Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Thought for the Day

A thought for the day: Gandhi once said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.”

I believe, actually I know, this statement is true. Hate is born out of unbridled fear.

I’ve often wondered why so many straight people, mostly religious people, seemed to hate gay people so fervently. It finally occurred to me that it’s because, by going against their set of religious guidelines, gay people actually challenge those rules, which challenges their entire belief system. Even gay Christians and Muslims challenge those beliefs they profess to follow.

It seems a bit strange to me that Christians and Muslims are so insecure that any challenge to even a single rule sends them into a hateful dither, but as Gandhi points out, it comes down to fear. They must be deathly afraid of anyone poking holes in the blanket of faith they have wrapped themselves in. I can only think that it must be a very thin blanket indeed if there is so much fear of losing it.

I for one have no wish to strip anything away from religious people, even through I think in many cases organized religions do more harm that good in the world. I believe everyone has their own path to follow, and every path eventually lead to the same place. 

My wish is that we all walk our separate paths hand in hand in a spirit of love and acceptance.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Writing Tip - The Real Work of Writing—Editing

I completed the first draft of my latest novel, May Butterflies, earlier this summer. It’s a story I’m a bit wild about, and now I’m slogging through the trenches, doing my least favorite writing task, editing.

For years I hated editing, but I’ve come to enjoy it. I love playing with words and the rhythm they make. I make a game of seeing how many words I can delete without negatively impacting the story. So even though editing is not nearly as fun as creating new prose, it’s still enjoyable. 

My process for editing starts by putting the manuscript down for at least a month, usually two to three months, while I work on something else. When editing, I want the story fresh, as if I’m reading it for the first time. It takes time to get that story out of my head.

Next, I read each page, slowly and carefully, three times before going on to the next page. I look for words/sentences/paragraphs to cut, different ways to say the same thing, places I’ve repeated myself (I seem to do that a lot), cut out most words ending in ‘ly’,  turn passive verbs to active, and insure I have a good mix of sentence structures and that the prose flows effortlessly. Why read each page three times, you ask? Because it’s amazing how many things stick out on the second and third pass that I gloss over on the first one.

When I finish a scene, I examine the scene as a whole. I actually have a checklist I follow for each scene:

1. What are the emotions the reader should feel? (which is different from what the characters are feeling)

2. Whose scene is it, and what do they want from it?

3. What can you show that is now in dialog?

4. How can you punch up the dialog, give it more attitude!

4. What can you show that is now told?

5. What can you cut, is it all needed? What purpose does it serve?

6. Cut the melodrama, telling internal dialog, metaphors. Just tell the story in plain English.

7. Most importantly: Where is the conflict leading to emotional growth in each scene?

Following this method, I strive to edit six pages per day. The next day, I start out by reading those six pages once more before moving on to the next six pages. When I finish a chapter (usually about 10-15 pages) I have my computer read it back to me. It’s amazing how many errors I catch by having the computer read it. I keep having the computer read it out loud until I can make it through without making any changes (normally 3 to 4 times.)

So for each editing pass, I read each page a minimum of six times, sometimes as many as ten times. Then the process begins again. I put the manuscript away for a month or two, and repeat. I normally make three to four editing passes. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Disturbing Trends on TV & Facebook

I’ve seen some disturbing trends on TV and Facebook lately; actually I’ve seen them for a long time but they are getting more pronounced and widespread, and I’m bothered by it. This trend is to bash anyone who holds a different opinion. It’s a form of hate, a form of bullying, and I believe it needs to stop. 

I see it daily, personal attacks aimed at Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Muslims, gays, and the like. Liberals and Conservatives. Educated and ill-informed. I see these people launching personal attacks on others for being hateful, and I think, what hypocrites we’ve all turned into. What makes anyone feel that voicing one form of hate is justified to combat another form of hate?

Many seem to feel it’s open season for anyone on the national stage, that fame makes people an acceptable target. I disagree. Hate is hate. It’s ugly and it’s destructive no matter who it’s aimed at. 

Last year one of my New Year’s resolutions was to speak no evil of anyone, to stay positive and not voice any negative thoughts. I found it particularly hard at first, especially considering what’s going on with the national political front. I hold strong opinions about people and issues, but I’m forcing myself to only voice positives. It’s the old Golden Rule in action.

Please believe me, I’m not trying to sound holier than thou. I’m no better than anyone. But once I began living the Golden Rule in earnest, it became much more obvious how many others don’t. 

