Don’t Gravitate Towards Sports Just Because Everyone Does

I’ve seen it many times over my teaching career. Talented art-leaning students choosing sports because everyone does.

And before you peg me as a non-sports person who doesn’t know … blah, blah.

I understand. Growing up, baseball was my life. Quite literally. When I wasn’t playing on a team, I was throwing the ball against our porch wall or creating elaborate fake leagues with statistics and MVPs and trades and expansion teams. I was obsessed. And in those dark winter months, I started listening to Pitt Panthers basketball, created fake hockey scores, and played a lot of tackle football in our backyard. I was a sports guy, completely. And I wasn’t so bad at it. I had a fastball in the mid-80s and was even told I had a shot at getting drafted if I worked hard. Full disclosure, I didn’t.

And I think I know why. I was an arts person caught up in a sports world. The thing is: I didn’t know I was an arts person. How is a person to know? Okay, I liked to write poetry. Perhaps that should have been a clue. I liked to attend plays even though I was much too shy and lacking in confidence to think I should ever have auditioned for them.

I still remember watching my sister perform beautifully in the play Done to Death. I admired her so much. She painted too. She was an arts person, who sadly died her senior year in high school when I was ten. I still think about her all the time. I miss her.

I created things all the time – whether my own radio station on cassette tape or a play or a song lyric. But I loved baseball, and so I pursued it.

Nothing wrong with pursuing sports. I get it.

But I have seen too much creative talent being wasted in a mediocre basketball game. I’ve had kids who have terrific vocals, strong creative skills, wonderful acting abilities who end up playing third strong on a team when they could have been starring in the spotlight—kids who could really go somewhere in the arts—and if not, at least benefit tremendously from the communication skills and creative people-skills so in demand in today’s world.

I’ve told kids repeatedly, don’t go your entire high school career without trying out for a play. Step out of your comfort zone. I’ve seen talented and creative folks with great potential quit drama in the middle of a production because of a sport or they have too much to study.

Please, parents, you know if your kids are creative. Encourage them. “Hey, have you thought about dropping basketball for a year in order to take part in the musical? You have those abilities.”

They don’t always listen to me, but I almost can guarantee if they do, they will never regret it.

Creatitivity breeds confidence and more creativity. It will change the way you think, what you do, what you feel is important, and it will open doors you never thought possible.

So please, don’t gravitate towards sports just because everyone else does. Kids need to be encouraged  to do something creative, something co-curricular, outside of the realm of a classroom. I’m going to keep encouraging kids to do what I never did.

I realized late in life how important the arts are to me. I’m grateful I found this hidden calling of mine. I’m hoping there are many young people who will discover this side of them much earlier than I did.

Remember: create, not consume.

Thank you, beta readers

It’s done. Novel #9 sent to my editor. More than any other novel I’ve written, the writing of this one has made me understand the true purpose of beta readers.

Writers have blind spots. Or possibly soft spots. Maybe I get a little to sentimental at times and think a few chapters can get by with charisma without conflict. Whatever the case, I had two beta readers for my novel Moses the Singer who essentially said the same thing: the conflict of the story became less apparent about two-thirds through.

I’ll be honest. When the first one said it, I kind of brushed it off as different people have different perspectives. But when suddenly different people have the same perspectives, it made me take note. And they were right.

I found the problem. A story strand which I had left on the table. It turned out to be a crucial turning point in the life of the protagonist. In the first draft, he kind of floated through a few chapters without motivation. Well, not any more.

The re-worked manuscript adds about 6000 words and two brand-new chapters. And conflict? Oh yeah. Big time. It’s the type of big moment which pushes the story forward and which helps to define a character’s actions. It was big, and I missed it.

So, once again, thanks beta readers.

Moses the Singer now clocks in at about 90,000 words. It scheduled for a summer release. I already have the cover and will be revealing it soon.

Here’s the first published description of the book. Much more to come:

Moses the Singer: A man without a country lives a disenfranchised life on the beautiful island of Penang, Malaysia. A group of teenage musicians witness the old man being taken advantage of by a local resident. What happens next is a whole lot of sweet harmony.

Be Willing to Make a Major Change in Your Writing

As I’ve mentioned, I had sent novel #9 out to some beta readers for feedback prior to final draft and sending it to my editor.

Two beta readers, whom I respect a great deal for their knowledge of literature and their ability to just tell me honestly what they think, said basically the same thing. One could not recommend the book because, in the beta reader’s opinion, there was a pause in the conflict during a certain section about two-thirds through. The other would recommend this book to others but also said something similar at the same part. The conflict seems to be undefined giving the reader no real clue where the story is going.

I was happy with the story the way it was.

