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Suggested Books on Writing (Part 2)

There really are some great books on writing. I’m only sharing ones that I have connected with and feel other writers would, as well. But the important thing to me is to do a little research. See what your library has on the subject. Even a Writing Fiction for Dummies is a good place to start. Just start reading about writing. Read great books, bad books, and just read about writing. Find a blog you like by a successful writer. Whatever. Get started. Maybe one of these.

writing 21st century fictionWriting 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass

This is one I got from the library and then bought a copy. I need to read it again. Maass does a great job going over what the market looks for, what kind of books are a part of the next wave of literature, ideas of genre, etc. Don’t misunderstand, it isn’t a book about a formula, it is a book about being creative and unique in today’s market and not rehashing what’s come before. It was inspirational and important, especially as I revised The Living Stone. Maass says to write what scares you, not what’s safe. And so it helped The Living Stone become what it needed to be.

hit litHit Lit by James Hall

James Hall is a lit professor who had a series of ¬†classes where he and his students started researching the top selling books of all time (he details the criteria in the book) and tried to find some similar principles and aspects to each novel. From To Kill a Mockingbird to Hunt for Red October to The Firm and The Godfather and others, he found a series of aspects that were similar in each novel. What were those things? From plot to character to sex and religion, he explains the kinds of things that each of the bestselling books of the 20th Century had in common. And as different as each book is, they all had them in their own ways. Again, not as formulaic as it sounds. I read this after publishing The Living Stone and the book had all of them except one. But that’s okay. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had all but one, as well. The same one.

There you go. Are there any books on writing I haven’t shared that were important to you?


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Writing and Waiting for the Baby

woman in laborI’m brainstorming and working on the outline for The Flame Reborn. I wanted to have it done by Jan 1.

Guess what. It’s not ready.

My wife and I have had three kids. Let me tell you about babies. They come when they are ready. And unless you try to move the process along with drugs or surgery, we just have to wait until it happens. And that can get frustrating.

While I do not know this firsthand, I can safely say that for most women, the last month or more is uncomfortable. And that might be putting it mildly. A woman feels ready to pop. She’s hot. Her back hurts. She feels huge.

There are natural things to get things moving. We don’t just wait. You can have more sex, eat eggplant, walk a lot, etc. Ultimately, however, it happens when it happens.

As a writer, I know the feeling, in a creative sense. The Flame Reborn is in there somewhere. It is taking shape. It is getting close. I feel bloated with it. I need to write it, or I feel like I do. But it’s not ready yet. That is frustrating.

There are things I can do, though. I can write out ideas. I can imagine scenes. I can revisit characters. I can take a step back and edit another book (Make a God needs to be revised and edited). I can read other works or watch other movies that inspire me and generate ideas.

I’ve written four rough drafts over the last four years. I don’t have to worry. It’ll come. And I’m excited to see what it will be.


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My Bill Cosby Rant

I have some things to get off my chest about Bill Cosby.

This is odd for me. I’m not much of a celebrity guy. I don’t follow celebrities or care much about what they do or say. Their job is to entertain. I can appreciate their talent without idolizing them.

There are a few exceptions. Two men on TV, from my childhood, had a profound effect on me. One was Fred Rogers. The other, Bill Cosby.

For those of you who don’t know, Bill Cosby was central in developing educational television. In the 70’s, he got his doctorate in educational television. Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and more, he was involved in.

I colored with Cosby on my Picture Pages. Daily.

I listened to a tape copy of the classic Bill Cosby Himself. Memorized it.

Then Bill Cosby started a sitcom, in the age where sitcoms were king, and he ruled television with a show about an upper middle class black family whose parents were highly educated and successful. Their problems were common problems of a family dedicated to love and encourage one another. The parents took time for romance and intimacy.

And here I was, a lower middle class white boy, and I wanted that life. Not specifically the level of wealth but the life, the intimacy with a partner, the love of a family. The beauty of commitment within imperfection.

