Welcome to the Acknowledgments page (Gratitude) for the website of New Adult genre indie author Randall Kenneth Drake, and the new digital novel Saving The Innocents (STI). To learn more about the intense suspense, action, mystery and romance of STI, click on SYNOPSIS above. On the same page as the SYNOPSIS, directly below it, is a section entitled WHY STI?. This contains the story behind the story of Saving The Innocents, showing how STI is different and unique in today's e-fiction marketplace. It details both the inspiration and motivation of the story, as well as the two people most responsible for helping the author complete this new work.
If you've already been to the SYNOPSIS page, and now you're checking out the rest of the site, here (below) is where Randall thanks many of the people who supported him during the writing of Saving The Innocents in the Acknowledgments section. Below the actual Acknowledgments themselves, a little farther down, are 2 sections for those of you interested in:
1) the story of RKD's learning and development as an artist, and the artwork on the site (for aspiring or current new artists), and/or
2) the story of his learning and development as a writer (for aspiring or current new writers).
So, without further delay, the author's gratitude and his development, in his own words.
There are many people who have had a positive influence on this creation. To list them all is beyond my capabilities. Here are some of the most crucial.
First readers---to Lionel Cummings, Theresa Evans, Jeff Good, Charlie Hayford, Liz Herbert, Maggie Huffman, Amy Schmenk, and (most importantly), my mother. Your feedback, and more notably your encouragement, was greatly appreciated.
Support---There are many kinds of support, and I am grateful for each. To Yong-mi, for being both a great owner of the Sunset Grille, and more importantly a great friend. To the regulars at the Sunset Grille for your generosity in keeping me at my day job (at night) while I learned new skills. To the entire Reed family for being my home away from home. I am truly blessed for the kindness these many years, for the accepting and open nature the Reed family possesses, and for helping to keep me connected to the outside world from time to time as I hunkered down to write (and rewrite). To Jan and Larry, mother and step-father. Much wisdom, and more than a little common sense came from the both of you, along with unwavering support. I am thankful for the many little things as well, which add up to a lot, and for simply being there when I needed you.
To the writers---William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White for The Elements of Style. Writers everywhere owe a debt of gratitude. To Les Edgerton for Hooked---the opening chapters of Saving The Innocents were strengthened by your insights. To Syd Field for Screenplay, which helped to build the framework of the story. To Orson Scott Card for Characters & Viewpoint, which I learned from and kept referring to, during rewrites. To Stephen King for On Writing. Telepathy, by God.
To the editors---Jeanne Martinet and Cliff Carle. You both had great balance in being sensitive to a writer's feelings, while being truthful, honest, and direct about the writing, both in its strengths and weaknesses. Thanks to the both of you, the weaknesses are now strengthened. You made my boat seaworthy, and ready for the choppy waters of the marketplace. Thank you.
To the guys---a special thanks to the alpha males, Mickey Spillane (RIP) for the creation of Mike Hammer, and Stacy Keach for the TV portrayal. I'm not a natural wordsmith, it had to be developed. My imagination is my most powerful weapon. So, whenever possible (or needed), I would imagine that deep, baritone voice, in that strong, staccato delivery, telling me the words of the narrative as I pictured the scenes of Saving The Innocents. The quote "A man that's good with a hammer, tends to think everything is a nail" is most certainly true, and I am no exception. Whenever my imagination needed the words, I reached back for the Hammer. Readers will tell me if I nailed it.
I can't possibly know who will be reading this site, and at what stage you, the reader, are at in your artistic development. You might not be an artist at all, and merely curious about the process. You might be harboring dreams of becoming an artist, but don't know where to begin. You might be just starting out, and be very dedicated to doing it, but need a little more skill. You might have some skill already and are looking for a technique or two. Or you might be a professional that judges with a keen and critical eye. All I can say to the whole lot of you is welcome. Feel free to use the following any way you see fit. I will be dedicated here to being both truthful and encouraging, and to aid you in either taking up the craft, or making a firm decision to focus on something else, in the event you are unclear about what you want to become. All I can do is relay to you the experiences I've gone through, the nuggets of information I've collected, and my opinions on what I believe have helped me to achieve the results you see on this website.
Let's start with the different motivations to become an artist, or to become anything for that matter.
The way I see it, there are several that lead into becoming something you want to become:
1) you do it because you feel compelled to do it, internally. That it's something you feel you must do. Accompanying this feeling are a couple of recurring thoughts---A) that you can't imagine doing anything else, and/or B) that you were born to do it. That this is not only your passion, (meaning you enjoy it immensely) but your raison d'être, meaning your "reason for being." You believe that you were meant to do it. A belief, is a feeling of certainty about something. Doesn't mean it's true or that it's the absolute truth. But it feels like it. And if there's one thing I know for sure, you may think that reason and thinking is how you live your life, but it is these feelings you have that cause you to make decisions about your life. It is your feelings that drive the bus so to speak. Thus, motivation #1.
2) you do it because it's something your curious about, you don't really know about it at all, but you want to try something new, to see if you'll like it. You are "testing the waters" by dipping your toes in it first, to see if it might become a passion, or become #1.
3) You do it because it gains you attention from other people, and it separates you from other people who are doing other things. You get a sense of yourself as defined by how other people see you, and you enjoy being different. You get a sense of significance, or specialness because you do it.
4) You do it because you are encouraged to do it by someone you hold in high regard, and/or have deep feelings toward.
5) You do it because you're good at it, and you don't want to start all over back at square one, trying to learn something new. You already have some confidence in your ability, and you're afraid of looking bad or feeling stupid about starting all over again knowing absolutely nothing about a new skill or new direction.
6) You enjoy it, but not enough for it to become a passion/profession. You do it because it relaxes you, and you like to dabble.
For me, the decision to become an artist had several stages. The initial decision by young Randy was #2. I was curious about it, and wanted to try something new. But what really deepened the decision was #4. As a child, when my mother started to praise and encourage me, I became driven to impress her, (which is also #3). Once I started to improve a bit, I then got noticed as being special or different among my grade-school classmates, which is again #3. I coveted their praise and attention, but not nearly as much as I coveted mom's. She was never discouraging, but hard to impress, and when I had accomplished that, I felt like I had really achieved something special.
Unfortunately, this type of motivation (for me) wasn't lasting. It wasn't #1. I wasn't internally driven by myself, I was externally driven by the views of others, their praise and encouragement. However, then #5 crept in.
Since I'd already developed some skill, and set myself apart in the artistic arena, I had some momentum going, and it was just easier to keep going, rather than attempt to start from scratch with something else that would develop into a #1. I was pretty good at sports, but not nearly as outstanding or unique. I was not physically bigger, stronger, faster etc., just above average, which is not good enough in the world of sports. So, I stuck to the current path. Secretly however, there was a fear about looking bad or being mocked by my friends in the event I tried something new. The younger version of myself put entirely too much of my own importance in the opinions and judgments of others. Something with which I'm sure most (if not all) young people are familiar. Something I have since diminished in my mind, making it subordinate to my own internal desires and conscience. If you are a young person and reading this, I can tell you with certainty, there is nothing more freeing, nothing more relieving, and that allows you to focus more clearly on your goals, than to give up worrying about what "other" people are going to think and say about what you do. This includes both family and friends. (I'll have more to say about "friends" in the Writers section below.)
So how did these decisions about the direction of life all shake out?
It became a sort of mixed bag of both good and bad.
Because I wasn't internally motivated and driven with my artwork, it was apparent to me in my late college years, that I was becoming "burned out" as an artist. That was the not so good. I had to admit to myself that the desire was waning. What was good however, was the fact that because I stuck it out at Columbus College of Art & Design to get the degree, I did develop skills. There were some great teachers at CCAD. They taught some really nice techniques and insights. Skills that came in handy when it came time to illustrate the book.
