The Grisham Challenge, Book 2: The Firm

403coverI read John Grisham’s The Firm back in high school for class. For an assigned book, I remember being pretty impressed. But as a high schooler, I didn’t allow myself to fully accept how awesome an assigned book could be.

Having just read it again as an adult as part of the Grisham Challenge, I’ve got to say that this book is now considered one of my desert island books. Couldn’t. Stop. Reading. It.

No wonder John Grisham gained such a heavy and substantial following with the release of this book. Even if all the circumstances in the book aren’t completely believable, it’s sure one heck of a fun read!

Imagine getting your dream job, and not only that, but they pay you out the nose, with virtually unlimited vacation time – paid in full – money for a down payment on a house, a company car, the works. That’s the sort of job our protagonist signs up for. But unfortunately he comes to realize that it really was all too good to be true and nothing – absolutely nothing – is as good as it seems.

There’s very little violence in this book – maybe a page worth, but the drama and suspense runs at virtually a 10 from page one. Grab ahold of this Grisham thriller and dazzle yourself.

The Grisham Challenge Book 1: A Time to Kill

book-club-4

Wow! John Grisham starts his writing career off with a wallop, and a hard act to follow. Racism, threats, juicy courtroom drama, murder, revenge, and controversy.

As solid and enthralling as this work of fiction is, it wasn’t the book that launched Grisham into his superstar status, believe it or not. That doesn’t happen until the release of his next book, The Firm (which I’ll start reading shortly).

But let’s talk about the controversy in A Time to Kill.

A little girl gets raped. No… your little girl gets raped. You have a weapon and a clear shot of  the rapists. What do you do?

Now you’re in the jury box. The man being convicted was just exacting revenge on behalf of his battered and bruised daughter.

Do you convict him?

I know the law states that we are not to seek vigilante justice on our own, that we must leave it to the court to execute justice. It seems plain and simple, really. The man killed. The conviction of a guilty verdict should be implemented.

But Grisham’s brilliancy is that he blurs the lines between black and white (and I mean that both morally and ethnically).

This would be one of those very few scenarios where the movie had just a tiny edge up on the book. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but from what I remember, Mathew McConaughey’s portrayal of our defense attorney Jake Brigance, in his closing argument, describes the heinous rape to an all-white, Southern jury. And then at the very end he says something like, “Now, imagine that the victim is white.”

That sort of happens in the book, except it’s a jury member who pulls that gut-wrenching punch.

If I were in the jury box, I might have very well given the verdict to the vindictive father and let him walk free. What about you? How did A Time to Kill affect you?

I know a few of you have expressed joining me in The Grisham Challenge. Join the fun and let’s read the works of America’s favorite storyteller together!

Also, join my Facebook Author Page for updates on my newest works and family life!

Finally! The Real Truth About Queries

 

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Query. It’s the big F-word in the writer’s vocabulary.

It’s the ultimate eye-roll in the agent’s life.

Queries. They’re like taxes. A seemingly giant waste of time, but completely necessary to keep the world going round.

Writers don’t like queries because they take away from valuable writing time and it’s basically an email (or letter) that might as well just say:

PLEASE RESPOND TO THIS MESSAGE WITH A TOTALLY UNNECESSARY REJECTION LETTER TO BRIGHTEN MY DAY!!!! (insert: smiley face, smiley face, toothy smiley face)

Because apparently that’s what all agents read while glazing over your query letter while snickering and sharpening the spear on the end of their tail, right?

I’ve been writing queries for many years now and I’ve learned a few things not to do, and, having spoken with many agents, I’ve also gained insight on what they think about queries.

This post is to share thoughts on both sides of the battlefield. Just don’t shoot me, because I’m only the messenger.

What every agent wants to tell every to-be author:

Spell our names right

Don’t copy and paste your query – make each one personal

Get to the point

And stop saying you’re the next J.K. Rowling.

What every author wants to tell every agent:

Whether you like it or not, your message was copied and pasted and by the time I get your formal rejection letter 4-6 weeks later, I’ve already sent 200 other copy-and-pasted queries out. I’m an author, I don’t have time to write you a personal letter because I know you’re going to reject me anyway.

If you don’t want to read my book, don’t send me a rejection letter. I’ve moved on from you. I don’t need to wake up to your impersonal rejection letter to make my life as an author even more depressing.

And I would be the next J.K. Rowling if you’d just represent me!

What I want every writer to know:

Don’t strive to be the next J.K. Rowling. Strive to be the first you.

And what I want every agent to know:

On Writing: Write Awful

When most people think of writing, they associate it to writing an email or a letter: Articulate your thoughts, dot your i’s, and send it away to your adoring audience.

