Notes Of A Storyteller: Writing Made My Day Better

I had a rough morning. I told some college friends I would wake up bright and early to exercise. My alarm blared at 5:30, and I mindlessly slept in. In my stupor, I lifted my head and 5:55 and decided I couldn’t get to the rendezvous in time.

Grunting, I translated some Latin and got on with my day. I returned to my laptop, prepared to stay on top of my coursework. A cloud still rumbled in my mind. I was frustrated. I like my days to go the way I plan them. The fact that I had chosen to derail my day was frustrating.

I don’t even remember deciding to write but I did. I kid you not. I’m not writing this to make you keep reading, or spice up my prose. My fingers instinctively moved to a short story I’ve tinkered wit now and again. Several paragraphs later, I breathed and felt slightly more complete. I still felt in a funk, but I also felt like I had done something good and natural. We’ll see how good and natural that story looks when I dive in for an edit, but I’ll dive later. I feel good.

What’s the lesson, then? Frustration, whether with little things or great, can all be pent through writing. But not pent completely. You still have to do the work to put a smile on your face and spread it around your world. But the pen is a wonderful place to put those anti-smiling forces to rest.

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Hello! I don’t know if you heard, but this blog is moving to a new one. It’ll have all the same weekly features, and news about The Kingdom Trilogy. It will also acknowledge the other projects that I dip my toes in. Check it out here. I’ll post the weekly features on both sites for a while, but before long I’ll make the full transition to the new site.

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The Storyteller Reports: Business Doubleheader

RANT OF THE WEEK: The Many Genres that Highly Effective People Read

My adoration for The Wall Street Journal has gone on for years. Once again they tickle my thoughts with a feature on some books that business leaders call influential. Before I go on, let me test your expectations.

Of the four titles below, what would you expect Ray Fisman (professor of social enterprise and co-director of the Social Enterprise Program, Columbia Business School) to call an influence on his view of business?

A) The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie

B) Competing for the Future by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad

C) Frog And Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

D) The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger

Believe it or not, it’s C. That’s right. The business brain in the suit names a children’s book as one of his big influences in business theory. A few others like him cite books like Henry IV, Part One by Shakespeare, and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. You can check them all out here.

In the meantime, allow me to do the commentary that the Journal didn’t do. I have never read a business advice book in my life. I probably will someday, but I received Crime and Punishment and The Faerie Queene for Christmas. Somehow The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People doesn’t seem as appealing. It will be a while yet before I read Covey’s famous book, or anything like it.

Why should I, if one of the primary influences on Mark Cuban was Ayn Rand? It seems to illustrate something that I have subconsciously held for a number of years. Business books seem to deal with business. Literature and philosophy deal with the human condition as a whole. Why should I spend my precious time with specifics when there is so much to be understood in the whole? And if I approach life, reading and improving myself as a whole, will this not trickle down to specifics like business management?

I know there’s at least a couple of my followers for whom this is relevant. I, too, am an indie author, selling fiction for money. My reading choices have higher stakes than the average American. My time with words is a powerful investment in how I look at the world. Every deposit I make must yield bountiful returns. Too many failures will ruin me not as an author, but as a human being.

Am I being snobbish? Of course I am. I needed some sort of self-confidence to start writing in the first place. Will I read a business book? Someday, if it’s truly worth it. But until then, I run to the arms of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Edmund Spenser. They will teach me more than Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do about It ever will.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

You may or may not know E.D. Kain. He blogs for Forbes.com about “nerd culture”. Whether you’re a nerd or not, you should be interested in what he has to say about the “evil corporation” stereotype in movies. After watching the trailer for Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Prometheus (an Alien prequel that doesn’t call itself an Alien prequel), Mr. Kain commented on how it might continue the corporation stereotype.

He also comments on how we can expand on that. I won’t steal any of his thunder. Check out what he has to say. For his insightful ideas, I name him Storyteller of the Week.

Monday Meditations: Being Classy

Be classy, everybody.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“It Was A Very Good Year” by Frank Sinatra

Let me revise. Be both classy and sentimental.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I like the word ‘indolence’. It makes my laziness seem classy.”
Bern Williams

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By the way, if you haven’t gotten a chance yet, you can enter until December 2nd to win The Quest (Part One of The Kingdom Trilogy), along with a couple other indie fantasy titles, over at J.C. Martin’s blog. Check it out.

Notes From A Storyteller: Death and Thanksgiving

In the sprawl and squalor of post-Thanksgiving suburbia, I ran into Death.

He had ran into me long before, but I didn’t know it. All through Thanksgiving, as I had gorged on turkey and cranberries, he had watched my every move. He knew every song I had blasted through my earbuds on Spotify, and every play I had made playing football with the guys. He knew me through and through.

I started thinking about him today. Yesterday, I could have died at any time, at any hour. Being a writer, that was something I couldn’t ignore. It was a notion one normally finds in storybooks, and here it was in the ordinary world I lived and walked in. I was sitting in a plush armchair when it came to me.

“I’m a writer,” I said to myself, “I haven’t written a line these past few days. Am I going to Death catch me off-guard? I want to get a few more paragraphs in before I go!”