Does this mean that college is the only way to go, to develop skill as an artist?
Absolutely not, in my opinion. Now that may seem contradictory. I'll explain.
Yes, they have gifted instructors at CCAD, as I'm sure they do at several other art colleges as well. But you are the one making the decisions when you do the artwork. You literally decide everything. How much paint to use, what kind of quality, what brand, what color, when to change the color, when to make it lighter, darker, how big, how small, what size brush, what kind of brush, where to draw, what to draw, what to use when you draw, how thick must the line be, how thin, when to taper it off, when to thicken it, the list goes on and on. All of these very subtle decisions are always made by you. Yes, your teachers can guide you away from problem areas, and maybe show you specific techniques you weren't aware of. But your teachers don't go home and look over your shoulder, or take the brush/stick/pencil/marker from you and do it themselves, do they? No, you are the ultimate decider of your own artwork. And, on top of that, artwork is subjective, not objective. I'll explain that with a story.
I was doing an illustration in class at CCAD. We were told we could pick anything to do, and it would be both graded in class and submitted to an annual nationwide competition that would tour the country. After I'd finished, my instructor pulled me aside and said the painting I submitted was descent, but that it most likely wouldn't be picked in the competition. I, however, thought of the oil painting as the best thing I'd ever done. I was proud of the things I'd learned to execute it, and the realism I'd set out to achieve. When it was in fact selected, one of only 159 out of nearly 5,000 entries nationally, I learned several very valuable lessons: A) teachers are human. B) teachers have bias as to what is "good" and what is "bad." C) that the judges of the national competition are also human, and they had a decidedly different opinion as to what is "good" and what is "bad." D) that the main important thing was that I was proud of it, that I would to this day proudly display it for all to see, and that I'd accomplished something I'd set out to do by learning little pieces of new information that I could cobble together to create something I desired. And that no matter who did or didn't like it, I could take that info and that skill with me wherever I go. No one could ever take that away from me, because the knowledge was inside me.
Now am I saying from this experience teachers aren't important? No. That specific instructor taught me quite a few details, and more than a couple of techniques that developed me as an artist. And for that I'm grateful. However, are teachers right all the time? Also, no. This was never more clear to me than a few weeks later, after the selections to the competition were made public. Another teacher, also at CCAD actually openly criticized the selections, and singled mine out in particular. (Criticized in a negative way, rather than in an instructive way). This was a very rare occurrence of course, but it underscored the subjective, opinion-based nature of "judging" artwork. Did this second teacher affect my sense of accomplishment? Absolutely not. I even learned yet another internal skill as a result. Even though my feelings told me to dislike this person, I learned to compartmentalize those feelings. Why? Because this teacher still had pieces of info that were valuable to learn. I wasn't going to punish myself by losing sight of why I was at the college in the first place. Discarding everything he said, just because of his opinion about a piece of my work, would have stifled my own learning.
For those of you who can't afford college, but can afford to slowly gather up art materials, (which can also be expensive, just not as much so), I believe there are other ways to develop artistic skill every bit as "good." Instructional videos, books (especially visual ones that show the specifics), and your own persistence and dedication to learning the subtle differences in techniques will go a long way toward making you a capable artist. However, one life lesson you must always apply when learning about anything is this . . . ACTS. Always Consider The Source. Is the person who wrote the book and showing you techniques getting the results you want? Because results are what you're after. If the person showing you can't produce the results you want, look for a different role model. Using role models and finding the details of how those role models get results is another key to life. I've always said, if your role model does A,B,C, for God's sake don't start with D.
Which leads me into my favorite artists/role models, and especially a specific way of lighting that I enjoy over all others. Chiaroscuro. A.k.a. single-source/ambient/natural lighting.
I very much enjoy the full range of light to dark in artwork, and movies, and it is no surprise who my favorite artists are: Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer. (Even though Maxfield Parrish wouldn't be included in the above chiaroscuro grouping, his handling of color and composition are extraordinary, which is why he is also among my favorites.) As far as movies are concerned, there are many DOP's (director of photography) I like that consistently use high contrast lighting in their films, but if you had to nail me down to one movie artist in particular, it wouldn't be a DOP but instead a director: Ridley Scott. Every movie Ridley's ever made impresses me visually in some way. An example? How about the reflections and flickering light across the tile floor and columns in Blade Runner. My mouth literally went agape when I saw it for the first time.
When I go to a movie, I want to be deeply involved in the scenes and characters, and nothing draws me into the story more than the full palette that goes all the way to black. Unless it is a comedy, and I'm busy laughing, I just dislike brightly lit scenes. Makes it too anesthetic. There must be some mystery to draw me in, and nothing does that better than using the darkness of shadows, contrasting it with the light, to get you to focus on faces, characters, or a gorgeous scene. (Having said that, I also recognize that without the right soundtrack and score, you might as well forget trying to tell a good story through a movie. Sound is the indispensable component that heightens your emotions during a scene in a movie. If you take it out, the power of any scene is greatly diminished. This is, of course, just my observation.)
Just a cursory glance at the artwork I've done shows my penchant for chiaroscuro. Single-source light for the portrait, the single-source light of the fire, even the photo of myself shows my enjoyment of its use.
Now let's get into the specifics of the artwork itself.
An unusual source inspired the scene depicted in front of the fire. During the rewriting phase of Saving The Innocents, I had begun simultaneously to write the upcoming non-fiction sibling of STI, Truth Of The Matter. During this time, I recognized the intertwining of the two books, and the fire scene came out of this blend. But the inspiration of the image itself came from the ill-fated sci-fi series Firefly. (Huge fan) When I saw the scene of Inara and Shepard Book, as if the roles between preacher and "companion" were reversed, (the preacher seemingly getting absolution rather than giving) the image stuck in my mind. When it came time to do the illustrations, just before the website launch, I chose the fire scene for 3 reasons: 1) Chiaroscuro (obvious) 2) Halo effect around characters is very attractive, and it leads your eye around the work 3) It would be easier and quicker to depict (or so I thought).
As it turned out, it became a bit of a problem child to execute. It was the first of 4 illustrations I'd completed, and after I'd sealed in the artwork with Crystal Clear to protect it, I thought I'd waited long enough (half a day) for the CC to dry. I then placed it between two pieces of poster board to protect it from dust and lint. Two weeks later, when I decided to take a look at it again for a minor detail change, I found it had stuck together with the poster board. After pealing it off, it looked like a speckled egg, with several hundred tiny white flecks showing where the acrylic and marker had peeled up. I didn't have to redo everything, but the time I'd saved by simplifying the character details through choosing the halo effect was lost, and then some, by the "sticking incident." It irritated me more than just a little.
You see, I'm a slow illustrator. Some artists can get things done quickly. I am not one of those. I tend to work out techniques on scrap/practice pieces first, doing a particular effect 2 or 3 times until I'm satisfied with the result. Even though most of the skills I'd learned in college were still rattling around in my brain, it took a little time to get back on the horse. This practicing method allowed me to resharpen the blades, so to speak. On top of that, I also like the flexibility of being able, if necessary, to remove what I've done previously if I don't like it, taking whatever area I'm working on right back down to the surface. This led to an unusual selection of materials. Because I wanted to work with marker predominantly with 3 of the 4 pieces, I had to choose a surface that could both accept the marker, and allow a colorless blender to remove it totally. What did I use?
Disposable palette paper (18 x 24 Aquabee) mounted to inexpensive poster board (I knew I just wanted good digital results after scanning, not something I'd hang in my home for years to come.) Palette paper is the only surface I could find to give me the previously mentioned flexibility.