Bill Cosby has been a fundamental part of my story and life. I quote from his standup and the show. It’s like this automatic thing.

Now it’s pretty clear that Bill Cosby has done some horrible things. Some people might still want to defend him, and I want to as well, but it is clear to me he is guilty of a lot of it.

So when a Cosby quote slips out of my mouth, I get angry and sad. There is a grief I feel with the loss of a hero. It may not be fair to me or Cosby. It may not be reasonable to feel this way about a man I never met, but I do feel those things. It is real.

The mature thing, however, is to realize that while Cosby likely lived this secret life of abusing women, the ethics he supported and expressed were not vain or worthless. Do I still believe those are good things? I do. I may be selfish with my feelings of grief over his “fall,” but those standards and ideas are real and important.

And when I feel that grief, well, at least I still have Fred Rogers.






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Book Review – Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

pathfinderAs I’ve said before, Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite authors, mainly for the books associated with the Ender’s Game novel, the sequels and other series in that “world.”

I have read several of Card’s other novels, since I enjoy his writing style – his novels are “clean” of language and sex, and yet they are intelligent, logic driven stories. However, I have yet to find another series of his that is on par with the Ender stories.

But I keep looking, and in that search, the Pathfinder series was recommended to me.

Pathfinder is the story of Rigg. Rigg is a young man raised in obscurity, and when his “father” dies, Rigg receives his inheritance and a quest. The rest of the book is an exploration of the world, the journey, and the gathering of friends around Rigg.

Overall, Pathfinder was interesting. It was somewhat predictable, but not enough that it made the story boring. I enjoyed the characters. The setup of the world (a little sci-fi and fantasy mix) was cool and had a lot of potential. A good portion of the book is how the main characters discover their “powers” and how they can use them individually and together, experimenting and using those powers to overcome obstacles. While this style of writing is far more common in sci-fi/fantasy today, Card has always done a good job describing the limits, the rules, of things in his writing and then showing how his characters manipulate those rules in an intelligent way to overcome obstacles. It is done well here, but it is also a large portion of the book.

As a novel, it was interesting and I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I enjoyed it enough to continue in the series. It was an average story and a tad long-winded. Elements (the world, the setup, and the discovery of powers) were well done and engaging, but the story within could have been a little better, I feel. Entertaining and enjoyable. Recommended if you like Card’s style and that combination of sci-fi and power discovery and manipulation.


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Writing in the Zone

If you’ve written anything on a regular basis, you have the experience where something takes on a life of its own.

I was writing the end of a novel one time, and in my outline, I killed a character. But while writing the scene, he wouldn’t die. Seriously. I couldn’t kill him. It was weird. So he lived.

In those moments, we talk about things like a muse or the creation being its own thing, and I can relate. But I put it in different terms. I call it writing “in the zone.” And more often than not, it is a mistake to question whatever happens in the zone.

I used to play basketball on a regular basis. Like, every day. Both for school teams, rec teams, and even for fun. I played a lot of basketball through my time in high school.

And there were times, however rare, where I would get into the place athletes call “the zone.” I would make the right move, the right pass, the right shot. It was like I could take any shot and hit it. It was pure instinct. Sometimes I could play like that for a whole game, other times there were glimpses and moments within a game. But I know that feeling well. Strange, but when I watch someone playing basketball and they start playing like that, I can notice it. I’ll turn to my wife or someone else in the room, most of whom don’t seem to care, and say, “That dude is in the zone.”

But I could get to that place not because I picked up a basketball once or even had any talent but because I had spent hours and hours a day over years playing the sport. I did drills over and over, shot the same shots over and over.

It is the same with writing. We get “in the zone” when we write, but it is more a product of spending hours upon hours writing and writing and using our imagination and putting words to the images and feelings of our characters. And so I don’t have to spend as much mental energy on certain things like grammar or spelling or typing or whatever. I can focus on the story I’m telling, and my brain can get “in the zone” and make decisions I don’t even realize I’m making.

