finally opens.

You know how I find my ideas when I at this point? It’s embarrassing, and no one has ever seen me do it, except Sarabeth when I thought I was alone, or my little girl who just thinks it’s hilarious. 1tumblr_lgp6q5NhE21qcjtu8o1_500

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 Studios or Disney and I’ve got five minutes (I’m generous) to pitch them my idea.

So 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 encourage you to give this a try. Crank up some Fun. or Owl City, or Delta Rae on the ipad and dance.

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Yes. Just start dancing. Let your body go. Just release the stress of everyday 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.

numa-numa-kid-oSo… escape.

Dance.

And talk.

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

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No TV For My Daughter

GA4051_2iwatch-tvIt may sound like a miracle, or even undoable or impossible, but our daughter is almost 13 months old and she has never once watched TV.

I work for a cable company and, let me tell you, it’s true what they say about TV being Picture 6the surrogate parent for children. If I get calls from customers and the cable’ s out while the kids are home there is going to be hell to pay and innocent people will be slaughtered throughout the world and nations will collapse until I get that TV back on.

Why? Because, let’s just get it out there – no one wants to actually spend time with their kids.

Let me disclose here that I am by no means a perfect parent in this regard (but my wife on the other hand…well, let’s just say that without her convictions and strength as a mother, I wouldn’t be writing this post).

We didn’t employ any fancy tricks or adopt some rigorous legalism to abide by. Simply put, we don’t think it’s necessary for a baby or toddler to watch TV. Whether or not it does any harm, what good could it possibly do?

Below are a few reasons why our little girl doesn’t watch TV.

1. The TV is not a babysitter or a go-to

Just as our little girl wouldn’t want to be replaced, we as her parents don’t want to be replaced by anyone or anything. We want to instill in her that we care deeply for her and that if she has problems, her parents – not the TV – are going to help fix things.

funny-reading-book-vs-watching-TV2. TV should not be our primary source of information

Call us old-fashioned, but we don’t believe you can learn everything there is to learn from the boob-tube. Books are where it’s at. That’s where you get all your knowledge and information and build your verbal and writing skills. The Internet, too, can be a source of education, if employed properly, but let’s be honest, the computer’s more fun for games, just as TV is served much better as an entertainment outlet. Let apples be apples and oranges be oranges.

3. I don’t want to watch Playhouse Disney or Spongebob SquarepantsClassicSpongeBob

Let’s be honest. No adult wants to watch those mindless fart-joke happy cartoons day in and day out. If the TV is going to be on, it’s going to be what Mommy and Daddy want to watch, because we’re the ones that pay the cable bill. This also is a great accountability paradigm because it forces us to cut back exponentially on shows that are damaging or inappropriate.

4. What’s wrong with family time?

Now, out of the whole household, I struggle with this one the most. I’m an introvert to a fault and I’m not of the mushy-huggy lovey-dovey persuasion, and would much rather spend my time advancing my career as an author, which can be just as bad as flopping down in front of the TV when my kid wants me to play with her, or my wife wants me to pay attention to her. But I think there’s definitely something to be said for old-fahioned family time, and the TV doesn’t have to be a part of it, at least not all the time.

Now, none of this is to say that we’re never going to let our kids watch TV. But we’re setting the ground rules now that the TV is not the ultimate go-to, that there are other ways to learn about the world, there are better forms of entertainment than cheap cartoons, and that we can, indeed, exist without cable in our lives and actually enjoy each other’s company.

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These Great Affects (Teen Book), Chapter 2 Continued

Most love stories are about two people who are completely different from one another. How different can you get than one being alive and the other being…well, not?…

Click here for Chapter 1

Click here for Chapter 2.1

Selected pieces from Chapter 2 continued…

I couldn’t stop myself. I swiped at the phone he was still holding up and knocked it onto the wet grass, now lost in the falling current. I began to storm off a second time but stopped when he threw another punch my way. “So first you ruin my car, then you try to break my phone. What are you, determined to completely destroy me?”

“ I’m not the one who tried to run you over with my car!” I yelled, my temper getting the better of me now. “In fact, speaking of phones…”—I dug into my wet jeans pocket for my own—“I’m calling the cops. You should never be allowed to drive again.”