The night cityscape, the fire scene, and Mary Jane (the black & white version shown at right) were all done using this method. (Because of the detail needed with Mary Jane, face, hands, knives etc, I did an 18 x 24 of just her. A tip to all beginning illustrators: If you know your illustration is going to be photographed, digital or otherwise, Always work bigger. Why? Because when things get reduced in size, your drawing "tightens up." Things look much better and clearer, and minor mistakes you think detract from your work are minimized and diminished.)
Another nice technique you can use to achieve subtle tones is brushing dry pastel (chalk) onto a cotton pad, then brushing the pad over your working surface. (You can find these type pads in most pharmacies, around the makeup products.) I thought I'd use this technique to achieve the background in the fire scene, but alas even black dry pastel when done this way will only darken down to a mid-tone, so I had to go with acrylic. The beauty of this pastel technique is you can get a consistent tone over a large area, then to create subtle changes, go back into the pastel with a small eraser, and Q-tips, to define lighter shades and smaller/tighter details. An example of this is the reflective folds in Mary Jane's upper coat area, across her back and shoulders. Again, the black and white version is on this very page, right next to these very words.) All of these gray tones in her upper coat were achieved in a very short timeframe. The only thing to watch is the surface you're working on. It must be able to take some abuse without peeling up or developing texture. A harder smoother surface is required. The coating on the palette paper can withstand the rubbing of both pad and eraser, as long as you don't press too hard.
One of the most arbitrary techniques can be the most rewarding, but also the most nerve-wracking. It involves accepting random occurrences as it's happening. What am I talking about? Look at the moon and clouds in the upper-right corner of the night cityscape. The shape of the clouds is roughly that of a triangle, yes? That whole area all the way to the upper-right edges was blocked off with tape, then sealed along the inside edges of the tape with a clear acrylic medium (Golden's glazing liquid, satin). It still bled a little, but since it was fading into black, if I didn't like the bleeding, I just markered or painted over it. Why did I block it off? Because I sprayed the surface with a light coating of water, then dropped watery pure color (blues and purples as you can see) onto the surface. I then tilted the artwork, and let the random paths of the color snake across the surface to form most of the clouds. I did however do this over 3 smaller sections, to allow some control. Then, before the color dried, I would go into the color with a dry brush to mop up color and create the lighter tones, allowing the white surface beneath to peek through. As you probably guessed, I practiced this multiple times on scraps, to see what I could and could not get away with. I knew the general shapes of the clouds I wanted, and where I needed them to be lighter versus darker. I chose this image to illustrate because 1) I always liked the moon/clouds blending together. It is very mood-enhancing. And 2) the meaning of the reverse C of the moon as a symbol. You will not know this hidden meaning of course until I finish and publish Truth Of The Matter. It will then become quite clear why I chose this image.
Now is the part where I come clean about these 2 illustrations. The fire scene in the novel actually contains a 3rd character on the other side of the fire. I chose to keep this character out of the illustration for a cleaner composition. I am also not entirely pleased with the ambiguous nature of the flag, although I'm not sure how I could've done it any different. You see, Sera is draped in a U.S. flag. The stripes are dragging the floor behind her. It isn't clear that it is a flag, but trying to put the stars/blue field somewhere would've spoiled the color palette.
As for the night cityscape, I currently have Mary Jane out of the picture because I'm still working on her. The black & white version you see on this page was actually done originally with a blue tint across her face and right side, because she is standing on the dock in the night cityscape, with the blue moon's light reflecting down on her. However, because I tucked her hair into her coat (so you could see the word "Veritas"), and I have very sharp contrast of light and dark on her face, she looks more like a man than a woman. I am going to try to lighten the contrast so you can see her features more, plus pull her hair out of the coat to put it into a ponytail (which will still allow you to see the collar and "Veritas"). The cityscape scene is actually a composite illustration of a couple of different scenes in the book. There's a dock scene, and a reverse-c 3 a.m. moon scene, but not together. What she was doing in the novel while the moon was shining would've been too complex to depict, so I just simplified it.
There are many other details about each illustration that I could go into, but I think I'll save those for my face-to-face meetings with readers at upcoming events. Want to save a few juicy details to talk about in person.
The centerpiece illustration, the portrait of Mary Jane in the violet hood with the silver necklace was done in acrylic only, on illustration board. No marker or pastel. I wanted something to keep and hang for myself. As for the image itself, I'd imagined this portrait to be the back book cover of Saving The Innocents, then changed my mind and thought it would be a good front book cover for Truth Of The Matter. Then, I changed my mind back again.
The technique I used to achieve the detail of the portrait was glazing. I like to work in layers, because it affords gradual changes in both color and value (value, meaning the lightness/darkness of something, for you beginners). It also allows for greater control over drying time, by extending it. Initially I wanted to do oil on canvas, but the drying time waiting would've just been too long. But with straight acrylic, it's too short. There's nothing that irritates more than your mixed pigment drying before you finish an area or detail. The answer was of course a happy medium drying time, using acrylic mixed with Golden's Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Satin). This was recommended by the artists working at Utrecht Art Supplies.
(As an aside, and another piece of advice, it never hurts to ask those people working at art supplies stores about the different characteristics of different mediums and materials. Most who work at these stores know the ins and outs of the things they sell. Much gratitude and a shout out to those working at both Utrecht and CCAD for their timely advice.)
The glazing liquid extended the drying time to about an hour, which was more than enough time to get a particular detail or section done. I recommend it highly. Also, I recommend for those on a limited budget, the synthetic paint brushes from Simply Simmons. They are inexpensive (the last time I checked), relative to other brushes, yet very resilient and sturdy. They clean up well, hold their shape, and yet get the same results as true sable brushes. Of particular note was the tiny spotter brush, which was used for handling the details of the silver necklace.
Speaking of the necklace, I cannot go without mentioning the peculiar surprises that happen as a result of digital scanning. First, I'll mention that I am truly grateful for Photographic Creations, the only place in Ohio that scans larger pieces of artwork. It was more than a few phone calls before I was able to find someone with the capability of doing 18 x 24 pieces (truth is they can do just about any size, no matter how large). The accuracy and detail of their scans is truly astonishing, which presented another problem, but one that was easily fixable. The scans were so accurate they picked up every piece of lint and dust that the Crystal Clear coating had either sealed in or was covered with. As for the color, most of what you see is what was scanned, with only slight changes.
The really surprising thing is how certain areas looked better, while others had slight color changes. An example is the portrait of Mary Jane. The hair was a dark brown with an auburn tint, which is as I described it in the novel. As you can clearly see it is an intense red in the portrait. I'm sure I could localize this problem and correct it somehow, but all my attempts yielded color changes elsewhere in her face and skin tone that I couldn't live with. On the other hand, the silver necklace, and the dimes in particular, came out more realistic in digital form than even the physical portrait itself. You really have to zoom in to see that the details of the reflections, both letters and numbers on the dimes, are merely suggested, rather than depicted precisely.
The part I enjoyed the most was the pointillism technique of the violet hood. I used 5 different values of the same violet, to show the different folds and highlights on the textural hood. It is really a gradual process, and it allows a great deal of control over the desired outcome. It does take some time, the only downfall, but the rendering literally develops in front of your eyes as you are doing it, which is both rewarding and comforting. No fear of making a fatal mistake that ruins an area or detail, because you can see the mistake develop in slow motion and can quickly change the color or value of the pigment to cover it over. I used pointillism for the hood only, because it lent itself to rendering the thick fabric of the hood with greater accuracy.
And finally, there's the digital enhancements. For those of you on a limited budget, I highly recommend GIMP, the free open-source Photoshop equivalent. There were only slight digital alterations of the originals, but without GIMP you'd be seeing all the scratches, lint and dust scattered across both the night cityscape, and the fire scene. I did have to soften small shaded areas of skin tone in the portrait, and with GIMP I was able to do so literally down at the individual pixel level. I also needed GIMP for the blending of the 3 illustrations on the Home page. You have a tremendous amount of control over the final results in digital form, once you understand how to use GIMP. Which leads me to a very big thank you for Akkana Peck, one of the main contributors to GIMP from its very inception. Her book, for you beginners, goes through every capability GIMP has, and shows you step-by-step visually how to get the most out of it, in easy-to-follow steps. The book, appropriately titled: Beginning GIMP: from novice to professional, was a godsend for me, being that my skills were only (until Akkana) in the physical realm.
As for the book cover itself, with the dandelion and the knife, I actually did this a few years ago. It was a combination of techniques as well, of guache, color pencil and pastel on a very absorbent (and expensive) drawing paper. I was lucky in that I scanned it right after it was done, and before I sealed in the pastel with a workable matte fixative (spray), because the color of the pastel instantly dulled. The original has since degraded, and I wouldn't recommend this technique unless you only want it for the digital space. Once I got it scanned and into my computer, I did heighten and contrast certain elements, making the blacks pure black, and intensifying the details of the dandelion. I painted the flower with guache, to bring out the fine distinctions of nearly every sliver of the dandelion's bloom. It was illustrated from a photograph I had taken from an actual dandelion just outside where I worked years ago, at the Sunset Grille. The dandelion was among a thick patch inside a narrow section of earth between the parking lot and the road. Nearly all of the dandelions were a foot tall or more, a healthy and hearty lot to be sure, and the one that graces the cover was the brightest and healthiest of the bunch.
As for the knife, it isn't an actual throwing knife, like the ones in Saving The Innocents. I changed multiple elements to make it look more lethal and ominous. The blade itself was widened and lengthened, and if it existed in real life would be way too lopsided in weight (toward the blade) to be used as a throwing knife. (The weight of throwing knives have to be balanced to be effective.) I also added those serrated edges to make it look even more dangerous. The ribbed leather handle with the suggested emblem in the center was just from my imagination of something that might look attractive.
Why the blurry aspects of both flower and knife? Multiple reasons. First, I wanted to give the knife an impression of motion. Second, along the middle of the knife, where the blade meets the handle, the golden/orangish color lends itself to the suggestion of a fire. Not the campfire of the other illustration, but a more dangerous fire contained in the story. Also you'll notice the blurs always move in one direction, suggesting wind. A strong wind is also a critical element in the story. The dandelion's significance and meaning can be found right away in the 4 FREE CHAPTERS, both in the leading quote by Gerry Spence, and in the story itself. As for the colors, violet in my name and the title of the book, gold and silver in the dandelion and knife, all have special meaning, but it won't become clear what those meanings are until the sibling book Truth Of The Matter is finished. Then, these colors will be understood for what they truly represent.
In conclusion, I'd like to share some final thoughts about art and artists. Remember what I said about ACTS, or Always Consider The Source? Well that goes for listening to me too. I am not a professional artist. My advice and experience can only go so far, meaning the results that you see before you. Use me as a role model only if you like the results you see. If you don't, simply find a role model that gets the results you want. Your art consists of totally your decisions, your patience, and your persistence in becoming what you want to become. I didn't develop into a professionally paid artist because I believe my motivations were largely external, and not internal. Maybe if yours are external it will be enough to carry you through, I don't know. I might be right, I might be wrong. All I can do is share my feelings and thoughts on why I personally got "burned out" toward the end of my college career. If you are internally driven (#1 from above), I believe you have a distinct advantage motivationally, in that you are (again my opinion) congruent with both your thoughts, feelings, and most importantly your beliefs about yourself.
What I can say for sure is that I did derive a lot pleasure in the artwork I created for Saving The Innocents. It was partly the enjoyment of coming back to something I believe I do well after a long hiatus, but mostly it's because I couldn't conceive of paying someone else to illustrate my pride and joy, Saving The Innocents. I would've had to live with their results rather than my own. The story I wrote is a highly personal one, and it has truly been a labor of love. Illustrating it here just adds an even more personal touch to that labor.
If you skipped over the artists section, I'm going to repeat something here in a slightly different way. Just like in the previous section, I'm going to caution you dear reader, to Always Consider The Source, or ACTS, when getting advice or suggestions when it comes to a profession. These first few observations are my writing advice caveats, so to speak.
You have to recognize the timing of the situation. I am not a successful writer yet. (something this novel hopes to correct). I am merely pointing out that this is my debut novel, and that this is the very beginning of its life on the internet. Should Saving The Innocents go on to become a successful book, my words here will of course have more weight. But I am not under any illusion that I am as wise in the ways of writing as my own role models: Grisham, King, Card, Leonard, Ellroy, Steel, Scottoline, Brown, or Spillane. I am, however, of the belief that my experiences will have merit for you. Why? Because I've made it through the hardest part. The hardest part of learning and becoming something new is always the beginning part. I've gone from being a non-writer to completing a polished novel. It requires many things to achieve this. You can't swing a dead cat by the tail without hitting someone you know that wants to write a novel. It's just that from the time you start, to the time you finish, there's a lot to learn. And if you ask any of the successful authors from above, they'll tell you they're still learning. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can substitute for experience over time.
But for you, the writer starting out, or the writer that's in the middle of the beginning part, experience is of no help. That's where I come in. I have a fresh experience with the most difficult part.
I'll use an analogy that might help you picture it. You are wanting to climb a tall mountain. You obviously need a mountain guide that has the knowledge of the way to do this. A Sherpa. I am the Sherpa that can get you to the top of one of the smaller peaks, your first one. Or, if you prefer, I can get you up a significant portion of the tall mountain. I cannot help you in achieving the summit.
The next caveat is a reiteration of Stephen King from his book On Writing. ". . . most books about writing are filled with bullshit." He went on to recommend one that wasn't. The Elements of Style. I agree with Stephen, on both counts. I've hunted and gathered many writing sources. A lot of them don't have much information that can help. But I am of the opinion that if I can find just one piece of info in an otherwise useless book on writing, it's worth it. Write that useful piece down, and move on. Accumulation of what you need will take time. Having said that, you want to make as many giant leaps forward in as short a time as possible. Wasting time helps no one. If you want to cram as much useful knowledge into the shortest time, I suggest a few things. First, get a bunch of big notepads, and a bunch of pencils or pens. Taking notes and writing things down helps tremendously with memory. In my mind it's critical, when you haven't yet established a writing habit in the beginning. Second, the most jam-packed with useful info, for me, are the writing resources I put in the Acknowledgments. The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, Hooked by Les Edgerton, and of course Stephen King's On Writing. I'll relate a story about King, and Elements, and wasting time shortly.
The last caveat is, that I can only relate to you what I went through. Me personally. I may be different from you, in how I approach things. I may be remarkably similar. I don't know. If I am different, don't let that discourage you. There may be bits and pieces that you could still gather from me that help. If the other bits and pieces don't help, throw them out. You are, after all, a hunter and gatherer. Gather what's useful, pitch the rest.
Okay, let's start with starting. And I'm going to knock on wood before I write this. You may hate me for what I'm about to say, but it is the truth.
I've never had writer's block. The blank page doesn't scare me. I'm not bragging, I'm stating fact. Why have I never experienced this fear? Because I'm a picture guy. I can generate scenes in my mind all day long. I've done this since I was a child. I live a lot inside my own head. So when it came time to create scenes, dialogue and such, I had no fear because it's what I do. What I did have a problem with, was coming up with the description of what was going on. I am not one of these writers that bangs out 10 pages a day. On average for me, it is 2 to 3 pages per day. Some days, 1 and change. How did I even manage to get to 2-3 pages per day if I had trouble with describing the scenes?
I used my imagination to generate a voice in my head that narrated the story in my mind. To create the narrative, I had to imagine a person narrating the story to me. Eventually this voice became engrained in my mind as a part of me, but when I first started, I imagined Stacey Keach's voice of the character Mike Hammer telling me the story. Why Keach?
Enjoyment. This is piece of advice number one. Writing is a lengthy process. You have to have endurance and persistence to stay at it. To do that, you have to take control of your mind and understand what makes you, a human being, tick. We all have feelings, and you need to be able to use those feelings to keep you going. I wanted to have a strong voice when I wrote Saving The Innocents, so I chose a voice and character that I knew had a direct way of saying things. One that I enjoyed. Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer is that voice, and I remembered the narration of Stacey Keach's portrayal in particular. So, in my early stages of writing the novel, whenever I needed a voice to describe the scene or dialogue I had in my head, I just generated Mike Hammer telling me what was going on. If you are having trouble getting out the words, pick a character you love, and are willing to spend time with, and imagine them telling you the words as you picture the scenes and dialogue.
Now comes my anecdote with Stephen King and The Elements of Style. After I had finished the screenplay, which became the framework of the story (I write about that in WHY STI?), I began trying to write the novel. I had 20 or so pages written, a couple of weeks worth of work, before I realized I'd forgotten to do the thing that helps cut down the time on the learning curve . . . role models. So I went to the book store to get a smattering of Stephen King novels, to study them, when I found On Writing. In the foreword Stephen said to get Elements.
After studying and taking notes on both books, I then went back to make revisions in my 20 pages. After reading just 4 pages, I decided to chuck them all and start over. Why? Because nothing I'd written was worth saving. Armed with the new info from Elements and On Writing, I knew my writing would change so drastically for the better, that trying to salvage any of those first efforts would be an even bigger waste of time. I'd wasted 2 weeks writing the 20 pages already, and I didn't want to waste even more.
Advice number two. If you're a beginning writer now, and you haven't gotten these books to absorb this knowledge, stop writing now. Why? Because writing is an engraining habit. The longer you write badly, the more comfortable you are with it, the more you feel that it's the right way to go. There's a psychological thing we humans go through that make us believe we are right about something, even if the facts and the truth tell us otherwise. The psychologist Dr. Robert B. Cialdini labeled it Commitment and Consistency in his book Influence: Science and Practice. In layman's terms, when you take actions based on what you believe, when you commit to something so heavily that you back up that commitment with actions, you have to feel internally congruent with those actions, even in the face of contradictory facts. You will keep doing what your doing. You justify and rationalize to yourself that you are "right." Human beings have to feel internally consistent with the actions they have committed to taking. Hence, commitment and consistency.
A picture will help. Let's say you're in the middle of digging a large hole. You're in the hole with your shovel, and the hole is a couple of feet wide at present. Let's say your digging the hole because you believe there's gold at the bottom of where you're digging. Now I come along, stand on the edge of the hole and tell you to stop digging. You ask why. I say because you're in Iowa, and there's no gold in Iowa. Let's say I support this by coming up with a bunch of facts. Now, because of this new info, and your hole is only a couple of feet wide, you would probably stop digging. You haven't invested much time and energy digging that hole. You haven't committed your time and energy for very long. But let's say the hole is 20 feet wide, and 10 feet deep, and you've been digging every day for a couple of months. You'd look damn foolish (in your own mind) putting in all of that time and energy only to quit when I came along with new information. In order not to look foolish, you will most likely justify and rationalize both to yourself and me, that you should keep digging that hole, because you've committed to digging it for so long, and you've put in so much effort.
Now let's say you paid somebody a huge amount of money to buy the land that you are now digging in. Now you're really committed. Now you must remain steadfast and determined (even more consistent) to find that gold in the bottom of that hole. You may make fun of me and disparage me and throw dirt at me for even entertaining the idea that gold can't be found in Iowa. Ya follow me?
So, if you want to strike writing gold, stop digging/writing in Iowa, and move to Nevada/The Elements of Style/On Writing/Characters & Viewpoint/Hooked where the gold actually is. Once you've taken good notes, then go back to your earlier writing and start digging again. I'm willing to bet you'll see the significant changes you need to make to get closer to the writing gold, just as I did.
Advice number three. When you've decided to begin writing, either a novel or a screenplay, be very careful who you tell at the beginning, family and friends included. Don't tell anyone that you aren't 100% sure will be supportive in your attempt. Why? You are at a vulnerable stage. You won't have the amount of confidence in your abilities that you attain as your writing progresses farther on down the line. You need to take into your confidence only those individuals you are certain will be encouraging rather than discouraging. If you know for a fact that some of your relatives and/or "friends" are either highly critical, negative, sarcastic, or "realists," make sure you only tell them once you start to see major progress. The reason is quite simple: momentum. If you tell these people that are in your life before you've developed writing momentum, you run the very real risk of getting negative reinforcement in your endeavor, instead of positive, which could slow or even halt your writing before it even starts. When I first started writing the screenplay, the basis for the novel, I told only two people. My grandmother and my mother. That's it. And I was wise to do so, because as I started the first draft of the novel, I let it slip that I was attempting it, and I got some "friends" who made fun, some "friends" who were critical (negatively), and some "friends" who suddenly became absent. Oddly however, some of the antagonists in my life, people I didn't particularly care for, suddenly became encouraging. That was the most shocking thing. You'll get negatives from friends, and positives from your enemies. So be quiet about your writing until you've got serious writing momentum.
Advice number four. Be upfront with family and friends once you've developed momentum, about you're time constraints. Large chunks of your coming days will be taken up by your writing. You must communicate clearly with your encouraging family and friends about the amount of time necessary to write. They will test you on this, constantly. Many will tempt you into "taking a break" to "refresh your batteries." Too many of these "helpful" breaks will bog you down, or stop you entirely. You must set boundaries so that breaks don't become total stoppages. Some of your friends won't understand these boundaries you'll be setting. Be kind to them, but also firm. Ask them to be supportive when you tell them no. Real friends and family are. Let them know it's not personal towards them. Above all, don't cave in to their demands. That leads to the bad feelings of regret and resentment. You will lose a feeling of self worth for giving up on yourself and your goal (regret), and compound your negative feelings with secret resentment towards them for putting pressure on you if you do stop entirely. Real friends won't be insistent with demands on your time just to entertain and please themselves, when they know it'll hurt you internally.
As I wrote in WHY STI?, during the learning process, and the rewrites, I chose role models to learn from. Again, I chose what I enjoyed with each one, or what I recognized as an effective element or technique of each author. This leads to another piece of experience. You only learn new techniques or specific pieces of info if you are aware of them. You may read a beautifully constructed chapter, for example, but unless you know both why it is beautifully constructed, and how it is beautifully constructed, you simply breeze on past it, and learn nothing from it. You may enjoy the chapter, subconsciously, but you aren't aware consciously of the why and how of its beauty.
An example in your world might help. Nearly everyone knows how to ride a bike, yes? If you balance yourself a certain way, you push hard on the pedals to get your momentum going, and you have a clear sidewalk or road ahead of you, and tadaa, you're riding your bike. You also (hopefully) know how to apply the brakes and steer the bike to enjoy it. All of this knowledge helps you to enjoy going fast, or weaving, or turning sharp corners to enjoy the feelings of bike riding. Question . . . do you know how to build a bicycle? Can you take it apart and put it back together? Do you know why the bike goes fast, and how to construct one that does so? Unlikely. Does it detract you from enjoying the bike? No, it doesn't. Well, it's the same with writing novels. You can enjoy, as a reader only, the telling of a good tale. Just like the bike rider, you "ride" the story because you know how to read. Reading is the equivalent of Riding. But why the story is good, and how you can construct one on you own, through Writing, is exactly like learning to build the bicycle. Writing is the equivalent of Building. You must know all the different parts and pieces, how those parts and pieces go together, and why certain bikes are "better," and certain bikes go "faster." Same with writing. A new novel writer must, first and foremost, be aware of the parts and pieces of a story, why they work together the way they do, and how to put them together to make your story "go fast."
