I’ve spent the last decade of my life writing about war.
The first novel is about the aftermath when a wounded solider comes home. The second is about a civilian trying to live through genocide. The one I’ve been working on for the past three years (fingers crossed, done soon) is about a soldier in the midst of battle, where there are hard facts, sure, but then there’s also the uncomfortable squeeze of his morals.
I’ve never been in a war, nor do I know a lot of people in the military. But, I think, the interest comes because I grew up with a father who’d lived through World War II, who’d been in Germany at the time, trying to grow up amid the chaos. The war changed him, who he was for sure but also, maybe, who he might have been. I’m obsessed, I guess you could say, with what war does to people not just physically but also psychologically and spiritually, too. And not just the soldiers fighting, but the people living in the conflict country and the spouses/children waiting back home.
I also believe in showing gratitude to the soldiers who put their lives on the line for my freedom. I’d like to do something for them when they come back injured. With that in mind, I want to let you know that a portion of the proceeds from the sales through August 2011 of my novel, Small as a Mustard Seed will be donated to The Wounded Warrior Project.
According to their website (www.woundedwarriorproject.org):
To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in this nation’s history.
To raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members.
To help injured service members aid and assist each other.
To provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.
This picture is my favorite photograph of my dad. In it are my son, Gabe, then about 9 months old, and my dad. It’s important to me because my dad had gotten diagnosed with prostate cancer about a year before this was taken, and Gabe was his first grandchild. My dad had been depressed about the diagnosis, and my mom later told me that Gabe had been a shining little beacon, giving my dad something to hope and fight for. And here they both are, on the couch in the den, smiling and happy.
I was supposed to go see him in the afternoon on the day he died. The kids were excited, the plans were made, but I got the call a little before 5 a.m. telling me it was too late, he was gone. He fought for 10 years, but in the end, the cancer killed him in February 2011. A few hours after he passed away, I came across this picture on his desk. I found out it had been one of his favorites, too.
My dad helped me with my novel, Small as a Mustard Seed, and a portion of the proceeds from its sales through August 2011 will be donated to the American Cancer Society in his memory. They’re making great strides toward a cure, not in time for my dad but hopefully in time for someone else. Please consider donating: www.cancer.org
A question I used to get asked a lot when I did readings: What books do you recommend to help writers write better? Let me start by saying that I think you’re better served to spend more time writing than you do reading books about writing. It’s been my experience that while a book can, maybe, point you in the right direction, the only thing that’s actually going to help you find your own voice is the physical act of writing. (okay, off my soapbox now) That being said, here are three books that helped me:
1. BIRD BY BIRD by ANNE LAMOTT
This one has great advice not only about writing but also about life, too. Sure a novel can be intimidating. If I had 350 pages staring me down and I’m on page 1 with a blank screen, I’d be terrified, too. But, Lamott says, you take it little by little (a sentence here, a chapter there) and eventually, you’ll get an entire book. There are chapters on the crazy negative voice in your head, dealing with jealousy, getting off the morality bandwagon. My copy has underlines and highlights and notes in the margins. If you buy no other book on writing, buy this one.
2. WRITING DOWN THE BONES by NATALIE GOLDBERG
This one is filled with advice on learning to trust the story and finding your own voice. This is also a great book if you just don’t know where to begin. One chapter has a list of topics to use as a springboard for your writing. Other chapters deal with the elements of a good story (details, metaphors, breathing life into your writing). If you’re on the fence about wanting to be a writer, this one will push you over the edge.
3. BECOMING A WRITER by DOROTHEA BRANDE
This one tells you about living the life of a writer: difficulties you may encounter, how you need to remain open-minded and teachable, the utter importance of imagination. It’s also a great book for beginners. Back when I thought I needed someone’s permission to write, I came across this book. I held onto it and still have it 20-some-odd years later. I pull it out from time to time as a reminder that, in the end, a writer is nothing more than someone committed to the craft.
This chili recipe won at a chili cook-off where I used to work. Granted, there were only about a dozen entries. And I knew all the judges and worked closely with one of them, but still . . . an award! This recipe got a little gold trophy (plastic and fit in the palm of your hand, but still . . . a trophy!) and a $15 prize. Plus, once you cook the meat, the whole thing only takes about 5 minutes to put together.
- 1 pound of ground beef or turkey (or not, if you want vegetarian)
- 2 14.5-ounce cans of Diced Tomatoes with Green Pepper & Onion (you can go fresh, too: 2 large tomatoes, 1 medium green pepper, 1 small onion, all diced)
- 1 16-ounce can of Kidney Beans (drained & rinsed with cold water or I use Bush’s Best Chili Beans in Mild Sauce so I don’t have to drain & rinse them)
- 1 6-ounce can of Tomato Paste (I use Roasted Garlic version. If you go with fresh garlic, put in 1 clove minced)
- 2 tablespoons of Chili Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup of water (you can play around with this; add less ~ 1/2 cup or 3/4 cup ~ if you like your chili thicker)
- Brown the ground meat, drain, and set aside.
- Mix everything else together in the crock pot.
- Add the meat into the crock pot and stir.
- Cover and set the crock pot to low.
- Cook for 6 hours.
- Cheddar cheese on top
- Or go Cincinnati-style and put it over your favorite pasta.
Less than $10.
Grand Prize Winner, Grant Winner, & Silver Medal Winner