I began swiping at the screen on my phone so I could dial 9-1-1, but it wasn’t coming on. It was drenched, so obviously broken. When I looked up in frustration, the guy was already digging around the flooded grass for his phone. It only took him a moment to find it and pull it out of the water.

“Here. Use mine,” he said, handing the sopping devise to me. “It’s waterproofed. Password is Elle Fanning, one word, no spaces.”

I glared hard at him before snatching it out of his hand, which I think almost made him laugh. “Elle Fanning, huh?”

“Oh, yeah. Big crush. It’s hopeless. But if you’re going to call the cops, you might want to step out of the water. I doubt they’ll be able to hear you if you’re standing right in it.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the torrential downpour.

At that moment I was struck by two simultaneous thoughts pulling me in two different directions. One was, What a hopeless jerk. And the other was, This guy is kind of cute. I was appalled at my own shallowness, but I gave in anyway. I stretched my arm out, offering his phone back.

“Why don’t you hold on to that for me for a while,” he insisted. “Your phone’s dead, so I’ll let you borrow mine.”

“I’ll get mine fixed, eventually,” I said, hating that the edge was dulling in my voice. “Besides, you need to call your parents so they can pick you up.”

“You think I’m in a hurry to tell them about this?” he waved his hand in the air as if shooing a fly. “I’ll be taking my time walking home so I can put together a well-rehearsed confession.”

“You’d rather tell them in person?” I asked, surprised.

“Why not? If I tell them over the phone, it’ll take away from the Affect.”

“The affect?” I asked, a little intrigued.

“Yeah. The Affect. That’s what I call the moments that you can capitalize on for future use to affect certain emotions. Sure, it’s gonna suck when I tell my parents that I crashed my car, but years from now, when I tell my kids about today, which I inevitably will because, let’s face it, this day will be pretty hard to forget. So when I tell about today, I want to be able to describe the looks on my parent’s faces. That’s the effect you can’t get over the phone; that’s the Affect that will make the story worth telling.”

“Wow.” I literally did not know how to follow up with that. “That’s gutsy.”

“Gotta do it for the kids,” he said with a smile that kind of affected my breathing.

“I do think your kids’ll be pretty impressed about the totaled car and the flooded street.”

“That’s certainly a good aside, but I was thinking the big Affect could be meeting their mother and talking to her in the falling sewer water.” I think by that point the mascara had leaked down far enough to reach my mouth because I think I choked on some. Thankfully the guy saved me from having to respond. “Anyway, I better get home so I can keep my story going to tell our kids. You’ve got my number. Gimme a call sometime.”

“Wait,” I managed, as he began to walk away, my voice more hoarse than it had ever been. “I have your phone, how would I call you?”

He held out my phone. He must have somehow gotten it from me while he was wooing me and I was being too taken to notice. “I’m gonna get this fixed for you. I expect to get a text or something from you. You know your number.”

He walked away toward his house and I didn’t bother to stop him this time except to say, “Mock bird 60. No spaces.” He raised my phone as though in salute and smiled, then continued on his way.

And that’s how I met my first love who would not live long enough to tell our story to anyone.

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How We Got Our Daughter Part 2

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Click here for Part 1 of our story

The next two days seemed longer than the last year in some ways. We were told that they would call back to tell us to come meet our foster daughter. We spent our time  wisely, running across town picking out newborn girl clothes, baby bottles, blankets, and a plethora of pacifiers.

And then no call came. We were under the impression that they’d call us back that same day. That night must have been the longest night of our lives. Our little girl was alone in a hospital basin and we couldn’t be there for her. We spent the next day with our phones turned all the way up clutched tightly in our hands. Every sound caused us to answer them. All the while the nursery remained barren and silent. We lost even more sleep that second night. Was it all a misunderstanding? Did they call the wrong people?

Sarabeth and I were by each other’s sides the entire weekend while we waited for permission to see our little girl. Exactly one year ago today, at Target, picking up more baby stuff, Sarabeth and I split up so she could grab the paper towels at the back of the store while I began checking out.