Ya follow me?
Now the previous 4 texts I recommended are like manuals. But there's nothing like watching a good "bike builder" in action. (King and Card actually pull double duty here, in that they are also role models on top of "manual" writers. I won't be using them as examples below, because there are plenty of examples you can read about in their books.) Here are some examples of parts and pieces from good "bike builder" role models, and the things I liked and enjoyed learning from them. (Before beginning, I'd like to note how inexpensive it is to study successful authors. Half-price book stores, especially paperbacks, can bring a master storyteller to your nightstand on a very frugal budget. A very inexpensive way to learn. Now let's get busy with some examples.)
JAMES ELLROY--Beginning action/exposition/character chapters
In L.A. Confidential, Ellroy starts out the novel with a short action sequence right away. This is the whole idea and focus in the (also recommended above) book Hooked, by Les Edgerton. Grab the reader's interest right away with action. Ellroy also pulls double duty by establishing some backstory, sprinkled in between the action. This keeps the reader engaged, and informs her/him on the fly. This is a technique that I noticed all successful authors pull off. Inform the reader of the backstory or characters while the action is taking place. Short, informative paragraphs breaking up action and dialogue. (In movies, the hero or principle characters are using dialogue to fill in the moviegoer as they are doing something. This is the same double duty. Think Gladiator. Exposition of the characters or story during the characters actions.) I start off Saving The Innocents with the opening line "She thought it funny . . . what went through her mind while waiting for the bullet." Instant action. The main character literally has a gun to her head at the very start of the book. I like this "action right away" a lot.
Second, after the action, Ellroy in L.A. Confidential devotes two short chapters to two of the three main characters, Bud White, and Edmund Exley, each character having his own short chapter. I also liked this a lot, and did it with my characters, Sera and Mary Jane at the beginning, in the 4 FREE CHAPTERS, and again later in the novel with the main antagonist Edgar Lairdman, (the real estate tycoon chasing after Sera), as well as Nick, and the priest.
LISA SCOTTOLINE/DAN BROWN--Chapter endings/suspense/mystery
Chapter endings, plain and simple. I studied Lisa Scottoline's Final Appeal, to see how she kept the reader engaged, and how she ended her chapters to make you want more. She won an Edgar Award for Final Appeal, and I studied how she created suspense in order to do it. This study was supported and reinforced by my editor Cliff Carle, who said I should also study Dan Brown. He described Brown as a great craftsman, keeping the reader wanting more by the way he ends his chapters. The movies have a term for it. Cliffhanger. (no relation to Carle.☺) Cliff also mentioned, which I will repeat here, that it is especially critical to craft the first 7 chapters with cliffhangers, because usually after 7 chapters a reader is committed to reading the rest of the story. (Again, Commitment and Consistency) Up until around chapter 7, a reader isn't as fully invested in the story, and may put it down unless you grab their attention and keep it. This is why the first 7 are important to end with cliffhangers. Ultimately you want darn near all your chapters to end this way, to keep the suspense and mystery going, but it is vital and primary in the first 7 chapters.
A side note about human beings, for all aspiring writers. When humans learn something new, like a story, they tend to remember the beginnings and endings more so than the middles. This is called the primacy and recency effect. What you read first, what you read last. Your best writing, anywhere in the novel, should be contained in the beginning of the story, and the end of the story. Also, your best writing in chapters should also be at the beginning of the chapters, and the endings of chapters. Here is what I believe to be the order of importance: Most important: Beginning of the story. Second most important: End of the story. Third most important: Ends of the chapters. Fourth most important: Beginnings of chapters.
Study Scottoline's Final Appeal, and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. You'll see what I mean.
DANIELLE STEEL--The big surprise
My grandmother loves Danielle Steel. I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about. So I began reading Malice. I thought initally it might be how she (Steel) handles the romance, but I got floored by a big surprise in the novel that I never saw coming. I went back to study how she set me up as the reader, so I wouldn't see the big surprise until it came. It came about through the observations of other characters about the character in question. I tried the same technique in Saving The Innocents, developing a character that had a big surprise that was there all along, but that doesn't happen until deep into the story. Readers will tell me if I pulled it off, or if I let the cat out of the bag. Check out Malice to see what I'm talking about. It happens relatively early. My mouth literally went agape. Ingenious.
Nothing slows down a novel like endless description and/or exposition. You need to break up these descriptions and backstory expositions to keep the pace moving forward. Leonard is the most adept at this. Use Get Shorty as an example. Here are just a few of the techniques Leonard uses to keep the pace swift and interesting for the reader:
1) Backstory broken up by lines of dialogue
2) a dialogue scene inside exposition of a character
3) dialogue from the backstory inside present dialogue
4) Shift from backstory to present day action in the same paragraph
5) lines of dialogue inside author narration
These are just a few examples of why the pace of Leonard is worthy of study.
I'm going to give notes of a few things Grisham does that I enjoyed, and learned. I studied The Pelican Brief to get these gems. First, to keep the suspense going inside the reader, he uses what I will call "short suspense reminders." By this I mean he injects a small section, usually 1 page or less, of the villain/assassin/bad guy making preparations to do his dirty work on or to the hero, or someone aiding the hero. Because you are rooting for the hero, and the hero doesn't see this bad stuff coming, but you the reader can see it, it causes tension inside you. You see danger developing, your hero doesn't.
Second, Grisham uses the internal dialogue of a character (the stuff in italics) in a very authentic and convincing fashion. When he has a character in his novel say something to themselves, usually trying to convince themselves to do something, he uses short command type phrases. This is what happens naturally to any one of us in real life when we are trying to get ourselves to do something. We give ourselves short commands. Example: Okay, Randy. You can do this. Pay attention. Focus. Nice, smooth, and easy.
You see? (I actually used "Nice, smooth, and easy" with one of my own characters, early in Saving The Innocents. It's in the 4 FREE CHAPTERS, actually. It was the thing my father and I would say to one another on the golf course just before we'd line up to hit, to remind each other not to swing too hard and ruin the shot.) This tactic is just one of many subtle things that Grisham does to make his characters more authentic, but it's an important one because the reader will identify and empathize with the character more heavily, because it's something we all do. It helps you "get into" the character.
Third, and this will be well understood once you cover Orson Scott Card's Characters & Viewpoint, is Grisham's ability to pull triple duty through a character's viewpoint. What do I mean by that? Okay, there are 2 characters in The Pelican Brief. The hero, Darby Shaw, and a minor character, Gavin Verheek. Once Grisham establishes that it's Verheek's viewpoint, as Verheek reads the "pelican brief" (while drunk on the floor), Grisham can then run all of his own (author viewpoint) opinions/statements through Gavin Verheek. All of those opinions/statements get interpreted by the reader (you and me) as if it were Verheek. It is a beautiful way to hide author viewpoint by using a character as a proxy. That's 1 of the triple duty. 2nd, is that it develops the character Gavin Verheek through his opinions/statements/self concept of what he (Gavin the character) believes about himself. It establishes and develops his character. 3rd of the triple duty is, because Verheek is reading Darby Shaw's "pelican brief," his analysis of Shaw's writings (even through a drunken fog), and his opinions of her, develops her character as well. 3 things elegantly handled. 2 characters being developed simultaneously through one character reading and commenting to himself about the other, all while hiding the author's viewpoint. Very good stuff.
