Archive for the ‘Point of View’ Category

If You Write It, They Will Come

Toni MorrisonOne question I am often asked is “Where do you get your book ideas from?”

The answer is simple enough, but it may have a few authors shaking their heads. I write books that I can see myself starring in. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Historical, and all of the other genres have their place but I could never see myself falling in love with someone whose main diet is O-Positive or living on a planet in a galaxy far, far away.

I met the man of my dreams in what many people would call a love at first sight scene straight out of a fairytale. From the moment our eyes met, we knew we would be together forever. We’ve had our ups and downs, stressed about things normal people stress over, and more than our share of arguments over stupid things. That’s the sort of story I like to write because reading is not always an escape from reality. Sometimes you have to read about the same sort of people as yourself and find out on the last page that everything will work out in the end.

Once you decide on the genre and the type of story you want to write – stick to your guns. As a newbie writer, I took the advice of editors, friends, even social media friends that I had never met. By the time my first book was published, I hardly recognized the story I had written.  Now, I’m not saying that the advice of all these people is a bad thing. I am saying that every single suggestion does not need to be fretted over and your entire story rewritten. Take a few minutes to consider how each edit will change the tone and the voice of the story. If you make an edit, will it still sound like you wrote the book, will the flow of the story be changed from how you saw it in your head? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, think long and hard about making the change.

Case in point was the story that had lived in my heart from many years. The character seemed so alive that I felt I could meet her on the street at any time. By the time I edited and rewrote and changed the story line to suit what I thought was helpful advice, I hardly recognized the character and the story was written by someone else. It broke my heart. Older and wiser now, I have republished the book using my original manuscript. It will never make me a millionaire, but I am more proud of the book now than when it was first published.

So, as Toni Morrison says, if there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, the you must write it.

Write from the Soul

In a world where the type of books written is often dictated by publishers, it is sometimes best to break from the pack and go your own way.

For several years I dealt with an agent and a publisher, and it was a struggle each time I submitted a new manuscript. “It’s not what’s selling today,” they told me. “Can’t you write the type of novels everyone else is writing?” “You’ll never make it onto a bestseller list writing this kind of story.”

I could have taken the easy route, written the type of story they were looking for, and perhaps I would be on a bestseller list somewhere by now, but I have never been one to follow the pack. I have always gone my own way, both in my writing and in my life. So I bid the agent and publisher farewell and struck out on my own. it was the best move I ever made. No longer am I stressed when I sit before my computer to work, worrying if the story will be accepted because its plot it not mainstream, if the phrasing suits the editors rather than sounding as if I wrote it.

Every author has his own writing style. It may not always conform to the rules of formal grammar, but it is what distinguishes the writing from other authors. This has always been a prickly point between myself and my editors. One of my favorite authors whose books gave me the courage to write my first novel, threw in more than a few passive verbs and fragmented sentences in her writing. It made sense to use it to set a mood or make a point. Yet, when I submitted a manuscript using the same technique, it came back with editorial comments longer than the story itself. It made me wonder if my hero had the same problem with her editors. Probably not, since more than one of her books made it to the New York Times Bestseller list.

So, as I start work on my latest creation, a collection of short stories that will be entitled “So Close”, do not look for me on the shelves of your local bookseller but rather in the hallowed cyberspace of eReaders.

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Everybody Should Read General John Kelly’s Speech About Two Marines In The Path Of A Truck Bomb

Marines Ramadi Truck

Five years ago, two Marines from two different walks of life who had literally  just met were told to stand guard in front of their outpost’s entry control  point. Minutes later, they were staring down a big  blue truck packed with explosives. With this particular shred of hell  bearing down on them, they stood their ground.

Heck, they even leaned in.

I had heard the story many times, personally. But until today I had never  heard Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly’s telling  of it to a packed house in 2010. Just four days following the death of  his own son in combat, Kelly eulogized two other sons in an unforgettable  manner.

From Kelly’s speech:

Two years ago when I was the Commander of all  U.S. and Iraqi forces, in fact, the 22nd of April 2008, two Marine infantry  battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8 were switching out in Ramadi. One  battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the  other just starting its seven-month combat tour.

Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and  Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from  each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an  outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.

The same broken down ramshackle building was also  home to 100 Iraqi police, also my men and our allies in the fight against the  terrorists in Ramadi, a city until recently the most dangerous city on earth and  owned by Al Qaeda. Yale was a dirt poor mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife  and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and he supported as  well. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other  hand, was a middle class white kid from Long Island.

They were from two completely different worlds.  Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or  understood that multiple America’s exist simultaneously depending on one’s race,  education level, economic status, and where you might have been born. But they  were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training,  and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they  were born of the same woman.

The mission orders they received from the  sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “Okay you two clowns,  stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” “You  clear?” I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in  unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the  point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart, we know what we’re  doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at  the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section  of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.

A few minutes later a large blue truck turned  down the alley way—perhaps 60-70 yards in length—and sped its way through  the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where  the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically.  Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards  away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking  most of a house down before it stopped.

Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was made  of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen  didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi  and American brothers-in-arms.

When I read the situation report about the  incident a few hours after it happened I called the regimental commander for  details as something about this struck me as different. Marines dying or  being seriously wounded is commonplace in combat. We expect Marines regardless  of rank or MOS to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the  process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different.

The regimental commander had just returned from  the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to  the event—just Iraqi police. I figured if there was any chance of finding out  what actually happened and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their  bravery, I’d have to do it as a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and  we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements.  If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general  officer.

I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke  individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same story.  The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its  way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going  on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then related that  some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the  explosion.

All survived. Many were injured … some seriously.  One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run  like any normal man would to save his life.”

What he didn’t know until then, he said, and what  he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the  emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and  done what they did.”

“No sane man.”

“They saved us all.”

What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned  a couple of days later after I wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and  Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras,  damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide attack. It happened  exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when  the truck entered the alley until it detonated.

You can watch the last six seconds of their young  lives. Putting myself in their heads I supposed it took about a second for  the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going  on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no  time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only  enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them  to do only a few minutes before: “… let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles  pass.”

The two Marines had about five seconds left to  live. It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons,  take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was half-way through the barriers  and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi  police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and  rational men they were—some running right past the Marines. They had three  seconds left to live.

For about two seconds more, the recording shows  the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…the truck’s windshield exploding into  shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the body of the  son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers—American  and Iraqi—bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the fact that their  lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If  they had been aware, they would have know they were safe…because two Marines  stood between them and a crazed suicide bomber.

The recording shows the truck careening to a stop  immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence  Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they  never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even  shifted their weight. With their feet spread should width apart, they leaned  into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only  one second left to live.

The  truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their  God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families,  their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than  enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty…into eternity. That is  the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight—for you.

Remember to give thanks to those serving around the world, keeping us safe in these uncertain times.

America’s 2012 Fiscal Cliff

I don’t usually write about politics; the topic opens up too many cans of worms on what is geared to be a laid-back blog. But as the American political system makes its way to a debacle better known as the Fiscal Cliff of 2012, I found a quote by Warren Buffet that I would like to share with you all.

“I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” Warren Buffet told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971 – before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven took one year or less to become the law of the land – all because of public pressure.”

Congressional Reform Act of 2013

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office.

2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 1/1/13. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

Congress made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

Don’t you think it’s time we rethought American politics and its politicians?

Happy Holiday 2012

I wish you a day of ordinary miracles.Holiday Cheer

A fresh pot of coffee you didn’t have to make yourself.

An unexpected phone call from an old friend.

Green stoplights on your way to work or shopping.

I wish you a day of little things to rejoice in.

The fastest line at the grocery store.

A good sing-along song on the radio.

Your keys right where you look.

I wish you a day of happiness and perfection –

Little bite-size pieces of perfection that give you a wonderful feeling.

I wish you Peace, Happiness and Joy.

