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Friday, July 18, 2008

Am I a patriot?

Independence Day, I guess I should start with something appropriately patriotic like "God Bless America" but that sounds too 'Bushie' and 'Reaganistic'. Maybe something lighter like "Good Morning America" nope, that's been done to death too. Hmmmm, this is a tough one. It's hard to think of something new to say isn't it? But then, that's what this blog is about I reckon. Still, what to say? Okay, I'm making this too hard. I'll just say "How ya'll doin America" and dedicate this post to the mood I woke up in which in short was "Don't blow it America!"

I know, sounds a little preachy, and it is I suppose. But I aim that dart at myself as well because let's face it, we're all on this National cruise together. Today I started thinking about patriotism, which is logical given it's the 4th of July. I wondered what the word means? Beyond Webster's, I think we all have our own interpretations or definitions. So, I took out a blank sheet of paper and started a list of all the words that described patriotism to me. It was a slow process at first, like watching paint dry while straining to hear a digital clock tick. But eventually the ole brain kicked into gear. Ideas came slow and erratic at first, the process being a lot like throwing wads of wet newspaper at the wall to see what sticks. However, eventually the pace quickened, and I became a writing dervish of sorts, like a super ball in a concrete bunker. Before I knew it I'd filled eight pages of college ruled notebook paper, front and back.

Sitting back I took a few sips of a ice cold Diet Coke and then read and re-read my handiwork. After several soul searching edits I read the results, trying to look at it like it was the first time I'd ever seen it. The eight pages had been reduced to just three words, the lowest common denominators of the word patriotism. Simply put, I see patriotism as an old family recipe, handed down from generation to generation, seasoned to one's own taste, but sharing the same base, the same three main ingredients if you will. Those ingredients are FAITH, for without faith there can be no hope. LOYALTY, for without loyalty there can be no union. And COURAGE, for without courage, commitment is weak if not completely doubtful. Without courage of commitment there can be no progress, only decay and eventual extinction.

Sounds a tad maudlin if not down right harsh, I know. But that is where my thoughts are this July 4th, 2008. No matter what your politics are or who your candidate is, the important thing is that you have them. In your own way you are part of the process, doing something to contribute to the assurance that there is a greater good for us all to strive toward. Even if all you do is listen, pay attention, debate, grouse, or praise about the issues, you are playing a role in our future as a nation. Clearly we are at a crossroads in America today. The world is at the same crossroad by the way. If we are to survive as a nation and as a species we need to all be involved in whatever way we can. We need to set an example for our next generations that there is no such thing as a free ride, that people must come together to assure our natural evolution.

The older I get, the more conscious I am of the fact that I am not contributing enough. This post is my first step in correcting that flaw in my character. As writers we share the gifts of keen observation and above average communications skills. And as Americans we share the responsibility to use them, wisely and often! We need to be voices that encourage other voices. We need to be a part of our Nation's history while it is still being written!

These two men asking us all to grant them the right, the power, and the responsibility to lead our nation into an uncertain future must be scrutinized. Take the time to listen to what they have to say, read what they have already said and connect the dots. Take nothing at face value, be a Berrian like it says in the Bible. Question with respect. To those of you who write I urge you to write. To those who do not, I urge you to read and speak out. No matter what the cynics say, this country can endure. But let's ban together as a herd of wild mustangs and not a herd of sheep. Challenge our leadership and drive them to lead. Make time for one another before we make time for ourselves. Show the world that we have not forgotten what it means to be free, and more importantly, that we have not forgotten the price of freedom.

Truly, from the top of my soapbox, "God Bless us all..."