Thus I found my way back to this blog, and back to you readers. It’s been a lazy week, hasn’t it? We get so swept up in Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and forget completely that we are mortal beings. Our days will end. The bear-trap is waiting just around the corner. How many of us have made their final gasp, just while you’ve been reading this blog post? Maybe if I walk out of my room right now, I’ll trip and fall down the stairs and break my neck.

If I do, I’m glad I wrote this first. I think that might be what I’m most thankful for this Thanksgiving, besides my family and friends. I’m thankful I got the chance to do a little more of what I enjoy before I cross over to the other side.

I don’t know what you believe about the other side. I don’t even know if you’re a writer. But whatever you are, you’re a human, and you know what you want. Will you have it before you die?

Monday Meditations: Adventure

Fire up your imagination today. Life is an adventure. Just ask Hans Zimmer.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Pirates of the Caribbean Theme Song” by Hans Zimmer

Forever the anthem of the swashbuckler at heart.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Certainty of death… small chance of success… what are we waiting for?”

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Notes Of A Storyteller: Distraction Is A Good Thing

Even today, I carry on the struggle between two Seans. One Sean is intense and spends all of his time editing The Kingdom: The Quest. The other Sean is playful, lazy and loves spending time with friends and jamming out to Skrillex remixes of the Black Eyed Peas.

Can that other Sean exist if I call myself a writer? If I’m not taking every spare minute I can to devote to The Kingdom Trilogy, and to my craft in general, am I not cheating myself? Am I not showing complete devotion to what I do?

There’s a scene from Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong that illustrates what I’m thinking about. To make a long story short, a playwright is tricked into staying on board a ship with a filmmaker. While the filmmaker keeps the playwright in conversation,the captain sets sail. By the time the playwright realizes what has happened, the ship is about fifty yards away from the harbor. The next few lines of dialogue go something like this…

Filmmaker: I keep telling you, Jack, there’s no money in theater. That’s why you should stick with film.
Playwright: No Carl, it’s not about the money. I love theater.
Filmmaker: No you don’t. If you really loved it, you would’ve jumped.

Those kind of observations stick with me. All through high school, and now in college, I take time out to do other things. I lift weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I do English and Film Club. I walk into dorm rooms to say hello. I go to Daily Mass.

I joke sometimes about being a hermit writing a novel, but it’s clear that I don’t act like one. Should I be if I want to a good writer? Should I stop doing all of these other things, and cut everyone out of my life and work on my stories? It wasn’t until recently that I decided for sure that the answer is, “No.”

I want to kick myself, because I should have realized it long ago. Writers try to convey life through words. Through stories, we ultimately seek to display the human condition. How on earth can I display the human condition if I don’t experience for myself? No, I don’t want to be a slave to my art. I won’t cut out the other people in my life. How silly of me.

If you writers are nuerotic like me, and you ever feel guilty about not spending every minute on your WiP, stop. You’re experiencing life when you go out with your friends to the local coffeeshop, instead of tinkering with your latest chapter. Ultimately, you’ll have much more to write about than if you spend your whole life hunched over a laptop.

Oh, and read The Oresteia by Aeschylus sometime. It’s a trilogy of tragic plays, and they are more than worth your time. Have a wonderful weekend.

Monday Meditations: A Nightmare

This week we descend into the frightening twists and turns of our our own nightmares… as conveyed by a Top 40 artist.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Day N Nite (Nightmare)” by Kid Cudi

Yes. It’s a Top 40 hit. It also happens to be one of the most haunting, artistic Top 40 hits I have ever heard in my life. Hear the unsettling beats in the background, and the hypnotic lyrics, and tell me that this isn’t a masterpiece. Music video only makes it more spooky.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Here are the lyrics for “Day N Nite”…

“[Kid Cudi:]
Day and night (what, what)
I toss and turn, I keep stressing my mind, mind (what, what)
I look for peace but see I don’t attain (what, what)
What I need for keeps this silly game we play, play
Now look at this (what, what)
Madness the magnet keeps attracting me, me (what, what)
I try to run but see I’m not that fast (what, what)
I think I’m first but surely finish last, last

[Chorus:]
’cause day and night
The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night
He’s all alone through the day and night
The lonely loner seems to free his mind at night (at, at, at night)
Day and night
The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night
He’s all alone, some things will never change (never change)
The lonely loner seems to free his mind at night (at, at, at night)

[Kid Cudi:]
Hold the phone (what, what)
The lonely stoner, Mr. Solo Dolo (what, what)
He’s on the move can’t seem to shake the shade (what, what)
Within his dreams he sees the life he made, made
The pain is deep (what, what)
A silent sleeper you won’t hear a peep, peep (what, what)
The girl he wants don’t see no one into (what, what)
It seems the feelings that she had are through, through

[Chorus]

[Kid Cudi:]
Slow-mo (what, what)
When the temple slows up and creates that new, new (what, what)
He seems alive though he is feeling blue (what, what)
The sun is shining man he’s super cool, cool
The lonely nights (what, what)
They fade away he slips into his white Nikes (what, what)
He smokes a clip and then he’s on the way (what, what)
To free his mind in search of,
To free his mind in search of,
To free his mind in search of,

[Chorus]

At, at, at night…”