"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.
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.
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.
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.
by Glenn Starkey.
Television has become as comical to me as it is frustrating. On those rare occasions when I may relax and enjoy a program without the guilt of neglecting my ‘to-do’ list, I scan through the cable channels, pause on one and find myself saying, “Life is not fair.”
Have you taken a serious look at the variety and popularity of shows that are available? I’m always left wondering, “How do the people in these television shows find these jobs?” I know you have at least seen the commercials for these shows. Imagine the various resumes these ‘stars’ have:
“….For years I chased Sasquatch through the forest. Never found the big bugger, but came close. I stepped in his poop one time. I did catch a bad case of poison ivy though!”
“….I was the star of a show where I raced against the clock to gorge myself with plates the size of Texas, overflowing with spicy, fried foods! Some had peppers so hot I could start a campfire when I passed gas!”
“….Before I went to rehab, I was the star of show where I traveled the world drinking and reporting on booze in every bar we could find. I can only remember some locations; most are black spots in my memory.”
“….For seven years my team and I traveled America in search of ghosts. We only found demons though and performed over three-thousand exorcisms. Nebraska and Iowa are safe now because of us!”
There are also other superb shows to choose from such as the rich, irritating housewives from various cities who spend their time arguing and shopping; the twenty young, beautiful women cat-fighting over a single guy who they had never met before yet want to marry because he is their ‘true’ love; and of course, the house filled with cameras for voyeuristic pleasure to watch young men and women connive to be the last person remaining. The list goes on and sounds worse as you define the shows in basic terms. It’s the dumbing of America. Excellent role models for our youth. These stars and starlets will have fine resumes of their careers.
But what about the unknown people who daily star in our lives with little or no recognition or a good-salary spot on a television show? Their work resumes would be simple:
“….I taught school.”
“….I fought fires.”
“….I drove ambulances.”
“….I patrolled the city streets.”
“….I carried a rifle and a hundred pound pack across Iraq and Afghanistan.”
So, the next time I see a television show where a man’s sole job is to travel the world to reel in a monster fish or I see screaming legions of Beiber-fevered teenagers adding to his billion-dollar plus yearly income, I will once more say, “Life is not fair….”
Fortunately, I never expected it to be.
photo credit: unknown photographer
- “It’s mine…No, it’s mine…Get away!…No, you get away!”
by Glenn Starkey (@GStarkeyBooks)
Prior to Halloween I walked through a major store and observed Christmas products already intermingled with Thanksgiving items on the shelves. Goblins, pilgrims, and elves are a confusing menagerie of images when you are supposed to only be buying a bag of candy for “Trick or Treaters.”
By Thanksgiving though, Christmas ornamentations were fully hung in the stores along side of “Black Friday” shopping countdowns. Now cardboard elves were staring across the isles at cardboard pilgrims standing beside native American Indians holding turkeys. And Black Friday advertisements loomed on the horizon as if announcing the coming of the end of the world!
Somewhere along the line in America we leaped from Halloween to Christmas, leaving Thanksgiving a blip on the calendar, its significance almost buried beneath the avalanche of oncoming sales the following day.
When we awakened from our naps brought on by the usual Thanksgiving over-indulgence, and the annual televised football game ended, something magical occurred. Within the snap of a finger we were catapulted into a Christmas mindset, the season of “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.” We had just been shot through a time-warp from witches to pilgrims to elves, yet realized the transition would not be complete until we are past the infamous gladiatorial shopping day—Black Friday. Yes, it is the single day of the entire holiday season in which we cast out all good will toward our fellow man (or woman as seen in the news) and take no prisoners at the mall!
While some people chose to forego the meaning and celebration of Thanksgiving all together and literally camped outside the doors of major retail stores, others chose to leave directly from their Thanksgiving dinners to be in line at midnight when the doors opened.
(Now play the soundtrack from THE TERMINATOR) And at the tolling of the bells, the doors swung open, the stampedes began, and the brotherly love of Christmas transformed into a gladiatorial battle…Insanity fueled the masses… By that evening, television news stations were reporting a woman pepper-sprayed fellow shoppers that had closed in about her; a shopper Tasered another shopper during an argument over a toy; a woman accidentally struck another woman’s two years-old child while in a fight over a video game, leading to further fighting between the women; police were forced to wrestle a violent shopper to the ground because he had ripped something from another person’s hands, and a 61 year old man fell dead in a store and customers stepped over his body to continue their shopping …. The news reports kept coming, growing stranger by the moment.
And by late that night, the wild-eyed, wounded combatants and weary campers returned home (or were awaiting release from jail) with precious bargains in hand, ready now to celebrate the true essence of the season and spread “Peace, Love, and Joy” among their fellow man for a few weeks. But to honor this special day and those with such Christmas spirit who found it necessary to kick, bite, punch, pepper-spray, and Taser their fellow shoppers, I believe we should now call it “BLACK-EYED FRIDAY.” Hopefully, their handcuff marks, bruises, and black-eyes will have healed in time to sing Christmas carols and rejoice with “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.”
Having swept through the holidays like a fast-forwarded movie and the whirlwind of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black-Eyed Friday, and Christmas activities drawing to an abrupt halt, on Christmas Day there will be people who sit in their chairs wondering why they are so mentally exhausted, glad it’s all over for another year.
What a pity. What a sad commentary it is in many ways. But as I have learned through the years, there are still good people in this world and the true essence of Christmas will not be lost.
Photo Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
The innocence of a child....
Everyone has a story, whether good or bad.
by Glenn Starkey
I was prepared to write about the mental exhaustion we feel from months of constant editing, proofing, and preparing our books for print or e-book publication, but a Facebook posting I read this evening abruptly changed my thoughts.
In brief, the posting was from a young man, 19 years old, asking whether it was wrong to carry such dislike toward his father for neglecting him through the years, leaving his mother, their family, and starting another family—and still seemingly ignoring him. A reply from his sister, one year older, came immediately, echoing the same emotions toward their father, only with stronger animosity. Knowing them I felt a deep hurt because of their pains, yet realized regardless of what replies they received, only the passage of time could heal their wounds, if ever.
Unfortunately, divorces occur in families, and all too often leaves everyone bitter, resentful, and scarred—especially when children are involved. In Vietnam I witnessed the effects of war upon families. As a police officer on the streets I responded to more violent family disturbances than I wish to remember. My wife works for a law firm that handles divorces. Each evening I see how disturbed she is when children have been swept up in parental battles.
There are no perfect families. Everyone has a story, whether good or bad, that can be told about their families. All too often though, many of the stories range from alcoholism and physical abuse to abandonment and worse. Those events have a long lasting impact on children that is often not discovered for years then becomes one source of adult life problems.
I’m not a psychologist or a licensed therapist, but I once heard of a method for helping someone who silently carries such hurt from their youth: write it all in a journal and then burn it.
If truth were known, every author has placed a piece of themselves in their novels. I know I do, and it’s done without intention. But baring your heart in a private journal, writing every vile thought and memory you’ve held secret and captive within, and when complete, burning the book, works to some degree to cleanse the soul. It is the statement and release of those inner demons which is most important.
Of all things though, we as adults, as parents, should always remember that our children must be protected and feel loved by us. We are responsible for nurturing their overall mental development and confidence that will carry them through their lives.
There are enough hardships and obstacles in life without carrying additional baggage from our past. We cannot undo the past, but we do have control of the future—and the future is today.
When the last sands of my hourglass are about to fall, I hope my son will have a good story to write about his lifetime with me.
How do you feel?
photo credit: Jake Starkey