Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lombardi On Writing

There once was a guy named Vince Lombardi. He was a football coach. He won a lot of games, including the first two Super Bowls as the coach of the Green Bay Packers. He was also known as a supreme motivator and teacher. And he was one of the baddest SOB's to ever roam the sports world. What could he possible have to say about writing? Glad you asked!

Lombardi once said "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Now before your tender heart, with your precious little 7-year old who picks you the best bouquets of daisies while he's supposed to patrolling right field, and the wonderful league you're a part of that doesn't give trophies out because 'we're all winners here!' start writing me hate mail, understand something: life doesn't give you a break because your feelings get hurt. I am not one of those "wouldn't it be great if everyone was equal and people were nice to each other" guys. I am a "life is unfair, there's always going to be someone better than you, and you are not going to win every time, so you better learn that lesson early on" kind of man. I'm also going to be that kind of parent to my son. He's only two, so winning and losing are foreign concepts to him, however they won't be when he's 32.

How does that "winning isn't everything; it's the only thing" quote apply to writing? Well, what is your writing goal? Is it to be able to hang published author behind your name whenever you introduce yourself at a cocktail party? That's fine. Is it to see your book next to all your heroes in Barnes & Noble? Knock yourself out. Do you want to be the next James Patterson and evolve (or devolve as some would say) from just a writer to a brand? Good luck to you. Whatever your goal is, you need to be clear about it and, this is the really important part, go all out until you reach it! Why quit if that's your goal? As Duke told Rocky when he was in the 15th round against the Russian, "all your strength, all your power, all your love, everything you got!" Now, a caveat if I may: be realistic about your goal. If you can't write a legible paragraph, then your desire to out-King King will probably not happen. But set your goal and win at it; that's all that should matter to you.

Lombardi is also the guy who said "The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work." If you don't write a lot, read a lot and then work hard at your craft, then why keep doing it? I am not perfect (read my book and find out, it comes out May 15... how's that for a plug!), but I am working on it. I am trying my best to get better with every sentence. And if the last sentence sucks, then I make the next one better. If you aren't working, you'll never get to that goal you set earlier.

The coach was asked once why he ran and worked his players so hard at practice. He replied, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Ever get the sinking feeling that the only people to read your work will be your spouse and maybe the hacker who cracked your email password? Ever feel like everything you are working toward, everything you have poured your all into is never going to happen? That's writer's fatigue setting in, and it can make you into a coward. You can curl up into the metaphorical fetal position (or literal for that matter) and just give up. Or you can bust your butt, push through and keep working. It's what would make the coach happy.

The last coaching point, as we call it football, I'll share is my favorite all-time sports quote ever: "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." Read that one again. Now, picture Karl Marlantes sitting in his home, a Vietnam vet who lived through hellish conditions, saw his buddies killed, was wounded in battle but somehow made it home. He worked on a novel called Matterhorn that told the real story of what he went through, in fictional form, for not years, but decades. Over thirty years after he started putting it on paper, he got to see his book in print. Then it became a best-seller. listed it as one of the best books of the year. People far and wide lauded it as the definitive book of the Vietnam War, telling the story of countless thousands who either didn't make it home or were unable to talk about the horrors they witnessed. Marlantes spent over three decades pouring his heart, his mind, his memories, his love, his strength, his will, everything into that book. And now he sits in that same chair where he wrote the book, probably exhausted in his soul, if not in his body. But he has a smile on his face because he is, to quote the coach, "victorious."

Whatever your goal is, you have to work. You have to want to win above everything else. But you also want the smile. You want to be lying on the field, with mud and sweat and blood pooling around you, as you close your eyes and taste, maybe for the first time, pure and simple victory. And what would Coach Lombardi say to you as he offered his hand and pulled you up?

