Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stranger than Fiction

Have you ever truly wondered why genres and themes of books and movies that do well resonate with so many people. Themes like betrayal, shame, deception and lies? That's because these emtional experiences really do happen in real life. They happen more than any of us care to admit.

We've all heard that the media sensationalizes things and as writers so do we to an extent. We amplify the imagery - if you will - of a scene or set of scenes to hook and draw our readers in, but in order to be hooked in the first place there has to be an emotional connection that the reader can grab onto. That's where real life experiences play a valuable role for writers.

Throughout history people have always gravitated to the surreal, to the sensational, to the larger than life stories. Before radio and television, public executions were a big entertainment draw. It's no wonder that reality shows do so well. People just naturally like to gawk and look in on others lives and often their misfortunes.

Why? Well, sometimes it helps us deal with our own lives as we think - "Thank God that isn't me!" Or we feel less alone when we know that we're not the only ones experiencing such emotional stress and heartbreak. Sometimes it's just because we want to be entertained and have an experience we wouldn't have otherwise. Just think of all the special effect movies and theme parks that draw people in.

Just look at your own life and look at the lives of some of the writers who've made it "big" in terms selling a lot of books. When their personal stories are revealed through interviews and articles there's usually something intense about their background that allows them to communicate on a level that grabs their readers and says, "I know how you're feeling."

Some recent experiences in my own life made be think that while shame, deception and betrayal are great for story themes, plot and character development, they suck for actual realtionships and then I thought: No wonder readers connect to certain genres! Most of us have been there, done that, and worn the t-shirt! When we are experiencing these situations it does feel amplified, it is dramatic, it is earth-shattering.

So, as writers that's what we need to give our readers if we want to connect with them. A depth in our writing and in our voice that says we understand what you feel, what you think and what you need, because in the end, life really is stranger than fiction.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Since I'm a veteran (former U.S. Army Engineer) the 4th of July has always been a true day of celebration for me. I think it's important to remember the sacrifice of all of our veterans whether in a war zone or not. I've always contended that just putting on a uniform and serving one's country - especially this country - is a mark of heroism. I extend that reverance to law enforcement, fire fighters, medical personnel, and so many others. I have great regard for what so many people in this country do that helps all the rest of us and their communities. Many of these people are quiet heros. They do what they do without expectation of recognition or even thanks. They do it because it's the right thing to do and their satisfaction is derived from knowing that they did the right thing. Just look around and you will find one of these heros in your community. Take that step to thank them for what they do.

I can trace my ancestry all the way back to the 1600's in this country and I have a number of ancestors who served bravely during the revolutionary war, the civil war and the two world wars. So, I take this day very seriously. I consider myself to be a true patriot of this country but some of my opinions about war and what the world really needs now suprise people. I believe in a strong military, hence one of the reasons I served, but I also believe that war should be avoided. I understand there are times when we have to defend ourselves and others but the real purpose of a strong military is to avoid going to war. Diplomacy works best from a position of strength but strength doesn't only come from threatening war. It comes more from doing good in the world. It was General and later President Eisenhower who in 1961 gave his famous Military-Industrial Complex speech. Here's the link:

Here's another part of that speech:

"Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad."

His words are perhaps more true now than ever.

So, what can each of us do this 4th of July and going forward? Here are some suggestions:

- rely less on oil. Look for alternate energy sources - a web search will give you some great information but here are some links to consider:

- Do charity work. There are so many options out there. Despite the bleak economic news most Americans are still better off than the rest of the world. Money isn't the only thing charities want but check out your employer's matching programs and payroll deduction options. Charities often need you to physically join in. Consider visiting nursing homes, donating books to places like nursing homes, veterans centers, etc. Definitely consider visiting VA hospitals and just play a game of cards with a veteran or read a book. Cook a meal for a neighbor who needs help. Donate to your local food pantry. Little things really do make a difference.

- Looking for a pet? Get it from a shelter, especially now. As forclosure rates increase more and more animals are also homeless. Shelters are overwhelmed. You can also donate to and volunteer at your local humane society.

- VOTE!!!!! This is one of my big bugaboos with half the people in this country. They don't vote! I'm tired of hearing excuses like, "I don't know who to vote for," usually said in a whiny voice. DO your reasearch, damn it! With the internet and all the libraries in this country it's not that difficult. The other excuse, and the one I find the most ironic is - "My vote doesn't count," again said in a whiny voice. Well if you don't exericse your right to vote which in effect is your voice then of course it doesn't count - dumb a**! Politicians have all kinds of people collecting demographics of who does and does not vote. Guess what - if you routinely don't vote, politicians will ignore you. It's that simple. So, if you want your vote to count, if you want your voice to be heard then get off your lazy backside and vote! If you don't vote then don't bitch about anything, especially to me. As far as I'm concerened you get what you deserve by not voting. Think I feel strongly about this? Well, you're right.

What does all this have to do with writing? Glad you asked. Writers in this country have the first amendment that helps protect them and allows them to write what they want without fear of going to jail. There are exceptions to everything, but we aren't as in danger as writers in other countries are of going to jail because we write about the unpleasantries of life in this country and the world. Another reason to vote.

So, exercise your freedom to write and exercise your freedom to vote. The two go hand-in-hand.