OlympianFourteen years ago, I penned the first words to The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas.

“I was 12-years old when my father took me to my first Olympic Games.”

Yesterday, I read a review on Amazon by ‘Kevin.’  I know nothing about Kevin other than his posted reviews on Amazon indicate he is an ancient history aficionado.  Kevin posted his review a month ago in January 2016.  I don’t often check my books on Amazon, but I am glad I checked yesterday.  Kevin’s comments are greatly appreciated.  He writes,

Think of the most beautiful song you have ever heard. Now imagine reading a book that makes you feel the same way.

That is the feeling I got while I was reading The Olympian. This profound novel was beautifully crafted, with bits of wisdom and many interesting passages. The exciting and inspiring writing pulls you along, and the imagery is amazing. What makes it even more fascinating is that it is (for the most part) based on real people and events.

This novel really is one of a kind.

Thanks, Kevin, wherever you may be.

greener grassI am working on two manuscripts.  One will be my fifth historical novel.  In it, I express my remorse for the bad choices men make that haunt humanity through civilizations because we too often ignore the lessons that history teaches us.  The other is another quirky story along the lines of The Sixth Day.  It explores the oft quoted observation we’ve borrowed from bovines, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  Is it?

There are many methods to writing.  None is categorically wrong, and each brings value to the task.  My three personal guides are

  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, which Steven Pressfield recommended to me in 2002 when I wrote The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas

I am immersed in a new approach to my writing in 2016, collaboration.  Earlier this year, a friend who writes gifted another friend and me the book Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac.  Bandersnatch discusses the collaboration of the Inklings, a collaborative writing group that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien among nearly 20 other writers.  The Inklings would meet weekly to discuss their works in progress.  I was intrigued and asked my two friends if the idea interested them as much as it interested me.  It did.  A month ago, we began meeting every Monday morning for two hours beginning at 4:30AM.  You would never believe how quickly 120 minutes can fly.

The weekly meetings – and other communiqués that we share with each other during the week in emails and texts – have been invaluable.  Criticism flows freely, positive and negative, and observations, suggestions and recommendations find their productive ways into my manuscripts.

I am thankful to have special friends who are willing to do this.

“The Hamsa” Revisited

Bronislaw CzechIn the spring of 2002, my son Brad and I had dinner with Steven Pressfield and then shared a beer with him at his house.  He’s a good man, Steve Pressfield is.  As we chatted in his sitting room, I asked him if he understands and recognizes when he writes something very special.

“I don’t really think about it,” he answered.

I smiled and then pulled a copy of Gates of Fire from his bookcase and read,

'Nothing fires the warrior's heart ....
“Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, not to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from commonplace conditions. Not only to achieve this for oneself alone, as Achilles or the solo champions of yore, but to do it as part of a unit, to feel about oneself one’s brothers-in-arms, in an instance like this of chaos and disorder, comrades whom one doesn’t even know, with whom one has never trained; to feel them filling the spaces alongside him, from spear side and shield side, fore and rear, to behold one’s comrades likewise rallying, not in a frenzy of mad possession-driven abandon, but with order and self-composure, each man knowing his role and rising to it, drawing strength from him as he draws it from then; the warrior in these moments finds himself lifted as if by the hand of a god. He cannot tell where his being leaves off and that of the comrade beside him begins. In that moment the phalanx forms a unity so dense and all-divining that it performs not merely at the level of a machine or engine of war but, surpassing that, to the state of a single organism, a beast of one blood and heart.”

“I wrote that?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

I pointed to the passage on page 259 of the hard cover edition and showed him.

He smiled and said, “Wow.  I guess I did.  That’s not bad!”

That, Steve, is an understatement …

Six years later, I began work on my second novel, The Hamsa, which I refer to as ‘a Holocaust story.’  The Hamsa was published late 2010.

Last month, I befriended a wonderful woman from Chicago.  Her name is Teresa.  We met through Teresa’s interest in The Hamsa.  You see, her parents lived in Zakopane, Poland, the home of The Hamsa protagonist Bronisław Czech.  Teresa happened to be staying at the Desert House of Prayer, a retreat house visited by truth seekers from all over the world.  The Desert House is ‘across the street’ from the Redemptorist Center I regularly frequent and only about three miles from my home in the desert.

