Novel Writing: Time to Do the Heavy Lifting

I’m writing my first trilogy, and I must admit, the first 2/3s has come rather easily. Book one cruised by and set-up book two perfectly. Book two introduced some new characters and the adventure went farther, deeper, and more enjoyable than I could have anticipated. Even the ending flowed, setting up book three.

But now, well, I’ve just realized something. If I want this series to end in book three, which I do, then it’s time to do the heavy lifting. By heavy lifting, I mean I need to invest some serious amount of time into thinking, yes thinking, before I get back to writing.

I know the ending of the trilogy. It’s a no-brainer in my mind, but I sat down yesterday and did my first actual writing on book three, I realized that I got a lot of work to do if I’m going to tie all these lose ends together, because I have a lot of loose ends. This series has a plethora of related plots, which have worked well up to this point, and I am confident that they will work well through the ending, but admittedly, I don’t see it all yet.

Now some might call this writer’s block, but I think that’s nonsense. I have plenty of things to write about in this novel and I could go and whip off a chapter right now if I’d like. But, in my mind, this is the crucial moment. The moment of decision which is going to affect a reader’s overall view of this trilogy.

The problem is all about choices. There are so many choices to make. Here are a few:

When should the story pick up again? Immediately after book 2?  I think not. I need a new clever hook, and I have that, I believe. The new book will start in 1348 Europe, the Europe that’s being decimated by the black plague. Has my series had anything to do with that so far? No. That’s why I think it’s cool. A reader will start wondering what in the world this has to do with the plotline, but they will be rewarded, I, as the writer, must make sure of it. And I will.

But after my jaunt in time is finished, how do I pick up the lives of the main characters? Is it the next day? The next week? The next year? I’m currently leaning towards week.

If I choose week, what has transpired that the readers are going to need to know about? And how do I insert that situation? Should I isolate the main characters? Should I have them together? Each decision changes the way the book will flow.

What about the villains? Are they going to get away with it? Are they going to be tracked down? How? What surprises await them? What surprises await the readers?

Do all of my character’s actions feel justified by their motivation?

So I am at a writing crossroad, but before I choose, I must consciously weigh each path and then choose one. Will I ever know if I chose the right one or the wrong one? No. Writing is so subjective that it makes reading extremely subjective.

All I can do is do the proper heavy lifting in my mind and then hope for the best. Here goes.


Out of the Bubble

I currently live in Saudi Arabia, and as an expat, it’s easy to find yourself living in comfortable bubble. My life in Jeddah feels that way in many respects. My main existence is a combination of apartment living on a compound, busing to school and back, all day at an American school that looks and feels like an American school, and then excursions to restaurants where most of the wait staff is from the Philippines. It’s not difficult to forget where it is I live.

Just for an evening, we decided to stroll the new corniche area of Jeddah, which buttresses up against the Red Sea. It was a Friday evening, and people were out and about EVERYWHERE! This is a beautiful and large new water front development complete with public beaches in the pristine water, children’s play parks, outdoor sculptures, and a terrific bike and walking path right in between the Corniche Road. But while here, I was unmistakably reminded of where I live.  Uncountable Saudi families brought their carpets and spread them out on the grassy areas to enjoy the evening air. Boys played soccer, while ladies in abayas and hijabs chatted in groups and strolled slowly through plethora of sidewalks. Children and a few men splashed in the water.

It’s good to get out of one’s bubble from time to time. You get to feel the flow of the culture. You get to question things you thought you understood, and you get a feel for the local people whom you don’t actually meet too often.

It was a pleasant evening strolling by the Red Sea. Here are a few photos.

Theatre Arts: The Open Art Form

In my estimation, there’s nothing like live theatre. It’s the most intimate art form. The most personal art form. The most human art form. The most ephemeral art form.

Unlike a painting or a sculpture, the theatre arts is an open art form. When was the last time the Mona Lisa changed her smile? When was the last time Michelangelo’s David scratched an itch? In contrast, when was the last time you saw a play two days in a row and it was exactly the same? Never on all three counts. This is the beauty of the dramatic arts.

When I talk about theatre with my new students who have never acted before, I ask them these two questions:

  • At the intermission of a play, what does the audience talk about? Invariably, the answer is “The first half of the play,” or “What they liked or didn’t like,” or “What’s going to happen next.