next post: back on track

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

At the mercy of time bandits

I apologize for the long delay between posts. Suffice to say that 'everyday life' got the best of me! Actually, suffice is way to bland a term, too generic, benign, vanilla if you will. What I meant to say was, 'OH MY GOD, I LET LIFE GET THE BEST OF ME AGAIN!'
There, I feel better now. The weights on my shoulders shifted just enough to make the load manageable. You know, that one sentence has helped me to uncover the flaw in my lifestyle, the fly in my ointment, the monkey in my wrench (borrowed that one from a Bruce Willis flick). My priorities are all honked up! How so? I have too many priorities. And guess what, apparently I'm not one of them!
Now, that is not meant to be a selfish realization or observation. On the contrary, it's a healthy exercise in self realization. Really I hear you ask? Yes, I think so. Actually, I think it is healthy for each of us to step back and take a personal inventory so to speak. In my case, and I am only qualified or entitled to speak for myself. In my case I must admit that I may have too many priorities. I've accumulated so many in fact, that they are overlapping and thereby cancelling one another out as priorities.
It's my own fault, nobody elses'. I allowed that to happen. Why you ask? I was just trying to everything to everyone, physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. Which I now understand to be an impossibility, except for God of course. And believe you me, I do not envy Him this ability!
That being said, let me take a minute and rack and stack these priorities I've taken on. You may find this helpful when you do your own personal inventory. There is God of course (numero uno, although shamefully He hasn't always been). There is my family and my new family (this is quite a large number). There are my friends (close, not so close, and nearly close). There is my work, my passions, my hopes, my dreams. Of course in the process of tending to each of these, they tend to overlap and compete, co-exist, and prayerfully compliment one another in a tapestry of love and devotion.
So, what is my point? The point I'm trying to make is that missing from that list was myself. And if I push myself aside, well, my writing, my creativity goes with it. God has blessed me with many gifts, a talent for observation and expression being keen. But, all of my aforementioned priorities and so much more are equal blessings. What I've discovered is that there is room for all of them as long as I keep God first in my life. As Peter wrote in Philippians, "I can do all things through Christ Jesus." I'm discovering these truths late in my life, but I am discovering them none the less.
Thinking about it again, I'm realizing that I was overlooking an obvious pattern. As I ran through my inventory list:
"I need to do this for so an so..."
" I need to spend time with so and so..."
" I should call so and so..."
" I need to help so and so..."
" I love so and so..."

There it was, right in front of me. 'I' was included all along. All I had to do was slow down and pay attention. I think that is how God works, he leaves us clues and allows us to discover what He's always known about us all. "Slow to speak and quick to listen..."

Writing is my way of expressing my love and devotion to God as well as to each and every one of the priorities I listed in my personal inventory. With the right attitude, they are cared for and thought of every day of my life. And while physically there are only so many minutes in the day, spiritually there is eternal life. A life I share with them all, happily!
And so, I'm back in business boys and girls...:P

next post:

"let's see, where was I...?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction...blah, blah, blah..."

Anyone who has ever created something and then tried to put it out for all to see knows this axiom too well. I'm fairly certain that the roads in Hell are paved with rejection letters and poor reviews! Does that sound bitter? Well it should, because bitterness is a layer you have to eat through before you get to the sweet part of the publication parfait.
Some, OK, most can never get past that sad little fact. However, if you hold your nose and swallow quickly, the rewards are sweet, I promise you. Not necessarily financially rewarding, if that is how you measure success. But to my mind, and in my own experience, seeing your work on a shelf in the library is far more gratifying.
Whether you wind up in print, hanging in a gallery, playing on the airwaves, on the big screen, on the little screen, or echoing through a concert hall, the only time you'll smile brighter is at the birth of your children. Actually, to a very real extent, seeing your work through to fruition is a lot like creating life and giving birth. Each involves pleasure and pain, and each invoke two emotions that stay with you forever, pride and fear.
Does that sound sappy? Well it should because it is! It just goes to show you that not everything that gets written down is a pearl of wisdom. In fact, if I had saved all of the crumbled wads of paper strewn around my office/bedroom while I was writing The Migrant, and buried them in my backyard, I am pretty sure a fine garden would have sprouted thanks the natural fertilizer that occasionally makes its way from my brain to my medium of choice. Not that everything edited out of my novel was crap, but, I digress.
OK, my point. Simply put, breaking out of obscurity is really hard. At the very least a long row to hoe. Unless you're very very lucky, very very connected, or very very well known already, it is a jail break that you'll have to make on your own. That was a sad realization for me, but one I got over quickly. The adulation and encouragement from family and friends was fine armor in the beginning. But, to get where I wanted to go I would need to develop rhinoceros skin and a deaf ear because the path to publication is littered with nay sayers and detractors.
Fortunately my parents instilled in me a willingness to try and not fear failure, but learn from it. A tactic that I would use throughout my life with generally favorable results. Although if you were to ask my parents about this they would likely deny it or at the very least post a caveat stating that they never actually encouraged me to fail quite so often. Gee, thanks Mom & Dad.
So, after buying the BIG BOOK OF PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS I set to work to find someone to help me, convinced that there would be dozens of eager supporters within those pages.
I learned to write query letters and sent sample pages and chapters to nearly everyone in the book. Then I sat back and waited, in no time at all I would be on my way! Weeks went by, then months, then the letters began arriving. Some cordial, some not so cordial. Some just form letters, some in longhand. Some were down right rude, and some were nothing more than my query letter and sample pages, shredded, and stuffed back into my own SASE! And a few, albiet a very few mind you, were returned unopened with large stamped messages across the original address reading either a polite "Return to Sender" or a not so polite "Do NOT darken our doors anymore with your unsolicited submissions...ASSWIPE!"
Oh Brother...