I’m continuing that resolution this year because in the end, it makes me feel better about myself and others. There are still many people I disagree with, but I find it’s more helpful to support what I do agree with, rather than condemn what I dislike. And personally, I feel it’s the right thing to do. I mean, seriously, who the hell am I to criticize anyone else? I’ve not reached perfection yet, far from it, but I’ve learned it’s better to promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

Come on people, let’s discuss issues like adults, not sling insults like children.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Writing Tip: Craft Means The Ability To Convey Emotions

Fiction, whether books or movies, trades in human emotions, which means delivering carefully packaged emotional experiences. Books and movies are emotion generators.

When was the last time you saw a movie or book ad that said, “well-structured, great plot points, fresh dialogue?” No. What you see is, “Grabs from the first page to last, funny, gritty, intense, haunting, gripping, hugely satisfying.” The focus is all about emotions, because that’s what the reader/audience craves. Emotion is what sells; it’s what keeps readers coming back for more.

Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense and audience manipulation, once said, “We’re not making a movie; we’re making an organ, like in a church. We press this chord and the audience laughs. We press that chord, and they gasp. We press these notes and they chuckle. 

Aspiring writers are constantly told to hone their craft. But what does that mean? Craft is the ability to make things happen on the page. Specifically, it’s the technical ability to control language to create an intentional emotion or image in the reader’s mind, hold his attention, and deliver a rewarding experience. Craft is about the ability to connect with your reader. 

Your job is to seduce the reader, to make them keep turning pages to see what happens next, to captivate them by drawing them into the world you’ve created. You want them to forget they're reading words on the page, and feel something. In order to do that, you have to find the most exciting and emotionally involving way to tell your story well. 

Each page needs to be crafted to make the reader feel tension anxiety, laughter, anticipation, grief or terror, and to manage those visceral feelings into a satisfying experience by the last page. 

For some readers, you have thirty pages to hook them. For many it’s ten pages. But the reality is that the first page, and the next, and the next must catch the reader’s attention and hold it. The way to do that is to manipulate the reader’s feelings on each page, which is quite different from manipulating your character’s feelings. Your character on the page may be laughing his ass off, yet you make choose to have the reader crying from anguish.

So on each and every page you write, it’s important to know what emotions your characters are feeling at that moment, but more important that you understand what emotions you are creating in the reader. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them sigh, but make the feel something. 

Publishers buy and sell emotion. Therefore, if you want to become a successful novelist or screenwriter you must create emotional experiences in your work. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Words of Wisdom from Tennessee Williams

I was reading Cat On A Hot Tin Roof last night, and toward the end of act II, when Brick and Big Daddy are discussing why Brick is an alcoholic and the possibility of his being gay, the author put in some personal notes as guidance for the actors. I found it memorable:

The thing they’re discussing, timidly and painfully on the side of Big Daddy, fiercely, violently on Brick’s side, is the inadmissible thing that Skipper died to disavow between them. The fact that if it existed it had to be disavowed to “keep face” in the world they lived in may be at the heart of the “mendacity” that Brick drinks to kill his disgust with. It may be the root of his collapse. Or maybe it is only a single manifestation of it, not even the most important.

The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problem. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering evanescent—fiercely charged!—interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis.

Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one’s own character to himself. This does not absolve the playwright of his duty to observe and probe as clearly and deeply as he legitimately can; but it should steer him away from pat conclusions, facile definitions which make a play just a play, not a snare for the truth of human experience.

The following scene should be played with great concentration, with most of the power leashed but palpable in what is left unspoken.

To me this is powerful advice to any writer.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


I believe that all humans seek happiness, and I’ve come to think that attaining happiness is our purpose in life. Whether an individual is religious or not (and it makes no difference which religion one follows) we all strive to make our lives better, which means some sort of movement towards attaining what we imagine to be happiness.

Yet, achieving true happiness in today’s society has become, more and more, ill defined, elusive, and ungraspable. For many, those moments of occasional joy that life brings are fleeting, and bouts of happiness feels like something that comes out of the blue, and disappears just as quickly.

Yet, I believe true happiness comes from understanding one’s needs, and training one’s mind to develop and sustain happiness. It takes inner discipline. It takes knowing yourself. It takes a willingness to change your habits.

I believe this because this is how I created a life full of happiness for myself, after decades of striving to achieve it. For me that first meant meeting several basic needs: a quiet home environment where I could write, a loving partner, caring friends, basic food and material needs. But I needed more to be truly happy. And that more, I eventually learned, was a willingness to reach out to others, to create a feeling of affinity and goodwill, even in the briefest of encounter.

