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Memorial Day: Remembering Those Who Served

  I doubt if wars will ever end during my lifetime or even that of my grandson’s. They have existed in some form for hundreds of reasons since the first cave man led his tribe against a neighboring tribe.  I doubt too if there has ever been a single year since recorded history when a war was not being fought in some location about the world.

As a writer, I read quite a bit of history during the research periods for my novels. Often I come upon the stories of little known wars now lost to time in faraway places where the reasons for battle were ridiculous. But, there are an equal number of stories where freedom against oppression was the courageous driving force and no alternative existed except to fight. Between the ridiculous and courageous reasons for the wars lie the surviving veterans, the wounded, the dead, and those family members and loved ones left to mourn.

Active duty men and women in our armed forces fulfill the need to protect us around the clock and serve wherever the need sends them, regardless of the hardships they and their families must endure. The veteran, wounded or not, looks back upon his or her military service with mixed emotions of pride at having served, remorse at the loss of friends and comrades, and must live with the memories and harsh realities of what they participated in and witnessed. As for the dead, they now rest in silence with GOD, hoping their ultimate sacrifice was not in vain.

Memorial Day has gone through many changes since its first creation as Decorations Day. Now it encompasses all military personnel, past and present, rather than only those that died. From the simple act of placing flowers upon a grave to parades in some communities, we honor our armed forces and remember in our own ways.

Until you have lost your freedom, you will never fully understand the value of it. Until you look upon the stars and stripes furling above you in the breeze, and realize the true value of your nation, you will never fully understand the sacrifices made for it.

Admiral Chester Nimitz made two famous statements. After the fierce fighting on Iwo Jima, he said, “Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

And speaking of those who died in the war in the Pacific, which may be stated for all wars, he said, “They fought together as brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side…To them, we have a solemn obligation — the obligation to ensure that their sacrifice will help make this a better and safer world in which to live.”

Wherever you are on Memorial Day or any other day, take a moment to pay tribute to all that have given of themselves from every race, creed and color, so you may now have the freedom to do as you wish.  There is no glory in war, only pain and suffering. Even its victory in the end is bittersweet.

Glenn Starkey

USMC, 1969-1974, Vietnam veteran

 

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 

Independent Bookstores Still Exist!

 

  As you know, I didn’t have much luck with getting my three books on the shelves of my local library but I’m fortunate to have them in a bookstore! Check out the photos. Talk about a great feeling…. There they are on the top shelf for the world to see—and of course, to buy.

 

Back to the Books is located in beautiful Manitou Springs, Colorado in the shadows of Pikes Peak! It’s owned and operated by Jon Renaud, an independent author himself. Back to the Books is the only bookstore opened for the sole purpose of bringing the works of independent authors from around the world together in one place. Back to the Books has assembled an incredible collection of unique books for the residents and visitors of Manitou Springs and the surrounding communities to enjoy. He also has an online bookstore as well.

 

Thank you, Jon Renaud, for having the courage to open an independent bookstore dedicated solely to indie authors. If you are on vacation in Manitou Springs, stop by and browse through Back to the Books.  Tell Jon you heard about his store on my site! And while there, pick up a copy of Solomon’s Men, Year of the Ram, or The Cobra and Scarab. The books are signed too.

 

Reference to my blog article “Another Gut Punch to Indie Authors” about how I tried to donate books to my local library and discovered they didn’t want self-published books; I received so many good emails and comments from readers and authors that I was asked by Sandra Valente of SSBookFanatics to guest blog.

 

You may want to read “My Library Won the Battle, But Lost the War….” on Sandra’s site. It is an interesting follow-up to “Gut Punch.”   And be sure to leave a comment for Sandra. She’s every author’s best friend. She’s a beautiful person who is a reader and reviewer. From the volume of books I understand she buys, she could probably open her own bookstore.

 

So, if you are in Manitou Springs, be sure to stop in, take a break, and browse the wonderful selection of indie books at Back to the Books.  And don’t forget to read the follow up to “Gut Punch.”

 

Good luck to all in your writing projects!

 

Glenn

Another Gut-Punch to Indie Authors

But does my library love me?

   Excuse me while I stand on my soap-box for a moment. Sometimes I just need to vent…and this is one of those times.

