Connecting Emotionally with our Readers

23 May

I’m currently writing a reflective piece about a fifty-year friendship which is about to come to an end.

My best friend, Frank, is dying of spinal cancer.  I suspect he will be gone by this fall, and when he leaves me, a giant hole will appear in my heart.  That is in no way hyperbole.  It is very hard for me to even think about this without crying.  Frank has meant that much to me over the years, the brother I never had, a man who has been with me through most of the great, and horrible, events of my life.

And he is dying, and it hurts greatly to write about our relationship, but I want to finish it before he dies, so he can read it, so he will know how much I love him.

So I’m writing this piece, and I cry, and my throat constricts as the words arrive.  I can only do a couple paragraphs in each sitting because it is too emotionally draining for me.  I have only allowed myself to become “close” to a handful of people during my entire life.  I have closed off a part of my heart to protect myself from the pain of loss, but Frank is one of those who always held an important piece, and even writing that last sentence has me in tears.

What’s the point?

OUR JOB AS WRITERS

Well, we have many jobs, depending on the type of writer we are.  Writers of novels are, first and foremost, storytellers, and they must never forget that fact.  Non-fiction writers are fact-gatherers and fact-sharers.

Underlining all of the types of writing is this important fact:  we all share the same five senses, and a good writer, one who really wants to connect with his/her readers, will always remember those five senses.  It is my job, as a writer, to make a scene come alive.  I am the ears, the nose, the throat, the eyes, and the fingers of my readers, and if I’ve done my job properly they will feel as though they are in my scenes.

With regards to my reflective piece about Frank, if I’ve done my job, you, too, will mourn the loss of a quality human being, or you will be transported back to a time of great loss you experienced.

In this particular case, with this particular piece, it will be a painful experience, but one which must be written . . . sweet melancholy . . . a painful celebration . . .

Thank you!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Developing Characters in Fiction

16 May

Mister Streitz's home

Let’s spend a little time discussing the creation of characters in fiction.  As is my norm, I think I’ll drive home this lesson with a story from my past.

I really lived in an idyllic setting as a child.  The neighborhood where I grew up was overflowing with kids and good people in general.  The adults would watch out for all of us, like one big extended family.  Neighbors would help neighbors with big chores, without being helped, just stop what they were doing to man a wheelbarrow or help with painting, that sort of thing.  Everyone knew everyone’s name, a little Mayberry RFD in the middle of Tacoma, Washington.

It was all a very cool setting except for one person:  Henry Streitz, the neighbor who lived across the street from us.

The meanest man I’ve ever met.

Mister Streitz came back from the war a changed man, or so I’m told. All I know is he seemed to be put on this earth to terrorize and cuss at kids.  We knew, when we went out to play ball, that Mister Streitz would eventually appear, shouting at us to stay off his lawn, retrieving loose balls and tossing them in his garbage, cussing us out for disturbing his nap, the list of offenses was endless.

For fourteen years that is how I knew Mister Strietz, as a bitter, angry human being.  I literally, and I’m serious when I say this, I literally never heard a nice word from him during those fourteen years.

And then my dad died.

The day after my dad’s funeral I was outside sitting on the lawn, petting my dog, completely lost in my grief, when Mister Streitz walked out his front door and came across the street.  He stopped in front of me, seemed to be at a loss for words.  The moments ticked by and then he reached out his hand, shook mine, and told me he was very sorry for my loss, that my father was a good man and he would be sorely missed by everyone in the neighborhood.  Then he turned around and left me to my grief.

He never said another word to me in the next five years, and then Mister Streitz died.

MY WRITING LESSON

I try to remember Mister Streitz when I create characters for my books.  Human beings are incredibly complex.  There is a story in each of us, a story born from years of hardships and successes.  No one person is shallow and without personality.  No one person is one-dimensional.  And I believe it is our job, as writers, to bring each main character to life and give each of them the complexity they deserve.

This lesson is now over.  Have a great week of writing!

Bill

Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Pig on a Leash

9 May

Let me share you two stories about pigs, both involving my dad.

The first one took place when I was maybe twelve or thirteen.  Dad and I went to a Tacoma Giants baseball game on sunny Sunday afternoon.  The Giants were the Triple A farm club for the San Francisco Giants at that time, and they played at Cheney Stadium.  There was some great baseball played in that stadium back in the early 60’s, and my dad and I always enjoyed a trip to the ballpark.