The Dalai Lama once said, “My religion is kindness.” That simple statement had a profound effect on me. It seemed more compassionate than the old “Do Unto Others” I’d always tried to follow. After much thought, I made that my religion as well. Every hour of the day, I strive to show kindness to all living creatures.

It sounds simple, yet it was extremely difficult for me. And I’m still striving to make it a way of living. What is hard is crushing my ego so that I put others needs before mine, even people who rub me the wrong way. But with inner discipline, it can be realized.

I no longer compete with my fellow men and women. I put their needs above my own. Even when people are rude or insulting, I try to absorb those negative feeling and respond with kindness. When I hear political discussions where people are insulting one politician or another, I refuse to participate. Not that I don’t have my opinions on politics, I simply refuse to be rude to anybody.

And what I’ve found over the last few years, is this attitude of kindness is the key ingredient for making my life happy. Call it karma. Call it anything you want. Being kind to others makes me feel good. It brings happiness to my fellow humans, and it brings a double measure of happiness back to me.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Writing Tip: Conflict within a Romance Story

I was recently involved in a writing class put on by Bold Strokes Books, and they had an interesting approach to writing conflict within romance stories.

When writing a romance, many writers need to rethink their entire approach to the story. A romance is NOT about two people who meet and fall in love. It is about how two people who are perfect for each other, can't find a way to be together.

When writing romance, don't think:
I write stories about people falling in love.

I create love-starved characters and torture them for 300 pages, making them (and readers) think that they'll never have true love. And then in the end, I give them what they need.

Then when you begin to write, START WITH THE CONFLICT, not the characters, not the setting, not the backstory, not anything else. Too often, authors start with interesting character backgrounds and then try to build conflict from those characters. The conflict is the hook, start with that.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Today, July 4th, is our country’s birthday. I started the day like I start every day: while still in bed, staring out the window to appreciate the sunrise, I felt grateful that I’m allowed to live yet another day.

I began this habit about three months ago, opening the day with a little prayer of thanks. I’m not acknowledging God or the Buddha or Allah. It’s simply expressing that warm feeling of gratitude I feel in my heart. In my old age, I’ve come to appreciate that life is so precious that I can’t waste even a second of it. And what time I do have I must live fully, and with great joy.

As our country celebrates its two hundred and fortieth birthday, I choose to celebrate this day, this hour, this time I have now. I celebrate living.

Living a life steeped in gratitude, for me, is enormously uplifting. It makes me focus on what blessing I have gathered, rather than agitating on what I don’t have. I have a loving husband, good friends, comfortable home, my writing, and excellent health. I consider myself a wealthy man, and I’m utterly grateful.

And yes, much of that gratitude has to do with being a citizen of these United States. I love this country. I love this life.

Happy Birthday, United States of America.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Poisoned by Greed

There are still two American cities living on bottled water because America is literally being poisoned by greed. It’s as simple as that. Men and women who already have millions are doing anything—no matter the human or environmental cost—to become even richer. The are hoarding immense fortunes rather than reinvesting in the society that made them rich.

The one percent are buying politicians, poisoning our air, water, land, and sea so that they can own yet another mansion and million-dollar yacht in Palm Beach to match the one they own in Martha’s Vineyard, which matches the one they own in the South of France. It doesn’t seem to matter to them how many people struggle in poverty, nor how many people they injure or kill, nor how badly they pollute the earth for future generations. Their single goal is corporate profits so that they and their families can become one of the privileged few.

I’m not pointing fingers at any religion or political party because this pandemic of greed affects everyone. It is greed—the idea of putting your needs above everyone else. The attitude of: I’ve got mine so fuck all the others. How many people have to die of gun violence before gun manufactures put human lives before their corporate profits? How many people have to starve before congress is forced to spend less on wars and more on the welfare of the nation? How many people have to be poisoned before the rich are shamed into caring?

So the question is, how can we convince these one-percenters that gathering riches at the detriment of others is shameful? How do we convince them that raising the standard of living for everyone will make their lives more fulfilling? An image comes to mind: Jimmy Carter helping to build housing for the needy. How do we make him a poster child for what is honorable and moral, and make it stick.

How can we as a nation convince people, all people, to put the good of society above their own needs, compassion above greed?

I don’t have the answer to those questions. But I do know that it is possible to insure everyone in America lives above the poverty line, that no child goes hungry, that all people have a shot at a decent education and a fulfilling career that allows a comfortable standard of life. Call me a socialist if you must, and I will proudly wear that badge of honor, because I believe that nobody can truly hold their head high when so many people are struggling to survive day to day.

From what I see, there is a cancer consuming our nation, and its name is greed.