No Excuses

“Excuses are for losers to justify why they are not winners.”

That is what I would tell my four children, and that is what I would tell the thousands of young athletes I coached through 20 years as a United States Soccer Federation nationally licensed coach.  I hope my kids and my former players continue to pass that statement onto their children and to the young people whose lives they cross.

Here’s the fact … it is not an excuse … As Sergeant Joe Friday used to say on ‘Dragnet,’ “Just the facts, ma’am.  Just the facts.”

After more than two years, I am nearing the completion of my seventh book.  This will be the fourth historical novel.  Add to that my novella, The Sixth Day: a 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting; a vigilante crime novel DWI: Dying While Intoxicated; and a West Point football trivia book for Black Mesa Publishing and this will be my seventh book.

I try to get five hours each day, five days a week into the book.  I am on the third and hopefully final draft with this new one.  I want to say the book is my top priority, but I can’t say that for certain.  In addition to completing the book and getting it to the publisher …

  • I purchase books for a small bookstore.
  • I manage a small library.
  • I ride my bike 1 – 2 hours each day.
  • I give care to my 91-year old father who lives with my wife and me.
  • I do a significant amount of research to support what I write
  • I read multiple books
    • The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong
    • Neither Wolf nor Dog by Ken Nerburn
    • Steven Pressfield’s new book, The Lion’s Gate
    • Night by Elie Wiesel
    • Markings by Dag Hammarskjold
    • current and back issues of ‘Parabola’ magazine

I think I am forgetting something, but I can’t remember!

The point is not that I have a lot on my plate.  The point is that I have been less attentive to my blogs, the Vitruvian Man blog and E.S. Kraay Online blog.  I have not forgotten about either and remain committed to both.

This is my plea to bear with me.  I am not abandoning them.  Stay with me, and thanks for listening.

Dogs in Books

E.S. Kraay
Hans and I

I love dogs.  I have three:  Caesar, a seven-year old American bulldog; Hans, an 11-year old mutt akin to a coyote; and Cooper, an aging 12-year old Icelandic sheepdog.  Big, medium, small … I love them all.

In three of my five books, dogs play an important role.  In The Hamsa, Bronisław Czech meets the dog Raphael in Rome, and the dog is ‘with him’ for the remainder of the story.  In Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, the dog Caesar enters the story with Father Gabriel midway through the narrative.  In The Sixth Day, Scooter makes his important appearance on … ‘the sixth day.’  Each dog plays an important role and is graced with a special ‘spirituality.’

In truth, Raphael and Caesar were both fashioned after my dog Caesar.  Raphael evenThe Hamsa graces the cover of the Kindle edition of The Hamsa.  When I wrote Scooter into The Sixth Day, I envisioned Sparky from the 1996 film Michael.

MichaelThis morning, I read an interview with best-selling author Dean Koontz in the Spring 2014 issue of “Parabola” magazine.  Mr. Koontz includes dogs in his stories, and they play important roles.  (At least I can claim one thing in common with Mr. Koontz!)  His character Einstein, the genetically altered golden retriever in his 1987 thriller Watchers immediately comes to mind.

Here is how Mr. Koontz responded when “Parabola” asked him what happens to dogs when they die …

“I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson who said, ‘You think dogs will not be in heaven?  I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.’  Our first golden retriever, Trixie, dramatically changed me and my wife, Gerda, and had such a positive impact on our lives that I have written – in A Big Little Life – that I am convinced Trixie was a theophony, the presence of God in our lives.  When I encounter someone who sees nothing miraculous about dogs, I at once suspect they see nothing miraculous about life and therefore live in the absence of hope.”

Parabola Magazine, Spring 2014

I could not agree more with Mr. Koontz.  For those of you who might come to my home and be concerned with dog hair and slobber …. Get over it!

By the way, there is a dog in my upcoming 2014 release.  His name …. Dog.