The phone rang in my pocket annoyingly loud just as I was swiping my Target Rewards card. For the first time ever I blew someone off by answering it while they were talking to me (I don’t envy retail workers). I panicked because Sarabeth wasn’t nearby to take notes and I had a terrible memory, especially under pressure. I waved and jumped up and down to get Sarabeth to hurry back with the 12-pack of Downey. She started jumping up and down too when she reached me and we both started crying like little school girls in the middle of Target on a busy Sunday morning.

I drove fast enough to the hospital to merit getting yelled at: “You don’t want to die before meeting your daughter, do you? SLOW DOWN!”

There are three things in my life I’ll never forget as long as I live.

1) How terrified I was all four times I saw Jurassic Park in theaters.

2) Meeting my wife (even though I still get some facts wrong). And,

3) Seeing my daughter for the first time.

She. Was. Beautiful. I generally don’t think babies are that cute, but this one, she was perfect in every way. The first thing I thought was that ironically, she looked exactly like Sarabeth (no jokes, please – I’ve tried). Seriously, even the nurses were saying it and people still say it today. And the other thing I thought was that even though we were just fostering this beautiful little girl, I knew we’d keep her forever.

We’re hopeful to adopt her this summer.

Oh, and that was Sarabeth’s birthday. I know I’ll never be able to beat that gift. And we stayed with our daughter at the hospital that night and for the third night in a row, we didn’t sleep. But for a much better reason.

Happy birthday, Sarabeth, and happy “Hi Day,” little girl. We love you more than you can ever imagine!

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How We Got Our Daughter Part 1

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A year ago we met our infant foster daughter for the first time. Below is the epic saga of how it all came to pass. And, you’re welcome.

Sarabeth and I had been married for four years while everyone around us was popping babies out like gum ball machines gone haywire. We applied to be foster-to-adopt parents in February of 2013 thinking that would be a quick fix to a deep void. Come Christmas morning eleven months later, we still had no kid to lavish with gifts. Every Christmas was becoming harder and harder and only brought us more devastation.

It’s one thing to want a bike for your birthday or yearn for a promotion, but to have an ever-empty nursery in the house to welcome no child is a pain that even Hemingway couldn’t describe.

Enter bitter cold January of 2014. No child. Our background checks for the foster program had been lost. Again. Redo, resend, repeat. Goodbye, January. Hello February 6, five years into marriage and one year after applying to be foster parents, a day that would forever change our lives.

It started with an email from our assigned social worker: “You’ve been approved.”

My ever-optimistic thoughts: Oh, good. Now we just have to wait another year while they find us a kid. 

My phone rang. I scan my calls, so I didn’t answer it.

A minute later I got an email from the same social worker: “Can you answer your phone? We have a baby to place with you if you’re interested.”

My thoughts: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I pressed Call Back and immediately I was told that there was a newborn baby who needed a home and would we be willing to accept her? I was already emailing my wife. The frantic message looked something like this: Were aprived! They have a gbabya. Y or B?

Her response: Yes! Yes! Yes!

“We’ll take her!” I screamed into the phone as though I were at an auction.

The funny thing is, even though we had no idea what she looked like or had ever heard her cry, and knew very little about her, Sarabeth and I had already fallen deeply and madly and hopelessly in love with her.

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of our story…

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More From These Great Affects (Teen Book), Chapter 2

I promised I’d share some passages of my upcoming teen book, These Great Affects, for every ten people who join my Facebook author page. So without further adieu, here’s 500 words from Chapter 2. Click here for Chapter 1. 

Most love stories are about two people who are completely different from one another. How different can you get than one being alive and the other being…well, not?…

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Pieces From Chapter 2

The tires didn’t screech, no one yelled, and there was no horn blown to turn me around. The only reason I did turn around was because it sounded like the car was no longer on the street. When I looked it seemed as though my entire line of vision was filled with the grill of a Ford.

There I was, toeing the line that divided life from death, or life from a seriously-damaged-and-immobile life. But as the Ford came speeding toward me it never made contact.

Nothing went black; there was no pain—my body, in fact, did not crumble. Instead, the grill of the car disappeared behind a thick veil of mist, which instantly matted my face with cool water and my ears were filled with a deafening, static-y noise.