next post..."stay the course, there's more than one way to skin a cat, so they say..."

Monday, April 7, 2008

"pick em up and lay em down"

Like any bricklayer will tell you, this is a mantra that works for EVERYONE! It applies to all aspects of life. Like sharks, people must be in a constant state of motion, physically or mentally, consciously or subconsciously. Every day we labor at something. Each night, while we're sound asleep, our minds continue to labor as our subconscious dreams the dreams we build on or work toward when we wake. Like Yogi says (Berra - not Bear), "it ain't over til its over."
So, what's my point you ask? My point is that as people we are masters at talking ourselves out of anything. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's not so good. If you talk yourself out of a bad situation, that's good. If you talk yourself out of a good opportunity, that's bad. When do you find out which you've done? After its over!
Many of us that have dreamed of writing something for posterity, like a novel, have all started the same way, enthusiastically. Some of us are stopped by the first page, some by the very first chapter, some by the first reading, some by the first rejection. Writing is no more complicated that sticking to your guns. One dreams, one adapts, one molds their dreams into consciousness. One builds and expands on their dreams, breathes life into them then weaves them into a story, a novel, the author's most intimate thoughts laid out for all to see. Sounds easy enough doesn't it? So why doesn't everybody write a novel? Good question! Actually, it's my firm belief that EVERYONE has at least one novel inside of them.
The stumbling block is always perseverance. The common denominator in all successful publication attempts is perseverance! It's a simple formula really. "Pick em up and lay em down." Line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter. Are you picking up what 'm laying down? By the way I borrowed hat line from my brother Chuck. Where he first heard it God only knows! Anyway, it took me 40 years to grasp this concept. But, once I did it was "Katy bar the door!" With that understanding, that slight change in how I approached things, I was on my way to a whole new me. Eleven months, two weeks, and 3 days later, "The Migrant" was written and ready to start on the submission trail (of tears).
So, phase one was complete, I had a manuscript. Next, Phase two, convincing someone, anyone, that I had a product!

next post..."for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction...(physics 101)"

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

nobody scores from the bench...

Sorry about the late post, my best intentions were trumped by my call to duty as Fia & Eli's Granddad...:P

So, where were we? Oh yes, chapter one is in the can, now what! Well, actually chapter one went on a tour of family and close friends while I shamelessly basked in praise and self gratification. How long you ask...about 6 weeks. Yeah, that's right, I said six weeks! Why so long you add? Well, its sort of like after you finish a really terrific holiday meal, like Thanksgiving and such. You're full, stuffed actually, and you're thinking (out loud probably), "I'm never eating again!" In other words, you could say that I got lazy, set the bar too low and contented myself with what I had written so far. A really good short story.
Then came the evening when I had surfed EVERY channel my cable company offered. The Yankees weren't playing and football season was months away. So, bored, I wandered back to my bedroom/office and flipped on my computer. I sat and stared at my crashing surf screen saver for about twenty minutes before I clicked on my "Migrant" folder and opened the only file in there, "chapter one." I read it again, with a fresh pair of eyes and a little too much pride. Then I read it again. And while I was going through it a third time I put in my earphones and queued up the soundtrack from "Amelie."
Almost instantly my mind began to wander, and I found myself daydreaming about a road trip I had taken through New England in the Fall of 1996. I had been on a business trip to upstate New York and had taken the opportunity to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The beautiful countryside and small town atmosphere left a real impression on me, more than I had realized. The kind of impression that can transport you back in time whenever you're able to conjure up those memories. The brilliant autumn colors, the small town chatter overheard in diners and on street corners, the unfamiliar yet totally recognizable surroundings, and the overwhelming feeling of belonging.
Somewhere in the middle of that dream with the soft sounds of that French soundtrack in my head, Ethan Kelly, his family & friends, and his complete back story were born. Twelve hours later the next three chapters had been written. the framework for "The Migrant" had been laid down, and I was on my way to authorhood!

