Tolstoy in Haiti

child
“Child” by Gloria Mullvain

gloriaFriend and writing collaborator Gloria Mullvain followed our Haitian journey last week through the blogs we posted daily on The Vitruvian Man website.  It inspired her to write a contemplation of how the choices we make, our ability to say ‘Yes’ at critical moments in our lives can lead us beyond decisive crossroads we approach throughout our lives.  Currently working on a collection of personal essays, Gloria is a professional artist and photographer.  She generously offers us this guest post.

Tolstoy in Haiti

by

Gloria Mullvain

RRCThe foothills of the Tucson Mountains are home to the Redemptorist Renewal Center, a spiritual haven that offers a unique opportunity for solitude, reflection, prayer, contemplation and study of the soul.  Men and women from all occupations and cultural backgrounds find their ways to this bastion of spiritual revival from every part of the world.  In the midst of this mystical haven sits a small and inconspicuous bookstore, a gift to all wanderers who pass through its portals seeking inspiration through the written word.

I live nearby and cannot resist the lure of books whose intriguing titles call from the shelves accompanied by the gentle voice of John Michael Talbot who frequently sings in the background.  You may think it odd, but the bookstore provides me a rich opportunity to indulge my sense of smell.  I read few eBooks for the sole reason that I cannot smell the musty odor of ink on paper, or feel the texture of the printed page.  It makes no difference if a book is old or new, each has its own unique smell … books are my aromatherapy.

Meandering the narrow aisles, I breathe the liberation that comes with the unmatched anticipation and the childlike curiosity of finding that one, special book that waits only for my touch.  Which of these titles will release my soul?  Neatly ordered bookcases shelve hundreds of titles that range from spiritual classics like Therese de Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul to recent titles like Accidental Saints by tattooed minister Nadia Bolz-Weber, a book written to challenge even the most settled spirit!

It is in this inimitable and secret place that I encountered a specdaily readingial friend in 2012 who appears at the counter every Friday to guide readers both inexperienced and experienced as well through the maze of alluring titles.  The man is an experience, much like sampling an aged wine whose quiet grace cannot conceal the satisfaction and pleasure he feels when he makes the perfect match between reader and tome.  My friend is a well-read author with an unmatched thirst for life that he inhales with every breath.  His simple and unassuming attire is filled with deep pockets that overflow with cultivated insight.

Recently I asked him, “Does anyone ever know and recognize the mystery unfolding before him?”

“Never,” he replied with a twinkle in his eyes.

My question came on the eve of his departure to that little known and even less understood Caribbean Island, Haiti.  Without understanding the scope of the trip, he could only say ‘yes’ when random events placed him at the threshold of the most violent and impoverished slum in the Western Hemisphere, Cité Soleil.

pigThree questions that required affirmative answers provided the keys to open the doors that led him to Cité Soleil.

His daughter Stef Golan – Head Coach of the University of Minnesota Women’s Soccer Team – called in October and asked, “Dad, will you come to Minnesota for our final regular season game?”  “Yes,” he answered, delighted when he arrived several weeks later to experience St. Paul’s first snowstorm of the season.

The morning of the match, his son-in-law Dave asked, “Would you like to visit The Sanneh Foundation (TSF) at the Conway Center in St. Paul?”  Dave manages one of the foundation’s many programs.  “Yes,” he answered, delighted again to sit and chat with TSF manager Tod Herskovitz for an hour.  During the conversation, Tod explained TSF’s Haitian Initiative program.  “I traveled to Haiti 45 years ago when Papa Doc and his infamous Tonton Macoute ruled the island with an iron fist,” my friend commented off-handedly.  “You’re kidding?” Tod replied.  My friend was not kidding.

Then came the final question.  In late February, Tod called and asked, “Would you consider going to Haiti with us?  We’re leaving in three weeks.”  Without hesitation, he responded, “Yes!  Count me in.”

I marvel at the coincidence of the three questions, and I ponder the weight of each ‘yes’ on the course of his life and the lives of those whose paths he would cross.  With each ‘yes,’ a God-ordained door opened to reveal a piece of the hidden mystery in perfect timing, timing that altered not only the direction my friend was moving, but also the direction the children were moving, children he would soon encounter.

Three weeks later, he embarked on a pilgrimage that would take him face to face with children doing their best to survive amid the bland colors and wretched smells of a land so impoverished that it is indescribable to the cultured, American nose.  For eight days, he thrived in an environment foreign to the American way of life, and he contemplated why the mere thought of appreciation could be so alien to those who have been graced with so much yet can come so easily and naturally to those graced with so little.