So we arrived at the park, bought a couple hotdogs, and went up the stairs to find our seats.  We were walking down the aisle, I looked up, and I saw a guy walking a pig on a leash down the aisle coming towards us.  This wasn’t a potbellied pig but rather a full-sized monster, probably at least 500 pounds, and he was trailing poop behind him.  My dad and I looked at each other, but we simply couldn’t find any words that seemed appropriate.  We laughed for days about that.

To this day that’s still one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen….the context was just all wrong, you know?  It also serves as a strange reminder for me to always leave my readers with a sense of awe after they read one of my books or stories.  My job, as a fictional writer, is to capture my readers and to touch their senses through my words.  So I thank that guy, and that pig, for the early lesson.

NOT SO MUCH A STORY AS A LESSON

The other “pig-related” item I wanted to mention was an old saying my dad was fond of.  He used to say “you can put a dress on a pig, but you still won’t have a date for the prom.”  It’s been sixty years since I first heard him say that and I still laugh when I think of it.

What’s the point?  What in the world does that have to do with writing?

Now this is just my opinion, and considering the fact that in 1975, a guy by the name of Gary Dahl, sold a whole bunch of pet rocks, maybe my opinion is worthless, but it seems to me that you can dress up a product in a pretty marketing dress, but if that product is crap, you won’t be selling too many of them.

As writers, we are constantly barraged by articles about guerilla marketing, and social media marketing, and how to best market our product . .. but not enough is said about making our product high-quality.  If our writing is poor, we simply will not sell many of our articles or books.

Let’s put a ribbon on this and be done with it:  you should concentrate, first and foremost, on the quality of your writing. In the final analysis, producing a great article, or book, will be the best advertising you will ever do.  Don’t waste too much money, or effort, in sewing a dress for a pig.

WRAP UP

Two lessons from pigs, both timely and relevant for writers; I hope you got something out of them.

Have a great week of writing!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

A Few Thoughts About Fear

2 May

OMG!  We are about to have a prolonged stretch of spring weather.  It appears the Winter of Wet is about to end.  Praise the gods!

I have another blog I write in from time to time, a blog about urban farming, but I haven’t written in it for over three weeks now because I got tired of writing about the rain.  Maybe that will change this week.

OUR PUPPY

Well, it really isn’t OUR puppy, but rather my son’s…but my son lives in a room out in the back yard, so Bev and I spend a lot of time with this puppy.  Her name is Penny and she’s a Chiweenie (sp?), and she is adorable and fun and exhausting, all at the same time.

Penny has just taken over the house. She is convinced that the world is her oyster and the rest of us are just here to answer to her every need. I had forgotten just how exhausting puppies are but, at the same time, who can be angry with a puppy? Certainly not me!

So I spend a fair amount of time watching Penny, and the most entertaining of those times is when she is in the backyard interacting with the chickens and rabbits, all of whom are bigger than Penny and much-more established in the “pecking order” than Penny.

But Penny simply doesn’t care.  She sprints off into the backyard and acts like she’s the new boss in town.  She is totally fearless in the face of Butter Bitch, our meanest chicken, and Alice, our killer rabbit.  Penny does this kamikaze thing, running full-speed at the animals, and then changing course just before eminent disaster, and she’s quick enough to pull it off without suffering the consequences.  It’s pretty entertaining to watch.

And, of course, I draw lessons from watching Penny’s antics.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Taking talent out of the equation for just one moment, why do you think most writers fail miserably at marketing their books?

Think about that question for a moment.

Penny is too young to know fear.  She simply doesn’t understand the dangers she faces in the backyard, the possibility that any one of the animals, at any moment, will grow tired of Penny and just peck the hell out of her.  Penny doesn’t understand apprehension based on pain or negative consequences in the past, so she just goes off, full-speed ahead, and does her thing.

How about you?  Is marketing holding you back and, if so, why?  Is it that you simply don’t like to market yourself, or is it because you are afraid of the pain of rejection?

Just curious!

NEW CUSTOMER

When it rains it pours.  I recently picked up a new freelance customer.   He’s a multi-millionaire in Texas, he is starting a new business, and he needs over 200 articles (SEO stuff) for his new website.  He heard from a friend about this freelance writer in Olympia, Washington, who does a good job , so he called me, offered me the job at a good rate, and so now I’m busier than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs.