That might be well and true for some writing forms, but not so for books. You don’t just get an idea, jot it down over a length of time, and ship it out to a pristine publisher.

Unfortunately, many who share this false assumption are, in fact, writers. So this post is going to clear the air as to what writing actually is like. Some say it’s like sculpting, some say it’s like architecture, I’m going with the illustration that writing is like drawing a picture.

book 11) Write Awful – You’ve got your brilliant idea, you write it out in book form, and several months later you go back and read your first draft and you think, Wow. I’m a terrible writer. This book stinks! Like the old break-up adage: it’s not you, it’s the process. Trust me. The brilliant minds at Pixar even say that every one of their movies started off as the worst movie ever.

 

book 32) Fix it a little – So if you think your book is awful but you’ve still retained your original idea, then yes, keep at it. Read through it again and change all the “your”s to “you’re”s and all the “their”s to “there”s. Get it a little more readable, a little more articulated. What you’re doing in this draft is removing some of that access dirt around the good idea you’ve uncovered, like sweeping away the dirt to reveal a fully-formed fossil. A word of warning must be inserted here. If, in all the chaos of writing your book, you lost track of that great idea that propelled you to write it in the first place, you might want to start from scratch. I’ve done it, I’m sure Stephen King’s done it… it’s like talking to yourself; it’s more normal than you think.

book 43) Add some detail – Now that you’ve got your book cleaned up a little bit, the main idea shines and the typos are fixed (don’t be fooled, there’s still plenty of typos still hiding), you can now start adding some detail to the narrative by adding color to the sky, rust to the park benches, and acne scars on the misunderstood antagonist. And you can also start breathing life into the dialogue exchange between your characters. Suddenly, your book is going to start taking on a more defined and grounded form. And with any luck, people will actually be able to read it and make sense of it.

book 54) Critique it – By this time you’re so tired of reading your book, just the thought of it makes you want to pull your hair out. But you’re not done. You’ve got to read it again. Heck, put it aside for a few months then return to it with a fresh mind. But this time through, you’re reading it not as the author, but as the reader. Read it with the utmost objectivity. Be hard on yourself. Ask yourself the hard questions (“Why did he say that?” “Is this convincing?” “Does she have reason enough to do this?”). Email some PDFs out to some willing friends to read it, and don’t take their criticisms personally. I’ll tell you, my wife is my toughest critic, to the point that I’m afraid of giving her my work to read for fear of having to start over or make too big of a change. But a story won’t be any closer to perfection until you put in the hard work and ask the hard questions. And it’ll be worth it in the end. (And yes, there’ll still be typos hiding.)

I_Am_LionTreat yourself to a new book for your Kindle, my newest work, I Am the Lion

On Writing: Force the Conversation

Calvin and Hobbes

No matter how good of a planner you are, no matter how much you outline your novel, you’re going to get stuck at some point.

Telling a writer that he’s/she’s going to inevitably hit a writer’s block is like telling a whale that it’s going to eventually get beached, no matter how hard it tries to avoid it.

But it’s reality. And you’ll find pages upon pages and articles upon articles on how to avoid (or get through) writer’s block, and I almost feel like I need to apologize for contributing to the cacophony of mixed and mingled suggestions.

But I won’t.

I also won’t claim that my way is the right answer or even the best way.

I believe everyone has a different way of getting through writer’s block, just like we all have a different way of accomplishing our writing.

I’m simply just going to share my way of getting through it. And bare in mind, I’m writing three books at once, so I run into it pretty frequently.

How do I get past it and go to bed each night with yet another couple of pages under my belt?

It’s simple: I write.

On my teen book which I’m working on, now titled, These Great Effects, I had my main character sitting on her bed, flipping through her crush’s phone to learn more about him. I needed another scene with her interacting with her mom, so I had her mom enter her room (“Knocking as she entered, of course”), and… I hit a wall.

But how did I get through it? I forced the conversation. Sure, there’s a lot of awkward silences and hesitant comments as I struggled through the scene, trying to decide why mom had come into her room.

But the more I wrote the scene out, stumbling along, finding my footing, learning about my characters, I hit on a line that will eventually turn the book into the direction I want it to go.

(Mom asks Adele, the main character, to attend one of her dad’s campaign gatherings with him, which is where the plot of the story will pick up.)

The point is, you’ve got to struggle through those scenes when you just don’t know where it’s going to lead you. It might take a few tries; you might change it tomorrow or you might change it a year from now. The point is, you just built in one more step to get the rest of your book completed.

And even if it’s a little wobbly, you can always go back and fix it.

Remember, it’s a writer’s block – intended for writers, and if my baby’s aiqddKkiMpresence has taught me anything, it’s that blocks are pretty easy to pick up.

Get my newest book for your Kindle for just $1.99

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.

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