Three Questions from Tolstoy
Three Questions from Tolstoy

My friend’s original objective was to make a difference in Haiti.  Along the way, the children taught him that blessings flow in both directions.  As one of his new Haitian friends invited him into his home, his entire perspective changed when he realized that happiness is not measured by the value or quantity of one’s possessions, rather by one’s sense of appreciation regardless of how much we have, or how little.

His spirit shifted with more power than the earthquake that leveled the landscape in 2010 leaving rubble that still litters the crowded streets.

Faith is tested to its limits when a person descends both physically and mentally into the heart of darkness.  The experience destroys some but strengthens others.

My friend found the presence of God in every child he met, in the heavy, malodorous air that rose like a dangerous specter from the steaming sewage in the street gutters, in the cacophony of the busy markets … He returned to America a stronger and wiser person than he was when he boarded the plane a week earlier.

And so I return to the three questions

  1. “Dad, will you come to Minnesota for our final regular season game.”
  2. “Would you like to visit The Sanneh Foundation at the Conway Center in St. Paul?”
  3. “Would you consider going to Haiti with us? We’re leaving in three weeks.”

Perhaps the three questions may not strike you as profound as the questions Russian author Leo Tolstoy posed in his short story The Three Questions,

  1. What is the right time to begin everything?
  2. Who are the right people to listen to?
  3. What is the most important thing to do?

My friend’s answers to his three questions – yes, yes, and yes – ultimately led him to the answers to Tolstoy’s questions:

  • Remember then: there is only one time that is important — and that is now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.
  • The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else.
  • And the most important thing to do is, to do good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

Think of my friend’s three questions as a call from the greater power who speaks to each of us whether we realize it or not.  Do these divine calls come at the most convenient time?  Of course not.  These gifts come at those moments when the demands of your life are most pressing.  They come as you wring your hands fighting the clock like a weary gladiator afraid to make the wrong move at the wrong time.  It happens this way because this is when you cannot deny the need to make a personal assessment of your heart, to make a decision between your personal wants and the needs of others.  Are we here to be served or to serve?  God sets us up for so much more just so we get the opportunity to say ‘YES!’

In his final post after eight days in what Wikipedia calls “one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in the Western,” he wrote,

“My senses were on overload all week and my heartstrings were tightened beyond their limits as I encountered the plight of humanity east of Port-au-Prince.”

I don’t know about you, but I want that.  I want to be in the sweet spot of my destiny, sharing my gifts and talents where they can best be used, because when you answer ‘yes,’ that is where God will put you.

Consider Tolstoy’s three questions and his answers.  Right now, someone needs exactly what you have to offer, and when you understand this, the mystery of time is already working behind the scenes seeking you out and putting a plan into motion.  As Steven Pressfield implores us in his book The War of Art,

“Don’t cheat us of your contribution.  Give us what you’ve got.”

May this be the year you and I say “YES” at each appointed time destined by God’s call to engage our lives and to join him in blessing humanity as the mystery of time unfolds.

His call is our privilege, and that privilege alone is worthy of great celebration.  Rejoice!

Collaboration

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.

Poetry

After I had completed at least three drafts of my first novel, The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas, my friend Steven Pressfield suggested, “You might first fivewant to get a copy of Noah Lukeman’s book The First Five Pages.  I think you will find it helpful.”  That is a typical understatement from a great author.

I had the book in my hands a week later, and – slow reader that I am – had finished reading its 200 pages in just a few days.  I was devastated, tried and found guilty of every trap Mr. Lukeman advises writers to be cautious.  I went back to ground zero and re-wrote The Olympian another three times.  As The Olympian remains my best seller, I must have done something right, and I will forever thank Mr. Pressfield for his sage advice.

Over the years, people have come to me to discuss writing projects.  One of the first things I tell them is to secure a copy of The First Five Pages.  The pages in my copy have gone brown, the yellow highlights have faded, but the black ‘stars’ and underlines I’ve made over the years will remain forever.

While the book overflows with indispensable information, the exercise that has been most valuable to me is presented in Chapter 3, “Sound.”  Mr. Lukeman writes,

“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 own work.”

I have read poetry daily since I read that paragraph in 2003.

celticLast week, I discovered a new poet, Amairgen, one of the mythological Milesian kings who conquered Ireland.  As he approached the island and stepped ashore, Amairgen sang an invocation calling upon the spirit of Ireland that has come to be known as “The Song of Amairgen.”  Irish tradition claims that Amairgen’s ode is the first poem ever composed in Ireland.  I find great beauty and rhythm in “The Song of Amairgen,” and I think you will see, using this poem as an example, how poetry can inspire writers and improve their prose.