Fourth, is how Grisham handles setting at the beginning of chapters. (Note: I only studied The Pelican Brief, so I don't know for sure whether he does this on all his novels. Having said that, I enjoyed and appreciated how he takes the time to describe a setting, but doesn't dwell on it long enough to slow down the plot. Just enough to get you into the scene, and then off he goes with the plot again.) Grisham develops a new setting at the beginning of a chapter, using only about 9 to 10 lines. If he uses a few more lines, say 5 or 6, he puts action/motion/movement of a character for 2 to 4 lines in between the first 9 or 10 lines, and the last 5 or 6. This keeps the reader engaged and involved, in my opinion. If you have too much description all together, it slows down the plot, and disengages the reader (my opinion, of course).
These are just a few of the many things I learned from role model John Grisham.
I saved Mickey Spillane for last because he's my favorite author. If it weren't for his main character, Mike Hammer, there probably wouldn't be a Saving The Innocents. You learned why that is, if you read the above Acknowledgments. Aside from helping me develop an internal voice, he does quite a few storytelling things well. Here are a few.
First, is the way he handles the hidden story. What I mean is, the things that happen while you're reading about something else. Think of it like a play. You have things happening on stage (that you're reading about in the moment), and things that happen off stage during the onstage performance. How does he do this? One way is to have the character fall asleep right at the end of a chapter. At the beginning of the next, a significant amount of time has passed. Enough time for other characters to bring forth new information. Example: Mike Hammer has been doing his detective thing for long hours. He crashes for some z's at the end of a chapter. Next chapter, it's several hours later and Velda (his assistant) and/or Pat (his policeman friend) have new information they've gathered during Hammer's little nappy-time that allow Hammer to get busy detecting again. The offstage work the minor characters are doing doesn't slow down the plot at all, because it happens between the end of a chapter and the beginning of the next. The reader stays engaged and interested, and the Hammer can get busy doing his thing. (By the way, speaking from a guy's perspective, Velda, Mike Hammer's assistant/secretary/love interest, may be the hottest and best developed (in more ways than one) minor female character of all time. Outside of the smoking, which was big back in the day, what guy on God's green earth wouldn't want someone that hot who is also smart, clever, loyal, devoted, hard-working, and can handle both a car and gun. Sexy.) You have to find a way when you're writing, to plausibly handle what the other characters are doing offstage while you are handling the onstage performance for the reader. (I sent a bad guy to the hospital in Saving The Innocents to allow me more time to develop another aspect of the story. Come to think of it, Grisham in The Pelican Brief, had Darby Shaw fall asleep as well in a long cab ride, while he brought another character, Voyles, to the stage.) It all boils down to offstage time management of the characters that are not participating in your onstage performances.
Now you might think that what I'm about to say may negate the previous paragraph, but hang in there with me until the end. I have an editor that intensely disagrees with having a character fall asleep at the end of a chapter. He backs this up with the very valid argument that you don't want your reader to take the subconscious cue to do the same, and put the book down to catch some z's of her/his own. Cliff (my editor) says you want your readers to be up all night reading your book all the way to the end, so they can go to work the next day and tell everyone how the book was so exciting and intense that they couldn't put it down. I had a chapter that ended with a character falling asleep. It was late in the story, about two third's of the way through. He convinced me to edit it out, using the above argument. But I still really like this method of handling the time passage and offstage stuff. So why did I follow my editor's advice? Because I'm not Mickey Spillane or John Grisham. Perhaps years from now, after I am established with a larger body of work under my belt, I can use this technique. But with my first novel, I was convinced otherwise.
Another thing Spillane does quite well is something great orators do. They use a repeating word or words to hammer home (pun intended) an important point or observation. Spillane does this, and even ratchets up the repetition to establish a character or perception. Here's an example from Kiss Me, Deadly: "Some women are just pretty. Some are just beautiful. Some are just gorgeous. Some are like her."
The repeating words, some and just, reinforce the message, plus the observation gets ratcheted up each time he uses it. Here's an example below, of multiple repetitions from Saving The Innocents. I'll underline the repetitions for you. (These are not clickable links, but rather just a way of showing you the point I'm making):
"She had been running all her life. Running to hold on to an incapable father. Running with the circus from town to town. Running to give love to others, trying to justify her own worthiness—expecting love in return.
She had always believed that what goes around, comes around. The love did come around. It had just taken a different form than she'd expected. She finally understood that she mattered, whether she did her good deeds or not.
What she didn't expect was that Sera didn't need her love. The child listened to her own heart, and her own mind. She had her own inner voice—trusted it. If anything, it was she who had learned from the child.
But what she could give Sera was protection. This time, the running was different. She felt her whole life had molded her for this one job. The pain she had endured had forged her. Shaped her. Taught her. She and she alone knew what the child was thinking, what she was feeling—because she'd been there.
Having your mother taken from you. Having no idea who your father really is.
Life had thrown them together—two pieces in a giant puzzle. Pieces that fit.
Sera didn't know it, but she had decided right then, right there, in a cab on a westbound highway—decided she would protect her no matter what.
Even if it meant dying."
Repetition can be a great tool for driving home a critical point, or establishing motivation for a character. It's a nice piece of info every writer (or orator for that matter) can use in his/her expressive tool box. Spillane is the one that I learned this from.
The last little tidbit I'll share about Spillane, which is also used by the other writers as well, is the use of opposites in internal versus external dialogue. Especially in a humorous way. What do I mean by that? Let's say you have your hero facing a bad guy, and the hero is in trouble. In the internal dialogue that he says to himself, he says something negative about the bad guy, but he knows if he says it out loud, in dialogue, he'll get shot or pistol-whipped, or punched in the mouth. So he smiles and says something nice. Since you the reader are privy to the hero's thoughts, you get the internal sarcasm/cutdown/exaggeration contrasted against the external pretend nicety that comes out of his mouth in dialogue. I should use a Mike Hammer example here, but there are many to choose from, and with some you might not get the context of the scene. So instead, as an example I'll use a scene from a movie that nearly everyone on the planet is familiar with: Star Wars. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo have broken into the detention center to rescue Princess Leia. Han is trying to make nice on the intercom with the rest of the Stormtroopers, pretending to be one of them. He tells them everything's fine, and tries to make small talk to keep them from coming down there. After a few lines, he gives up and shoots the instrument panel. Then he mumbles to himself (the equivalent of which would be internal dialogue in a novel) a sarcastic/negative comment "Boring conversation anyway," followed by shouting down the corridor "Luke! We're gonna have company!" Positive make-nice talk toward the bad guys, Negative sarcastic comment (the truth usually) to himself. Why is this funny, usually? Because it's what we the readers, have done ourselves from time to time. (A revealed truth is usually funny). Someone has a hideous dress, or an ugly dog, and we don't want to offend. We tell ourselves the truth in our minds, (or as an aside to our friends), followed by a kind word to the dress wearer, or the dog owner. Spillane uses this contrasting positive/negative dialogue as good as anyone. I have caught myself on many occasions laughing hard enough that I have to stop reading.
There are dozens of little pieces of technique and craft that you can learn from the above authors. But you don't have to just limit yourself to my role models. Pick an author that you enjoy that's also successful. That's the key. This is about your learning curve. Pick the authors that get the results you want. It'll make your learning-about-writing more fun, and the things you learn will become locked-in to your long-term memory.
In closing, I'd like to tell a story, especially to those just starting out. Something that happened to me that changed the way I viewed things. This is a story about hope and encouragement to you new writers out there.
I'd just begun my writing journey, and I was invited by a friend to visit the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. I was hesitant at first, because I really wanted to keep my nose to the grindstone, writing-wise. I hadn't yet developed confidence in my abilities, and I had this misguided notion (at the time) about how writers become "good," and what "real writing" looks like. I was insecure that my writing wasn't coming out the way it should. What do I mean by that?
