Blog Archives

A Thank You Note for our Veterans

Four elderly men stood before me. They had asked to talk to me and I was very, very nervous. One of them was shaking with emotion and all I could think of was somehow I had offended them with something I had written in the play they had just seen.

 

Let me explain.

In 1993, I was the director of the drama ministry at Brookwood Baptist Church. We produced four dinner theaters a year and my staff liaison requested we sell season tickets for the 1994 season. I was growing tired of writing, directing, and producing plays with a rural flair. I wanted something more modern and urban. I decided on the three plays leading up to our holiday dinner theater for 1994. Then, I wrote down a simple explanation for the fourth play, “The Night Gift”. It would take place in an urban setting, a newly constructed high rise in downtown with a penthouse office. The members of that office would find themselves stuck in the penthouse office on Christmas Eve and in the process discover they didn’t get along as well as they thought. That was it.  A simple story. I would worry about the details later and write the play sometime during the summer of 1994 in time for the holiday dinner theater.

My good friend and our best actor, Larry Robison, asked me to write him a bit part as an old curmudgeonly gentlemen like Waldorf and Statler of the Muppets. You know, the two old men who sit in the theater box seats and insult the cast of the Muppets show. I created four elderly founders of the company that built the high rise. Larry would play Mr. Collinbird (the others were Mrs. Partridge, Mrs. Turtledove, and Mr. Frenchhen). At a pivotal point in the play, I wanted to change the mood from humorous to serious. Up to that moment, Mr. Collinbird had been hilarious and frankly, senile. The members of the office began to share their most memorable Christmases. When it came to Mr. Collinbird, everyone was expecting another silly story. Instead, he began to tell a very moving story about his childhood.

Mr. Collinbird told the story of Christmas,1941 when his father did not return from Pearl Harbor. The young boy went out into the woods and cut down the family Christmas tree on his own. During the tale, Larry became the young Collinbird and I came out on the stage dressed as his father with blood on my chest. I told my “son” he was now the man of the house and I would not be coming home for Christmas.

It was a simple five minute scene meant to change the tone of the play and to catch the audience off guard. They would be expecting Collinbird to be silly but instead they got a very poignant moving story of the child who became the man. After the first night’s play, Larry came up to me and said there were four men who wanted to talk to the author of the play. These were the four men who now stood before me. The trembling man wiped at his eyes and this is what he said:

“I wanted to thank you for honoring the men who fought in World War II. We are World War II veterans and I was at Pearl Harbor. Thank you for honoring us on Veteran’s Day.”

I was stunned! It suddenly hit me that this was Friday, November 11th, the original date for Veteran’s Day! I never intended to honor WWII veterans but God had different plans. God knew who would be there that night and God knew they needed to be honored by the simple scene in this play. The play was performed for two nights only and as impressive and shocking as the first night’s response was, I was not prepared for what happened the second night.

After the play, Larry escorted an elderly woman up to me and introduced us. She also wanted to meet the author of the play. This is what she said:

“My brother died at Pearl Harbor and I have been mad at him and mad at God ever since. Tonight, you helped me to say goodbye to my brother and to find peace with my Maker. Thank you!”

Later, Larry and I spoke about these people and their testimonies. Larry encouraged me to write the story of that young boy in 1941. He asked me where the idea of cutting down the tree as a rite of passage to manhood had come from. I shall share that tomorrow! For now, I want you to stop for a moment and think of someone you know who has fought in our military.

veterans-day

This coming Monday is Veteran’s day and 19 years ago, I realized how truly important it is to honor and remember the sacrifice of our men and women in the armed forces. Much has happened in the world since then and the number of war veterans has exploded. It would be a number of years before I fulfilled my dream to take that boy’s story and tell it in its entirety. In 2005, I wrote and produced “The Homecoming Tree” telling the story of the young Mr. Collinbird. The story was based on my parents’ lives during WWII. They lived in a boarding house atmosphere and their relatives came to stay with them as the war unfolded. I hope to soon complete the novel based on that play and to fully honor the memories of my now deceased parents. But, for now, I want to encourage you to honor our veterans this coming Monday. Thank them for their sacrifice to give us the opportunity to live in freedom!

 

Thank you!

 

Why, why, why do I Write?

journalI am a published author.

It is a dream I have had since I was 13.

My first published work didn’t occur until I was 40.

But, during the intervening years I wrote over 100 plays performed by the drama team at my church.

Now, I have two fiction books published by Realms.

I have a book on depression that has been in circulation since 2001.

There is a possibility my co-author and I will have a new book deal today and possibly a book series to write.

I have tasted rejection too many times to remember. I have a framed letter of rejection signed by Isaac Asimov from a story I submitted to his magazine in 1973.

I have self-published two books.

I have been “released” by my latest publisher.

I have been through two agents and I am now no my third agent.

I have been duped, hornswaggled, conned, ripped off, and taken advantage of by more publishing schemes than I can remember.

But, I still have my day job and I plan on keeping it.

DSC01144

So, I am sitting here on the balcony of a condo overlooking the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico wondering why I keep doing this. Below me, an eager, fresh faced kid has scrawled in the white sand “Don loves Joanne” with the word “loves” represented by the image of a heart pierced by an arrow. Beside those huge words is a fading admonition from another love stricken person, “Bye Retta”. The letters are barely visible having been filled in by the fierce winds of the last three days.

I am very much aware that my work as a writer is much like the latter. It will fade with time and no one will remember a word I have written after I am long gone. Although I am thinking positively, there is the distinct possibility that every word I have ever written will be gone shortly after I am gone. My name may never grace the halls of fame along with Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury or Mark Twain.

