Expectations

They shape us, sometimes sculpting with care, but often chipping away at who we could be. For expectations are born both from within and from without. Left unfettered, expectations will crush a soul, reduce an artist to rubble, and smash the joy we should feel every day.

Our parents start the process… “You go to a good school, get a good job, marry well, have children, and work hard. Go to church on Sundays. We absorb these ideas until they seem to be our own.

Then our peer group kicks in, and they can either help or hinder the process of personal growth. In my case, my friends from school and early adulthood tended to be unconventional. I tried to have it all, marrying a lawyer and writing songs in Nashville and never quite fitting in. Like many writers and artists, I strived for conformity, yearning for acceptance. But as an unknown writer, I was always just on the other side of an invisible door.  I could see the people, smell the food, and hear the music, but I was more spectator than participant. So close,  yet infinitely far.

Artists and creatives who surrender early on my find happiness if they can kill that part of themselves which longs for artistic success. It’s tough to achieve a balance.

We believe, deep in the secret places of our heart, that we are living a certain kind of lie, that there is something else out there in the universe whispering, then shouting, exhorting us to yearn for more. We chaffe against the bonds of the past and the expectations which threaten to confine us. Some of us are lucky enough to shed those shackles, and that is a glorious thing, an awakening of the spirit.

Yet, when we look beyond the borders we have been confined to and set our eyes upon the distant mountaintop, we begin another journey in which our own great expectations do us harm. It’s inevitable.

We dream great dreams and imagine a future of rainbows and unicorns where our art is heard, seen, read, and important. We visualize how things could be and convince ourselves that they not only should be, but that they will be thus because it is our destiny. Ahh, the arrogance of an artist. We must possess some of it, for we dare to believe that someday, somewhere, we will make a difference and that our work will matter. This drive can propel us to great heights, but it can just as easily destroy us.

I write because I must.  My pen touches the page and I and mix color and emotion because I need to pull the swirling tempest of light and darkness out of me and share it with the world.

When I remember this truth, I enjoy the journey toward that lofty peak, savouring the scents and vistas along the way. I am free of expectations and can live, love and laugh in the moment, and the moment is what matters.

I strive to remember, because the moments will only keep slipping away.

The Writer… Free short story

The Writer
He flowed onto the bar, elbows perched upon the hard edge with his shoulders slumped, a cigarette in one hand while the other aimlessly caressed a shot of whiskey, neat. The smell of stale beer and smoke mingled with decades of accumulated broken dreams and lingering hope. He regarded his reflection in the bar room mirror, and his face, gray-bearded and worn, stared back at him, half obscured behind rows of liquor in the dimly lit dive.