"Good job. Enjoy it... for now," and with a pat on the butt, the coach turns, then calls over his shoulder to you. "Next season starts tomorrow."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Never Give Up

My wife and I watch "Friday Night Lights" the TV show. We love Coach Taylor, Mrs. Coach Taylor, and all the rest of the characters (and yes, my wife swoons over Tim Riggins, as apparently does every red-blooded woman in the world). The coach's big motivational phrase for his team in the first two seasons was something that will stick in our minds forever.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

No, this blog post isn't about a TV show. It's not even about football. It's about giving up on a character that is a part of you, that you've given birth to, nurtured, fought with and supported for years. You've stood side-by-side with this character through every rejection, every glimmer of hope and crash of defeat that you feel like they are real. In fact, to you they are more flesh and blood than some of the people you talk to every week.

So what happens when people don't feel the same way about that character? What happens when the public gets to know him or her and thinks they aren't quite the superstar you know they can be? How long do you keep telling their stories?

If you watch movies for kids, you've probably seen Toy Story 3. Remember the scene at the end when the toys are telling Woody that he needs to forget about Andy, that he's grown up and it's time to move on... that it's over? That scene made me a little sad, because I feel the same away about some of my favorite authors' characters that I've grown to love. I know the author will not be around forever and that retirement has to come. But what about the character that I've created? When is it time to move on? When is it time to say, "it was a good run, we tried but it just isn't working"?

A guy I follow on Twitter is debating this. He's written a character for a while and now he's thinking of stopping. It makes me think of Rick Frost, my main character. I have several books either written or planned for Rick. He's a real person to me. I know what kind of car he'll get when he turns 16, his favorite football team, the movie star he considers the 'all-time hottest ever', and so many other things that Rick might as well be a younger brother. But what happens after Rick Frost & the Alaskan Adventure comes out and people don't like Rick as much as I do? How long will I keep it up? How long should this guy I mentioned keep it up?

My advice to him? Listen to your character, not the sales numbers. If you write for anyone other than yourself first, then you are doing that character, that person you feel is as real as anyone else in your life, a terrible disservice. You are thumbing your nose at them. But most of all, you are throwing them the worst insult you could ever hurl: you are saying that they are just a character, that they aren't real and that you were lying to them all along.

Now, if they say that they are done, that you've told everything they want to be known, then it's time to stop. You have treated them with respect and they do not hold any ill will toward you.

Listen to the character; they are real to you. They can be real to everyone else. They deserve it.


I haven't written much here because of a few reasons. One is health related. Possibly the worst injury to a writer short of something doing a number on the their brain is in the wrist. Well, I took a tumble coming down some stairs and sprained my wrist. The doc said it was a Grade 1 sprain (side note: I had no idea there were different levels of sprains beyond "ow," "freaking ow," and "holy %#&%@ ow!"). Turns out, he was wrong. It's worse than that, or I'm not taking care of it. Probably both.

The second reason has been work related. I'm now working a couple of nights a week at our night school, which means less time for family and blogging. Guess which one of those two gets the most attention? Yep. So, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I'll blog more later, especially since it's less than a month until Rick Frost & the Alaskan Adventure comes out!!!!! May is ALMOST HERE!!!!!

To give you a quick update on what's happening with it the cover is done, the editing is done (and hopefully good... keeping my fingers crossed on that one), and the account is ready to go. The only thing lacking is the formatting. This is a specialized part of the deal and something I didn't want to leave to a rank amateur (i.e. myself), so I went with a pro. And they have been great to deal with. 52 Novels is their name. You can see the link to their services on the side of this page. I'll let you know how they do. I think they'll do good, they handle all of Joe Konrath's stuff.

Anyway, so far, the date is the middle of May for the release. I'll let you know if that changes. Until then, wish me luck with my wrist.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday at the Masters

It is the first weekend in April. To many sports fans, and all those who follow the sport of golf, it is also that special time of year when all the colors of the natural world seem brighter, richer and fuller. When the green of the grass spreads across the panorama of the Earth, the pinks and reds of the azaleas sparkle as the stars in the night sky, and you wonder what if God might be giving us a glimpse of heaven’s grandeur. When blue isn’t just the sky, but rather the eyes of those who have come before us, looking down and smiling at our devotion to the game they taught us to play, to respect and to enjoy. This is the time when history meets the future, and the present is so powerful you never want it to leave. It is the first weekend in April and it is time for the Masters.