TeresaI chatted with her soon after she had started reading the book.  “The very first sentence brought me to tears,” she said in her enthusiastic way.  “I’m telling you it brought me to tears.”  I wrote the first sentence of the book – excluding the prologue – in Polish.  Teresa obviously knew what it said, even though I repeated the sentence in the first few pages in German, Norwegian, French and finally English.

One year ago on March 5, 2014, we posted an article “When Readers Get It!”  Teresa definitely ‘got it.’

Teresa returned to ‘the real world’ yesterday, but left a note at the Redemptorist Center addressed to “E.S. Kraay.”  I read the note in the dim, early morning light of the chapel.  Teresa definitely ‘got it.’

“I cried as I read the first sentence,” she wrote, “and I cried when I read the last sentence.”

She continued with a lengthy list of “SOME EXAMPLES OF WHY I ENJOYED READING THE HAMSA.”  She noted passages that touched her spirituality – “Move over Meister Eckhart” she wrote – and she noted passages that put her into a reflective mood.  She concluded with examples that made her laugh out loud.

Teresa identified each passage with the page number in the book.

I shared the note with Marie when I returned home.  I read aloud each passage that Teresa noted (from page 250 for example)

“Light snow falls like God’s tears from the black sky.  He rues what happens here but denies free will to no one.”

I will admit, after each passage I looked up at my wife and said, “Wow!  I wrote that?  I guess I did.”

Even as I plunge forward with my new manuscript — my seventh novel — it is important to look back at its predecessors.  The note from Teresa with such specific examples gives me pause to reflect and say, “You know what?  I think that was a pretty good story.”  Thanks to Teresa and so many others who take the time to comment and send emails with encouragement.  It is the greatest, professional satisfaction I get.

The Cure for All Human Ills

E.S. KraayIn 1916, this is what C.S. Lewis wrote to his childhood friend, Arthur Greeves.

“Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing:  ink is the cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.”

I think he’s right.  Although I first penned The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas in 2002 through 2004, I didn’t move into high gear until 2008 with The Hamsa, and then I worked ‘after hours’ as I was still imprisoned by corporate America until I broke the chains in 2011.  Through the years, I’ve produced nearly a million creative words.


  • The Olympian            82,972
  • The Hamsa               133,943
  • Tobit                             81,642
  • DWI                             111,841
  • The Sixth Day              17,175
  • Gaspar                      138,000


That’s a total of 565,573 creative words.

 I manage and write for three websites.

  • The Vitruvian Man, which now has 602 posts
  • ESKraay Online, 173 posts
  • Tucson Poverello House, 21 posts

If the average post is 400 words, that’s 318,000 more creative words.

I’m closing in on a million words.  Compared to Steven King and Dean Koontz, that’s not squat diddly – or is it diddly squat.

The other day, someone said to me, “But you’re retired ….”  Retired?  It is a fact that I left traditional employment several years ago.  I tried to escape corporate America initially in 2002, but got sucked back in from 2004 through 2011 when I finally escaped with no regrets.  Retired?  One million words over four years when I moved into high gear is 684 words each day, 365 days a year.  Try writing 700 creative words a day for one month.  I challenge you.  Tell me how easy that is.

I agree with C.S. Lewis.  I do receive comfort from the process it takes to transfer an idea to a piece of paper.

When all is said and done, every week some reader somewhere makes my day with a comment on something I’ve written.  That is not vanity as we’ve read all week in the Book of Ecclesiastes.  It is a reward for the countless hours that go into each page that leaves my desk.

Last week, I was walking through the Redemptorist campus on my way to the monthly book club discussion.  I converged on a path with my friend Sarah.

“I almost didn’t come today,” she remarked.

“Why’s that?” I countered.  “Don’t you enjoy these discussions?”

“Absolutely,” Sarah replied, “But I only have 60 pages left to read in your new book Gaspar.  It is one, incredible book, and it really pained me to put it down to come to this meeting.”

“Sarah, you just made my day,” I said with a broad grin on my face.

To quote C.S. Lewis a final time, “Ink is the cure for all human ills.”

Thanks, C.S. Lewis, thanks Sarah, and thanks to all of you who have read Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ and offered me your comments.  You’ve made my day.

Why Dogs?

Stephen King is exactly two years and one week older than I am.  We are both New England Yankees.

I never read his first book, Carrie, but I was hooked when I read his second novel, Salem’s Lot.  I’ve only read 15 of his nearly 60 novels.