The encouragement to writers? You have to write a lot to experience this. Seriously. A lot. Write when you don’t feel like it, on a regular basis. You’ll find “the zone” more and more. See glimpses of it and you’ll start chasing it. It’s fun.

By the way, the more you write, the more ideas come to you at inconvenient times, as well. That might be another blog post, though …


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Your Passion Makes You Come Alive

As I was sitting there in the First Baptist Fellowship Hall waiting on the next session to begin at the Savannah Book Fest, I noticed this man who walked into the room. Not sure why I noticed him. He wore jeans and sneakers and a windbreaker over a T-shirt. He was fifty, or older, and had tussled, white, thinning hair with big glasses at the end of his nose. He didn’t look very happy.

Then the volunteer host dude (not sure about his actual title) made the announcements and called the author up to the stage.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, it was that disheveled man I noticed coming into the room.

The author, John Katzenbach, a man who’s written a number of novels, one of which, Hart’s War, was based on his father’s POW experience in WWII and made into a movie with Bruce Willis and others, stood up and went to the music stand/microphone. Then he began to speak.

And he changed.

Oh, he still looked the same. A little unkempt. But he smiled as he talked about writing, as he spoke about the books he’s written, as he described the psychology behind writing crime thrillers.

It was like he came alive.

That might be a little melodramatic, but there is some truth to it.

Katzenbach’s father helped write the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 60’s as a lawyer under LBJ. I know all this because he told us stories, stories about how he was a journalist and saw all manner of grisly scenes and learned about the dark side of human nature first hand as he reported on those crimes. And he was a different person as he told these stories and the things he was passionate about.

He was a normal dude until then, maybe even a forgettable or boring one. Then he was something special. He brightened up the room.

I’ve noticed this about others, too. They aren’t very excited just sitting there. Then a subject comes up they are interested in or passionate about. Then they come alive. Again, maybe a little melodramatic, but not as much as you think.

The last author I saw was similar. Lorenzo Carcaterra was raised by Italian immigrants and was also a reporter before getting involved in television and then writing novels. You might remember a great book and movie, Sleepers, with Brad Pitt and some other amazing actors. Carcaterra wrote that. He also came alive as he talked about his family and how he got into writing.

And authors, out of all the artsy type of people, are more like everyone else in this respect. You can usually spot a performer or artist of another type. Oh, he’s a rock dude. Oh, she’s a painter. Being in Savannah, it was pretty easy spotting the SCAD students, usually. A generalization, I know. You can rarely look at a person and say, oh, that’s an author. It is usually a surprise when you learn it. They looked like this regular person until then. They are regular people, by the way. Only their passion is writing.

You want a good story? Find out what someone is passionate about and ask them about it. Could be anything. Engineering, teaching, the Bible, philosophy, computer programming, the Beatles. Then sit back and watch them come alive.

You want to come alive? What are you passionate about? Find a way to do that more. Learn how to do it better. Come alive.


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Don’t You Want to Know What Happens Next?

“Don’t you want to know what happens next?” – Patti Callahan Henry

One of the authors I decided to check out over the weekend at the Savannah Book Fest was a woman by the name of Patti Callahan Henry. In the basement fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church, she told her story and then talked about something that stuck with me.

She said that she reads and writes to know what happens next. If anyone is a writer, they know that their characters can take on a life of their own. The story can turn on its own, and even as the author, you feel like you’re just along for the ride.

Henry was speaking about this and then she told a story about how a friend of hers was down and discouraged about the next step in her life, a move she was not excited about. Henry asked her friend, “But don’t you want to know what happens next?”

We connect with story. I believe it was how we were made. And there are a lot of people in our world who don’t have a lot of hope. They lack hope because they don’t see that this isn’t the end of the story. The story goes on past this tragedy, this heartbreak, this seemingly impossible situation. In a book, it is easy to see this truth. There is the next scene, the next chapter. We know the tragedy in the story isn’t the end. The story obviously goes on. Even at the end of the book, there is often an epilogue, or a happily ever after, or some sort of resolution that explains the reason for the tragedy and the story as a whole. Or it might be a cliffhanger or a “to be continued.” Those are all good books. We finish those books with a sigh of satisfaction or with anticipation of the next story in the series or both.

In life, there is always something that happens next. As Henry so beautifully explained, your birth was not the beginning of your story. It is fairly egocentric to think so. Your parents’ stories have a direct impact upon yours, as do so many others before them. And your story will have impact not only in this life but in the life of others after you are gone. Some of that you cannot control. Some of it you can.

Your story isn’t over. Not where it stands now, not while you’re still alive. If you believe, as I do, that there is a life after this one, and what we do now has repercussions for that next life, then your individual story goes on even after you die.

As an author, I want people to say, “I want to know what happens next!” One of the most encouraging things about people who have read and loved The Living Stone is they grab me and say, “When is the next one coming out? What happens next?” It is a sign of a good story.

In our individual lives, we should realize that where we are now, in our lives, is just a season, a chapter, in our lives. Different aspects of it may be discouraging, other parts full of life and joy. That is how it will be. But there is something next. If we believe, as I do, that the One ready to help us tell our story is a good Person and desires the best for us, then we can be comforted that this isn’t the end of the story, even if the current chapter looks like an impossible tragedy. We can say, with excitement, “I wonder what happens next.”


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You Can’t Separate the Author from the Creation

It is a natural thing, at least for most people. You read a great book. The first thing you want to know is: who wrote this? Who is responsible for what I just read?

If it sucks, you look at the dude or chick on the back flap and say, good Lord, who let this person near a word processor? You remember that name, and the next time the author comes up in conversation, you passionately grimace in disgust and tell the whole room, at the top of your lungs, to never read a book by that person again.

Or perhaps you love it, and we can truly love a book like no other work of art. It is the rule of quality and quantity of time. You spend hours with the story, the characters, the ideas, the voice of the author. A five minute conversation can be impactful, or even one that lasts an hour and a half, but a twenty-four hour conversation will connect you with a person for life. That is a book.

And when you read a book like that, when it connects to your very soul, you’ve been changed, just a little. Just like a close friend changes you, impacts you for good or ill, a book does the same.

You want to know who did that to you.

You can’t help it. None of us can. The reality is that the author has put his soul into that story in his own unique way, and it is right that you blame her for what she’s done to you.

Tolkien’s ideas and history and experience are all through the stories of Middle Earth. Lewis constructed Narnia out of his own struggles and spiritual discoveries. Hemingway and Faulkner and Thoreau and Anne Rice and Stephen King and Louis L’amour, and anyone that sits down alone to tell a story they are so obsessed with that not writing it will drive them insane, they all shape their books. When we look at their books, their creations, we want to know more about the author. We can only pretend the creation is all there is for so long. Sooner or later we look for someone to praise or blame.

Just like when I hike to the top of a mountain in northern Georgia, and I gaze out on a clear blue sky while surrounded by peaks and the vastness of this Earth, when I consider the enormity of the universe and the wonders therein, my heart turns to the God who created it and I want to know more about Him. Who made this? Who is responsible for this? Or more importantly, when something happens that I do not understand, a tragedy or an inexplicable success, something that shatters my heart or makes me laugh or cry with joy, I catch a glimpse of a larger story. Who is telling this story? Who’s story is it? For some this can lead to worship, others to anger, but it is who we are.

Made in God’s image, we are made to create and to enjoy creations. We are made to connect the creation with the creator. My advice, therefore, is to put yourself into your creation, pour your very soul into it. Make it yours. It will scare you, I guarantee it. It will hurt then when people reject your creation, but you will also find others that pull your creation close like a long lost friend and you will know that you have changed a world, just a little.


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The Importance of Being Stubborn

“In writing, stubbornness is just as important as talent.” – Anne Rice

This past weekend, I went to the Savannah Book Festival. I’ve been reading books on writing (some good ones I’ll be sharing on here soon) over the recent years, but I feel that I should be going to writing conferences or things of that nature. After doing some research, I chose a select few – some of these conferences are expensive and seem like a scam. The Savannah Book Fest was right up there on my list.

I am enthralled with Savannah. My family went there for vacation, along with Tybee Island, a couple times when I was a teenager, and I fell in love with River Street and the mossy oaks and the old buildings and the ironwork around the ancient architecture in historic Savannah. Yeah, I was strange even as a kid.

I went back to Savannah on a road trip with a friend one summer during college. And I even convinced my wife we should go there for our honeymoon.

So there’s an opportunity to go to Savannah, take my wife, and spend time in historic Savannah listening to authors, one of which is a favorite of mine, Anne Rice? CHECK.

On Sunday afternoon, we attended Anne Rice’s talk, and she spoke the quote I shared above. My wife and I shared a knowing glance. Why? Because I may not have much talent, but stubbornness runs in the Mooney family like the mighty Mississippi. And while the term “stubborn” can possess a negative connotation, when applied in the right context, being stubborn can be a positive thing. Perhaps you could call it endurance or persistence or tenacity, but the application of will in a certain purpose is the same. Stubborn.

I cannot think of any skill I have achieved that didn’t take a certain amount of stubborn discipline (persistence, tenacity, you take your pick). There may or may not have been natural talent in that area, but I was going to work on it, by God. Whether learning an instrument or to play a sport or getting my Master’s degree or living overseas or reading through the Bible three times in one year, I had a purposeful, intentional resolution to move forward.

Perhaps I’ll never sell a million books. Who knows. Not the point. The purpose is to continue writing, learn how to write better, and most of all … to tell amazing stories that I am passionate about and connect with people who feel the same. On this path, I’ll also be learning how to contact agents and marketing and all that, to get these stories out to more people who will love them, as well.

Whatever it is, I will be stubborn about it.


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Yes, You Need an Editor

It wasn’t until The Living Stone that I appreciated the input of an editor. Well, I don’t know if I truly appreciated it, but I saw the value.

Over the summer, I am having my son and daughter, 8 and 6 respectively, read and journal for couple hours each morning. Pretty simple stuff, but since my background is in education, it annoys the crapola outta me that these kids can’t spell and spelling doesn’t seem to be the focus it was at one point.

My son especially doesn’t like it. He’s creative like me, and as many say when they see Micah, they say, “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Pretty true. He even has a temperament like mine. He hates being corrected.

So when he’s done with his journaling, I take a red pen and mark it up. The ideas are there, then he should go back and fix it so it is grammatically correct. Again, he does not like being made to do it over again.

But this has had a couple peculiar effects, both which I can relate to. First, he makes fewer mistakes at the outset. Second, he corrects himself before I see it. Not always perfect, but way better than before.

Having two of my novels edited has had a similar effect on my writing. The current book I am working on, The Blades of War, has benefitted from those two experiences. No, I don’t like seeing that I made a mistake and need to work to make it better. No, I don’t like being told, “that’s not good enough,” especially when I thought it was, by God. But as I’m revising Blades of War, I see that I made less mistakes on the front end. It is more complete to begin with. And now with my first revision, I’m seeing better how to correct it even before I send it to an editor.

Because I’m still not perfect, those extra pair of eyes is invaluable. But there will be less work for her to do this time around, which she’ll be glad of, I think.

Get an editor. Even if you have to pay for one. Get a cheap one that has some experience. I can recommend at least one that is great for a decent price. Ask around on FB or your friends to see if they know anyone who will do it and how much they will charge. Pay for it, actually. Best money you’ll spend if it a) takes your book to the next level and b) improves every book after that.


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