Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Let's Get Real About Fictional Characters

This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, events, and incidents in this book are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Unless you’ve never read a fiction book or you’re one of those people who don’t read anything before page 1, you’ve read this disclaimer before. The legal folks kept on retainer by publishers require such notices, and justifiably so. I mean, we live in a culture where people file lawsuits (and win!!) because the hot coffee they ordered at a fast food drive-through was, well, hot!

But I digress. Back to every published novelist’s emphatic denial that they have -- to even the slightest degree -- based any of their fictional characters on a person they know or have observed.

I’m calling “bull” on the whole disclaimer. 

As Solomon so wisely said, “there is nothing new under the sun”. And, of course, that applies to fictional characters. Given the time and background information needed, I’m confident you and I could successfully play a fictional-character version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. In other words, I am sure we could analyze the traits of every novel's characters and trace them back to the “actual person(s)” encountered in real life by the very first author who “created” such a character. 

I’ll even be so bold as to claim that, if authors were completely honest (or connected to lie detector machines that zapped them with every falsehood), they would confess that the similarities between their novel’s mean-spirited protagonist and their snippy sister-in-law are not exactly “coincidental”, either.

I’ve never been a trendsetter, but I’m willing to be one. To that end, here’s the disclaimer you’ll find just before the opening chapter in my first book:

This is a work of fiction. The legal team of XYZ Publishing requires that I state that unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, events, and incidents in this book are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. 

There. I've stated it. But the truth is that every single character, event, and incident in the book you’re about to read has at least an inkling of a person, event, or incident I’ve witnessed in real life. 

If you love a character and recognize yourself in him/her, thank you for being part of my life. If you’re offended because you recognize yourself in a less-than-positive character, well . . . 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Fact or Fiction?

Other than short stories and a novel written in 5th grade that has long since disappeared, the writing I’ve done throughout my life has been nonfiction. In grade school and high school, it was summaries, reports and essays; in college and grad school, my writing time was consumed by essays, research papers, and my thesis.

As a high school English teacher and later a college professor, I spent countless hours writing lessons plans, student guides, worksheets, assignment sheets, quizzes and tests, notes and memos, and reports required by administrators. All of it — every single text — was non-fiction. Not a single short story or novel in the mix.

When I retired three years ago, I decided it was time to resurrect my longtime dream of writing a novel. My children were raised, my free time was no longer consumed with grading essays, and it was my time to write.

With two storylines in mind, I attended several well-respected writing conferences, where I was able to pitch my ideas to a few agents and even an editor or two. 

All but one were encouraging. But when they asked about my writing background and learned about my nonfiction writing experience, they urged me to write a nonfiction book instead.

Their position was that nonfiction offers a greater chance for a new author to be published. And though several gently tip-toed around it, one very bluntly stated that at my age, I didn’t really have the time for the longer learning-curve I would face as a fiction writer.

And so, I’m ashamed to admit, instead of making a decision between fiction and nonfiction and then forging ahead, I’ve done nothing.

But 2021 has been a year of doing things and even of abandoning comfort zones, I’ve decided that I’m done sitting around dithering.

And so, on September 1st, I began writing a book that I hope you’ll some day be able to find in your local book store or on amazon. 

But where? In fiction . . . or nonfiction? Hmmmm . . . 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

One Big Change

A friend recently mentioned that she couldn’t believe it had been almost seven years since she committed to giving up sugar for an entire year and, in a show of support, I gave up soft drinks.

Our conversation moved on to other things. But over the next several days, my mind kept wandering back to what she had said.

Giving up soda for an entire year had been an invigorating challenge, and I’d been surprised at how much fun I’d had sticking to my commitment. The more I thought about it, the more appealing I found the idea of doing something similar in 2022. 

I began compiling a list of ideas as they occurred to me. Just for fun, of course. 

And then it happened. While riding my Villager trike on a path alongside the Meramec River last Sunday, I suddenly decided to do it. To commit to a significant life change for 2022.

I don’t know yet what it will be. No matter what I commit to, I’ll share it here closer to the end of 2021. 

Until then, I hope you’ll offer ideas of things I could either do every day or not do at all for an entire year. Possibilities that have already occurred to me include walking 5 miles, eating 7 servings of fruits & veggies, knitting 4 rows of a current project, not breaking the speed limit, and abstaining from all chocolate. Also on my list is discarding (donating, selling, or throwing away) one possession every day.   

So . . . share your suggestions via a comment below!  What big change do you suggest I commit to in 2022?

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Just a Girl and Her Trike

After returning from my van-camping adventure, I turned my attention to my “100 List” of things to accomplish or experience. I read my list and stopped at #47.  There it was! Something that would be both fun and good for me. 

It was time to buy a bike! 

But not a traditional bike. You know the type: 2 wheels; multiple speeds; horribly-uncomfortable seat. Not that sort of bike. 

I rode one of those until about 7 years ago, when a minor health issue made that problematic. I sold my bike then, resigned to never checking off #47: participate in a multi-day bike-riding event/tour.

Enter my friend Laura! A long-time triathlete, she mentioned to me this past winter that issues stemming from a major (automobile-driver caused) accident had led her to trade her traditional racing bike for a recumbent trike. Between her glowing testimonial and my subsequent research, I realized that a recumbent trike offered me the opportunity to ride a bike again and eventually check off #47.

Armed with stimulus money I hadn’t yet spent at small businesses and funds from my precious savings, I visited my favorite bike shop back home. Within an hour, I was the proud and excited owner of a neon green-yellow (looks better than it sounds) Catrike Villager. 