So now what?

As a writer, am I willing to slow down the publication of my story and make a major change to the plot, not really knowing the ripple effects it may have for the story?

Yes. Emphatically, yes.

I have learned that I cannot entrench myself so far into my writing that I’m not willing to take criticism and make changes. That’s the whole point of having a beta reader, right? If I’m not willing to listen to them, then I just wasted their time, and I slowed down the time line of my book for no reason.

But I want to do this right. This writing thing. So here I go.

What am I about to do? My book is 34 chapters. I’m really happy with it through chapter 16. I’m also happy with the ending, and I think both beta readers were too. But the back middle is sagging, so I will:

  • enter a brand new plot twist to chapter 17.
  • not whine and complain when it wrecks havoc with some of my chapters.
  • welcome the ripple effects and go where they take me.
  • try to make it into the kind of book that the first beta reader would recommend.

As I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, something hit me. They are right. They are absolutely right. I left a conflict on the writing table. It’s right in front of me. Part of the story just disappears. Neither of them mentioned this, but it’s obvious to me now. And this missing storyline will become the needed conflict which will, hopefully, propel the story to its ending.

Here’s what I keep telling myself:

  • be open to change
  • keep trying to get better
  • listen to others
  • do the best you can
  • then accept it, finish it, and move on.

MOSES THE SINGER coming summer 2020.

 

… and What’s on Tap for 2020?

A new year for a writer is filled with hopes and ambitions. Most of them swirl around the hope that any particular writer (me, in my case) will have enough time to accomplish all that is whipping around in their brain.

If 2020 is an ideal year for writing, here’s what I hope to accomplish.

NOVELS

  • I plan to release my 9th novel–MOSES THE SINGER–by mid-year. It’s now in the final editing stage.
  • Novel 10 – an alternative history novel which I have been toying with for the past two years. I’ve even written the first chapter, but it has some problems. I hope to overcome those and get the darn thing down.
  • The great baseball novel. I have an idea which I too have been fiddling around with. I wrote a short story called THE HUNDRED PITCH AT BAT which I intend to be a jumping off point for an entire baseball book of fiction. Let’s do it!

PLAYS

  • I want to write a new complete show to be produced in the following school year. I’ve started with some preliminary writing. It will be a play with different stories but are woven together as an ensemble show. I have some interesting ideas. I want to get this done in the spring.
  • Christmas Compilation: I have been trying to compile and publish my second volume of plays. This one called: Tales of Wonder: The Plays of Christmas.  It’s a compilation of the three Christmas shows I wrote and produced in Penang. I need to get this done by the summer.
  • Dear High School – I plan on compiling and publishing this play which is a full-show of different short plays themed around high school. All of them have been produced to great success, and I think this would be a fun one for many schools to produce.
  • Lastly, I have a play I’ve written over the last five years about the confluence of different ideologies between evangelical Christianity and the LGBT movement in relation to the gay marriage movement and the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. Maybe I’ll finally let this one out of my clutches. It’s my most raw play I’ve ever written. But perhaps it’s time.

Other stuff:

Writing residency. I’m hoping to create my own residency and head back to Penang for a week to write and eat and write and enjoy my old stomping grounds. I think that could be a productive time.

Maybe a trip to Turkey? Ancient Ephesus sounds nice.

And finally, I’ll go where my brain takes me. There are always unexpected writing twists and turns depending on what is percolating up there. We shall see.

Here’s to a productive 2020!authorsasse

Beta Readers: Choose Tough Ones

I just heard back from my first beta reader concerning my newest novel MOSES THE SINGER. She’s ready to answer my questions.

Am I terrified? Of course. She is the first person in the world to read this manuscript after myself. I have five other people working their way through it right now.

Is it killing me that she gave no indication if she like or hated it?  Yes.

Am I glad she didn’t? YES. As much as I hate it, I want beta readers to be tough, critical, fair, and blunt.

Here’s why:

  1. Beta readers are not seeing the final product yet. Why I have done a lot of revision and editing on the manuscript, it hasn’t gone through the final editing process yet. Beta readers are meant to help you get it ready for the final push for the book.
  2. I need unbiased eyes. I wouldn’t send a manuscript to anyone unless I was happy with it, but I have no idea what a reader might think of the story. If it sucks, or if it has a major flaw, I need to know. The writer is sometimes too close to his or her own story to see the warts.
  3. I want to get better. Fawning praise will not help me improve my writing. Serious reflection and tough questions will.

When I choose a beta reader, I choose people who are voracious readers. I choose people who love literature and are well versed on all types of quality writing. When possible, I choose English teachers or people who are writers or aspiring writers themselves. I choose people whom I respect and have shown a passion for literary criticism to one degree or another.