Then I ask them the follow-up question?

  • During intermission, what are the actors talking about backstage?

The answer to most of them who have never acted before is not as obvious. But if you’ve ever been backstage during intermission, it’s very clear what the focus is on. The actors are talking about the audience. Is it a good audience? Is it a bad audience? Why didn’t they laugh at that certain part? Why did they laugh at that certain part.

Those are fun conversations to take part of because every audience is different, which means that every show is different. In an open art form, the audience impacts the performers and the performers impact the audience. It’s that interaction, that synergy which, in my estimation, raises the theatre arts to a whole new level of artistic expression.

Live theatre displays humanity in all its glory with all its warts. It can reach deep inside someone’s heart and affect them in ways you would not imagine. A few years back, I had a woman come to me after watching one of the shows I had written and directed. I had never seen this woman before. She had tears in her eyes, and she gave me a huge hug, thanking me for what she saw. She said it meant so much to her. I was flabbergasted to say the least. There’s no greater compliment as an artist than to affect change, encourage conversation, inspire action, and impact a member of the audience.

That’s why I can’t understand when people say they don’t like drama. That drama is too boring. To me, it’s the same as saying “I don’t like humanity.”


What I Learned by Attending a Desert Party

A while back, I was invited to a desert party. It was unlike any party I had ever attended, and it was such a unique and interesting cultural event that I ended up learning a lot about living in Saudi Arabia.

  1. There are farms in the desert. I thought of deserts being these endless sandboxes with nothing in them. Well, I was wrong. The party was at a desert farm. The owner owned “about as much land as you can see” – or should I say as much sand as you could see – but the sand and harshness of the climate doesn’t stop the farming. There were large pens of sheep, goats, and camels — all guarded by dogs — and they all seemed perfectly content to live their lives in the middle of the most deserty desert you could ever imagine. Who knew?
  2. There are more than animals in the desert. People live there too. This became evident at dusk when scattered lights could be seen in all directions. Before the giant ball of fire in the sky dipped below the horizon, there was nothing in any direction except for sand. And then suddenly, lights popped up everywhere. Where did all these people come from?
  3. Saudis know how to party. A large section of the desert was sectioned off by high wooden stakes and a thick, hearty fabric. Inside the walls which swayed in the wind were sections of carpet for lounging, bouncy house, sound system, camels and horses for riding, kites, and a huge spread of so many meats that my cholesterol level rose just by looking at it. One especially delectable dish was layers of mutton and beef ribs which were layered on rice and cooked underground. Delicious. The dancing started and men and women alike shared their varied moves on the dance floor. Arabian coffee and tea flowed freely and shisha brought its fragrance to the corners of the comfortable tents. Outside the walled structure were four wheelers to ride and high-end cars that a dealer brought in for test drives. All of this in the middle of the desert. To find it, one had to drive on the tracks in the sand of the vehicle in front of you. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
  4. Your view of Saudi Arabia is probably not accurate. I know mine wasn’t. This party once again ripped apart my pre-conceived notions of life in the kingdom. I’ve been realizing how wrong I was for the past five months and this just helped to seal the deal. Not one thing that happened that night would have been on my list of what Saudi Arabia is like before I came here. And you know what, it’s pretty cool to be wrong.


I’m giving away on Goodreads 100 copies (Kindle version) of book 1 of  the brand new Forgotten Child Trilogy.

That’s right! 100 copies.


I want to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible. Why? Because I believe in this story. I had a blast writing it, and I want to share the enjoyment.

The Story:

If she wanted help changing the world for one forgotten child, she chose the wrong man. Seventy-two-year-old Francis Frick would scorn his own family to close another deal. But Bee doesn’t see the world like you or me. She is an optimist, searching for potential where none exists, and so she hovers above Frick’s bed every night, eating pomegranates and waiting for his eyes to open to the possibilities. One night, it finally happens. A rogue droplet of juice slips through her fingers and hits the sleeping Manhattan businessman on the forehead, thrusting him on a series of baffling adventures to some of the twentieth century’s most brutal regimes—all to help Bee save a forgotten child of history.