“Hey, John, you want another one?” Mickey said. Like he didn’t know. 
“Yeah. Thanks.” 
John fell back into the foggy trance he’d wandered in for the last hour, meeting his own gaze, a certain kind of defiance in it. He remembered the first time he came in here, how he sat in front of this same dammed mirror, perhaps even on the same padded stool, back when he was shiny and new and his eyes burned with that fire which comes with youth and certainty. It was empty that first afternoon, just him and Diane, who still owned the place, and old Billy, who was sitting at a battered piano playing a hit song he’d written back in the seventies, three chords and the truth. It was magical; John was hooked.
That was why he’d moved to Music City, to be around people like that, places like this. To write songs and play music until all hours of the night and grasp the thrum of creative energy that hummed in the air all around this place and inside him. He yearned to find a way to unleash it, to tap into a force greater than he, to channel those ideas and create something great.
In those early years, ideas danced all around him in the way of magic, swirling threads of many colors, each one a line, a melody, an emotion, a truth. He figured that all he had to do was reach out and grasp those threads, weave them together, and sit down with his guitar, and something beautiful would eventually emerge, a song never heard before. Nashville, and then the world, would recognize this rare talent, of course, and reward him with the praise and cash commensurate with his ability.
It had only taken John a few weeks to figure out that he’d overestimated his unique skill set, which proved far less rare than he’d initially believed. There were folks writing poetry and lyrics that would have made Kirstofferson proud, singing their asses off in front of empty bars and tip-jars. Yet, he kept believing, working to get better, honing his craft. His fingertips were calloused from long hours playing his guitar, and his skin grew thick with rejection. Sometimes he wanted to quit, but he didn’t because he believed. Really, he didn’t have a choice, for writing was in him.
The years slid by while John wrote and played songs and networked and drank on Music Row. He lost his wife, who grew to despise him in spite of her kind nature, and he lost himself, too, somewhere right in the vicinity of where he now sat. She couldn’t forgive the wasted potential, and neither could he. She had a great job, while he was a mere “aspiring writer.” That’s how she introduced him at cocktail parties, and it made him grind his teeth then. Ten years of marriage down the drain. He wanted to think he was better than he was, and that label was something he chaffed at. Either you were a writer or you weren’t. 
“John, do you want another one?”
“What do you think?”
“You’re too ugly to be an ass, and not old enough to get away with it,” Mickey quipped, sliding another one across the bar.
“Thanks,” John said.
“Written any songs lately?” Mickey said.
“A few. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Mickey used to write songs, too. But last night he sang the same four songs he’d played relentlessly ten and twenty years ago, though now his voice was shot to hell. Back when John first heard the man sing, he sounded like Garth Brooks. Now it was like Garth on gravel with bad pitch. Back then, writers would pass around a beat-up guitar at the bar until five in the morning, after the bar was supposed to be closed, and Mikey would play harmonica while Billy made the piano sing and someone was always there on the fiddle, and there’d be mandolins and upright base-guitars, and girls singing harmony. All the while, the beer flowed and people laughed and wrote and played and created. It was joyous. That’s how he remembered it, anyway.
“What happened to this place, man?” John said.
“Progress. We’re busier than we’ve ever been. Nightly live shows, tourists come in and out every day. Business has never been better.”
“It’s dead, though.”
“The hell it is! Look at that table over there, a tour bus from Tampa. They just tipped me a hundred bucks. This place is hopping now. You’ve been gone a while.”
“The whole Row has changed. It makes me sad. Don’t you wonder what the hell happened? The publishers all moving away, high-rises taking over. There’s no heart here anymore. It used to be…intimate. Now it’s all corporate, impersonal, worse than I remember it.”
“You sound just like the Doctor Doom I remember,” Mickey laughed. “I never liked you then. You were arrogant, always bitching about “politics.” Guess what? You don’t have what it takes. Never did. And this place is still here, while you’re just passing through.”
“Screw you, Mickey.”
“You deserve it.”
“Maybe. But I’m just trying to sit here and have a drink in my old watering-hole.”
“It’s not your watering hole any more. So, you don’t get to talk bad about it now. I saw your ex in the paper last week, by the way. She looks great. A real peach.”
“Good for her,” John said, meaning it. 
“So why’d you get divorced, anyway? I remember her coming in here to meet you, her all dolled up and professional in her business suit and you in your cut-up jeans and long hair. We all wondered when she’d leave your ass.”
John picked up his glass and gripped it tighter than he usually did, a slight nod of his head as he had a conversation with himself, the one where he reminded himself that he had much to lose and nothing to gain by coming across the bar.
“That’s not how it was. But you can go ahead and check yourself now, Mickey. Cause’ I never liked you either.”
“Just messing with you, Doctor Doom.” Mickey snickered and stuffed his rag down into the back of his jeans and turned away.
The juke-box which once wailed Haggard, Jones, and Cash now blasted pop-country-rap while a group of starry-eyed kids set up on stage with nervous energy and fervent belief, like this was their moment. They wore hats and cowboy boots, and John smiled. They launched into a predictable set of songs about trucks and beer and girls in cut-off jeans and the tourists from Oklahoma cheered.