This weekend also makes the first major golf championship I have watched since my dad passed away in February. He taught me to love the game, to honor its traditions and love its history. But most importantly, he taught me two very important things: first, to recognize the many ways that golf, and all sports really, teach us about ourselves and life and the nature of God; secondly, he showed me that golf is just a game, not something to be taken as serious as family and faith.

My father, Thomas Bush, saw his last Masters in 2010. It was fitting that the storyline of the week and especially the final round on that Sunday involved the players that it did. My dad loved the great stories of the game, the ways in which the sport itself seemed to take life by the reins and steer it toward a conclusion and a place where hearts are touched and lives are changed forever simply by watching. Phil Mickelson won the tournament. His wife and his mother had learned earlier that year that they both had breast cancer. Amy Mickelson spent the entire week in bed because of the effects the radiation treatment. As her husband walked up the 18th fairway, the tournament firmly in hand, Amy appeared behind the green. She wanted to see her husband win his third green jacket. After the last birdie putt rolled in, Phil made his way to his wife and they shared a tearful embrace. Jim Nantz, calling the tournament for CBS Sports, said “There’s a win for the family.” I didn’t know then that it was a win for my family.

I wasn’t with my dad when that final putt dropped. But I was on the phone with him off and on throughout the entire final round. Now, I want to call him more than anything. Instead, I’ll hold my two-year old son and smile as he shouts “gaw-ball! Daddy, gaw-ball!” at the screen. My father would have laughed.

Today, I’m going to try and document what is for me one of the most bittersweet sporting events of my life. It is ironic that the theme of this year’s tournament, which no one knows really until Saturday afternoon starts to get longer and the leaderboard begins to shape itself, is one of a “new generation” poised to take over the future of the game. The “older generation” that is about to be pushed out are, I’m terrified to report, my age. Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and the rest are at the point where one wonders if they will ever win another big one. Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and the rest of the twenty-somethings are taking over. But instead of being upset, depressed or even stubborn about that development, my dad would have just laughed and said, “that’s life; you can’t stay young forever.”

These are some of the special moments from the afternoon spent watching golf and thinking of Dad:

- CBS just did a piece on the famous Masters Champion’s Locker Room, showing that the place is “intimate”, meaning small. The players share a locker with former winners. Jack Nicklaus, my dad’s favorite player, shares a locker with Horton Smith, the man who won the first Masters Tournament in 1934. My father’s favorite player linked forever with the man who first won Dad’s favorite tournament. As Jim Nantz would say, that’s special.

- Augusta National is the Mecca of golf, the Valhalla, the Eden. Everyone wants to play there, to win there. But one thing about watching it on TV that makes it so fun, so special, are the roars of the crowd. The great sports writer Rick Reilly said that the loudest sound he’s ever heard outdoors was not on the deck of an aircraft carrier, or in a football stadium designed to gather in and concentrate noise; rather it was at the 17th green as Jack Nicklaus rolled in his famous birdie putt in 1986 on the way to winning his record 6th Masters. Just now, I posted on my Facebook that if you heard a noise while you were outside, it was Augusta exploding. Tiger is back. He shot a 31 on the front nine and is one back of the lead. If Tiger Woods can come from seven shots back and win the Masters for a 5th time, that would be, in my biased opinion, my dad giving me a memory that will last my lifetime. He had Jack, I’ll have Tiger. I’m now officially rooting for Tiger Woods.

- At one point, six people were tied at the top at 10 under par. That late in the round, I can’t remember that happening.