I’ve always been a strong supporter of education and literacy. Whether you are a child or an adult, the importance of good education and the ability to read is critical. Individuals and society as a whole benefits from it, and the future course of a nation depends upon the decisions of well-informed, well-read citizens.

The drop-out rate from high schools across our country remains high. When I learned of a local program to counsel students returning to complete their educations, I volunteered to be a mentor. I also volunteer as a “Reading Buddy” at an elementary school to assist children that have home-life problems associated with their reading skills. And being a writer, literacy is one issue I rank at the top of my concerns.

I’ve always been a strong supporter of public libraries. The Internet may have decreased their usage and forced many branches to close or reduce staff, but I believe a good public library system establishes a knowledge center for communities to build upon. From youth I’ve always considered a library to be a valuable resource for everyone.  

As a writer, especially being an “Indie-Author,” I already have a sufficient number of obstacles to overcome without adding my local library system to the fray. Aside from the writing, editing, publishing, and marketing headaches of moving my novels from computer to reader, (and of course, battling the constant stigma of being unpublished by big houses), I’ve taken my share of hits. Recently, my own local library gave me a gut-punch that left me frustrated.

In December of 2011, still relishing the author’s joy that accompanies the release of a new novel, I took a copy of each of my three novels (brand new, mint condition, and autographed) to the Brazoria County Library System branch library in my small town of Alvin, Texas. The librarian was gone but the assistants accepted my donations and stated they would be processed into the system for citizens to read. I left with a great sense of having made a contribution to my community. One day, I thought, someone may come, read my books for free and enjoy themselves.

In March of 2012 I happened to be in the library for a meeting. While there I checked their computer system for my works and couldn’t locate them.  I asked the assistants where my donated books might be and they in turn passed the search information on to the head librarian. Fast forward now to today, the end of April, two full months after not receiving a word from the librarian, I received a polite “gut-punch” letter attached to an email:

(even more aggravating is receiving a letter with your name misspelled after giving them your business card)

Dear Mr. Glen Starkey;

 I apologize for not contacting you sooner concerning the three books you donated to the Alvin Library… I deeply regret to say that it looks like your donation has been misplaced.  It may be your books were mixed in with other donated items and given to the Library League for its book sale…

 …All donations are received with the understanding the items become the property of the library, and that acceptance is not a guarantee the items will be placed into the collection.  The items must follow the same evaluation criteria for library purchased items. This would include reviews from recognized review sources and the item would also need to have an acceptable binding that would take the stress of being circulated…

 …The cataloging of donated items takes time and special handling, especially if it would require what is termed “original cataloging.”   Since your books appear to be self- published, there is not an available cataloging record in the correct format from a vendor for downloading into the library’s catalog. This special handling comes at a price and that is why there is a $10 per item charge to cover the cost. Hundreds of items are ordered, received, and processed each month which takes priority over specialty cataloging…

 …want you to know how much your interest in the library is appreciated.  The library system wishes you good success in your writing career.

They lost my books or they dumped them into the pile of unwanted, discarded library books to sell. Not only that, the librarian goes on to state they were unacceptable because they are self-published, probably did not have acceptable binding, and did not have “…reviews from recognized review sources.”  THEN, she has the audacity to say the library requires a $10 per item fee to process them because they are self-published. But she ends it all with a kiss: “The library system wishes you good success in your writing career.”

   Give me a break! Barnes & Noble won’t stock their shelves with Indie-Author books—and my own local library will only stock their shelves with my books if I pay them $10 per book. How did I reply? As calmly as I could.

Thank you for the information.

I have always been an advocate for literacy, volunteering as I do with our school district as a “Reading Buddy” to assist elementary children, promoting reading and education at every turn for adults as well as children. 

It is truly disappointing to read your letter and find that because my novels are “self-published,” they are considered below your standards. Although they are distributed by Ingram and doing well internationally on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and a list of other booksellers, it is unfortunate my own local library cast them out, loses them, or sells them as books no longer needed.

Yes, it’s ridiculous I cannot donate my novels to my own community library, and my stomach is still sore from yet another “Indie” gut-punch, but it won’t slow my writings or my advocacy of education and literacy.