A kid sat down next to John, after he’d left the guitar on his back next to the stack of them lining the stage. He grinned, his eyes full of wonder and glory, scruffy and earnest.
“Hey, man,” he said, “are you gonna get up on stage?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“You new in town? I’m Lance, by the way.”
“John. Nice to meet ya. I’m just passing through.”
“Ah. Well, this place has a way of getting in your blood. Watch out, or you might just stay.” He laughed. “There’s a cool vibe here, you know? An energy in the air. It’s like nowhere I’ve ever been. What are you doing here, if you aren’t here to pick some songs?”
“Reconnecting. Remembering. I don’t know. I love this place. Or at least, I used to.”
Lance got a far away look in his eyes, something akin to pity and perhaps a bit of fear.
“Ah,” he said, “you’re a writer. Moved away. That’s a hard thing.”
“Not really,” John lied.
“If you didn’t miss it, you wouldn’t be here, though, would you?”
“I guess.”
“I worry about that, you know. Swinging for the fences and striking out. Failing in a spectacular way, because there are so many people more talented than me here trying to get through the same little door. And one day you wake up and you’re forty and wonder where your life went. No offense.”
“None taken. Trust me, I had that conversation with myself, right here, many times. Wondering why I what the hell I was doing. I moved away when I was thirty-five, no regrets.”
“So, what happened?”
“Life happened. And that’s a good thing, not something to be ashamed of. I used to think that there was nothing more important in the world than my music and my writing. I was a fool. By the time I figured that out, it was too late.”
Lance nodded his head, silent for a few minutes while the kids on stage wrapped up their set with an original song, a ballad about the death of a loved one. I noticed that the bar quieted down, and folks were listening, feeling it. 
“I think the same way,” Lance said, peeling the label on the longneck in front of him. “Maybe it’s the only way to make it, to be willing to give everything up. Art demands sacrifice. Somebody said that. I’m willing to go the distance, but I worry how I’ll feel in ten years if I still haven’t gotten a cut.”
“It’s different for everyone,” John said.
“I’m up,” Lance said, brightening. “Wish me luck.”
He marched up to the stage, unzipping his gig bag and removing a battered Martin. John grinned. The kid had taste in guitars, anyway. He played finger style, a unique arpeggio, and sang a song about whiskey and loss, and damn it if John didn’t find some rain in his eyes. Lance was good, really good.
The crowd clapped after the song, though not with the same enthusiasm they’d displayed for the trucks and girls in Daisy-Duke’s. He spoke into the microphone, his voice a deep baritone, and said “I’d like to get my new friend John up on the stage. What do y’all think?” More tepid applause.
What the hell, John thought. That’s why I came here, maybe. He stepped up to the stage, and one of the other writers offered him a nice Taylor to play. Lance grinned at him, one hand shielding the mike, and said “I hope you don’t mind me puttin’ you on the spot. Let’s see what you got.”
“It’ll be fun,” John said. “Back me up.”
“Right on.”
John played “Rainy Night in Nashville,” a song he’d written just before he left town, a sad song about broken dreams, and Lance sang harmony and laid down some cool licks. John lost himself in the melody, embracing the moment, weaving the threads dancing in the air around him.
After they left the stage, the two sat back down at the bar, and Lance slapped John on the back. “You’re pretty good, man.”
“Thanks. You’ve got it, Lance. That rare thing. You’re gonna make it, so don’t listen to old fools like me.”
“That song you played is still on the juke box here,” Lance said. “I dig it.”
John felt a warm hand on his neck, and he turned. His wife smiled at him, appearing from nowhere, long dark hair tumbling over her shoulders, her dress cut low enough for a hint of cleavage. She smelled like flowers and hope and sunshine. She kissed him on the lips and squeezed his thigh.
“How’s memory lane?” She said.
“Good. This is Lance, by the way. Really talented writer.”
“Hi, Lance, I’m Kelli. Did John invite you to the book signing?”
“Hi, uh, no.”
“Well, you should come. We’re going for drinks afterwards with some friends. You should join us. Always fun to hang out with a bunch of songwriters.”
“What signing?”
“He didn’t tell you? A book signing at the Vanderbilt Barnes & Noble for his new novel.”
Lance arched his eyebrows, an almost relieved smile spreading across his face. “You write books? My faith is restored. You had me worried, there, for a minute.”
“Writers write,” John said, with a laugh.
Mickey sidled up to us, leering at Kelli. “So,” Mickey said. “It’s starting to make sense now.”
“Yep,” Lance said. “When you said life happened, I didn’t quite understand. But I do now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kelli said. 
“Well, you’re beautiful.”
“Isn’t she, though?” John said, running his hand over her backside, savoring the curves in all the right places. “Gave me two boys and thirteen years. Now we’re getting to the really good part, I think.”
“It’s hell being married to a writer sometimes,” she said. “We had to learn to quit worrying about what might happen, and live in those times between the folds. Once we did that, it got easier. You writer-types spend so much time pining away for a dream, you miss the good stuff happening all around you every day. Do that enough, and it all starts going to hell in a hand basket.”
John and Kelli said goodbye to their new friend, and strode into the pale afternoon light hand in hand and the old homes cast friendly shadows down Sixteenth Avenue, while the new offices and condos looked on with disdain and music from the last bar on the row poured out onto the street and life was good.

America Never Stopped Being Great…and here’s why.

Breaking-Light-in-Lamar-ValleyThe sky is not falling. Despite the ongoing narrative from many politicians who capitalize on fear and anger, America is still a great nation. We are bombarded by posts on social media and on the evening news claiming that the country is in free-fall. That we have squandered the light which made us a beacon of hope to the world. Nonsense.

We have plenty of problems, and I write  often about them. In spite of our flaws and our divisions, the United States remains great and will continue to be unless we allow ourselves to succumb to the self-fulfilling prophecy these political clowns and talking heads are perpetuating. In terms of opportunity, ideals, economy, resources, and global power, the U.S. is yet a “city on a hill” which far surpasses the hopes of even our visionary founding fathers.

Why is everyone so angry and afraid?

Scroll through your news feed on any social media site. “We have gone off the rails,” Trump howls. “God’s judgement is upon us,” Cruz wails. “When a million people stand up and fight, they win,” Bernie extols. But Sharia Law is not coming, our guns aren’t being confiscated, Mexicans aren’t streaming across the borders raping and pillaging in hordes, and FEMA won’t stick you into a death camp. The gloom and doom makes you want to build a bunker and start stockpiling seeds food for the coming apocalypse.

The trouble is, this insidious mentality has crept into our national psyche in a way that endangers the future. This fear-based thinking ignores reality, overshadows the things that are true and good all around us. So here are some things to remember.

Ideals

Democracy works. America began the “great experiment,” and despite the absurd Presidential election we are watching, the Republic is still the best thing going. The division of power between the branches of government functions as it was designed to, and the Constitution remains intact. Yes, there are issues, and Congress and the Executive branch often don’t get along. That’s by design.

The U.S. continues to champion  human rights and democratic ideals around the world, and while there is some hypocrisy there, the truth is undeniable that the U.S. does much good in the world. When there is a terrible tsunami, earthquake, or genocide, the world still turns to the United States.

We have come far as a country. Black people are no longer considered 3/4 of a person and aren’t chattel; we have a black president. Women can vote, and we might have a woman in the Oval Office within the next decade. We have made great strides in the war on poverty and gay rights. Freedom of religion, the arguably single most important founding principle upon which our nation was built, is still protected.

Economy

The United States has by far the most powerful in the world and this will continue to be true for the foreseeable future. Employment is up, the national debt is down, and we may well see a balanced budget again soon. Listening to the politicians, you’d think that the U.S. ranked just above Afghanistan in terms of GDP.

20-largest-economies

Resources

Our national resources made this country the envy of the world. Of course, our greatest resource is our people. We are a melting pot, and still attract the best and brightest from around the globe. In terms of sheer natural resources, the U.S. continues to be at the forefront, coming in at #2 behind only Russia. Forest, coal, water, oil, and natural gas are tremendous national assets. The U.S. is ahead of Russia with its ability to exploit these resources, and will do more to protect and manage them.

Despite the fact that the U.S. is falling behind many western countries in education, the existing brainpower of our populace continues to exert a significant “brain drain” on the rest of the world. Our scientists lead the world in more fields than we can count, and we are on the cutting edge of technology, health-care, and entertainment.

Power

Listening to Donald Trump pound a podium, one could be led to believe that Putin is holding off on invading Europe and the East Coast only because Trump might win. God forbid. We hear about catastrophic cuts to defense and claims that the Obama presidency has weakened our armed forces beyond repair, making us vulnerable to threats real and imagined. The truth is, Russia is aggressive, and so is China. So how does U.S. defense stack up? Note the disparity in spending between the United States and the rest of the world.

bi_graphics_globalfirepower

For those of you who read my work, you may guess that I’m a hawk. I’m certainly for maintaining a robust military. The United States is able to influence global geopolitics because of both its economic and military strength. Our Navy continues to add new ships with staggering technology and capabilities. Our Air Force boasts the most lethal fighter jets and bombers in the sky. Our infantry is the best-trained on the planet, and our special forces operators are the most deadly.

Culture

America gave the world Rock and Roll, Blues and Jazz, Saving Private Ryan, Grapes of Wrath and Born to Run.

Our innovations birthed the internet, the i-Phone, Microsoft, and Tesla. We are risk-takers and explorers, and we’re stubborn. The Protestant work ethic is strong in us, and while our values have evolved with the times, the Christian ideals of God, Country, and Family remain at the core of our national soul.

So the next time you hear someone say that we need to “make America great again,” I hope you will remember these things.

The party of Lincoln: Tears of Abraham

  
Lincoln is easily my favorite president, for without him the United States of America would not exist, and the world would be a vastly different place. We’d probably be speaking Russian and waiting in bread lines. Lincoln’s essential goodness propelled the nation to great heights. He was willing to shed blood to truly take America back. He freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclimation and believed that our greatness lay in our unity.
Lincoln weeps among the stars as he watches Trump pander to the worst in us. Fear. Rage. Suspicion. 

Trump is unwilling to condemn David Duke, former Grand Wizzard of the KKK, and The Donald wants to outlaw an entire religion. The more offensive his is, the higher his ratings go. He is putting the Republican Party out of business. And conservatives know this.

Trump is surfing a wave of outrage, a tsunami of destruction and paranioa crashing into the country and smashing the nation. He won’t win the election. But he isn’t nearly as dangerous as the incoming wall of poision he’s riding. Because those waters won’t recede any time soon.

What happens after Trump looses the general election? Well, I wrote a book about that. Tears of Abraham releases March 22 2016. The first Civil War was bloody. The next one will be worse.

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Abraham-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618688197

America Divided: Trump and The Next Civil War

abraham cover final

I hoped the GOP would field a candidate that represented the best in the United States. I would have voted for that person, but it looks like we won’t have that option. Trump will win the nomination and leave the majority of the country and the world shaking their collective heads. How did this happen, and what will the consequences be?