- I remember watching Tiger delivering a beat down to the field in 1997; I remember Mark O’Meara the next year coming out of nowhere. Phil with his two-inch vertical jump after his first win in 2004; Angel Cabrera beating the man everyone outside of Angel Cabrera (and his caddy) wanted to win, Kenny Perry, in a play-off. All of those tournaments were special, for one because they were at the Masters, but the other reason is that I’d call my dad afterwards to talk at length about the whole thing, the emotions of winning, the agony of what might have been for those who finished just that close, all of it.

Now, the Masters is over. Charl Schwartzel has won by two over Adam Scott and Jason Day. Tiger Woods finished four back in a gallant effort. I wanted this year’s tournament to be historic, to be monumental. It was, only not for the reason I wanted. I’ll never forget the 2011 Masters because my dad watched it from heaven, and I had no one to call. But I do have someone to hug. So my son, AJ, will begin a new tradition soon of watching the tournament with his father. I hope it will be special for him. I know it will be special for me.

I love you, Dad.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Best Words of the Book

What are the best words of the book for a writer? The two I just wrote: "THE END".

I just finished Rick Frost & the Sword of Calibum, the second Rick Frost adventure. It should be ready for your reading pleasure this summer. Time to celebrate!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Random Stuff Part I

This is a random sampling of things that have either crossed my plate, desk, mind or path in the last few weeks. Names have been withheld to protect the guilty, the innocent and the... well... you'll see.

- My friend Carolyn Arnold (yes, I name drop; sue me) did a tremendous piece on writers helping other writers, which you can find here. I posted a comment on the article, posted a link here on my blog and agree 100% with what she said. However, and you knew this was coming, I do have to add one little caveat. Sometimes you can be helpful by being honest. I am not giving anyone license to be cruel, but if you have the gift of diplomacy, then use it as a surgeon would a scalpel around a bundle of nerves, that is gently and carefully. Tell someone that they might need to get another beta to look at their work they swear its ready to be self-published and its, in the words of Charles Barkley "turrble." Its better they hear it from a trusted friend than when no one buys their stuff.

- A writer friend of mine had an email conversation with me where he lauded the virtues and necessity of a writer getting a copyright from the United States Copyright Office. Now, this guy never let an agent look at the work, a query or even a pitch. But damn it, he got a copyright, so there! No one's gonna pirate his self-published book. He got a by-God copyright!

- When you least expect it, you get a new team member in the world of writing. A teacher at the school where I work was having a conversation with me about writing, reading, stories and all that jazz when she mentioned the fact that her daughter was writing a book. Two weeks later, and I have a wonderful new writing friend that I'd like to introduce you guys to: J. L. Jackson. She is going to be a good one, keep an eye on her. Follow her blog, email her, you know the drill.

- A disturbing trend in this whole self-publishing craze is the 'throw it up and see what sticks' approach to writing. For instance, if you are penning (or typing as the case may be) a thriller novel and you delve into the Freemasons, the Anti-Christ, the Founding Fathers, the Kennedy assassination, the mafia, mind control devices run by the military, aliens possibly seeding the Earth with life, and the government knowing engineering 9/11, then you are either a) Dan Brown, b) a late-night radio show, or c) not writing a very good novel. There's no possible way for you to have anything worth reading if you think you can tie all that crap into one coherent plot. This goes to the "stop writing what's popular" line that is so prevelent, and rightfully should be. Here's a little bit of info you might already know but need to be reminded of: you are not Dan Brown (unless you are, and if you are, I emailed you a few times before you got big and I wanted to thank you for the advice, it was nice to hear back from ya)! Stop trying to be the poor man's version.

- Writing is a lot of work; good writing is excrutiating. Please, pretty please, those who are pushing the self-publishing method, let's not encourage speed and volume. Because its still about the quality, not the quantity. If too much crap is available from $0.99 to $2.99, then the good stuff at those prices are going to be lost or labeled before they get much of a chance. Take the time and write a good book. Then worry about publishing. That is all.