Maybe equality is the lesson to be learned here. While I want my Indie-published books to be reviewed and treated equal with ‘big house’ books in public libraries, and to receive equal treatment in book stores, we should work toward equal education and literacy for all, regardless of a person’s station in life. But, maybe that’s all in a perfect world scenario.

Thank you. I shall now return my soap-box home to its closet.

Glenn

Do you REALLY challenge yourself?

"Do you call yourself an author, Twinkle Toes?"

There are a variety of challenges – finding time to write, making daily word counts, keeping up with the promos for your books, staying alive on social media networks, and a hundred more which could be listed…But I’m not talking about any of these.

Let’s fast forward ahead in life and say you already have a couple of novels under your belt. They received good reviews and you feel you’re on the road to churning out more literary greats. The challenge I’m referring to here is: “Have you really given your best writing to your readers?”

Writing is a creative process and a tough one to boot. Possibly you only remain within one genre or like me crossover into several…but regardless of the genre, your novel needs to be compelling. The dialogue must have sufficient meat to it for a reader to chew on for days. The action must course a reader’s veins with the force of a raging adrenaline rush. And when the last page arrives, the reader must be addicted to your words and direly in need of more, so much in fact they go in search of your next novel.

At any moment in time there are hundreds of free eBooks you can download to fill your Kindle, Nook, or iPad. As any writer should, I read a variety of these works. I’ve found diamonds in the rough with these free eBooks, and I’ve discovered a lot of junk promoted as “5 Star Reviewed” books. I found the common denominator in the “5 Star” junk was quantity and quality: the author appeared to have been writing solely to accomplish some daily quota of word quantity rather than write for daily quality.  There was evidently no personal challenge to push the author. The author seemed to be rushing to make parts fit, rushing to get to the end, and definitely rushing to get their book released.

The authors did not challenge themselves.  The writing was bland or mindless. It didn’t make the reader pause and think about the passage just read. And of course, the poor writing was another nail in the proverbial indie-author coffin.

  To challenge yourself as a writer means to create to the fullest extent of your mind’s abilities. Do your readers feel your book as they read? Have you given them something that truly sticks in their minds? Good books do that. Good books are not written based upon fads of the day.  They withstand the test of time and make their readers return another day to read them once more.

I’ve repeatedly read “The Assyrian” by Nicholas Guild and “The Wolf’s Hour” by Robert McCammon. With Guild’s books I always wondered if he mentally burned himself out with that book because of the strength and depth of his dialogue, and the thought processes he put into their creation. McCammon’s book was intense from beginning to end and maintaining such an energy level throughout the entire book must have drained him as well.

Challenge yourself to write a novel that is not your normal genre. You would be amazed at what you will learn about yourself and your ability to write. 

I read an article by McCammon about how horror novels had moved away from being what ‘true’ horror novels should be. In brief, he stated they had become nothing more than blood and gore spectacles because that was an easy way out for the writers. His complaint was that writers were failing to invoke the mental terror aspect which should be ever present. Failure to do so only left a ‘rubber-stamped’ bloodletting which was the easy way to write…. When the writers couldn’t think of good storyline to invoke fear in a reader, they simply had some nutcase run around slashing throats.  As I read McCammon’s article it struck me: the authors had not challenged themselves to create the best story possible.

Take some time to examine your work.  Look at your recent writings and be brutally honest with yourself about it overall. What separates your novel from a great writer in the genre you’ve chosen? What is missing within your writings? If you look hard enough, you may find it is the level of creativity – the challenge to produce a better work than the last.

Now I lay me down to sleep…

The people in our novels die a variety of ways. From vampire attacks to blazing gun battles we as authors play GOD by creating fictional worlds and deciding when and how our characters will meet their demise. In the real world though, we have no control, much less any idea as to how our own lives will end. Silently though, we hope it will be swift and painless.

From youth you may remember the child’s bedtime prayer or you may have even said it with your own children and grandchildren: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”  It’s one of those many things you carry through life as a gentle memory.

I thought of it recently while standing at the nursing home bedside of my mother-in-law. At eighty-seven years of age she had suffered with Alzheimer’s disease the last three years and the disease, now in its final stage, kept her bed-ridden and asleep. Conversation of any sort had stopped months ago. Her eyes rarely opened and when they did, only a distant stare came. Each day she weighed less than before, gradually becoming a mere wisp of the once vibrant woman I had known for thirty-six years. To watch her deteriorate to this physical state, merely breathing, not truly living, was torturous on the family. The next day she passed away. I viewed it as a blessing because her suffering had at last drawn to an end.