When a YOUNG Reader Gets It

I began my morning at the Easter sunrise service at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Picture Rocks Arizona on the fringe of the Sonoran Desert.  Not a better way to start an Easter Sunday…..

easter
Fra Paul at Easter sunrise

Until this weekend, the youngest person to read one of my books was my grand nephew Christian who I believe read The Olympian shortly after its initial publication in 2008.  If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

This Easter weekend, we were blessed with a visit from my three sons – Nick’s wife Terri and Jesse’s VERY good friend Erica, too – and my eldest niece, Kira, her husband Phillip and two young sons Andrew, 11 – a future NBA prospect – and Michael – a free-spirited youngster with spunk.

easter
Phillip, me and Kira

Our history with Kira goes back to the early 70’s when she was just a little girl, and when Marie and I had been married for about one month.  Kira and Christian’s father Sean lived with Marie and me for several months in Alaska.  Years later, Kira and Sean would visit and stay with us on our farm in Upstate New York.  Fast forward ….

After a few sessions of basketball at the park and a good hike at Sanctuary Cove, we shared a barbecue Saturday afternoon.  What has this to do with writing book?

As Kira, her terrific husband Phillip and sons Andrew and Michael prepared to leave and return to California, I gave them audio books of The Sixth Day: A 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting and The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas.  I also gave them a hard copy of The Sixth Day and The Hamsa.  It was small recompense in return for the wonderful visit and Phillip’s gift of a subscription to Parabola.

Just minutes after they left the house, Kira sent me this picture of young Michael – eight-years old – trying to read The Sixth Day in the back seat of their mini-van as they returned to their hotel.

Frankly, the picture made my weekend.

Just over a month ago, I posted a piece about when ‘people get it.’  And then, I receive this picture from Kira …. Because The Sixth Day is written in Ebonics, young Michael will struggle with it.  I have cautioned his Mom that the ‘F’ word shows up once, maybe twice and the ‘N’ word appears occasionally, but that is consistent with the time period in which I told the story.

MichaelWhether or not Michael ‘gets it,’ I can see the concentration on his face as this eight-year-old boy points to each word and does his best to sound them out … “John Paul was a boy with two first names ….”

Eventually,  young Michael will ‘get it!’  What made my day?  Tough call:  Andrew and me playing 2v2 against a pair of high school players from Mountain View and losing 12 -10, ‘make it, take it;’ or Michael trying to read The Sixth Day.  Regardless of the choice …. what a day!

Driving with Simonides and Flapjack

As we approach vacation time in the northern hemisphere, think about those long, dreary and weary drives you are apt to face as you travel cross-country.  WAIT!  Here’s an idea.  Check out The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas and The Sixth Day: A 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting at Audible or Amazon.  At eight hours, The Olympian is good for an entire day for most folks.  At 1.5 hours, The Sixth Day is so good, you’ll want to listen to it four times a day.  Each is a special story in its own genre, and Alistair McKenzie brings both to fascinating life.  Enter the world of the ancient Greeks, or come of age with Flapjack and his brothers.  You’ll be glad you did.  They are great company for that long drive [or those days when rush hour traffic becomes intolerable].

 

The Sixth DayThe Olympian 

The 7-Year Question

HopLiteEver since Jon Smith and his HopLite Entertainment group put The Sixth Man: A 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting on their upcoming project list – working title for the film is “Third Man” – I have become very interested in film development and all of the complexities and challenges that surround it.

I have also learned that patience is necessary in this industry.

Last fall, I subscribed to the American Film Market.  Founded in 1981, the American Film Market (AFM) has become the premiere global marketplace where Hollywood’s decision-makers and trendsetters all gather every year in November under one roof in Santa Monica, California.

Last week, AFM offered its subscribers a complementary PDF download of The Business of Show Business for Creatives:  Film Business Essentials for Anne GillenGetting Your Film to Market edited by Anne Marie Gillen.  I took advantage of the offer and have been reading it with great interest.  Once again, I am humbled in how little I know, but grateful that I have access to Ms. Gillen’s take on the industry.

I have been writing novels for a dozen years and have been tutored, advised and mentored by some incredible minds.  That said, I read something in Ms. Gillen’s book this morning that is the best creative litmus test I have ever crossed paths with, and I know it can be valuable in other industries as well.  Ms. Gillen writes,

“When I was COO of Morgan Freeman’s production company, Revelations Entertainment, I came up with the 7 Year Question to be sure we were ready to take on this phase of every project:

• If it took us 7 years to get this film made, would we be happy we took on the project?

• If we spent 7 years trying to get this film made and didn’t, would we be happy with having taken the journey?

If you can answer a resounding “Yes” to both those questions, then go for it, for the VISIONARY in you is ready to take it on.