Well, I like to write by hand. It helps me with getting into the flow, more so than typing. (see the footnote below on cursive writing vs. printing each letter by hand) But the legal pads I was writing on looked like disorganized and discombobulated chicken scratchings. There would be several sentences, followed by words or other sentences scratched out. There would be sentences in the margins with lines and arrows pointing to where they fit inside the paragraph. There'd be paragraphs completely x'd out, with sometimes a word or phrase with a bracket around it pointing to a mid-sentence spot below it. I'd write notes to myself about a particular place in the story it needed to go, sometimes upside down at the bottom of the page. To my young writing mind, this kind of writing couldn't possibly be the way it's supposed to look. Surely, I thought, I must be doing something wrong. "Real" writers must have much cleaner writing, that comes out much better, and much more organized, if not perfect. Their writing, I imagined, came out much closer to the final product than mine. This is what I truly thought at the time.
Well, my friend managed to convince me to take a break, and visit the Rock-n-Roll Hall. I really enjoyed the time, seeing all the things on display. Then, I got a huge shot of confidence from something that was displayed behind the glass. It may rank as the single most confidence-boosting moment in my writing career. What was it?
Most regard Billy Joel as one of the greatest songwriters of all time. The beautiful lyrics, not to mention the sheer volume of his work, is impressive. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that says he wasn't not only a really good writer, but a great one. Well, displayed behind the glass case right there before me, were the actual writings of some of his songs. And what did they look like?
Lines scratched out, words and lines in the margins, arrows pointing to where they should go, brackets surrounding words or phrases jammed in between, notes in parenthesis. In other words, they looked almost exactly like my chicken scratches. I thought to myself, if this is the way Billy Joel's writings look, I've got nothing to be worried about. I can't tell you how wonderful it feels when you see a great writer going through the exact same process you are. As I was. It completely negated all reservations about how writing is "supposed" to look, and how it's "supposed" to come out of your mind and onto the page.
This is the big takeaway of hope and encouragement I want you beginning writers to understand. Even great writers don't have their greatest works come out of them the way it appears on the page in final form, proof positive from Billy Joel. Their ideas for words, lines, phrases, etc. don't come out flowing perfectly. It comes out in bunches, bits, and pieces, just like the rest of us. Chunks of good stuff, chunks of bad stuff. All mixed in together. You never know when a good piece of dialogue hits you, or a good start to your latest chapter, or a good description to an opening scene, or a great attitude for a character to display, or a great piece of action, or the final line in the novel. It sometimes hits you while you're driving your car. It sometimes hits you while you're mowing the lawn, or taking a shower, or watching T.V., or pretending to listen to your significant other, or listening to a great piece of music. When lines come, you write them down. Sometimes they do come in order, and sometimes large chunks do come all at once. But the vast majority will not be perfect, they won't be polished, sometimes they won't even be grammatically correct. When they do come in large chunks, and they come in relatively the right order, enjoy that writer's high. 98% of the time however, it comes in small chunks, bunches, bits, and pieces. Sometimes it's just a single word that triggers it.
So, beginning writers, fear not when you look down at the page, and you see chicken scratches, upside down lines with arrows going nearly the length of a page, vertical lines in the margins and between lines in teeny-tiny handwriting. This is what writing looks like . . . period. End of story.☺
(a very long, but informative footnote: I've heard through the grapevine that many public schools have completely eliminated or curtailed the learning of cursive writing, in favor of printing each letter by hand. I don't know whether it was an idea coming from someone in the vast and growing public school bureaucracy, at the local or state level (who just wants to make a name for his/herself), or it was someone higher up in the hierarchy. I don't know whether it's intentional or accidental, (yet). What I can say, is that this is, by far, one of the dumbest ideas in the history of dumb ideas (or, if it was intentional, one of the most sinister and cruel). This ranks right up there in stupidity with whole-word learning, versus sounding out syllables and the natural way to phonetically learn our beautiful language.
Once you learn cursive, I mean really learn it so it is second nature, like riding a bicycle and you don't have to think about it anymore, it (cursive) allows the writer to produce complete thoughts and fully-formed ideas. It frees you to use your mind for critical thinking and problem solving. When you print, you have to concentrate on each individual letter all the time. It is choppy, it is disjointing, and it completely disrupts the creative thought/idea process of the human brain.
Now, this writing discussion leads into one of the main sections of my non-fiction, due out shortly, Truth Of The Matter. That of the deterioration of effective teaching and learning in public schools. Part of the deterioration can be linked (and is linked in the book) to intentional acts to sabotage the poor and middle classes of America. A very good starting point to learn who is behind this, how they are doing it, what their true intentions are, and why, please read:
The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher's Intimate Investigation Into The Prison of Modern Schooling. New York:The Oxford Village Press, 2006
Schoolteachers are coming out of northeastern colleges and universities after having been indoctrinated with socialist ideas, rather than the uniquely American idea of self-determination, individualism, and capability. Briefly put, under socialism you are no longer an independent sentient being capable of complex speech and independent thought, but merely a member of a herd, a particular class, to be manipulated the way those in positions of "influence" and "status" in the "superior" class see fit. You and your children are the targets of this social engineering by those of the (supposed) elite.
One of the true lessons in life, is that there are people who are cooperative with you, and there are people who try to exert control over you. It will become apparent after reading Underground History that those in charge of the content (or serious lack thereof) of the textbooks, of which textbooks are chosen and which are not, and those who teach said textbooks, are trying to ensure that you and your children are:
1) dependent instead of independent
2) that you are not someone who thinks for themselves, but instead goes along with the herd
3) that you are a job seeker, instead of an owner of your own business and self-determining
4) that you are waiting to be told what to do, instead of developing your own critical thinking
5) and that you are, above all, compliant to the authority figures put before you (the teachers saturated with socialist ideas contrary to our American freedom principles)
In the previous writing, I told of how ideas come in chunks, bunches, bits, and pieces. This is true. But the point is, they do come. If I was only taught printing, and not cursive, I wouldn't be able to form complex or creative ideas on paper. Saving The Innocents and Truth Of The Matter wouldn't even be possible, because I wouldn't be able to form ideas and critical thinking for myself. I would be too busy writing out e-a-c-h i-n-d-i-v-i-d-u-a-l l-e-t-t-e-r. Cursive creates idea flow. To make matters even worse, I wouldn't have an effective memory of what I'd already learned. When you write something down, it aids in long-term memory. Printing, because of time consumption and the disjointed nature of it, tends to discourage its actual use, which leads to a lack of learning. You then get the idea in your head that you are incapable of learning. That you can't learn something new. This is completely false, and if you are even considering this disempowering idea, you are making a decision that cuts you off from improving the quality of your life, ever.
Fortunately, you are the owner of an organ, contained behind your eyes and between your ears, that is the most adaptable ever created. You own this organ. It's yours. And, contrary to what others may have told you, or what you may even currently believe, you can change your thinking, learning, and ultimately your life in the blink of an eye, when you make a decision and back it up with actions. No matter how old you are. You are never too old to use this amazing organ. Want proof?
George was 98-years-old when he learned how to read. Was George a "genetically superior" human being of the "elite" class, who'd just had a long run of bad luck? No. He was an African-American laborer that spent the majority of his long life picking cotton, laying railroad ties, and the like. Hard manual labor. After learning to read, George then published his memoirs at the age of 102.*
If George can learn something new at the age of 98, namely the English language, arguably one of the harder and more complex languages in the world to learn, you've got no earthly reason to believe you can't learn cursive writing (or anything else, for that matter). And absolutely no excuse. Your mind is yours, and your life is made up of your decisions. If you desire to be a writer, and you haven't learned cursive, and you want to improve your mind and ideas, learn how. If your children don't know how, teach them. It doesn't take that long before it is automatic.
Then, let the ideas, the stronger memory, the writing, and the empowering self-determination flow.)
With love and respect,
* McAuliffe, Kathleen. "Life of Brain." THE BRAIN: An Owner's Manual/ DISCOVER Magazine (Spring 2007): p. 17