Monthly Archives: April 2013

The 7 Secrets of Great Writing


I saw something the other day that a friend wrote on facebook, and I wanted to share it with you my friends, print this and put it by your “writing device.”

from Peter

I thought about that for a few moments. Then I told Peter I was going to share this. When we think back to our most successful works, regardless of our field or genre we have done this; columns, articles, books, stories, poems. Sometimes we are surprised with the success of something we have written. However, if you take Peter’s concise list in hand, and compare it to your work I think you will find you followed his advice, even if you did not know you were doing so at the time.

Write when moved. We have all had these moments. Sometimes we know exactly what we are going to write. Sometimes we only know the essence of what we are going to write. Sometimes the idea just hits us, all at once, and we begin to write. Other times it is something that nags at our conscious for days, something vague and yet specific. However it starts, when we begin to write it flows, at times it is all we can do to get the words out fast enough. When we are finished, before we begin editing, we look at what we wrote and marvel at how fast it all came together (wishing to ourselves that writing was always like this).

Be grown up. Mmmmm, be grown up. Well, first off, the kind of writing we are talking about is for your public, your regular readers. That is whom I write for. We are not talking about a letter to a lawyer who thinks you are negotiating when you are just trying to do what is right. (A word of advice, do not ever try to do what is right when dealing with a lawyer. If you do, they will not be content, and will continue pushing until they are taking the food from your mouth. Then they will tell you they are letting you off the hook, and you are lucky they are so generous.) Since you are writing for the public, and it would be nice to attract new readers, stay on the positive. There is always a positive and a negative to everything. If you do not see both, keep looking, they are both there. All of us have enough negative in our daily lives. Your readers do not need to turn to you for the negative. They can drive in rush hour traffic and get that. Give them the positive. If you can find the positive where most people miss it, that is even better. Be grown up — stay positive.

Know how to distribute. There is no easy answer for this, you learn over time. Start with a blog, a social network, and some site that will let you publish e-books at no cost to you. Then link them all together. It does not matter what kind of writing you do, you need at least those three. I will give you two examples:

1)      I am a blogger, I am not an author. That may be true. However, no matter how well you map your blog, at some time it will start to become difficult for people to navigate their way around 300 plus posts just to find their favorite posts. When your blog gets to that point, take you most popular posts (the ones with the most views) and put them together in an e-book. You regular readers will appreciate it. Make this e-book free or .99 cents, you are doing this as a gift for your regular readers to show your appreciation of them. Do not put a $14.99 price tag on this e-book, you are not doing this so you can buy a new Porsche, you are creating value for your regular readers. This will expand your regular readers, and show them how much you appreciate them.

2)      I write books, not blogs. That may be true. However, your regular readers have made an investment in you. They have given you their time. Time they could give to loved ones or other interests, but they have chosen to give it to you. So, once a week, or once a month, let them know what you are working on. Take your most popular book and tell your fans how you came up with the idea for their favorite book. Take some of your notes and drafts for a book and let your readers see how that book became the e-book on their e-reader. Let them inside the process. Also, always, always, give them a chance to talk with you. Listen to what they liked and did not like. Answer some of their questions. This will expand your regular readers, and show them how much you appreciate them.

Be heard. There is no magic formula for this, but if you give your readers value, and you appreciate them. You will be heard. How do you do this? Well, you provide value to your readers by teaching them something new, giving them ways to save money, encouraging them, or entertaining them. If you can do several of these at the same time you are doing even better. There is one more though that is a must, no matter what else you do, you must be passionate. I am not talking about romance, love, and sex. I mean you need to be writing about something that is important to you. Poetry, history, blogs, fiction, it does not matter what you write, write what you are passionate about. You cannot fake passion, you can try, and you may pull it off for a while. But, eventually all your readers will see through the ruse. When you write about subjects you are passionate about, you are taking a small part of you and giving it freely (this is not about price), willingly, openly. This is not about 1,000 downloads on Amazon. When someone reads what you wrote, it is an intimate one-on-one conversation — writer and reader. They want your passion; they already have too much in their lives that lacks passion. Why is Norm Abrams so successful? There are many others who can tell you how to build a deck for your house. Norm is successful because he is passionate about home improvement and working with wood.