My beta readers are tough, and I want them to be blunt, no matter how much it might hurt my fragile writer’s ego. So here goes, wish me luck, and let’s hope the following criticism will make the end product that much better. The end product means the book in question AND my writing in general.

PS: Just so we’re clear, I am okay for beta readers to tell me how much they liked it, too. Praise has its place. So, feel free.

 

50,000 for the 9th Time

I’ve hit 50,000 words for the 9th time in my life. That means I’ve written 9 novels. Not sure how many people in the world could ever say that, so that’s pretty cool, I guess.

Here’s the proof:

20190725_151919 (1)

That was last week, actually. It’s now over 77,000, probably on its way to 80k to finish up the novel. I’m working on the last chapter as I take a break here.

I’ve said this before, but it’s always a big deal to make a long enough, coherent enough story that it qualifies as a novel.  I remember watching the word count of my first novel like a mindful hawk. The words seem to climb so slowly and the story seemed to be culminating too early. I thought it would peak at 30K in depressing novella territory. I didn’t ever think I would reach 50k. Eventually, I did, and the story ended at about 60.

I’ve always been a concise writer, but my stories have grown longer. WHICH HALF DAVID was my longest at about 100k. Well, unless you count my trilogy as one long novel then which clocks in at around 230 thousand.

Of course, word counts mean nothing to story. Great stories come at any and all lengths. But accomplishments should be celebrated.

Now for the hard part: writing draft 2, and 3, and then the editing process.

And then, after that, the hardest part of all: getting people to read it.

This story is about five teenagers in a band in Penang, Malaysia. Into their lives step Mr. Musa Marbun, a poor and crippled 67-year-old who has lived a horribly difficult life. What would a group of teens ever have in common with a person like that? It is precisely what this novel is all about.

Coming in 2020. Please stay tuned.

And don’t forget to try my trilogy:

cropped-wordpress-forgotten-child-trilogy-1.jpg

Ironing Shirts & Writing Novels. What’s the Difference?

I bought a new shirt. It came in a box cause that’s how shirt’s are made these days, right?

It didn’t fit. I sent it back. Didn’t even need a box cause that’s how shipping is done these days, right?

I ordered another shirt. It fit great. I liked it. But it was cottony and wrinkly and I couldn’t go out into public looking like a wrinkled grape. Cause that’s how people think these days, right?

But I decided that the only way to iron out these difficulties was to, indeed, pull out my iron. So I plugged it in and heated it up. I pressed one side smooth only to realize I creased the underside because, obviously, I don’t know how to iron properly.

But I tried anyways, and one ironed-out crease led to two more creases which needed ironing out. It could have been frustrating if I would have been paying attention. But I keep looking at my shirt and thinking how nice it will be when it’s finished. Being ironed out. Which I certainly didn’t know how to do.

But being me, that never stopped me, the not knowing how to do something, that is.

So I pressed on.

And little by little my shirt started to look smooth. Those darn little collars were a beast. And around the buttons were a pain. And I still couldn’t figure out how to reach all those little shoulder spots without creating a new crease underneath. I mean, why does the fabric flip on top of each other like an unwieldy plot hole?

I worked and I learned and by the end of the my ironing session, I was satisfied with the end product and placed it aside. Not carefully, mind you. No, that would have been the smart move. I placed it aside in a clump until I realized I created new wrinkles. Clumping does that.

I put it back on the board and fixed those, and, with a stroke of luck and genius, I hung it on a door knob. Brilliant. No more wrinkles.

Later that morning, I put on my shirt. It wasn’t perfect. There were still some visible wrinkles, but I thought I looked good, and I was proud of the effort. I could have just thrown it on right out of the box, but I took my time and did it the right way–the best I knew how. Next time, my ironing will be much better, even if my shirt arrives in a box.

As I reflected on my ironing experience, I thought, isn’t this exactly the same as writing a novel?

Yes, yes, it is because there are only two ways to do things in this world: you either learn through experience how to best to iron-out all those unsightly creases in your plot line, or you just throw it on right out of the box and pretend everything you do is automatically amazing.

Writers, plug in your irons.

Summer Writing & Smiles

Summer Writing & Smiles

I smiled today. It was nearly involuntary. It emanated like a ray of light piercing through a small hole. That smile was summer.

I’m finishing up my second year of living in Saudi Arabia and a whole two-month writing bonanza stares me in the face. Oh sure, there’ll be family and barbecues and fresh berries and cherries. There will be baseball games and fireworks and long bike rides through the forest. And there will be writing.