A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far is part one of The Forgotten Child Trilogy—a one-of-a-kind adventure that mixes time travel, magical realism, and historical fiction into a contemporary story about an old man, his estranged daughter, and a tiny flying person in a white robe, who chooses to believe that anything can happen with enough prodding and an endless supply of pomegranates.

Forgotten Child Trilogy Book1 FrontCoverFinal

No Costumes + No Set = Terrible Show, Right?

“Honestly, I expected it to be terrible. When you told me that the actors don’t where costumes and that there is no set, that they only use these black boxes, I expected it to be the worst show I ever saw.”

This is what one of my students said to me after he saw my first show in Saudi Arabia. Then he added this:

“But, wow, I was impressed. It was so good.”

Drama, theatre, stage plays, musicals – they are not about spectacle. It is not costumes or elaborate set pieces or impressive special effects that make or break a dramatic performance.

At its most basic core, successful drama connects a story to an audience.

That’s it. All the bells and whistles in the world won’t make a lasting impact if this most basic fact isn’t adhered to.

That is why I have fallen in love with the concept of black box theatre. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m always struck by the fact of how many people tell me its their favorite type of drama performance after they see it.

We do small vignettes or sketches, short plays, actually, that are connected around a certain theme. Our actors all wear blue jeans and ensemble t-shirts, typically black, and we use minimal props and no set pieces at all except for our black wooden boxes. The boxes are 2 ft X 2 ft X 18in high. They have handles cut into the sides for easy movement. The boxes can become anything at all. A single box can be a chair. Two boxes can be a love seat. Three a couch. They can be stacked to create a staircase. Two stacked boxes can be a podium. Add a few more for a counter. The uses for them are endless. It allows seamless scene changes between sketches and provides the audience with more than enough visuals for their imaginations to take over for them.

This type of storytelling gets rid of distractions and allows everyone to focus on the content of what we are trying to communicate.

This type of drama is unparalleled in giving the actors unique and difficult material to grapple with. It’s raw. It’s intense. It’s face-paced. It’s meaningful. It’s griping. The ensemble nature of my shows give all actors challenging and varied roles which gives the terrific opportunities to grow in their skills.

I will probably be doing this kind of drama for the rest of my life.

It’s not all I do. There’s a time and place for elaborate productions and over-the-top costumes. I love spectacle as much as the next drama enthusiast.

But you don’t need spectacle to make an impact, and in fact it may oftentimes inhibit its formation.

Try striping down a show. Go minimalist. No costumes. Only black t-shirts. No set pieces. Only black boxes. Let the story be the focus.

You might just be amazed.

I always am.


What will become of you … book?

(Just a few simple thoughts of what will happen to the books I mailed out to winners of my Goodreads’ giveaway.)

I packed and sealed you in a cardboard box,

Love and time and tears and patience constructed the story between your covers,

I post you to a new destination,

but what will become of you, my book?

A cardboard box inside a mail box waiting for a hand to pull it out.

A look of curiosity will strike the face first, “What is this?”

She’ll read the label and remember the giveaway.  A slight smile settles on her face, but is it a foretaste of what is to come?

What will happen when she opens the package?

Will she laugh with delight and marvel at the colorful tones of the cover?

Will he fan the pages over his face to take the new book for its first ride?

Will it sit on the kitchen counter throughout the day for all family members to flip through to see the new edition?

Will it end up on a nightstand for some pre-snooze reading and will the pages awaken the weary-eyed heart, keeping her up until the wee hours of dawn trying to decipher  the motives of mean Mr. Frick from Manhattan?

I sent you off in good faith. Hoping to share a little joy, a jaunt of adventure to help one escape the mundane qualities of another Monday.

I hope laughter comes and excitement builds. I hope frustration mounts when book one climaxes. Perhaps it even falls off the bed as she mutters “Ahhh, what’s going to happen? When does book two come out?”

Will a helping hand hold out the book and offer it to a friend, “You should read this. I never heard of this author, but I really enjoyed it. The second book is coming out soon.”

Can one book’s lifespan become two or multiply to more?

You have much potential, sitting inside a cardboard box, riding in the back of a postal truck. Limitless in hope.



it …

be thrown on a book shelf, sandwiched between 75 Recipes from Tuscany and an unread Louis L’amour?

What will become of you, my book?