next post...picking them up and laying them down

Friday, March 28, 2008

How hard can it be...really!

You know, the older I get the more I like soup? Sorry, senior moment...hehehe

So, phase one, write a novel. Sounded easy enough. A few pens and pencils, a couple, three composition books (narrow ruled of course), and a new laptop, everything I needed shy a really good idea. Actually, I already had a notebook, a mechanical pencil and an open mind.
So one Saturday afternoon while I was sitting on a bench on the old wooden pier in Newport Beach, California an idea materialized in the bright sunlight and strolled right on past me. It was an Hispanic family out for a walk. The youngest, a waif of a girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old was giggling at the spinning butterfly pinwheel she was holding. The strong ocean breeze provided enough power to seemingly lift the child right off of the deck. I watched her glide on by me, my eyes following her and her family until they blended in with the rest of the crowd. Just like that she was gone, and just like that my novel was born.
In an instant I was transported to the central valley of California, to a town whose name I had not uttered in more than thirty years. In that same instant the basis for the story unfolded, the characters born, one after another in rapid succession as my mind blended realities from my memories with the fantasies in my heart and soul. The words came so quickly that I could hardly write fast enough to keep up. Before I knew it, two hours had past, and enough pencil lead had been expended to easily cause a blip on an environmentalist's radar (or whatever they use to measure excessive emissions).
Voila, chapter one was complete! The next two hours were spent reading and re-reading, as my first experience at active editing took place unwittingly (easily evidenced by the small pile of eraser shavings on my Levi's and the string of line-outs on each and every page). In the end, it turned out I had written a decent stand alone short story that would eventually inspire the next forty-five chapters in The Migrant. I remember being unable to hide the grin on my face. I knew I had done something extrodinary, but, I was more excited about sharing it with the girl at work. I was really looking forward to that smile!

next post...persistence is omnipotent

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Careful what you wish for...

I have always been a dreamer, a real life Walter Mitty of Thurber fame. So much so that my early recollections of childhood all begin with the same parental admonition, "goddamn it son, stop daydreaming and pay attention!" I believe that I was five when I first remember hearing those words, or words close to those. What my parents missed was that I WAS paying attention, so much so, that my brain was recording everything. And, to my great surprise, I had been blessed with the keen ability to recall vast amounts of it. Add that to a propensity to fantasize and you have the makings of a storyteller.

Throughout my life I have called upon that "talent" to get me into and out of trouble. I was always capable of telling a whopper or two while growing up. Sometimes for gain, sometimes for fame, always for the shear fun I had at never knowing where I was going until I got there. Eventually I began writing things down, short stories or cartoons to entertain myself, but never to share with anyone else. Heaven forbid someone read what I wrote, they would surely think me lame. The original George McFly!

Then one day, I stepped off of my self imposed ledge and shared with a co-worker a short story I'd written . A girl, of course, someone I had developed a crush on at the tender age of forty-four. And wouldn't your know it, she liked it, was actually impressed. Now what was I going to do? So, I shared some more and the next thing you know she is encouraging me to write more, to get published, how could she help, who should we call, how do we go about getting an agent?
WAIT, let me think a second! What had I done, all I wanted to do was get her attention, get her to smile at me. Now the cat was out of the bag, and more people were reading my stuff, asking for more "reading material." It got out of hand, but, it also opened my mind to the possibility that maybe I could do this writing thing. Maybe I could?

Next post...the journey begins...
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