 

Judith

8 Signs That You Were Meant to Be a Writer

Words have a power all their ownAre you meant to be a writer? Do you ever wonder if you were truly meant to be a writer? Deep down you sense that it might just be so. But then doubt creeps in, and you just aren’t sure. You look at your writing. You realize that you aren’t where you want to be. Maybe you just aren’t good enough? A great writer would be further along by now, right?

Wrong.

If you’re reading this, chances are you were meant to be a writer. You were meant to help change the world and impact people’s lives through your words. Here are 8 signs that you were meant to be a word wizard.

1. Secret Dreams

You secretly dream about writing. And if you already write, you dream about doing something bigger, like writing a novel, or scoring that big freelancing client. You dream about more, bigger, better. Deep inside you know you can do it, but that pesky little voice stops you.

2. Doubt

Yes, doubt is a sign that you were meant to be a writer. If you didn’t have anything to say, you wouldn’t even think about writing, but you do have something to say, and you know it. But doubt stops you. However, doubt is just a thought popping up. It doesn’t feel great, but you can say hi, and keep taking tiny steps forward. Why keep moving forward? Because you were meant to be a writer.

3. Excuses

Your excuse for not hanging out with your friends is, “I have to write”. You aren’t interested in what non-writers are interested in. They live a different life. They sometimes seem like a different species. Embrace this. Don’t give into peer pressure. If you’re a new writer, you won’t be sure what to do with yourself, but trust your inner calling. Trust your heart. It knows what you need. If you have to write, you have to write.

4. Inspiration

Inspiration only comes to those who can use it. If you’re a writer, you get inspired, but you also have to take advantage of that inspiration. If you are inspired to write a novel, then start today. Don’t wait for perfection. Let it be messy. Let it be chaotic. Let your thoughts go crazy and your body shiver with fear. But start. Right now.

5. Perfectionism

When you truly care about something, you want it to be perfect. I care about my writing. I want to help people. I want to help you when you read these very words. And for that reason, I want it to be perfect, because in my head, I believe perfection equals value to you, but that isn’t always true. Good enough can have a huge impact on someone’s life. Perfection is just an idea in my head. It has nothing to do with reality. Wanting your writing to be perfect is a sign that you care, and that’s good, because it means you will put out exceptional work, even when you feel like it’s crap. But you have to get your writing out there.

6. Admiration

You secretly admire great writers. You want to talk about the elegant ways they craft their prose, but you often don’t have anyone to talk to, because your friends or family may not care about writing as much as you do. This alone shows you how much attention you pay to words. It shows you that you were meant to be a writer. All you have to do is muster the courage to write and step up your game. You are ready, even if you don’t feel it. Step up to it and enjoy.

7. Lacking

When you don’t write, you feel like something is missing. You need to write. You need to express yourself through prose. You know you can make a difference, but you’re not sure. We all have doubts. They’re normal, but they don’t have to stop you. Just keep moving forward. Keep putting words out there and let the universe take care of the rest. The fruits of your labor are none of your business. All you can do is your best, so start putting your stuff out there, even if it freaks you out.

8. Yearning

Deep down, you feel this yearning to write. It’s like someone is pulling a string that’s attached to your heart. The string is pulling you toward greatness, but you are resisting. You’re afraid. You’re worried. You’re not sure what people will think. Let that yearning take you to where you need to go. Forget about what everyone else is doing and follow your calling. Embrace your uniqueness, your quirkiness and your style. Results may not come instantly, but all is well when you follow your heart. Listen to that yearning. Let the string take you on the adventure of your life.

If You’ve Read This Far …

You were meant to be a writer.

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I’ve scribbled down crazy stories about animals when I was 6. But lately, I’ve found myself writing articles like these. Somehow this is what comes out of me. I just keep following my excitement. I write about what makes my heart sing. And you should do the same, because what excites you is your internal GPS telling you that you need to pay attention to that. I have doubts, fears and worries, like everyone else. But I know I was meant to do this, because doing anything else is torture. So if you’ve read this far, you were meant to be a writer. All you have to do is embrace it, because deep down you know you want to.

 

Back in My Day …

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to an older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment f or future generations.”

She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were truly recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day. Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But too bad we didn’t do the green thing back then.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

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