Listen to “The Song of Amairgen” while you read

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,

I am the wave of the ocean,

I am the murmur of the billows,

I am the ox of the seven combats,

I am the vulture upon the rocks,

I am a beam of the sun,

I am the fairest of plants,

I am the wild boar in valour,

I am the salmon in the water,

I am a lake in the plain,

I am a world of knowledge,

I am the point of the lance of battle,

I am the God who created the fire in the head

“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.

Tobit and the Canticle of the Plains

I begin 2015 with several diverse projects and manuscripts on my desk.  At least one has to do with film.

Ragamuffin
Rich Mullins, 1955 – 1997

My interest in singer-songwriter Rich Mullins has blossomed since the film Ragamuffin debuted on DVD in 2013.  I have watched it many times for many reasons.  In the fall of 2014, I finally acquired a copy of Mullins’ little known musical Canticle of the Plains based on the life of St. Francis and set in the post-Civil War American West.  I was able to purchase the CD from Mitch McVicker who co-wrote the musical with Rich Mullins and David Strasser.  The music and the story so captured me that I attempted to option the film rights despite my understanding of the difficulties of production and the limited odds of successful distribution.

For example, while I enjoy the film Ragamuffin on different levels, it never achievedRich Mullins theatrical release and in over a year, DVD and Blu-ray sales are less than $200,000.  Still, I believe the story of St. Francis as written by Rich Mullins and his co-writers has a far broader appeal on many levels, so I was willing to take the chance.

I couldn’t get it done, but through the process, I realized that what Rich Mullins did with the story of St. Francis, I did with Tobit and the Hoodoo Man … I retold the biblical story of Tobit in the Civil War South.  The more I thought about it, the more I could visualize a film.

David LeanEven as a young person, I have always paid attention to the hundreds of people who bring their talents together to construct a film.  As a teenager, my next-door neighbor, Lenny LaMothe – to whom I dedicated Tobit and the Hoodoo Man – took me to the Union Square Theater to watch Lawrence of Arabia.  I was quick to note the film was directed by David Lean who had previously directed The Bridge on the River Kwai and who would later direct Dr. Zhivago, all award winning films of the highest caliber.

Years later, my friend Steven Pressfield would tell me that David Lean once said that a full-length movie was usually composed of seven or eight movements or sections.  The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me.

During the upcoming weeks, I will write a film ‘treatment’ for Tobit and the Hoodoo Man in eight Tobit and the Hoodoo Manmovements.  I plan to put it up on the website one movement at a time.  Tobit is a story about believing …. Believing in yourself … in others … and in the impossible!  It teaches a lesson I have tried to teach my children and my grandkids:  Good things happen to good people.

All film treatments begin with a ‘logline.’  I will conclude this introduction to the Tobit film treatment with a logline …

“A black slave, faced with a plantation abandoned by its white owners in Civil War America must find $2,000 to purchase the land from its former brutal overseer, a member of the Circle of Brothers.  He seeks help from the mysterious Hoodoo Man and discovers that everything is possible.”

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.

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

Pressfield
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.

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.

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 

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 Gratefulness.org 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

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 Your Time Arrives

Yesterday morning, I read Steve Pressfield’s blog on “The 10,000-Hour Rule.”  I thought about it all day long, then yesterday late in the afternoon, I crossed paths with one of my spiritual mentors, Father Greg.

“How’s the new book coming along?” he asked in his affable way.

“I’ve been working on it well over a year, and I still have a ways to go, but I like it.  This is the one,” I told him.

OlympianDespite some success with my previous four novels – particularly The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas – one novella and one trivia book, I’ve learned much in the 10 years that I transitioned from corporate America to full-time writing.

After reading Mr. Pressfield’s blog yesterday, I did some personal research and learned a bit about “The 10,000-Hour Rule.”  Based on studies by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, journalist Malcolm Gladwell refers frequently to the 10,000-hour rule in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success.

Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  He uses the Beatles as an example.  The band amassed 10,000 hours playing in Europe, primarily Germany before the “British Invasion” when they came to the U.S. in February 1964.  The rest is history.

It occurs to me that I have cleared the 10,000-hour plateau, and as I work on this new novel – a lengthy, historical tome – I can actually see improvements over previous efforts.

No, I cannot, would not and do not consider myself a master in anything.  That title is reserved for a very special few.  Still, I can see the validity to Ericsson’s research, Gladwell’s interpretation of it and Mr. Pressfield’s blog about it in my own work.  I hope you will too when I release my new novel in about 1,000 more hours.