Why do I keep writing, then? Why do I lose sleep at night constructing the latest story. Why do I watch people and try to discern what makes them tick so I can create a new character? Why do I sit in misery trying to plan my next step now that I have been “released” by my publisher? Why, why, why?

Reason #1 — I realized early in my life that God had given me a gift, or a curse, however you look at it. I can’t not write. And here is the thrust of what God has shown me. I have NEVER been able to be successful as an author by writing the story that I wanted to write. I have only been successful when I wrote the Story that God wants me to write. This has required me to redefine the word “successful”. It’s not about money. It’s not about fame. It has to do with Reason #2.

Reason #2 — At the recent Platform conference, I was pleased to hear over and over again that if a person focuses on changing people’s lives, they will be successful. Touching one person’s life in a positive way can NEVER be reduced to a dollar figure. My good friend Chan told me once, “I don’t always get to be the closer. But, I will put a rock in their shoe.” There are times I get immediate feedback from something I have written and I learn that someone’s life has been altered in a good way. But, I will never see the end result of that tiny alteration. Only God knows how that ripple will change a person’s life way down the line. With our depression book alone, Mark Sutton and I have received countless emails telling us the book “saved my life”. You cannot put an earthly value on that! It has eternal value only. And, my friend, when I realize this, I can only rejoice that God has used something that came out of my brain to change the course of someone’s life. But, that “something” didn’t happen in a vacuum and that brings me to Reason #3.

Reason #3 — Every successful endeavor that has occurred in my life was totally unplanned. In fact, the plans I had for my life have never come true. But, the plans that God has for my life have come true. Over and over and over. Time and time again, doors opened; windows opened; opportunities fell into my lap; “coincidences” happened. And, when I followed the voice of God, my endeavors have always been a success. I never planned on having depression. God turned my experience into a book that has changed lives. I never planned on writing drama. God took those stories and changed people’s lives. I never planned on having such deep doubts about Christianity that I would become an apologist. God has taken my teaching and has changed lives.

Why do I write? Because it is God’s mission for my life. And, as long as I seek to be a part of the Work that God has for me to do Today, then I will continue to be “successful”. Successful, not in the world’s view, but in God’s view. I have always said that a person should seek to be involved in something that will outlast his life; something that will have eternal consequences. I am hoping that one day, when I am sitting at the feet of Jesus in the Beyond someone will put a hand on my shoulder and thank for me that play I wrote or that book I wrote or that blog post. And, there is no earthly reward to even begin to compare to that!

Tell me — Why Do You Write? Why Do You Indulge in Your Passion?

Lesson #1 Learned — Ditch the Dumb Dialogue!

I have now finished going through my manuscript, “The 12th Demon” twice and making the suggested changes from my editor. The first time was very comprehensive. The second time was for continuity. The third time, yet to come, will be to whittle down the word count. As with my first book edit for “The 13th Demon” my editor, Andy, has taught me SO much. And, since this is a blog for those wondering about the world of writing fiction, I thought I would share the three main lessons I learned in this edit over the next three posts.

 DIALOGUE

 I have spend the past 23 years working in church based drama. For 15 of those years, I was the drama director of my church. And, the requirement from my pastor was that every production had to be an original piece written by moi. As time went by, I learned how to write short and long drama and, in fact, I have been speaking at regional and national drama conferences for 13 years. If that sounds like I’m bragging, that is not the point. The point to be taken is this: writing dialogue for the stage is VASTLY different from writing dialogue in fiction.

On the stage, dialogue serves many purposes and one is to introduce exposition. Unlike fiction, there are no descriptions of action and setting. There are no backstories to relate. It is up to the actor to portray these important elements of exposition through the dialogue and the acting. The challenge is to find a balance between dialogue that sounds natural and at the same time conveys important background information. The weak playwright uses “as you know”s to do this:

“As you know, my father is the owner of this vast estate. And, as you know, he just lost a fortune in a sugar cane fire.”

Good dialogue catches the right balance. Just listen to some of the dialogue in your favorite television dramas. See how many times the actors say something that you know they know and everyone else knows but the audience. The worst example is the droning on of “Trekkie” like scenes where the actor says things like, “Engaging autopilot, now!” Just flip the switch, Sulu!

In my writing, I have found that I tend to slide toward dramatic dialogue. I forget I have so many other tools for exposition. One rule I always tell aspiring dramatists is to read their dialogue out loud. This is mainly to avoid difficult to pronounce phrases. But, reading fiction dialogue out loud really gives you a good idea of the sound of the character’s voice. Would they really talk that way? Would they really say those particular words?

In my just completed third book, “The 11th Demon” I tried something different. I originally wrote the book for Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month. I decided to write each major scene/chapter from the point of view of one of the main characters in first person. This forced me not only to write dialogue as these characters would speak out loud, but to also speak with their inner voices. The exercise helped me further define the characters and find the voice for their dialogue.

Going back to the second book these past couple of weeks has allowed me to rewrite that dialogue now that I have a better feel for how these characters are thinking.

 

Lessons learned:

– Ask yourself, does the dialogue sound “off”? Does it sound almost “inhuman”? Avoid using dialogue for pure exposition.

– Read dialogue out loud! Try speaking in each character’s “voice”. Take a cue from Walt Disney and become each character as you read through the dialogue copying their body language and their vocal tones.

– Try to make dialogue as real and conversational as possible without dropping in inane drivel like, “Good Morning.” “Good Morning to you.” “How’s your morning going?” “Fine. How about yours?” ETC

– Keep the dialogue consistent. Don’t allow one character to sound like another. Give each character a distinctive voice.

 

Tomorrow — PLOT

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 133 other followers

%d bloggers like this: