I worked hard on this, along with the outstanding international team from Misery Development. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic books, this will be right up your alley.http://mdtseed.com/
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.
When the towers fell fifteen years ago, the world changed. We couldn’t know then how profound the impact of those despicable terror attacks would be, or that all these years later the United States and the world would still be reeling from the consequences.
In the years leading up to 9-11, I was cynical about politics, to say the least. I recall the embassy bombings in Africa and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and at the time, I wondered whether this was something our own leaders had cooked up to distract the country from the investigation into the Clinton administration, in some sort of “Wag the Dog” scheme.
But watching the Twin Towers crash down against the crisp September sky, I saw evidence that evil existed, and that it was here. Those attacks pierced our collective sense of imperviousness to attack, destroyed our security, and kept us awake at night. There was much fear during the first few weeks. I was on an empty flight from Nashville to Charlotte the day that commercial flight was opened up. There were about ten people on the entire plane. A middle-eastern man boarded ahead of me, and I sat directly behind him. Another pretty big guy sat across the isle from me, and we looked at each other and nodded without speaking. If that guy with a beard even coughed wrong, we’d have beaten him to death. After we landed, the poor guy turned around and smiled at us, and I saw that he had a shirt with “I love Jesus” written on it.
When President Bush gave a speech from the still smoking ground zero, I thought to myself, “Thank God Bush won, and not Al Gore.” For evil must be defeated; it cannot be ignored. When the President talked about a war on terror, that sounded right, a call to action backed by force and resolve.
I was watching a Gator football game with friends when the news broke that the bombing had begun in Afghanistan, and I cheered along with the rest of the bar to shots of entire mountainsides going up in flames. There was a certain fulfillment in seeing that, a kind of gratfication. People started chanting “USA!” I was probably one of them.
In March, when the United States began bombing Baghdad, I was riveted to my television, hypnotized and thrilled by the images of flames blossoming into the night sky. When the President landed on an aircraft carrier, I applauded the swift and just victory.
I was swept up in the drama and the patriotism like most of the country at the time. The yellow ribbons and bumper stickers. It cost me nothing.
A price too high
I was writing songs in Nashville at the time, but in my day job I was a salesman, and many of my long-time customers were soldiers with the 101st Airborne. I met wives who lost husbands, children who lost their daddies. The toll continued to rise over the years, and I met men who suffered from PTSD after multiple deployments. Folks I’d known for years saw marriages crumble around them.
Those men and women paid a price that I did not. For most of us, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars we watched on television. I had a friend of mine who came back from his second tour of Iraq, and he wasn’t the same man anymore. He’d gone in full of enthusiasm, and emerged with something taken from him. I never pried, because I wasn’t there, couldn’t share that particular bond with him. One night, though, after a few too many drinks, he told me. He talked about the boredom, the fear, and the intense adrenaline rush of combat, how it’s almost addictive. And how he’d watched some of his brothers die in front of him, and how he couldn’t stop seeing it.
America’s longest war is still being fought, and our men and women who served the country are not being taken care of properly. It is shameful.
The 9-11 attacks lead directly to the invasion of Iraq. Clearly, that war was a mistake of catastrophic magnitude. Without proper intelligence, we destroyed the infrastructure of a country that posed no significant or direct threat to the U.S. The Bush-Chenny administration went to war assuming that democracy was the solution, and that if we rebuilt what we destroyed, we would have a new ally in the middle-east, in the same way that after WW II Japan and West Germany became allies.
Those assumptions ignored the history of sectarian violence in the region and the vast cultural differences between the East and the West. The fighting between Suni, Shia, Kurd, and Jew dates back more than a thousand years. What hubris to think for a moment that democracy and tanks could solve the underlying issues.
Now, with Iraq and the entire region destabilized, ISIS poses more of a threat than Al-Queada ever did. With systemic bombings and attacks throughout Europe, ISIS has proved to be resilient, resourceful, and deadly. They continue wage a war of terror on the west, escalating and improving their tactics.
Unfortunately, the United States played directly into the terrorist’s hands. Terrorists win by instilling fear. The west is convulsing with fear at the moment, with nationalist movements sweeping Europe, and Trump’s rising popularity in the U.S. Terrorist’s win when we loose our civil liberties and change our way of life. We are now openly debating unraveling the Constitution of the United States by doing things like banning Muslims, restricting free speech, and allowing survailance at unprecedented levels. Torture, drone strikes against American citizens, and impeding upon the freedom of religion are diametrically opposed to the values our country was founded upon. That’s what the terrorists want.
Furthermore, when we begin to use language that makes it seem that we are at war with an entire religion, the terrorists celebrate. This plays directly into the terror handbook. They want to convince recruits that the west is bent upon another crusade, because it makes recruiting easy.
The Next War
I pray that before we send our citizens to fight again, we will have all of the facts straight. I hope that my sons don’t fall in some far-off place because people like me cheered from bars. And I pray that when we go to war the next time, the reasons will be just and true.
I pray that history does not remember 9-11 as the beginning of the end for this great nation.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I mourn for my country as it tears itself apart. We are better than this, and seem to have forgotten. Not since the Civil War has the United States been so torn, and it’s along similar geographic lines. In the wake of the California, Paris, and Planned Parenthood shootings, the vitriolic rhetoric is nastier than ever.
We are under attack
America is under attack from enemies foreign and domestic. ISIS is no joke, no J.V. team, and they are not contained, despite what President Obama has said. The war on terror, and ISIS in particular needs to be swift and brutal and waged without mercy. Before it’s over, there will be thousands of troops on the ground again because airstrikes will not stop ISIS. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution to a problem with roots more than a thousand years old.
The only way to truly stop ISIS and other violent, nasty terror groups long-term is for the Arab nations, and the Imams that dictate religious policy decisions in particular, to put an end to the cries for Jihad and reign in the fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran. Because while there are violent verses, there is also a message of peace in the mix. It’s a question of what people choose to focus on and believe.
Violent fundamentalism is a cancer, and it is spreading. Unfortunately, the U.S. plays into ISIS’s hands by turning a war on terror into a war on Islam. It’s what they want, both by making recruitment easier, and by undermining our collective values as a nation. That’s how terrorists win.
The threat within
Our own citizens are far more likely to kill us than someone who sneaks into this country. Worse, they are more likely to destroy us as a nation.
Social media makes this worse. Reporting so slanted that it cannot rightfully be called news pours gasoline on the fire. Misinformation and lies abound, with memes designed to incite hatred and violence. People are inspired by fear, and fear sometimes leads to action. The fact that the leading GOP candidates are completely insane illustrates this.
Trump is woefully incompetent to lead the nation, his main attraction that he is willing to say anything, whether it is true or not, in order to get media attention. He seems bulletproof, in that he can get away with spouting absurdities and insults; people like this about him. “He says what we’re thinking, but afraid to say.” He is a dick, and people actually respect that about him.
It’s not just Trump, obviously, but his astonishing popularity is indicative of the greater problem: we’ve turned into a hateful people. There is virtually no reasoned discourse, no ability to look at issues from both sides. Whether it’s the Second Amendment, women’s rights, the war on terror, immigration, or health care, each issue is framed in black and white by the media. And people eat it up.
I’m a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. That said, the word “regulated” is right there. I fail to see how supporting thorough back ground checks or better enforcement of existing laws is an infringement of this right. No one is coming to get our guns. That’s fear-based paranoia, and it works out well for the multi-billion dollar industry that manufactures firearms and ammunition. Every time there is a mass-shooting, stocks and profits see a huge spike.
This is an American issue, not one of left or right. Yet it’s framed in such a way that the very idea of restrictions on firearms becomes jackboots and Nazis confiscating our guns. Gun restrictions have not led to dramatic drops in gun violence, that’s true. But, the areas with the most guns have the most gun violence. Something needs to be done beyond more people walking around armed.
The looming Civil War
I routinely see people calling for a revolution or secession on social media. My next book, Tears of Abraham, which releases from Post Hill Press in March, is about this very thing. People call themselves patriots with one breath, and demand a revolution with the next. It’s despicable, unpatriotic, and in the end, evil.
The first page of Tears of Abraham:
Often, that which is done cannot be undone. Sometimes a pebble unleashes a landslide; a small object becomes unstoppable, smashing and sliding and gathering momentum until chaos pulverizes everything. When the dust settles, there is a new landscape, crushed and snapped and desolate, which surely the pebble did not intend. The illusion of control can be more destructive than nature itself, when hubris convinces men to believe the lies they tell themselves.
It began with a few powerful men, tinkering and arrogant, manipulating and prodding. Wealth and power, unfettered by wisdom and conscience, smashed the United States of America. History now remembers the conflict as the second American Civil War, although there were many citizens who then fervently believed they were fighting a Revolution.
The first Civil War cost the lives of more than 600,000 people, and was the bloodiest conflict in our country’s history. The second war was worse.
We, the people, are too easily led by fear and hate. We need to talk to each other, not at one another. Listen, and work together to fix what has become broken. I shudder at the world my children will inherit, and can only pray that we find a way beyond the consuming darkness
2016 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.
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
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.
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
“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!
If you want to be a writer, my advice is: don’t want to be a writer.
The overwhelming majority of us are destitute, conflicted, outcast, and inhabit a general state of unhappiness because dreams and reality aren’t the same thing. The idea of being a writer looks nothing like the reality. Only for an anointed few is this not the case.
I’m not going to bore you with sad number-crunching; suffice it to say that there are about three million people trying to enter gates that will only allow a few hundred to enter at any given time. If you’ve ever been in a big city, then the idea of a traffic jam of these proportions should make you think twice, and then ten more times, about wanting to be a writer. Because we’re all trying to enter the same gate, and there’s not enough room for everyone. There’s bickering and thirst and sometimes murder in the long hot wait.
If you want to be a writer, then write poems and love songs for your partner, write short stories and epic novels that take decades to compose, infused with joy and hope and thousands of hours of research and plotting and honing. Rewrite everything as many times as you can until you have stomped the love out of each line and eroded the originality and voice which made them true in the first place.
Chase trends and listen to talking heads and bow down to the powers that seem to be, attend seminars and workshops while other people who want to be writers, and people who thought they wanted to be authors but who decided that being a critic is a better path, destroy your dream.
That’s the wanting to be a writer part. Don’t do it.
If you are a writer, though, then you have no choice. I applaud your belief and audacity and will cheer you on when things are glorious and your work is praised by the wise and mocked by fools. Writers write because they must; the money is the grand prize, but the reward for a writer comes also in the joy of the writing itself. Mostly, that’s likely not going to happen, and at some point, writers must come to grips with that. Cold, hard, truth. Many iconic writers died in obscurity and poverty.
If you are a writer, then this truth doesn’t matter; you remain undaunted. You will put your butt in a chair and crank out stories. You will research and you will write. You will rewrite. And rewrite again and again.. You cut the things that you were certain were brilliant. Slash pages and paragraphs. Of course, you have to write them before you can cut them.
I’m a writer, and I wouldn’t recommend being one. For those who can’t help themselves, take heed. It’s a long, brutal road.
There’s glory though, in being a writer, an artist, and that’s what keeps us writing and painting and playing music, in the face of the odds and in spite of the facts. That sensation of creating something which is true and makes another human being smile or laugh or cry or throw something at the wall… that’s writing. And for writers, that’s a beautiful reward.
That reward may not be what we yearned for, yet it is beautiful in its own right. Writers know that, and people who want to be writers learn by doing.