In those following days we received volumes of condolences from friends and family. As I read the letters and notes, I was struck hard by the realization almost everyone mentioned a friend or loved one that had suffered with the disease before dying or was presently suffering from it. The disease may physically affect one person, but the outreach of its talons leaves a cruel mark on many.

People die from other debilitating diseases as well. Alzheimer’s is not alone in that respect. What disturbs me is the physical and mental degradation you undergo from these maladies before the end arrives.  A once physically active person becomes a prisoner to a bed, no longer able to feed or bathe themselves. A wonderful writer can no longer recall his name much less compose a simple child’s story.  A superb speaker grows mute, no longer able to form a coherent sentence. Each of us has witnessed these at some point in our lives, yet we do not want to consider how our own end will be. It doesn’t matter though.  We will have little or no control when the time arrives.

Walk through a nursing home, listen to the residents’ moans and let the smells scorch your mind. You will not leave with the same state of mind you carried upon arrival. You will have a sense of guilt about you because the residents must remain while you may leave. But I realized there is more to it.  You feel a sense of guilt because you may maintain a degree of dignity about yourself while your loved ones have lost theirs and lay helpless.  I was struck by this thought when one of the last things my mother-in-law softly said was “Help me. I want my dignity.”

If I contract a disease and become confined to bed, before I move into a constant state of sleep, I hope someone will recite the bedtime prayer over me. And when the last grain of sand falls in my hourglass of life, all I too will want is to be able to die with dignity.

Glenn

Reading Buddies: Investing in the Future.

By the time I was eight years old I had hunted bear with bow and arrow, ridden across the open plains upon magnificent horses, and hacked my way through lion infested jungles. By the time I was ten years old, distant lands were no longer foreign and the world had become my playground.  All this and more I accomplished solely through reading without ever leaving my home. As a kid, books were my escape from a quarreling family and chaotic life. It wasn’t until later that I realized how my early love of reading had paved the way for my achievements in adulthood.

Reading is vitally important. Our lives revolve around its daily usage. Pause for a moment and think about the people you know, their stations in life, as well as their levels of literacy. Generally you will find people with high degrees of competency were or are avid readers.

My son was always encouraged to read, and that same encouragement is being passed on to my grandson. Through my son’s thirst for knowledge and my daughter-in-law being an elementary school teacher, my grandson’s reading level will be quite good — but not all children are fortunate enough to receive encouragement or have a father and mother present in their lives for whatever reasons.

I’m a “Reading Buddy.” It’s an odd title, but one I wear proudly. Two days each week I volunteer to go to my grandson’s elementary school, sign in, and go to a teacher’s classroom.  The teacher selects two or three students to go with me to the cafeteria where we will sit, read and discuss books the teacher has chosen for them that day.  I read to them or they read to me. I ask them about the books and they give me all sorts of answers, some even related to the books. Those little elementary school cafeteria chairs are not the most comfortable in the world, and the pay for being a “Reading Buddy” is zero – but the personal reward I receive is far greater than a treasure chest of gold. Their smiles are my paycheck. And if lucky, I might do something for one of those kids that make a difference in their lives.

There are a dozen reasons why some children may not receive encouragement at home and this writing is certainly is not intended to be a soap box to preach from. Yes, some of the reasons disturb me, especially when it involves parents being more concerned with their own lives than that of their child’s. But there are single parent homes where the parent is often gone, working two jobs to support the family or the parent’s own literacy level may not be adequate to help their child learn to read. And worse, as I experienced today, a child may have recently lost a parent and feels lost in life with little reason to want to read.

Give back to your community. Invest in the future by investing your time with a child. Volunteer to do something with the talents you have. Teachers are overworked and underpaid. They appreciate every bit of help they receive.  After all, they are establishing the educational foundation of the children that are tomorrow’s leaders.

A flower needs water and sunshine in order to grow.  A child needs love and encouragement to flourish.

Glenn

Note: In our school district volunteers must complete a form and undergo a background check before being allowed to work in any of the schools. It’s another good process to insure the safety of our children.