“You’re good, right?” came a voice from somewhere on the other side of the misty wall. “You’re not dead, are you? If so, my parents’ll kill me.”

As I was trying to reinsert myself into the present, the voice suddenly had a body as he walked around the gushing water. He was soaking wet and totally excitable. “Oh, man!” he yelled, surveying the damage to his car and gawking at the upended fire hydrant that had apparently saved my life. “Oh, man!”

Even though it was him who should have been asking me, I asked anyway: “Are you…all right?”

“Did you see that?” he asked, turning to me, disregarding my question.

“Um. I kinda had a front-row seat,” I answered, wanting nothing more than to just walk away right then. I started to, actually, but then I couldn’t help myself, so I turned around and walked closer to the guy who almost killed me and I said, “You’re a jerk, you know that?”

I’m not sure if he heard me or not, because he just kept yelling about the snafued fire hydrant and his smashed car. “You should be asking me if I’m okay. You can’t just go around almost killing people and then not apologize for it. And you certainly shouldn’t be ignoring the person you almost killed!” By this time the guy had his phone out taking pictures of the accident. “What’s your problem!” I yelled, outraged by this blatant sign of apathy. But he still didn’t acknowledge me accept to hold his finger to his lips to silence me. The nerve!

“You’re recording the broken fire hydrant?” I asked. “What do you think, it’s just going to grow arms and legs and do a little jig for you?” Feeling coy, I did a mock Russian dance for him, hoping to get his attention.

Drenched as I was, I moved my little Russian folk dance in between his camera and the fire hydrant. From what I could tell from his soaking wet face, this at least got his attention. I’m not sure how to describe it, actually, but he sort of stopped grinning like an idiot, then he just sort of, I don’t know, gawked.

“That running mascara kind of ruins it all,” he said. “You’d probably be a lot hotter without all that goop running down your face.” I wanted to ask him how much my dad paid him to say that since he was always getting on me about wearing too much makeup. But no one had called me hot before, so I kind of fixated on that long enough for the guy to add, “But honestly, you look like your eyes are pooping, so it’s hard to take you seriously.”

Remember, for every ten followers I get on my Facebook author page, I’ll reveal more..

Why Fiction?

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Last month I made an unusual New Year’s resolution for someone as widely-read as myself: It was to read less. It’s been a challenge limiting my book intake in order to focus on my writing.

So in honor of my resolution to spend less time reading, I have to be even more selective of the books I do read than I ever have been before.

I’m having to put aside my beloved history and biography books for a while to focus on fiction to help shape my own writing, but in the realm of fiction, there’s still so much to choose from.

Here’s a list of reasons fiction is good for not just writers such as myself, but for everyone.

1) Fiction can help shape or break a worldview

Oftentimes an author will write about a certain topic because they’re passionate about it. And more often than not, that topic will be explored from every angle from a singular point of view. For instance, if you read the book Unwind by Shusterman, it may cause you to realize the horrors of abortion. The Jungle by Sinclair has been known to convince many people to become vegetarians.

2) Fiction can help you understand or acknowledge certain worldviews 

There are many belief-systems out there – hundreds that we’re not even aware of, and authors tend to be the leading voices for these hidden beliefs. We ought to know about the world we inhabit so that we can engage in intelligent, thoughtful conversations with those around us who subscribe to the surrounding belief-systems.

3) Fiction can spark your imagination

This one seems obvious. But what is the first thing you thought of when you saw a book with the cover of a boy and a tiger in a lifeboat in the middle of the sea? My thought, as an author myself, was, Why didn’t I think of that! Just look at what The Lord of the Rings did for the fantasy world, and what Jurassic Park did for sci-fi and mainstream movies in general.

4) Contemporary fiction can help you write to today’s audiences

“I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading,” says writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I think we all do that. When I only read classic literature, I wrote just like it (or tired to, anyway), but much to my detriment (there’s not really an audience for that anymore). So with the help of popular fiction like The Hunger Games, I learned to write with a more popular and modern prose.

Check out an excerpt of my upcoming teen novel These Great Affects, here.  And as a reminder, for every ten people that join my Facebook author page, I’ll reveal more of the book…

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