Tuesday, August 26, 2008

War Hero Grandfather Inspires Novel

In my World War II supernatural thriller Shadows in the Mist," I follow  Lt. Jack Chambers' platoon through the famous Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. During that time I was reading Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. From reading that book I learned the thick bond that developed between soldiers who had to rely on one another for survival.

I was determined to create a platoon of misfits that people cared about. And for that to happen, Lieutenant Jack Chambers had to care about his men. So I made it his mission to do whatever it takes to get his men out of the Hurtgen Forest alive. They call themselves "The Lucky Seven" because as a unit they have survived so many combats together, going all the way back to before D-Day, when they fought in Sicily together. These guys are as close-knit as they get. Because they've outlived so many men, they believe that they are charmed with some kind of strange luck. Two of them, Private Hoffer and Private Finch, are comic book writers. They believe that the Lucky Seven are invincible soldiers destined to be super heroes. They've all become superstitious. Each man of The Lucky Seven carries a good-luck charm and they do a ritual before every battle. Lieutenant Chambers believes his good luck comes from the silver watch his father gave him before he died.

In one of the early chapters, during the present-day portion of the book, Jack Chambers's grandson, Sean, flies to Germany. While riding in an airplane, Sean examines the mysterious war diary his grandfather gave him. A photo of a platoon slides out. On the back is written "The Lucky Seven" and the names of each.

Lieutenant Jack Chambers
Master Sergeant John Mahoney
Sergeant Buck Parker
Corporal Duece Wilson
Pfc. Gabe Finch
Pfc. Rafe Hoffer
Pfc. Miguel Garcia

While writing and researching this novel, I spent four and a half years with these characters. For each I wrote in-depth histories and had them write letters home to loved ones. None of that made it into the book, but it did help me get to know each soldier deeply. The platoon became like a "band of brothers" to me. The above photo is of my grandfather, Captain Dawson "Hank" Moreland (standing in center). He was a pilot, but he also did routine field training. I came across this photo two months ago, long after I wrote the book. I never knew it existed. When I counted seven soldiers in the photo, I got goosebumps.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Revelations of a Workaholic

It's 6:00 a.m. here in the Aloha state, and I'm rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as I start my morning. As far as work productivity goes, I've gotten a lot accomplished this week. I finished building two blogs, updated my website, spent an hour on the phone with my agent talking about my next book, art directed some cover art with my illustrator who's painting a cover for my next short story, updated my press release, and wrote a magazine article about how my grandfather, who is a WWII hero, inspired my novel. I'm getting ready to add that article along with some photos in my next post. I'll be sharing how I got to go to Normandy, France this past summer with my ninety-year-old grandfather and the amazing experiences we had.

In addition to all my publishing and promotion tasks, I've been preparing for my big move next week, calling the electric company, Internet company, shopping for a new mattress, and lining up a mover. I'm ready to end my gypsy lifestyle and live in a home that's mine with only my stuff in it.

I've been mostly working these last couple of months. Fun work, the kind that makes me leap out of bed in the morning. Work that I enjoy so much that ten hours will just fly by. And life would be just a bowl of cherries right now if work wasn't my only mode. I'm behaving like a typical workaholic, who puts work before everything else. Whew, I'm finally willing to admit it, look at the imbalance closely, and change it. This has been pointed out to me by a close friend, as well as my roommate, Eli the cat, who demands a lot of attention, especially while I'm at my computer type-type-typing away, and all he wants is some human affection, and my attention is zoned in on writing or surfing cyberspace.

I found myself getting angry a few times that the cat was all over me, motors running, loving me unconditionally. It was really pushing my buttons. I felt angry because this little fur ball of bottomless affection is breaking my concentration. After some deep self-reflection, I discovered I have a fear pattern running me. Afraid if I don't keep working, my first book is going to fail in the marketplace, I'm going to lose my writing muse, and the dream career I've been working on is just going to end in failure. So there it is, a fear of failure. On the flip side of that is that I've been driven by an extreme desire to be successful like Stephen King. I want to walk into a bookstore and see not just one of my books on the shelf but twenty, a body of work I'm proud of. And the idea of earning royalties off all those books makes me want it more. Because residual cash flow gives an author freedom to quit his day job and write more books. This is all great as a vision for my future, but what about enjoying the here and now?

