Monthly Archives: December 2010

Foreign Aid

We sure are generous here in the U.S. of A. In fact, we’re so generous that we give money to foreign countries in spite of a 13 trillion dollar deficit. How’s that for creative accounting? I truly wish I could run my household like this. Imagine writing big juicy checks to all your family members, neighbors and friends, even though you’re tapping your overdraft protection just to stay afloat.  

I totally understand how we as a morally responsible country can justify giving foreign aid for humanitarian causes. When people are starving and dying of preventable diseases, I think we should pull out all the stops to help, even if it means we have to dig deep into our empty pockets. But I need someone to explain how we can give money we don’t have to dozens of countries worldwide.  

Here are some staggering numbers I found on a U.S. census web site. Israel got 3.1 billion in foreign aid in 2010, and Egypt got 1.5 billion. Following them are 16 other countries that account for billions more, and a handful of countries only got a hundred million or so, including the Palestinians, who got 75 million. I wasn’t able to get a total but no doubt, it’s stunning.  

Considering our current financial woes and the fact that our economy is in the toilet, shouldn’t Congress go back to the drawing board and rethink this whole foreign aid business?  They’re talking about cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits, laying off government employees, trimming some vital social programs. I just don’t get it. Or maybe I do. Maybe it’s called politics.

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Back in the Saddle

I’m back. Sorry about the short hiatus, but my focus has been on preparing my manuscript for the careful eyes of a professional proofreader/copy editor. Now that it’s off my desk and on his, I feel really strange. I’ve been writing full-time since May of this year, working more hours than I did when I had a “day job”. At the end of every day, I’d say to my wife, “When this book is done, I’m going to take two months off and do nothing but watch soap operas and eat chocolate bonbons.” Well, that didn’t last long. In fact, it never started. 

So instead of sitting on my butt, I dug up a novel—a political thriller I wrote about 15 years ago. As I scanned through the pages, reading a passage here and a passage there, I realized that this manuscript was a diamond in the rough. It needs work—lots of work—particularly because certain historic events make the current story out of sync with reality. But boy does it have potential. It’s a pretty good story, has an original theme, and the plot has lots of twists and turns. And I also think it has a few very interesting characters. 

After I wrote this novel, I found an agent willing to represent me, and she shopped it to every major—and a few not-so-major—publishers on the planet. Over the course of several months, I amassed the most impressive collection of form rejection letters anyone could possibly imagine. But one editor from a major house actually sent me a personalized letter. I don’t remember the exact verbiage, but it went something like this: 

“I am very impressed with your manuscript. Your plot is original and you really nailed the narrative. This book has great potential. However, in today’s market, it is very difficult for us to invest in a first-time novelist with no track record or established readers. Perhaps a smaller publisher might be more willing to work with you. Thanks for contacting us. I wish you much success in the future.” 

So, that’s basically why this book has been collecting dust for 15 years. Now that I have my foot in the publishing door, so to speak, with They Never Die Quietly, and hopefully with Resuscitation, the sequel, I at least have some semblance of a track record, and hopefully, the resurrected novel might get some attention. 

Needless to say, there will be no hiatus for me. No soap operas. No bonbons. My fingers are already dancing on the keyboard, and my mind is exploding with all sorts of ideas. But I love every stressful minute of it.

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Believable Characters

The two primary goals of any novelist are to create multidimensional, true-to-life characters, and to evoke emotions in the reader. No matter how riveting the plot or lush the language, if a writer does not fulfill these two objectives, he or she has failed. 

Stephen King—like him or hate him—is a master at creating fascinating characters. He can take an ordinary person, place him or her in an extraordinary circumstance, and bring to life a truly interesting character. If you think that King can only work his magic with horror, then you should read The Green Mile or Shawshank Redemption

When it comes to stirring emotions, a reader cannot be fully invested in a story if he or she doesn’t feel something. If they’re lukewarm on the characters or don’t feel churning in their belly as they turn pages, then the writer has not met his or her responsibilities. 

The interesting thing about emotions is that negative ones—fear, anxiety, concern, dread, trepidation—engage a reader more than warm and fuzzy emotions. When a character is walking into a dark room and the reader feels it in their bones that something evil is lurking, it builds much more drama and suspense if the reader cares about the character’s welfare. 

Villains, in particular, are difficult to create and make believable. The biggest pitfall for a writer is trying to create a villain that is totally evil, devoid of even one redeeming quality. Pure evil doesn’t exist. Well, there are a few politicians that I feel are evil to the core, but that’s a post for another day. A truly gifted novelist can create an evil character that is so charismatic and alluring, that the reader struggles whether to hate him or love him. 

For all practical purposes, I am about 95% finished with writing, editing, and proofreading Resuscitation, the sequel to They Never Die Quietly. However, I am terribly unhappy with my villain. He didn’t meet my expectations, nor is he complex enough. All three of the readers I asked to evaluate my manuscript confirmed my fear that the villain is “boring and lacks characterization”. 

This is bad news for me because now I need to backtrack, and literally recreate the villain to more clearly define his motivation to commit evil acts, to change his demeanor, modify the way he interacts with other characters, and of course, I must make him more believable.

I am under contract to deliver a completed manuscript to my agent no later than January 15th, so the hourglass is draining quickly. Needless to say, I’ve got my work cut out and must admit that I feel a pang of panic. So if you don’t see any new posts for a couple of weeks, please forgive me. I may check in from time to time with a quick update, but don’t expect my usually witty, compelling, intellectual, satirical, thought provoking, and of course, humble perspectives.

Wish me luck.

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Letter to the President

Dear Mr. President,

For years, I voted in presidential elections half-heartedly, feeling forced to vote for the lesser of two evils. In fact, JFK was the last president for whom I felt any real enthusiasm. But then you came along, Mr. President, an intelligent, articulate man with integrity and a goal to point this country in the right direction. I’m not naïve or easily persuaded, but I believed that you had the right stuff to get the job done. For the first time in decades, I felt a renewed patriotism. 

None of your supporters, including myself, expected you to perform miracles, nor did we think you could turn the country around in two years. Not even a magician would be capable of erasing the damage caused by 8 years of Bush madness. Embroiled in two wars, facing a total collapse of the financial markets, dealing with a seriously flawed healthcare system, repairing a faltering economy, managing an enormous deficit—all these critical issues and more waited for you in the oval office. 

No, Mr. President, we did not expect miracles. But we did expect a president who would take off the gloves and go bare knuckles against the Republicans. We didn’t hire you to play politics, compromise, negotiate, or make friends on the other side of the aisle; we hired you to kick some butt, to stand firm on your convictions, and to forget about whose nose you bent out of shape. 

For the sake of harmony in Washington, you compromised your convictions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the healthcare bill, and now you’re about to support the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the rich in return for an extension of unemployment benefits. 

It’s time, Mr. President, for you to exercise the power and authority of the executive office and draw a line in the sand. It’s time for you to say no and stand firm on your principles and policies. It’s time to look John Boehner and Mitch McConnell square in the eyes and tell them no more deals and no more irresponsible legislation. It’s time to flex your Presidential muscles and to fix the country. 

We still support you, Mr. President, but our faith in you is waning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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