Summer is when I become a ‘full-time’ writer. It’s when my brain can focus for long periods of time on items I’ve been itching to get at for an indefinite amount of time.  It begins in five days.

I’ve accomplished a lot this past school year. I’ve produced two original shows which I wrote, and I’m very happy with how they turned out. I finished the editing and publishing process for book three of my trilogy. I’ve written four or five short plays. A couple of which have already been produced. A couple more will be part of next year shows. I’ve even made some series in-roads into my 9th novel — some 10,000+ words already on its way.

So as I sit on my back deck, sipping a cold beverage, with my laptop in front of me, I’m smiling at what I hope to be able to accomplish this summer.

Finish novel #9 – It’s my first novel set in Malaysia. It is also looking like my first YA novel with four of the five main characters being teenagers.  This novel premise wasn’t even on my radar until about 6 weeks ago when a curious phrase popped through my mind. That’s how novels germinate for me. Usually a phrase, followed by an image, which grows into an idea worthy of long-format writing.  Then I develop the characters and let the story loose to see where it will go. This one is flowing, so I hope a good month of steady writing will produce a solid first draft.  Maybe by mid-July? Let’s see.

Start novel #10 – Actually, I already have. This idea I’ve been playing with for over a year and a half. I even wrote the first chapter already and I know where it’s going. But it requires a little research, so it will take some more time. I hope to have a solid start to this novel by the end of August. How about half-written? Nice goal.

Play-writing – I never discount play-writing because that’s the form that comes the most naturally to me. I have a show I wrote last year called Crazy Love, but I want to add one or two more pieces to it, so when the muse strikes, I set aside my novels for the afternoon.

Excited for summer? I hope you are at least half-excited as I am, and if you are, you’re plenty excited.

Looking for Story that’s a little Different?

Looking for Story that’s a little Different?

As the reviews of THE FORGOTTEN CHILD TRILOGY have started to come in, there has been a distinct trend. This book is unique. Take a look at a few snippets from reviews about this series:

“once in a great while I run across something so different, so moving, that I am left astonished”

“What a silly little book! So why is it so compelling”

“… odd yet interesting …”

“Not at all what I expected … can’t wait for the next one”

“This was a really odd story, but I loved it.”

“Unlike anything I’ve ever read before.”

“This is one of the strangest books I have ever read.”

“This unusual series blends magical realism into a high octane adventure. I guarantee you’ve never read a similar series. I know I haven’t!”

How about you? Ready to read something out of the ordinary? Give THE FORGOTTEN CHILD TRILOGY a chance.

Book 1: A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far

Book 2: The African Connection

Book 3: A Parting in the Sky

Trilogy ALL COVER

 

 

 

When was the last time you … ?

Think. What do you love to do but haven’t done it for a long time?

I know. There are reasons why you haven’t done it. Everyone has excuses.

I’ve done something this past week that I haven’t done in about a year and it’s been real enjoyable: guitar playing and song composing.

I won’t go into all the ridiculous reasons that my guitar was packed away awaiting a move that never happened for a year, but I can attest that it really has been a year without playing it.  And I missed it.

And it struck me how that cliched comment about “it’s like riding a bike”  came to the forefront of my mind when I put the fretboard in my hand for the first time in 12 months. My brain and fingers remembered everything. It’s pretty remarkable. I forget stuff all the time, but all the chords and finger positionings came naturally like I never stopped playing.

I plucked out some chords to the melody I created that matched some lyrics I made which are related to a new novel I’m writing. Yeah, a bunch of strange connections there.

But the point it this: I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy writing lyrics. I enjoy composing songs on the guitar, and it felt great to do it again.

What about you? What do you love to do that you haven’t done in a long time? Try it out again. It’s been far too long.

I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics to my untitled new song.

RANDOM UNTITLED SONG LYRICS

Part of me is reaching, to set upon the stars

To grasp a piece of heaven, to lunge to places far,

       Part of me is crying out, to reach inside your heart,

  But I hold no ill will.

           No, I hold no ill will.

Part of me is trying. To understand this world.

Untangle all the colors that blindness tends to swirl

And form the ground beneath our feet that heaven’s gate unfurls

But I hold no ill will.

Yes, I hold no ill will.

The past it paints its canvas black with speckled sparks of light,

Glimpses to remind me of where I’ve been,

 The future holds the promises of many well-fought fights,

But I’ll never turn away from where I’ve been.

                 Cause I’ve seen the poorest soul be trampled to the ground,

 And I cannot turn away from where I’ve been,

        And I’ve seen the lights of fame adorning all around

Yet even more, it grips my breast, and hold it tight onto my chest

               All the places, good or bad, I’ve ever been

(copyright 2019 Mark W Sasse)