Life happens in the moment, and it's easy to live out in the future, saying, "As soon as I reach this point, then I'll be happy, then I'll relax, or then I'll spend time with my loved ones or do those things I'm most passionate about." The other day while meditating I began to feel into the energy of being a workaholic. I had this vision that inside me were hundreds of gerbils running on metal wheels. As I examined them closely, I saw their little feet were spinning the wheels faster and faster. Their black beady eyes kept glancing at me pleadingly, as if to say, "How long do we have to keep this up?" I suddenly was overcome with a sense of compassion about how hard I've been driving myself. I took a deep breath, then in my meditation I reached over and pulled an imaginary lever. There was a metallic shriek, then all the wheels began slowing down. I blew the factory whistle. All the gerbils climbed down from their wheels, looked up at me smiling, then grabbed their tiny little lunchboxes and hopped on home.

I had a revelation during that meditation. To be happy, I don't have to work like some gerbil on a wheel. I decided it's time to find some balance between working and relaxing and having fun. Spend time with people I care about. It would also be good to get out and date again. Go out and share some spicy conversation with a special woman. Romance is something, that I admit humbly, is an area of my life I have neglected for several months. I always told myself I wouldn't become that person who gets so consumed by work that I would have no time or energy left for the people who matter.

So this is me turning over a new leaf. Today I'm only working the morning, and then taking the afternoon off. I'm also taking Friday completely off to go do something fun around the island. You know, one of those activities tourists do when they come here to pretty much do nothing but explore and play and frolic at the beach. So I'm going to go do some much needed frolicking. I might even flirt with some ladies and spark up a new romance. Hawaii is the magical destination where anything can happen. Especially when you can allow the inner gerbils to just relax and enjoy the moment.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Writing Like a Zen Master

Wow, what a productive day! It's 12:30 a.m. and I'm still working.

This morning I got up at 6:00 a.m. and wrote a 14-page short story called "The Dealer of Insatiable Needs." I banged it out in about six hours. It's pure horror and creepy as hell. I was getting goosebumps just typing away at the keyboard this morning. I'm making the story available this week at my new blog DARK LUCIDITY. Tonight I built the new blog to publish my short fiction on-line. Check it out and read the "Welcome" page.

So how did I go from unmotivated, procrastinating slacker to rampant motivation in just one day? Let's backtrack. As I shared in yesterday's post, I was so down on myself for not getting anything done toward writing or marketing. I was feeling guilty, like I was throwing my dream away. I literally sat on my bed and just stared at the walls, trying to motivate myself into action. I know I can be stubborn with other people. But it's a royal pain when I'm stubborn with myself. But sometimes it's like there's a little kid inside me who just won't budge. So I thought, well if I'm going to procrastinate with work, I might as well read an inspirational book.

I'm staying at my friend's house for a couple weeks and she has all these great spiritual books lying around. I picked up Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle. You may be familiar with him, he wrote Power of Now and one of Oprah's favorites A New Earth. I start reading Stillness Speaks and it's comprised of short passages called sutras that help you slow down your mind and just relax. Be in the moment and breathe deeply. He talks about how all creativity comes from stillness. All we have to do is take a few moments to focus on nothing. I know that can be hard to do on your own, but this book guides you through the process. I kept reading the sutras and noticed that all my mental chatter just all of the sudden stopped. I reached this zen master state and just let go of all my attachments to getting work done today. The rest of the day I was so relaxed. I went for a workout at the gym then took a walk, noticing the sky, the clouds, the mountains. I know this sounds kind of woo woo, but I had a breakthrough. I went to sleep calm and, when I woke up, I was inspired to write and my short story just rolled across my computer screen as fast as I could type. I didn't even have think much about it. It was literally like the story was being told to me. As a writer, I don't always know where my creativity comes from, but I do believe I have a muse, and when I silence all the mental chatter, I get much more accomplished. Not only was I inspired to write, but as soon I completed my short story, I easily jumped to a whole list of tasks. Whew! Okay, now it's 1:00 a.m. and I'm going to force myself to stop and go to bed or I'll be too tired to wake up in the morning.

If you find yourself procrastinating on something that needs to get done, or if you're blocked creatively, I recommend taking the day off and stilling the mind. Read Stillness Speaks.