Be recognized. This is something else that you cannot do very much about, directly. You can enter contests. However, the personal tastes of the judges have more to do with who wins. The type of recognition you should be concerned with is from your readers. When your readers enjoy your work so much they tell others about it, or provide links to your work so others may enjoy it as they do, THAT kind of recognition is exhilarating and humbling at the same time. It is the best kind of recognition you will ever receive.

Be a mover. When you write with passion, believe me, people will be moved to action because of your words. Historical, poetry, how-to, fiction, it does not matter what you write. If you write with passion, you will reach your readers, and they will take that passion and act on it in their own lives.

Be warm. You should never write for “the mob” or the “demographic group” you are shooting for. The United States has more than 350,000,000 people living in it. Just one percent of that is 3,500,000 people. Warmth has to do with passion and intimacy (once again this is not romance, love, and sex). Intimacy is being open and vulnerable it is a one-on-one connection. You do not get that by writing for 3.5 million people. You get that by writing for one person, you get that by holding nothing back, you get that by being positive. You do those three things and the warmth will come through. You do those three things and your readers will become important to you, individuals that you care about, and those feelings will create the warmth. Painting, sculpture, writing these are intimate expressions of you. Be intimate one-on-one with each reader and you will succeed one person at a time.

Now a word about my audience. Writing “how-to” books are always talking about “know your audience, write for your audience.” Those noble educators of the craft of writing are talking about a demographic group. You know, a certain; age, sex, race (sometimes), political view, religious view, and et cetera. This nameless, faceless group is the supposed consumers of your work. Therefore, of course, I do not follow this tact. The group I write for is very specific, and (fortunately for me) gains more faces than it loses.

There is a man who is about my age whom I share much in common, but we have just enough not in common to complement each other.

There is the talented historical author breaking down her own barriers by being both black and female, while possessing a real talent for history.

The poet who bares her soul for the entire world to see, inspiring the most dejected among us while doing so.

There is the couple restoring an historical home, a home that our government should have assumed care for a century ago.

There is the sea captains wife, though she has never said so specifically, I suspect she uses some of their precious, limited time they share to tell him about an occasional column I have written.

There is an extraordinary woman who just lost her soul mate of many years. She has shared the loss that she and her children feel, with her readers. She is dealing with this one day at a time. Some days are not too bad, and the not too bad days are slowly increasing in number. One day she will be back to normal. A new normal, her life will never be the same again. A part of her will always mourn her loss, but she will smile again, and laugh again. Knowing that her husband would want her to, will make it easier for her.

There is a young feminist, an old feminist, and a former feminist, a couple of artists, and some other writers as well. Some are as young as 7 and some as old as 70. I have left out many, but it would take a book length tome to do real justice to them all. They are really a neat bunch of people, whom I treasure. Some leave comments, some send e-mails, and some just read and smile. As I said I do not follow what the experts say we should do to build an audience, I do not have a narrow faceless group of 3.5 million people for whom I write. I write for an individual, someone I care about, someone I celebrate with when they win, someone I cry with when they hurt, someone I care for and pray for, even though they may be an atheist.

The audience I write for is too narrow, I know that. However, it works for me. I did not start writing for just one person. I started writing for this 3.5 million person demographic I wanted to reach. It just did not work for me. If it works for you, use it. But, there will be something else, just one thing all the experts say you should do, one thing you just cannot do.

That one thing robs you of the voice inside you screaming to get out. Follow what the experts say, but when that one thing you are not supposed to do presents its self, follow it. This is what makes you unique; it is your style, your voice.

It will come to you, do not force it, do not say, “I am going to do this and it will be my style.” If you do, it will come across as contrived. Contrived is fake you want genuine. Follow the experts until you reach that point where you say to yourself, “I do not care if I lose all my readers except my mother, I cannot do this anymore.” Then follow your spirit.

You may lose readers, and it may take a long time before you begin to gain readers again. Do it, do it anyway, and do not ever go back to what you did before (remember, if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got). What you did before silenced your real voice that is why you left it. Your new audience will come, do not worry about them. They are searching for you right now, waiting on you to find that voice deep within you. They will find you. They will not quit searching for you until they find you. Be patient and as Shakespeare said, “to thine own shelf be true.”

If you have ever studied art seriously, you know that there are certain “rules” of painting. These rules have evolved over centuries; they are really observations of what make paintings attractive to the viewers. Ever see a painting you just do not like? It probably violates several of the observations. Good paintings make you feel at ease, calm, all is right in the world, they follow all the rules. What sets off the good from the great? One observation, one rule … just one. The artist had just one thing he could not bring himself to do (or her). The artist knew to break that one rule could mean disaster for them as an artist, it did not matter. “To thine own self be true.” The truly great did just that. Following all the other observations, they broke one rule and that is what sets them apart from the crowd, that is their style. They said to themselves, “If no one ever buys another of my paintings I do not care. This is what I must do.” You cannot force it, but in time, it will come to you too.

Thank You !!!

Thank You !!!

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Our Dreams


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… And The River Flows On


(written April 17, 2013)

Have you ever looked at a river, really looked at a river. Looked at the things that make up a river, the surface, below the surface, and what is on the bottom of a river; are all different things, but they all make up part of the river. The river always flows on. You can change its direction, you can dam it, but the river ultimately determines its own path. You can fight the river, but the river wins. The river will break through the dams and levies and go where it will. What you can do is to take care of the small piece of the river where you are … nothing more. This helps. However, the river will clean itself as well, burying all the bad, deep within the confines of the river bottom. The bad is still there on the bottom, with more coming down the river. You will never get rid of it, but you can stir up the river, bringing back the old bad and mixing it with the new.

Yesterday was an historic day for many reasons. In 1912, April 16, was the day that the world awoke to realize the Titanic had sunk with a great loss of life. April 16, 2013 was a day that people around the world mourned the loss of a loved one or friend who died in a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. It was a terrorist attack, this was not a robbery gone bad or a dispute between two people. Yesterday was an attack, by an attacker, on people the terrorist did not know personally. This is terrorism. Terrorism is not new in time or to this country. Ancient Rome experience terrorism. There has been an ebb and flow to terrorism in the United States. No matter the time, no matter the place, there is one reason for domestic terrorism and only one. There is one reason for foreign terrorism against the United States, and only one.

Before I go any further, I want to state that terrorist, all terrorists, are criminals. No matter their own self-justification for their actions, they are criminals. They attempt to use fear to increase their power over us. Terrorist seek only power to force their will on others. You cannot work with terrorists, but we need to work together, only then can we weaken the power terrorists have over us. Terrorism has always existed, and always will.

The power domestic terrorism has over us, exists because we refuse to work together. One side vs. the other. One side (our side, whichever side that is) must win and utterly destroy all opposition. The commentators of CNN, NBC, and others were speculating yesterday (and will probably continue to today) by saying, “of course, since domestic terrorists are always extreme-right-wing-conservatives…”, and ” this latest act of terrorism must be the work of the T.E.A. party or a veteran.” I am not here to talk politics, and I do not care what your politics is, I want you to see the futility of this mess we have created. A mess we created and blame on others. Could anyone call Bill Ayers a “right-wing-conservative?” Bill Ayers has freely admitted to terrorist acts and continues to state to this day that he did not do enough in his earlier terrorist days. What about the Weather Underground, The Black Panthers, Earth Liberation Movement, or the Animal Liberation Movement; could any of these be called right-wing. Timothy McVeigh, now there’s a right-wing terrorist (well sort of, he wasn’t a Marxists at least). These terrorist act not because they are right-wing or left-wing. They act because we do not work together. We do not work together to heal those with mental problems. They act because we do not work together to explain the importance of freedom. Freedom? Oh yes, we know what freedom is, but what does that have to do with terrorism.? I am sure I can find people who can give hours of instruction on freedom, volumes of books have been written on freedom, wars have been fought over freedom. Do you know what freedom really is? Choice. Yup, that’s it. The definition of freedom has fewer letters in it than the word freedom itself.

If you may choose between A or B, (or more options) then you have freedom in that area. However, when your choices are limited by others, or you are not allowed to choose for yourself, you are not free. A great man once said, “Freedom works every time it is tried.” Criminals use terror to get us to limit our own freedom, our own choices. Governments, from ancient Rome to modern governments, use terrorism to increase their power over us, to limit our choices. They legislate away our freedoms in the name of security.