Trump appeals to angry Americans who feel threatened, unheard, and disenfranchised, and to these folks The Donald is a beltway outsider willing to say and do whatever it takes to take America back. He is the candidate of insult and outrage, capitalizing on the mistrust of anyone “not quite American.” He wants to build a wall along the southern border and insists that Mexico pay for it and prevent Muslims from entering the country with some magical Muslim detector he will no doubt install at airports around the world. He is quick to attack the poor, pointing a finger at entitlements and insinuating that our economic problems would be solved by eliminating food stamps and medicaid.

The billionaire is a brilliant politician, somehow resonating with families who live paycheck to paycheck, convincing them that he is on their side. It appears that no matter how outrageous, inflammatory, and false his statements are, his double-digit lead will only continue to widen. He is Frankenstein’s monster, birthed by the FOX News propaganda machine, empowered by the Tea Party, which ostensibly believes in less government. Trump beyond the control of the GOP establishment now, and is bashing his way through the countryside.

The Election

Trump will win the GOP nomination. Either Hillary or Sanders will win the Democratic nomination.

In a general election, poll after poll shows either Hillary or Sanders beating trump soundly. Sanders will be able to steal many swing voters and independents, while Hillary will galvanize her base. This outcome is what scares the hell out of me, along with the GOP establishment.

After a long campaign rife with mud-slinging, veiled hatred, and ever increasing vitriol, what happens when the Democrats win? Where does all the outrage go?

Rumors of War

Texas will not go quietly. Petitions have circulated in the Lone Star state to secede from the Union. Remember Jade Helm? The distrust of the federal government runs deep in the south. When the election is over and the Republicans lose again, many citizens will feel that the outcome is unfair, that they have not been heard. More hate groups will spring up, more militias. At some point, Hillary just might get aggressive about gun control. The next President will not be able to heal a nation that fractured years ago.

Texas could sustain itself as a separate country, with its industrial, economic, and agricultural base. Texas has ports for international trade, and of course, oil. If Texas goes, much of the south will go with it.

The next President will have a hard decision to make. Abraham Lincoln chose to go to war to preserve the Union; what will Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders do?

a

War

The first Civil War took more than 600,000 American lives. The next war will be worse. We didn’t have nuclear weapons, tanks, fighter jets, or drones in 1862.

Take America Back

We are the nation that invented Rock and Roll, the light bulb, and the internet. America stopped Hitler and put men on the moon. We are innovative, hard working, and decent. The American Dream is more real to the rest of the world than it here within our borders. We are admired for our goodness yet we doubt ourselves and fight one another. The ideals of our founding fathers have been usurped, eroded, and manipulated.

Our great republic is now an oligarchy where elections are bought and sold to the highest bidder. We have been played. We must not succumb to the hate and steady stream of misinformation, but instead fight back with our votes, with acts of kindness, and open conversation with people we disagree with. Rather than howling, we should converse. There is no reason for us to be this polarized.

My next novel, Tears of Abraham is about the coming war, seen through the eyes of heroes, innocents, and villains. I believe in the essential goodness of the American people, and I hope that we can drown out the sound of evil.

 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Sean-T.-Smith/e/B00IKHPGEK

 

Author update: upcoming projects

medieval-knight2016 should be a very interesting year for me! I’ll have my first book in bookstores on March 22 with the release of Tears of Abraham, a novel about the next American Civil War. I hope to generate some press and buzz with this book, as the nation continues to rip itself apart with political vitriol. I hope people read the book and come away with the feeling that we as a nation are better than what we’ve turned into.

I’ve been working hard on Fate of the Fallen, and hope to self-publish this as a series. This novel has been extremely challenging to write because of the scale and the amount of research involved. The main character is an angel with limited abilities, and the novel follows his life, alternating between the past and present. He has been a monk, a gladiator, a crusader, a scholar, and a warrior. In the present, he is trying to prevent the next apocalypse. I’m planning on releasing this book next spring or early summer, and then following it with a series of novellas.

I’m outlining for my next full length novel, and this will be a big departure for me in terms of genre. I’ve been writing “thrillers with heart.” This next book is not a thriller, but straight forward literary fiction. I can’t wait to write it. It’s called Restoration. When  Arthur Glass’s wife asks for a divorce, he purchases a hundred-year-old house in historic Riverside, Florida. He forms a deep friendship with an old lady across the street, who tells him about the history of the house, and importantly, the stories that have unfolded within the walls.

The house has been an orphanage, brothel, speakeasy, and apartment during our nation’s great wars. Love, loss, hope, tragedy and miracles have lived here, and the stories Arthur hears mirror his own character arc, filling a need in him, reminding him of things he has forgotten and also teaching things he has never known.