Over the last dozen years, I have produced four novels, one novella and a West Point football trivia book.  That’s a book every two years.  I began my current project in May 2012.  While I think the end may be in sight, after reading Ms. Gillen’s “7-Year Question,” I’ve decided that I am willing to take five more years if I have to, if that is what I need to invest to complete the project.  Further, if at the end of seven years the project doesn’t pan out, I will have no qualms and will be more than satisfied that I took the journey.

After pondering the “7-Year Question,” I have determined that I am not on a deadline to get the manuscript finished …. I’m on a deadline to finish it RIGHT.  It will be done when it is done.

As a creative person, I’m convinced this is a good rule of thumb.  But even in other industries, the “7-Year Question” is a good question to ask yourself, your associates and even your company.  The answer clearly and unequivocally demonstrates a person’s or group’s commitment to the task at hand.

“The Sixth Day” and John Paul II

Third ManTwo years ago, we published The Sixth Day: A 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting.  One year later, Alistair McKenzie and Jasmine Fontes produced an incredible audiobook now available at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.  Pretty amazing ride for this small book that came to me in the middle of the night with the single sentence, “John Paul was a boy with two first names.”  Alistair did sum it up when he told me early in our association, “There is strength in faith.”  He’s right, and that is exactly what our little story is about.

Finishing a manuscript, whether it is a 17,000-word novella or a 135,000-word tome like The Hamsa is a very satisfying moment.  Oddly, however, I take great satisfaction in pondering and then selecting the dedication.  As I wrote The Sixth Day, I was always thinking about my grandchildren — two little girls, a little boy and a young man on the verge of adulthood.  For those of you who have not read the book, this is the dedication …

“To my Grandchildren … That you might know, there is far more value in being a better person than in being better off.”

Whether I stole that sentiment from Peter Maurin or G.K. Chesterton, I don’t remember.  It is definitely worth teaching my grandchildren and anyone else who might stumble across these pages.

This morning, I was reading a book by one of my personal heroes, John Paul II.  Here is what the former Pope said …

“It is not a matter of ‘having more’ but of ‘BEING’ more.”

Whether you take it from E.S. Kraay or John Paul II — which I strongly advise — let’s get that message out.  We’ll all be contributing to a better place to be if we do!

 

Reading Preference

We ran our typically unscientific poll on ESKraay Online and asked readers how they prefer to ‘read’ their books:  physical, eBook or audio.  A full 70% of respondents said they prefer to read a physical book.  Well less than a half of that said it preferred eBooks, and a single respondent preferred audio books.  I found the results interesting.

Through recent years, sales of my books have gravitated significantly to eBooks.  That doesn’t jive with the vast majority who prefer physical books.

Personally, I prefer to hold a book in my hand, to feel it, to smell it.  An old book carries a unique odor from the hands that have held it in the past.  I have in my bookcase The Adventures of Tom Sawyer written by Samuel Clemens BEFORE he changed his name to Mark Twain … I wonder how many young hands have touched it!

All of that said, every time I listen to the audio version of one of my books, I close my eyes and smile.  The audio version adds another dimension to those words that beg to be released from that flat page.  I can only imagine what I will feel when “Third Man” or “The Olympian” is a film and I can actually see my words as someone else envisions them!

When I sat late last summer with Jon Smith and his team from HopLite Entertainment to discuss The Sixth Day – now in pre-production as “Third Man” – I recalled a statement Steven Pressfield passed to me many years ago.  “It’s okay to ‘steal stuff,’” he commented slyly, “as long as you make it better.”

I passed that sentiment on to Jon and screenwriters Alistair McKenzie and Jasmine Fontes.  “Make it better,” I told them.

Jon smiled.  “Not too many authors will tell us that,” he said.

I shrugged my shoulders.  “Make it better.”

After reviewing the most recent screenplay, which I know will evolve through production as the cast adds its personal flavor, I believe Alistair and Jasmine have ‘made it better.’  The proof will be in the pudding.

In the meantime … I continue to write and I continue to insist on physical publication.  That may change.  For now, that is the way I am.  Yes, we will always prepare an eBook, but print remains our number one issuance.  AND, I will always look for ways to present my work with audio.  If you have listened to The Sixth Day, you will know why.