The point is this . . . I’m often asked how to find freelance jobs.  Finding them is not difficult; finding good jobs is much harder, and it often, if not always, depends on your track record and your talent.

Work your craft!

Have a terrific week!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Sweet Melancholy and Syncronicity

25 Apr

Yes, I recently changed the format of this blog. It was not your imagination if you noticed.

The thing is, I’m a storyteller.  There is no sense fighting it, or acting like I’m something else. I love the rich tradition of storytellers over our history as a species, and I enjoy being a part of that tradition. So I’m switching this blog more towards storytelling and the lessons to be learned from those stories.

I hope you don’t mind too much.

TODAY’S STORY

I played baseball in high school and college.  Loved the sport. Still do.  My dad started me on that path, playing catch with me when I was very young, hitting balls to me, great father and son moments that will forever be in my memory.

About the time I turned eleven I declared I was going to be the greatest pitcher in history.  I would be drafted out of college, go on to be Rookie of the Year in the Major Leagues, then MVP, Cy Young, and on to the Hall of Fame.  Simple as that!

I worked hard that first year, throwing fastballs at a cement wall, working on my control, and I was seriously pumped to get my career started in that first game.

I got lit up!  The harder I tried to throw, the harder those batters would hit the ball. My God, it was like a track meet around the bases.  Mercifully, after three innings, the coach came out and took me out of the game. Thank God!

As you might suspect I was heartbroken.  My dreams of a baseball career were shattered at the age of eleven.  I figured maybe some other sport would be better, something not quite as hard as baseball . . . and then my dad sat me down.

“I stink, Dad!  The harder I threw, the harder they hit it.”

“No doubt about it, buddy,” he said.  “You stunk up the field today.  Now I suppose you’re going to quit, right?”

This wasn’t like my dad.  No way he’s that calm about his son wanting to quit something.  I was confused.

“What am I supposed to do, dad?  You saw me out there.  Everything I threw they hit.  If I can’t throw hard enough to get it by them, how am I supposed to win a game?”

He ruffled my hair.

“Bill, you need to pitch smarter, not harder.”

He then went out and taught me how to throw a knuckleball and a curve.

And I made it all the way to my junior year in college before my shoulder finally said enough and I was medically incapable of pitching again.

DAD’S LESSON

That lesson has stayed with me all these years…learn to throw smarter, not harder…and a larger lesson…don’t give up….find a way….if you want it bad enough, work your ass off for it.

I miss my dad!  He died just about the same time my shoulder died.  There is great synchronicity in that fact.  And sweet melancholy, of course.  J

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

How Very Lucky I Am

18 Apr

REFLECTIONS

When I was eighteen, the summer before my freshman year in college, I got a great job at a fruit & produce warehouse.  The job paid $10 per hour and, please note, this was in 1966…that was great money back then and, in fact, it was more money than my dad was making at his job.

Anyway, my job consisted of unloading boxcars of produce, loading trucks, bagging potatoes for grocery stores, putting orders together . . . it was hard, physical work, but I was in good shape and like I said, the money was superb.

I came home from work one hot summer day and I was complaining because I was asked, at work, to sort through a particularly nasty load of potatoes and sort out the rotten ones.  Now I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered a rotten potato before, especially one that has sat in a hot boxcar for a few days, but trust me when I tell you the smell will gag you.  So I was not a happy boy when I sat down at dinner and commenced to complain to my parents.

That complaining went over about as well as farting in church.

My dad, who left high school his sophomore year to ride the rails looking for work during the Great Depression, was not impressed with my complaining.  In fact, he hit the roof!  He informed me, in rather colorful language, that I was getting paid damned good money, money many people would gladly take, and it was honest work and I should shut up and do what was asked of me, and I should do it well, the best I could, and I’m sure he went on telling me that people were dying of starvation around the world, and single mothers worked three jobs to feed their kids, and, well, you get the point.  It was not a pleasant meal!

But the lesson was learned!

It’s been fifty years since I had that lesson force-fed to me over dinner, and I haven’t forgotten it.  I do my jobs without complaining.  Every job is important.  I am grateful for the jobs I have. Thank you, Dad!