Chapter One
Endings and Beginnings

Arthur Glass found the old house on Oak Street on the same afternoon his wife informed him that she was pregnant and wanted a divorce. He wasn’t ready for any of it.

He pulled his pick-up truck into the cracked concrete driveway and sat behind the wheel for a moment, gazing at the two story brick home before him, his thoughts a tangle of questions and despair. He needed a place to live, and he’d always liked old houses. He could do something with the place, as long as it had good bones.

How do people do this? How do you move on with your life when your life is destroyed, when everything you love is gone and your soul is peeled away? What is there to move on to? Why?

He picked his way around the overgrown yard, contemplating the exterior of the place. He guessed it was about a hundred years old, as many of the buildings in this part of Jacksonville were. “Historic Riverside,” was its moniker, an eclectic neighborhood where artists, professionals and vagabonds blended together. The streets were lined with majestic live oak trees, Spanish moss hanging down lush and lazy, a certain energy here he’d always liked.

The house sat on a dead end, and behind it was sprawling, shady Boone Park, the yard and park coming seamlessly together. The second floor boasted two columned porches overlooking the street and the park. Oaks, cedars, rose bushes and sago palms giving the grounds a wild, lush feel. Mocking birds twittered among the leaves, and on the steps a surly orange cat bestowed him with a baleful glare.

How did I not see this coming? Who is the father?

He used a credit card to pop the lock on the back door and stepped inside. The smell of mildew and age hit him and he took this in stride. Original hardwood floors, faded and worn creaked under his feet while he wandered from room to room. Plaster walls, some with ragged holes and all in dire need of paint. An old fireplace with a carved wooden mantle in the living room, two small bedrooms, a dining room, and a kitchen that looked like it popped out of Norman Rockwell’s imagination back in the fifties.

He wondered what stories had unfolded here over the years, what whispers these walls overheard.

He walked up a narrow staircase to the second floor, realizing that this was actually an apartment; each floor had a separate entrance. If he’d come here at any different time of day, perhaps things would have been different.
The late afternoon sun streamed through tall windows and filled the living room with golden October light, piercing the veil of decay and obsolescence with a kind of hope and warmth, inviting and serene. He could see this room filled with her canvasses and brushes and colors, alive with her laughter while she painted, dancing to Van Morrison, long dark hair cascading down her shoulders and blue eyes bright with creative mischief and something deeper, a peaceful sort of longing and truth. The way she used to look at him, but hadn’t in years.

She would love this room. Would have, he corrected himself. He had to think that way, and he knew it, but it was too soon and raw. He got it, though. Saw the truth even though it burned and always would and there was no way not to face it, here in that room with perfect light where the things he wished for were translucent dreams transposed onto empty spaces, emotional holograms bereft touch and feel. Delusions of simple grandeur that life boldly stated could never be.

Ghosts of tomorrow, that’s what they looked like to Arthur, and he could see them and it hurt to see.

Love is a contradiction, for it is beauty, promise and light until it turns, and when it turns, it’s quick and mean and dark and deadly and sucks everything in. A black hole birthed like an abomination from what was once a brilliant star, now hungry, relentless and devouring even the light which tries to escape it. Love is destruction. A force of nature implacable and cruel which obliterates what it does not tolerate: objects at rest, and things which have outlived their usefulness.

She says she loves me but isn’t ‘in love’ with me. What does that even mean? God, what happened to us?

Stepping into the room with the gold light spreading on empty spaces sealed his fate, for he knew at that moment that he was going to buy the place.

Love is restoration.

 

Other good news

Children of Wrath and Wrath and Redemption have both been picked up by audible, so they will be available soon in audio format. That’s great news, because Objects of Wrath did pretty well as an audio book.

Also, the entire Wrath trilogy will be distributed by Simon & Schuster next year, meaning that I’ll have the ability to have that in bookstores around the country.http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

 

A Few Good Sentences

Readers often ask me about my creative process, so here’s a general snapshot of how I write.

I’m a slow writer compared to most of my peers. I’m not sure I could crank out a book in three months, and if I did that it would be unreadable. I know authors who crank out four good books a year. I’ll never have that sort of output.

It all begins with an idea

I tend to marinate on several ideas at once, before deciding what I’m going to write. I’ll make notes on legal pads, bar napkins, and the back of company notebooks. Once I’ve got a general idea of the topic, then I move onto characters. With Objects of Wrath,
I began with the idea of a family struggling to survive the next world war.

I sketch the main character first, and then surround him with the surrounding cast. Often at this point, I don’t know enough about the story to fill in the details, but I like to have a general idea.

Next comes the broad outline. This is only a few pages long, with enough space in there to add things. I use a legal pad, and I draw a diagram of a suspension bridge. The high points are the big scenes in the middle and the climax, and the lines in between are the rising action, the building tension. Sometimes I’ll actually use one full page for this diagram, and divide the rising action into specific chapter ideas. The point of this diagram is that I want to have a general idea of what I’m writing towards. It sounds simplistic because it is. But it is very helpful to me in terms of pacing.

The next thing I do is write a first chapter, just to get a feel for the characters. So far, a surprisingly big chunk of my first chapters have made it to the final manuscript. I go back later on and move things around, and work especially hard on the first fifty pages, but the bones are there.

Storytelling

I tend to plot out a few chapters ahead of time as I’m writing. For me this is the best part of writing books. I have notebooks crammed with ideas, where I just let things rip. “What if…” and then I’ll try that idea out, often in paragraph form.  One idea leads to another, and I’ll end up with various branching plot lines.

When I’m in this mode, I can write unfettered, and it is where I probably do my best work. It’s here that characters start to misbehave in good ways. A minor character becomes important, while a character that I’d planned on keeping alive has to die. I’ll stumble upon an idea that lights me up, and spend a few hours writing one paragraph working to get it right.

I alternate back and forth when I’m writing a novel, between storytelling mode, and the actual pounding out the words at the keyboard.

Here are a few random examples of paragraphs or sentences I worked very hard on.

From Objects of Wrath: http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

“I had seen Gunny in action, had been trained by him, and knew how quick and deadly he was, but Chilli was an artist in his prime form, painting death with deft strokes. With perfect economy of motion he dispatched a seemingly unending supply of enemies in an unrivaled masterpiece of destruction. I hacked and shot behind him through the smoke, and despite the chaos, I marveled at Chilli’s artwork. His canvas was the battlefield, and he was the Rembrandt of the knife, painting darkness, not light. He was the Picasso of the blade, leaving twisted corpses in his wake, his hands and feet brushes that flicked out almost delicately, precisely, colorfully”

From Children of Wrath http://www.amazon.com/Children-Wrath-Book-Volume/dp/1618683411/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_y

“Most of us are blessed with a moment when sunlight is gold dust, warm and glittering, and the air is clean and tastes like hope. Sometimes we pay attention, savor the sweetness and are glad of it. Too often, we realize the rareness of it too late to revel in the glory of it. Looking back, though, we know the moment. That’s the yearning and the hurt later, because the memory is not the time, it is an echo. There is no way to feel exactly that way again, you can only recall the wholeness of it, remember the preciousness. My moment was long and my soul sings with the echoes I hear, but by the time we began our assault on Dugway, my moment had already passed.”

From Tears of Abraham, coming in March 2016

abraham cover final

“Stand up for yourself,” his father had said when Henry walked home with a bloody nose again. Henry’s old man, Tim Wilkins peered down at Henry. A tall, rangy man with a straight back, pale blue eyes, and a face worn out by life, Tim Wilkins was not prone to overt displays of affection or sympathy. But he was the center of Henry’s universe.
In Henry’s eyes then, his father was granite, solid rock, unbreakable, unchangeable, and strong in the way of a proud mountain. The lens of hope and faith filtered out the cracks and fissures, the broken blood vessels on Papa’s wind burned face, and the hurting eyes of a man eroded, but not yet completely worn smooth. Blasted by hard years, bad luck, and the love for the wrong woman, Papa remained undefeated.”

From Fate of the Fallen, my work in progress:

“Religion, Malak reasoned, would be at the heart of it. Money and power led to war between men. Religion could destroy mankind. Sometimes money and power were the religion, the worship of those things, by men who held armies on a leash. The worst of it was when money, power, and religion all combined. At the end of the day, it was always some kind of religion.”

Savoring the process

I love writing, whether it’s a song or a novel. I relish the entire process, and enjoy lingering over a passage, turning the words over, shifting things around to find a cadence and melody to the words. Some readers find this aspect of my writing a hinderence, and I understand that many folks want to read an adrenaline-driven book that’s primarily plot-driven. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I enjoy books like that  sometimes. The older I get, though, the more I want some real substance to the things I read and the things I write. I love Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dickens, McCarthy, Irving and O’brien. I’ve got a long way to go before I can attain that level, but that’s what I shoot for when I sit down to tell a story.

That’s my process, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Faith and Fiction

This is a story of triumph, so please bear with me because it might not sound that way at first. Happy endings aren’t worth a damn if there weren’t tears along the way.

  
I love writing and God. The love of those two intersect, in spite of my passion for other things. I love my wife and my children. I love to play music and dream melodies and yearn to create something beautiful and true.

I love the way the sun breaks when it’s rising over the Gulf of Mexico when I’m so far from land that the sea and sky are the world, and there is that perfect orange light born, glittering on the waves, and the hope of a good fish and that day sings in my chest. The best part, knowing that the next day will be just as good, infused with the same hope. For me, those moments have been few,  and I’m blessed to remember them.

It is easy and dangerous to make the things we love God.

A mentor and friend, a brilliant songwriter far beyond me, convinced me that the only way to succeed was to be willing to sacrifice everything at the altar of writing. I listened to him and to my own demons and learned the wrong lessons. My friend would smack me in the back of my head now if we were sitting next to each other at a bar in Nashville. I have tears in my eyes remembering him and the way he made me a better writer, and I wish I could hear him say something sarcastic and kind. 

Writing is not God, though we make it so.

Writers are not destined for pain unless they choose anguish. Joy is the lyric and the page and the melody and truth beneath. God is God.

The Divided States of America

There is much gnashing of the teeth and shrill screaming  about politics these days. Everyone with internet access has an opinion and a voice. Many people are outraged about something. Social media is choked with hate, politicians point fingers, and any sort of reasonable discourse seems to have fled the country.

The things people are screaming about are distractions, while the things they should be paying attention to go largely unnoticed. We, the people, are being played.

Money and politics

Both parties are equally beholden to the almighty dollar. There are no good guys, as far as I can see, and those who actually seem to have a heart for the American people and are willing to buck the system have no chance of actually being able to be a force for positive change because their voices are drowned out by the hatred, the money, and the discord. That seems to be the idea.

Republican Governor John Kaisch of Ohio announced his bid for the 2016 election; he is an example of a moderate who has accomplished great things in his home state, and of course, he has no chance at winning. The Koch Brothers won’t be helping him.

Hillary Clinton portrays herself as the champion of the middle class, yet she is an example of the ivory tower liberals who are not only disconnected from most of America, but who also reap millions in corporate campaign contributions. She is above all else a political animal.

The banking industry, working behind the shadows is one place where true power resides. Energy is another. Power has almost nothing to do with politics, and is essentially the ability inflict one’s will upon another. The United States possesses the strongest military the world has ever seen.

But the real power lies not in the new F-35, the stealth bomber, or the ICBM, but in those who decide when and where these weapons will be used. Where we will go to war and why.

Be angry and mean and certain!

That’s what they want. Whoever the hell they are.

It doesn’t seem to matter who the figureheads are, though I’d love to believe otherwise. We can argue about guns and rebel flags and gay rights, and it appears that there is profit somewhere for someone in that discord. We howl about Obama and lose respect for the office of the President, and that’s just fine with those guys. They’re playing both sides of the fence, and are laughing at us from their private islands.

america divided 1

The insults and name calling between parties has never been worse, and it’s spilled over from Congress to Main Street and even the dinner table.

So what should we be paying attention to?

The way money buys power. Decisions like Citizens united. Corporate welfare.

Climate change. It’s happening. The planet is growing warmer according to 99% of climatologists. Sea levels will rise, weather patterns will shift. Water shortages and droughts will worsen in some areas, while other parts of the world will see floods.

ISIS, China, and Russia.

The Islamic state is spreading like wildfire, and now boasts a well organized and supplied army. The guys behind the guys don’t know what to do about them yet, and the whole Arab spring caught them off guard, along with the power vacuum in Iraq. The middle east is nuke waiting to blow. The aftershock will shake the world.

https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/books/book-detail-page?ie=UTF8&bookASIN=B00IK7MH9M&index=default&parentASIN=B00ISZJOSS&tabName=

China is on course to overtake the United States in military power over the next two decades. They have an aircraft carrier, a fleet of submarines, and the desire to project power into the Indian Ocean and South Pacific. They are building islands out of the sea, placing air strips on them. China owns trillions of dollars in U.S. debt and manipulates its currency to the great detriment of the United States. Of course, the multinational corporations don’t care about what is good for the United States. They’re in the business of making money for shareholders, so will continue to ship jobs to China because it’s good for the bottom line.

russian fighter jets

Russia is eager to reclaim its stature as a superpower, and Putin, a former KGB officer with an ego the size of his country, is unpredictable, ruthless, and bent upon taking more land and resources. The annexation of Crimea proves this, along with the war in the Ukraine, the relentless incursions into NATO airspace, and threatening posture of flights off the U.S. coast. Bombers within forty miles of California? Yes. That happened this week, again. Russia has simulated nuclear attacks against Sweden, and they are actively militarizing the arctic, building bases to go after oil resources as the ice packs melt.

Ourselves

abraham cover final

More dangerous to this great nation than these other threats is the one we present to ourselves.

For a house divided cannot stand.

amazon.com/author/seantsmith