Monthly Archives: February 2015

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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