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“By taking the time to stop and appreciate who you are and what you’ve achieved – and perhaps learned through a few mistakes, stumbles and losses – you actually can enhance everything about you. Self-acknowledgment and appreciation are what give you the insights and awareness to move forward toward higher goals and accomplishments.” Jack Canfield
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Here’s the thing:  comparatively speaking, in a world with over seven billion people, there is but a handful of people who can do what we do, and do it well.  I am lucky to be a writer.  I make a living doing something I love doing.  I make a living out of creating stories which entertain people.  I am paid money to touch the hearts and souls of people.

That is an important job and I never want to consider it anything less.

What I do is incredibly important, and what you do is important, and we really need to be thankful and do the best damned job we can.

End of sermon!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Limitations: Real or Manufactured?

11 Apr

When I was five years old, way back in 1953, my parents purchased a home after renting for the first eight years of marriage, and we moved to 4022 North 18th in Tacoma, Washington.  As a way of lessening the trauma of a major move, my parents bought me a new puppy.

She was a Toy/Rat Terrier, all-black with a white chest, and I named her Pixie.

Pixie was a small dog, full of energy, and I was thrilled to have her.  The plan was  for Pixie to stay in our backyard, a yard surrounded by four-foot high fencing.  It was a decent-sized yard, certainly with enough room for a small dog to frolic in.

But Pixie had a different idea.

One day I went out to feed Pixie and she wasn’t in the backyard.  I must have spent a good five minutes confirming the obvious, that my small dog had somehow escaped, and then I yelled for my mother, tears in my eyes, and she and I went around to the front yard and there was Pixie, contentedly chewing on a stick of wood under the willow tree, apparently without a care in the world.

Mom scooped up the dog, took her around to the back, and locked the gate.  She and I both went inside and watched Pixie.  It didn’t take long for the mystery to be solved.

Our backyard and the neighbor’s backyard were separated by a stone wall, and our fence butted up against that stone wall.  Pixie took a run at that corner, leapt up on that stone wall, pushed off it at an angle, and vaulted off the top of our fence to the other side.

It was pretty impressive for a miniature dog.

From that day on, we just left the gate open, and Pixie had free run of the front and backyards.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.” James Cook
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

There are certain things I simply cannot do in my sixty-eighth year.  I can no longer throw a fastball ninety-miles-per-hour like I did as a teen.  I can no longer run like the wind nor can I climb mountains with reckless abandon.

But I can still write, and I can find time to write, and I can definitely find time to practice my craft and become a better writer.  I have no excuses with regards to writing.

How about you?

HAVE A GREAT DAY…

Unless, of course, you’ve made other plans.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

The Fickleness of the Muse

4 Apr

For those of you who don’t know, my wife and I raise quail.

We recently had a new hatch in the incubators, 120 of the little darlings popping out of their eggs over the span of three days.

Quail incubate for about seventeen days.  Some will be born at Day Sixteen; most on Day Seventeen; and then there are the stragglers on Day Eighteen.

I love the anticipation of the new hatches.  I’ll stand for fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes sometimes, on Day Sixteen, waiting to see a little beak punch through the shell.  Funny thing, though, it never happens when I’m watching.  I’ll stand there and stand there, watching, waiting, and invariably the moment I walk away and start doing something else, I’ll hear the little peep telling me I once again missed an arrival.

Ideas for writing happen the same way for me.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“When inspiration does not come, I go for a walk, go to the movie, talk to a friend, let go… The muse is bound to return again, especially if I turn my back!” Judy Collins
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Like my baby quail, my muse shows up when she is damned good and ready, and trying to force her appearance is a fool’s task.  Luckily, I have more than enough things to do, like farming and making coloring books, so I don’t have to stare at the keyboard waiting for an idea to appear. I just go live life and wait for inspiration.

It usually comes quickly!

UPDATE ON COLORING BOOKS

My “Urban Farming Coloring Book” has officially outsold my last two novels, and it did so in a mere three weeks.

I’m not going to allow myself negative thoughts about my serious writing. I’m just going to be grateful for the sales and move forward.

But I do find it amusing, for whatever reason.

THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK

You’ve got things to do and I’ve got things to do, so let’s go do them. Thanks for the visit. I hope you found something of interest.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Afraid To Take the Plunge

28 Mar

 

One of my favorite places when I was growing up was Surprise Lake.  It was located about ten miles from our home, and maybe three or four times each summer our family would drive to the lake, bring along a picnic lunch, and make a day of swimming and lazing in the sun.

From the beach there was a horseshoe-shaped dock, and maybe thirty feet from the dock there was a very large wooden float. Rising above that float was a wooden tower, and on that tower were three diving boards, one at ten feet in height, one at twenty-five feet, and one at fifty.

I was ten-years old when I first jumped off the ten-footer.  I was twelve-years old when I stepped off the twenty-five footer, but that fifty-foot board scared the hell out of me. When I was fifteen I climbed up to the top diving board.  My knees literally shook when I walked out on that diving board and looked down at the water.  I couldn’t do it.  Fear had paralyzed me. Eventually I sheepishly walked back to the ladder, climbed down, and joined my parents on the beach.

It’s too high, Dad,” I said as I sat down next to him.

“It’s pretty damned high, that’s for sure,” he said.  “There’s no shame in not jumping, son.  No shame at all.  But the thing is, that fear you were feeling, that doesn’t go away unless you face it.  There’s no way to talk yourself out of fear.  It’s not something you sit down and have a rational discussion with.  Something I learned about fear, over the years, is it will stay with you forever unless you laugh in its face and kick it in the balls. Plain and simple, Bill.”

The next summer I took the plunge from that fifty-footer.  I spent an entire year worrying about that jump and talking myself into taking it.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” Eleanor Roosevelt
THOUGHTS OF THE DAY

I can’t even begin to count the number of people I’ve known over the course of my lifetime who were afraid to try something new.  I saw it as a teacher and I see it today as a writer, and usually the fear is of failure.  What if I fail? What will people think of me? What will I think of myself?  What will happen if I take the risk and fall flat on my face?

I know this to be true, and I’m going to toss it out for you to consider: I’m sixty-eight years old, and my time on this planet is dwindling down.  I don’t have time for fear, and I don’t have time to waste being paralyzed by fear.  The worst that can happen, by trying, is nowhere near the worst that can happen by not trying.

Thus speaketh the old man!

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY

Meet my new friend Dale…here is her website/blog, A Dalectable Life….I like her style and her outlook on life, and I’m pretty sure you will too.

SECOND SHOUTOUT OF THE DAY

Another friend of mine, Sydney Spence, just recently published a coloring book for young kids…

Hippo Henry and Friends….you can find it on Amazon by following this link.  It’s for a good cause, proceeds going to her local school, and community programs for kids, for much-needed supplies.  Sydney also has a website where all of her other books are listed and you can find that here.

AND THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK

Most of you who follow this are writers, so let me ask this of you: what are you afraid of doing? What is fear holding you back from?

Kick fear in the balls!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

It’s Lonely Without Love

21 Mar

My dad died when I was twenty.

No single event in my life has had as much impact, on me, as that did.

January 9, 1969, three days before his fiftieth birthday, he died of a massive heart attack on a cold, cold night in Tacoma, Washington.

I was home from college for the weekend.  He and I were watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  He said he wasn’t feeling well, got up to go to the bathroom, and dropped dead.  I called 911, held him, and he died.

End of story!

Except it really isn’t the end of the story.

I was adopted at nine months.  I’ve never known my biological parents. I have no idea who they are. All I know is Dale LeRoy Holland, three years removed from serving in World War 2, and Evelyn Josephine O’Dowd, recently annulled from a previous marriage, hooked up in 1948 and decided to adopt a blind kid.

It turned out pretty damned good for all of us.

Now I mention all that because people keep asking me where my work ethic comes from, and they state, in wonder, that I’m able to achieve so much (they don’t add ‘in my advanced age’).  But the reason is in that grave, in Tacoma, Washington, with the grave marker that says “Dale LeRoy Holland.”

I am my father’s son, with or without the biological similarities.

I was told, as a child, that working hard is something to be proud of. I was told that limitations are for people with a very narrow view of life.  I was told that the time we have on this planet is precious and shouldn’t be wasted.  And I was told to find something I loved to do and then become the best I can be at it.

It’s been almost fifty years now since that cold January night, but my dad still lives on, in me, and I’m his proud son.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I think the whole world is dying to hear someone say, ‘I love you.’ I think that if I can leave the legacy of love and passion in the world, then I think I’ve done my job in a world that’s getting colder and colder by the day.” Lionel Richie
THOUGHT OF THE DAY

I love you!

Take that to the bank and deposit it.

I love each and every one of you!

FINAL THOUGHT

Do you love to write?

Is writing a passion for you?

Then what are you waiting for? Write like your tail feathers are on fire.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”