I’ve been riding my Villager on bike trails every weekend for a month now. It’s wonderful to be active and outside in the gorgeous sunshine. 

I hope that you make opportunities in these dog days of summer to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the world around  you!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Lesson Learned From the Olympics

Over the past 12 days, I’ve watched countless young men and women from around the globe who have achieved their dream to compete in the Olympics. The realization of that dream has allowed them to pursue yet another dream — to stand on a platform, wearing a medal-adorned ribbon around their neck and clutching a bouquet as their nation's anthem is played. 

The eyes of people from all over the world are on the 3 individuals (or teams) on that platform. Some will continue to be in the limelight when they return home. Most will, no doubt, be interviewed by at least local news media, and some will sign lucrative endorsement deals, appear on national television programs, etc.

But for every athlete standing on the podium, there are many others who have worked equally hard and made equal or greater sacrifice only to fall short of winning a medal. 

In fact, the vast majority of the athletes competing in Tokyo receive little, if any, media attention while at the Games and none upon their return home. There will be no public accolades, no deals, no appearances on shows like Dancing With the Stars. 

As I’ve watched the Olympics, I’ve paid special attention to those athletes who have been to the Games before and not yet won a medal and to the athletes who are considered huge long-shots to step onto the podium and receive a coveted medal.

I’ve watched them, back there behind the favorites, positioned at the edge of the television screen, as they adjust their goggles or stretch their hamstrings or raise up and down on their toes in anticipation. 

They’ve come so far — literally and figuratively — to pursue a dream. They’ve sacrificed and sweat and struggled and worked unbelievably hard, knowing their dream of winning an Olympic medal will almost surely never happen. They've done it for a myriad of reasons that we will never know.

They've pursued their dream even when the odds were stacked against them and it would have been so much easier to simply give up. To stop dreaming.

And they've done it all without fanfare.

How can you or I do any less?

How can we sit on the couch, scrolling through social media posts or watching hours of mindless television when our dreams go unfulfilled?

Nobody is paying any attention to us or knows what our dreams are. Nobody will know if we achieve them or fail to even try.

That’s all the more reason for each one of us to get out there and pursue our dreams.

As John Wooden said,  “The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Get out there. Pursue your dreams.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Question Answered

Confession #1:

    When I decided to boldly ask God for clear direction as to whether He wanted 

    me to continue writing in some “official” capacity (see "Fish or Cut Bait"), I had

    a hope that I didn’t dare articulate to myself, much less share with anyone else.

    I hoped that God would speak to me — that He would answer me audibly. That I 

    would hear His voice. 

Don't scoff. Over the years, very credible people have shared with me that God spoke to them -- literally -- and I’m not going to discount their claims. If you believe (as I do) in God and in the truth of the Bible, including all His actions documented there, why would you doubt that He can and even does speak to people today? 

God did not speak to me in that way, though. 

As I waited, I kept an open mind. By the time I decided to ask God for clear direction, I had gotten to the point where I was truly ambivalent about continuing to write anything at all.

I was completely open to God saying it’s time to put the writing aside; in fact, I knew my life would be easier and my to-do list shorter if He did. I had even begun imagining what I could do with the free time that would result! 

Even though I didn’t hear God speak directly over the last 5-6 weeks, I felt a consistent, increasingly-strong pull to continue writing. 

Then, about 8 days ago, the idea for a project presented itself. It simply felt “right”, and I’ve begun taking baby steps to lay its foundation. 

But some things are going to have to change in my life in order for me to continue working on the project. As a result, over the next days and weeks, I’ll be prayerfully considering what those changes will entail. 

Confession #2:

    Although I’m feeling excited and energized by my recommitment to the writing 

    journey, I don’t really care where the it leads. Instead, this former planner-

    extraordanaire is overjoyed to simply take one step at a time and let Someone

    else handle the rest

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Standing in a Corner, Adult-Style

In the past month or so, two acquaintances and one friend have shared with me that they haven’t dared to dream — to look beyond getting through their current situation — for several years.

Each time I was told this, my reaction was the same:

I nodded in understanding

My heart broke a bit for the speaker

I made a note to pray that he/she would some day dream again

A naughty child told to stand in the corner and not turn around can only see their current environment consisting of very small portions of two walls as they come to meet in a 90-degree angle. Similarly, an adult in very difficult circumstances often can only see his or her immediate situation — whatever crisis they’re in the midst of. 

Just as the child in the corner is devastated and very possibly even angered by being forced to stand in a corner, the adult who can see only devastation, injustice, etc., feels pain, helplessness, and perhaps even anger.

Fifteen years ago, I may have scoffed at that comparison, but life has taught me its truth.

So how does an adult who can’t see beyond their difficult circumstances gain a broader perspective and begin to dream again?

There is no one answer to that question.

Just as what puts an individual into such a dark and despairing state of mind can vary wildly, so does what it might take for him or her to see beyond the present, feel glimmers of hope, and take even a single tentative step toward dreaming of a better future. 

I’ve been thinking about dreams quite a bit these past few weeks; a dear friend and I are completing a “book study” on the topic. We’ve talked about what holds us back from dreaming, we’ve each been developing a list of possible dreams, and this week we’ll begin looking at those dreams more closely.

If you haven’t thought about your own dreams for awhile, or if your life circumstances have caused you to put your dreams on hold, I hope you’ll find some time this week to dream, to consider what you want your life to include, what endeavors you want to pursue, and what adventures you want to embark on.

Dream. Dream big, my friend!