This brings me to the one cause for foreign terrorism. Because we have been successful. We are a democratic republic, only a democratic republic attempts to give equal protection to all citizens under one law. A free, democratic republic with a capitalist economic system, because (unlike other economic systems) in a capitalist economic system each person controls their own money and property. The individual chooses what they will do with their property. We are a collection of free people who have chosen the freest political system and the freest economic system. These two systems are not perfect, but they do allow the most freedom to all citizens. Americans have used this freedom to create the most successful country to date. The United States is 4.52% of the world population, consumes 24% of the world’s natural resources, and creates 25% of the world’s production. Those who do not like the United States’ capitalist system point out that the United States uses more resources than any other country, without out mentioning the GDP. Those in favor of unlimited capitalism point to the GDP of the United States compared to the rest of the world, without mentioning the cost.

The cost is great and the results are great. No matter what you think of the American system, we are attacked by terrorist because we are successful. We produce more and have a better standard of living, our people have enjoyed (over the course of our history) unparalleled individual freedom. Today our greatest external threat comes a small group within the Islamic community. A small group that would have their religion rule every part of the lives of their people … and the people of the world, if they get a chance. This group is only the latest to target us, there have been others in the past, and there will be others in the future. There is no reason for you to remain inactive, either you agree with the American system and work to preserve it, or you disagree with the American system and work to destroy it. The choice is yours.

So, why do we have domestic terrorists? Because we refuse to find common ground and work together. Our division is used by the terrorists.

Why do we have foreign terrorists? Because the American system is successful (I did not say it is right, and I did not say it is wrong, only that it is successful).

The pursuit of power is the root of all evil, not money. If you want to know who is the person or group behind a criminal act, do not follow the money; follow who has power to gain through that criminal act.

I am not taking a side in this one way or the other. Oh, I do have an opinion, but that is mine. Here, on my column, I shun my own personal opinion as much as possible. I shun religion, politics, and money (my grandfather always said it is best to avoid these subjects in polite company). Just as with the Hunley and many other topics I have written about …

… when there is no clear-cut, scientific, black/white, right/wrong answer, I present what I can to you and leave each of you to write the last paragraph of the column. This Sunday, I am not going to publish a column. Spend some quality time with the ones you love, or maybe some quality time alone, you know what is best for you. But, while you are in that quality time this Sunday, think about this column and which side you support. What will you do? We all take sides, even the decision to “sit this one out” is indeed, taking a side. I am not asking you to go join some organization, or march around with signs. You take sides with your voice to those you come into contact with, changing the world … one mind at a time.

My prayer for you is for peace and joy.

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Sunday’s Column


This Sunday’s column is going to be published on Saturday. I would like to ask you to spend some quality time with the ones you hold dearest in your heart … I am going too.

Joe

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This is a Story of Titanic Newlyweds You Don’t Know


Star-crossed lovers. The poster was fashioned ...

Star-crossed lovers. The poster was fashioned after Titanic ‘ s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were several newlywed couples on board Titanic when she sailed from Queenstown (now Cobh, Ireland) in April of 1912. These are couples who married shortly before Titanic sailed, there were no couples married while Titanic was at sea. This article will introduce you to a few of them.

First up, John and Nellie Snyder, who were travelling in first class. When Titanic sailed John was just 24 and Nellie 23. The couple was offered seats in lifeboat number 7, ensuring their survival. The Snyder’s had a long and happy life, raising one girl and two boys. John died 47 years later from a massive heart attack. Nellie lived another 24 years and died at the age of 94.

The Bishop’s, Helen and Dickinson, where another first class newlywed couple. They were returning to their home in Southwest Michigan from a four-month European honeymoon. The Bishop’s were the fourth newlywed couple in lifeboat 7. Dickinson a wealthy, 24-year-old, widower had married the 19-year-old daughter of a family, which owned a company that manufactured an early version of the easy chair. Unfortunately, the Bishop’s lost their first son two days after he was born in December 1912. They divorced in 1916, Helen dying of a cerebral hemorrhage (from a fall) two months later. Dickinson of a stroke in 1961.

Photograph of a Lifeboat Carrying Titanic Surv...