- Kiss your family. Give them an extra hug. Watch a movie, or better yet, read a book together. Family is very important. Cherish them. And in the words of someone very famous whom my wife and son love, "be nice to each other."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Who Plays Who

My wife and I were discussing movies from books the other day. I'd love to say it was because she was trying to cast Rick Frost & the Alaskan Adventure in her head if it becomes a movie. But she was fawning over Matthew McConaughey in the movie version of Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer. It kills her soul that I've met Matthew.

So that brought on a discussion of books being turned into movies, authors selling the rights of their work, and other things. For instance, a huge part of the conversation was dedicated to who should play Connelly's main series character, Detective Harry Bosch, if the Hollywood folks decide to make other movies with McConaughey as Mickey Haller, the lead character in The Lincoln Lawyer. Bosch is the star of Connelly's universe and the foundation on which everything his fan's love rests. Casting Bosch will be almost impossible because the millions of people who have spent twenty-plus years of their lives with this character will never be happy.

Which brings us to Robert Crais, a writer who has done something rather revolutionary with his main characters. Elvis Cole and Joe Pike have solved crimes together in Los Angeles for fourteen terrific novels. But they have never graced the silver screen. Crais sold the rights of his stand-alone thrillers Demolition Angel, The Two-Minute Rule, and Hostage. The latter was made into a decent movie starring Bruce Willis. But Crais has repeatedly turned down all of the requests for the film rights to Elvis and Joe. He says that no actor can pull off what the fans have in their minds. And he's right.

Would I sell Rick Frost to Hollywood? Would I take Michael Connelly's view, that once the folks who make movies buy the rights to one of his stories they can tell it anyway they want to? Or would I go the Robert Crais route, forgo the money and say that my fans have the only true version of Rick in their minds?

I think I'm a Connelly guy. If someone (and yes, this is a direct message to those in the movie industry) wants to turn Rick Frost into a movie icon, then bring on the emails. My address is And if they want to make Rick older than he is in the books to accommodate whatever actor they choose? Go for it. You buy it, you guys and girls get to tell the story however you want.

Hopefully, you'll do it right and we can all entertain a lot of people. Because that's the business we are in... entertainment.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What I'm Reading

Before I get to the post, two quick things. First, I am not doing an April Fool's joke on here. Not a big fan of sites that do, but oh well. Second and most important: Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone following this blog. You guys are the bedrock, the foundation of what I hope will be some really loyal and helpful friends. I wanted to just say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Giving you an update on what I'm reading and what's on tap for me to read. I follow the advice of Stephen King and a host of other writers that to be good at the craft of writing fiction, you have to read a lot of fiction. Here's my list:

What I'm Reading Now:

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

If you haven't picked this one up, let me forewarn you: Pizzolatto's writing will leave you wishing you had his talent with the written word. The story is a gritty kind of crime book set in the late 1980's and follows a muscle man working for a loan shark. Roy, the main character, has lung cancer and a boss who just tried to kill him. He and a girl named Rocky, who has an interesting story in her own right, and Rocky's sister leave New Orleans and head for the seedy streets of Galveston, TX. But trouble is waiting on them. So far, I love it.

To Be Read:

The Grove by John Rector

Lead Poisoning by J. E. Seymour

The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy *

Saving Rachel by John Locke

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy *

White Jazz by James Ellroy *

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Origin by J.A. Konrath

And by the way, if that list seems short to you, that's because I read slow. If it seems long to you, well that's hopefully going to take me through the end of the summer, not the next few weeks. I hope so anyway. And just so you know five of the nine "to be read" books are on my Kindle.Galveston is on it.

I love to read. I love the escape to another time and place. I absolutely crave a good story. The writing doesn't have to be great, just enough so that I don't notice how bad it is. All of the writers up there are good ones, and if you haven't picked those books up or books by them, I highly recommend them.

* - throw in The Black Dahlia by Ellroy and you get the L.A. Quartet, which any serious crime writer should ready at least twice; Ellroy is truly the master of the genre that I love the most.