I’ve heard it said that if this or that is your favorite book, how could you have only read it once.  There are only three novels I have read more than once, and Mr. King’s The Dead Zone is among them.  The Body (“Stand By Me”) and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption are two of the greatest novellas ever penned.  His collection Hearts in Atlantis stands by itself.

Early in Mr. King’s career, I noticed that every book culminated in a firestorm of one kind or another, and then he finally and blatantly put it all together with Firestarter.

As I’ve just recently completed my sixth story, it occurs to me that a dog plays a significant role in four of the six

I even included a falcon in Gaspar who serves as a guide and companion.

The HamsaEach of the animals befriends the protagonist, and each plays an important role in the narrative, probably most significantly in The Hamsa and Tobit.

I recall sitting with a book club discussing The Hamsa many years ago, and one of the members asked, “Is that a real dog?”  That is exactly the question I wanted to elicit.  I won’t tell you in this post what his true ‘nature’ was.  The same question could be asked of Caesar and the blind donkey in Tobit and the Hoodoo Man.

The truth is, I believe dogs are the purest creatures God has placed on the planet.  I think that is why I cannot resist – rather, why I am compelled to include them in all of my stories.

When I first drafted The Sixth Day, the Old Man told the boys that God made one mistake:  he didn’t ‘quit creatin’ after he made the animals.  I rethought that statement and as the story evolved, the Old Man says that the sixth day was the day God ‘almost quit’ because the animals were so perfect and man had yet to taint the world with war and conflict and all of those other things that make our lives difficult.

I think dogs and animals – be they blind donkeys or falcons – will always be a part of my stories. 

Catholic Saint John Bosco told many stories of a giant wolf-like dog whom he called Grigio.  Whenever Bosco was in trouble or threatened by highwaymen on his many journeys to serve the poor, Grigio would appear out of nowhere to save him.  I read those stories and truly believe that dogs are angels in beautiful disguise.  I hope my conviction and belief comes through with the dog Raphael in The Hamsa.

When Readers “Get It”

I suppose I am like that broken record when I continue to tell people that the highlight of my writing career is when readers actually ‘get the point.’  It is an extraordinary experience for someone like me when that happens.

Stephen King, photo by Shane Leonard
Stephen King, photo by Shane Leonard

The way I see it, Stephen King stands alone at the top of the writers pyramid and defines what being a real author is – then there are the elite, authors like John Grisham, Dean Koontz and others who have amassed fortunes from their work, and they are followed by writers like my friend Steven Pressfield who has done well enough to live comfortably on the hillside of Malibu.  At the bottom of the food chain are chumps like me who have something to say and say it for the love of saying it.  We garner pocket change with the hope of gaining a broader audience and maybe someday, we’ll hit the jackpot.

In 1999, I befriended Steven Pressfield, and he has encouraged and inspired me for 15 years.  I still communicate with him and last summer, I spent an evening with him and had dinner in Malibu.  Steve’s first book was The Legend of Bagger Vance, which Robert Redford made into a wonderful film; Mr. Pressfield followed Bagger Vance with a series of best-selling historical novels.  In recent years, Steve has been VERY successful in the ‘blogging business’ with his self-help and advisory columns and books.  He even appeared on Oprah’s show several months ago.  His most recent novel was The Profession in 2011, a cautionary tale of the future and quite a departure from his earlier work. 

When my second novel The Hamsa was released in 2010, Mr. Pressfield was gracious enough to post a review on Amazon.  In

Steven Pressfield

it he wrote,

“… best of all, it [The Hamsa] is about something (which too often historical fiction is not.) Mr. Kraay has pulled off the most difficult stunt of all: to start with historical reality – meaning real characters like Bronisław Czech, his hero, who did real things at real times but about whom we in the present know very little – and to craft from these elements a wholly original (but vividly believable and, we hope, true to life) narrative that breathes reality into and brings illumination to the acts and moral crises lived through by his protagonist and his contemporaries …

The opening statement is the most significant:  it’s about something.  That was so meaningful to me that I use similar words as a subtitle to my this website:  “Novels that Say Something.”

For me to keep doing what I do, I have to ask myself the question:  Is it more important that my books reap financial rewards, or that they generate statements from readers who indicate a true understanding of the work?  The answer is obvious, because I continue to do what I do with minimal financial recompense.

I wrote a blog recently on “E.S. Kraay Online” titled ‘The 7-Year Question.  I could paraphrase it here and ask myself, “If I spent years writing a book and it failed critically and commercially, would I consider the effort a worthwhile venture?”  I easily answer, “Yes.”  And so I continue ….