Photograph of a Lifeboat Carrying Titanic Survivors – NARA – 278337 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edward and Ethel Beane were a second class newlywed couple. Edward had immigrated to New York City. After several years he returned to England to marry Ethel and they sailed on Titanic. The Beane’s lost all of their money and wedding gifts when the great ship sank. Edward helped Ethel in lifeboat 13, but he stepped back when he was told, “Sorry, sir only women.” After the lifeboat reached the water, Edward saw it was only about half filled, so he dove into the water and swam for the lifeboat. His bride of one month was the person who pulled him into the lifeboat.

John Chapman, 37, and Lizzie Chapman, 29, were on their honeymoon after being married on December 26, 1911. John was also not allowed on a lifeboat. Lizzie turned to a friend and said, “ Goodbye Mrs. Richards, if John cannot go I will not go.” The couple died together. John’s body was later found and his effects returned to the family. Lizzie was never found.

There were many other newlywed couples (some say as many as 20), a few of them are:

Neal and Eileen McNamee (both lost)

John J. and Madeline Astor (Madeline survived)

Victor and Maria Castellana (Maria survived)

Lucian and Eloise Smith (Eloise survived)

Over the course of more than two decades, the one Titanic story that has intrigued me more than any other is the story of another honeymoon couple. I cannot tell you their names, I cannot tell you anything about their lives or how they died, I cannot even tell you if they survived. I can tell you how they spent their time on board Titanic. This story came to me from a Titanic survivor. There was a newly wedded couple immigrating to America to start a new life. The couple did not have enough money for them both to travel in second class, so the new groom bought a second-class ticket for his wife, and a third-class ticket for himself. The couple were frequently spotted at a gate separating second and third class passengers. They would talk and hold hands through the gate.

This story has been one I have returned to many times over the years, always searching for the identity of the mystery couple and their story. Where were they from? Where were they going? Had he gone ahead for a few years to make a new life, and then return for his bride, as so many men did in those days? What were their names? Did she step back from a lifeboat when he was refused admission? Did they even find each other after Titanic struck the iceberg?

Maybe this couple is my enigma, the one Titanic mystery to elude me. And maybe that is as it should be. I always take a reasoned, logical, scientific approach to life, particularly to research. I approach things very unemotionally; search for the last scraps of evidence, then painstakingly applying logic to arrive at the best possible analysis, always aware that emotion is my worst enemy when trying to arrive at facts. So, to some my romantic nature may seem odd and incongruous with this other side of my personality. But, it is the romantic side of my nature that has decided it does not want to know the truth behind this couple; if they survived, how they survived (if either of them did), or even if they ever existed at all.

In my mind (and heart), they can be whatever I need them to be at the time. The loving couple, who defying all odds, found each other in the chaos of the sinking Titanic and survive together, boarding a lifeboat arm in arm. I can have her weeping in a lifeboat at the loss of her husband as he swims to her side and is pulled into the lifeboat. I can have them finding each other only to arrive at the boat deck after all the lifeboats are gone. Maybe she refuses a seat in a lifeboat because her groom is denied a seat, and they die together. Or, he could have picked her up and forced her into a lifeboat (with or without the aid of one of Titanic’s crew) against her wishes, before he stepped back and died with the other men. No matter my fancy of the moment, if one survives without the other, my imagination always has the survivor living out a long life forsaking all others for the love that was lost. My favorite though has them living a long, joyful, fruitful life together; dying within a year of each other leaving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to mourn a couple who held hands where ever they went, always.

The engineer and research part of my personality will never give up the chase, and will continue to track down any lead that will finally resolve this issue. But, I do not think my quest will be pursued with the same gusto it once was. I think this is one battle my romantic side has finally won. I think this is one story where the unknown is the greater story. In my mind they stand for all the “if only” and “should have been” tragedies of that great ship. In my mind, they are standing at the gate, holding hands through bars that will never separate their love for each other. Maybe, just maybe, that is how this story should end.

Unlike previous Titanic films, Cameron's retel...

Unlike previous Titanic films, Cameron’s retelling of the disaster showed the ship breaking into two pieces before sinking entirely. The scenes were an account of the moment’s most likely outcome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you would like to read more about Titanic newlyweds we recommend, “Titanic love Stories: The true stories of 13 honeymoon couples who sailed on the Titanic”

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