Most of all, thanks to all the readers who have read my books and truly understand the core values of each.  Your support and encouragement is priceless.

Jump at the Sun

Stephen King, photo by Shane Leonard
Stephen King, photo by Shane Leonard

One of the truths of writing is this:  If you don’t read, you can’t write.  Stephen King puts it best, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.  Simple as that.”  Mr. King is unerringly correct as one might suspect of the most prolific author America has yet to produce.  And so I read ….

Ten years ago as I was completing my first novel, The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas, my friend Steven Pressfield 

Steven Pressfield

recommended that I read Noah Lukeman’s writer’s guide The First Five Pages.  I took Steve’s advice and I am glad I did.  I immediately set to re-writing my fourth draft, basically from scratch.  Mr. Lukeman’s book is indispensable to the would-be author.  I took particular note of Chapter 3, “Sound.”

Mr. Lukeman tells us that accomplished poets often make for the best writers of prose because they pay close attention to the sound of language and its rhythm.  He concludes the chapter with this exercise:

“Take some time to read poetry.  Spend weeks reading as many different poets as you can.  By devoting all this attention to the individual word, phrase and stanza, you will learn a greater attention for language, and this attention will eventually show in your work.”

Noah Lukeman

I read that and dove head first into Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage followed quickly by Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  I’ve held true to Mr. Lukeman’s recommendation since and I read poetry almost daily.  The more I do, the better I feel I write.

Reading is essential to writing well, and what you read will ultimately influence what flows through your pen to the paper.

For several years, I have subscribed to the “Word for the Day” at whose international non-profit organization provides “resources for living in the gentle power of gratefulness, which restores courage, reconciles relationships and heals our Earth.”  Two weeks ago, the Word of the Day were two sentences authored by Zora Neale Hurston in her 1942 autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road.

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’  We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

I was unfamiliar with Zora Neale Hurston, but I was so taken by those two sentences that I secured the book from my local library and have been swept away by it ever since.  Last night as I read from Dust Tracks on a Road, I read what I consider the best writing I have ever been privileged to read.  It is so beautiful and poignant that I want to share it in my blog.  In this paragraph, Ms. Hurston reflects on her imaginary childhood friends and playthings.

“They all stayed around the house for years, holding funerals and almost weddings and taking trips with me to where the sky met the ground.  I do not know exactly when they left me.  They kept me company for so long.  Then one day they were gone.  Where?  I do not know.  But there is an age when children are fit company for spirits.  Before they have absorbed too much of earthy things to be able to fly with the unseen things that soar.  There came a time when I could look back on the fields where we had picked flowers together but they, my friends, were nowhere to be seen.  The sunlight where I lost them was still of Midas gold, but that which touched me where I stood had somehow turned to gilt.  Nor could I return to the shining meadows where they had vanished.  I could not ask of others if they had seen which way my company went.  My friends had been too shy to show themselves to others.  Now and then when the sky is the right shade of blue, the air soft, and the clouds are sculpted into heroic shapes, I glimpse them for a moment, and I believe again that the halcyon days have been.”

If you have an inclination to write, read and then “jump at the sun.”


When Do You Call It a Day?

I once read that Stephen King writes nothing short of 2,000 words each day.  Based on his volume of work, I believe it.  If he only wrote five days each week, he’d turn out 10,000 words a week and 520,000 words a year.  That equates to nothing short of five books a year unless you are Ayn Rand or Victor Hugo.

Right now – right or wrong – I’m engaged in two manuscripts, one historical fiction, and the second literary of sorts.  If I tally all the words for both manuscripts and toss in my blog work, I knock down 2,000 words each day.

In the final analysis, though, I do not believe it is about quantity, rather quality.  I’ll take my own hits, but doggone it, I’ve read some real junk from some very prolific writers.

When do you call it a day?

On some days, the story just flows across the keyboard.  Other days, the words may not come so fast for any of many legitimate reasons, not the least of which is research.

Here is what I recommend.


Even if it is a single sentence, produce those words every day.  With that commitment, the single sentence may become two, then three.  Regardless, establish an achievable goal, and A SINGLE SENTENCE EACH DAY IS ACHIEVABLE.

If you averaged 15 words per sentence and only wrote that single sentence every year, you’d have a 50,000-word manuscript completed in five years.  I will guarantee it will come sooner, but without the commitment, it will never happen.