Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2009 - Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images Europe

A year ago to this day I was making my way off of the large cramped cargo plane and onto the hot tarmac of  Sather airbase in Baghdad. To be honest Thanksgiving didn't seem to be filled with much to be thankful for. I was 7000 miles away from my family and friends, I was now having to wear body armor and carry a weapon, I was anxious and unsure of what I would be doing, and to top it all off I had no idea if there would pie with dinner.

Everything there was unfamiliar and my nerves were on edge. From the airbase with the rest of my squad I loaded onto the armored buses that would take us to our new home. On that trip I wanted to take everything in, all the sights the sounds the smells, well not all of the smells, so naturally I fell asleep within minutes.
Unloading all of my gear and meager amount of personal possessions into the small metal container that would be my home for the remainder of my stay at the base, I just sat there on the bed taking it all in and asking myself, "Why the hell did I volunteer for this?"

That evening the dinning hall had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, and yes they did have pie, and yes I did have seconds. The next morning began my tour in Iraq and each day I came home I was thankful to the soldiers I served with, the family that supported me, the new friends I met, and the fact that I made it through another day.

Today soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are celebrating Thanksgiving, tomorrow the rest of us here in the States will. I hope that you will join me in being thankful to those who serve, to their families that sacrifice and to those who work in organizations like the UN and IOM who dedicate so much of their lives to bring stability in unstable regions.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving day, eat too much, and share wonderful laughter with those you love.

Ciao,
Clark

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Finding Hemingway Part Two

Trail Creek road
So there we were on a mountaintop road with barely enough room for one car and no cell service. On the right hand was a sharp drop off that if we were so unlucky to tumble down would ensue in a crash and explosion that would certainly rival any Hollywood film. So cautiously I coxed the car onward up the mountainside, my hands grasping tight around the wheel until my fingers turned white. The next morning would begin Idaho's hunting season and we encountered a few pickup trucks that were zooming along this precarious road. I would pull to the far side of an occasional small turn out in the road to allow these prepared motorists to fly past us leaving in their wake a wave of dust that would cause me to drive even slower and grasp my steering wheel even tighter. The boys in the backseat were oblivious to the danger, their old man had put them in, as they happily watched Teddy Ruxpin.
After thirty minutes of this white knuckle driving we crested the pass and began our decent; shortly arriving back on to the blessed blacktop. Charity's phone had picked up a signal.
"We're only a few miles out." She said as the blood slowly began to flow to my fingers.
"This place is just beautiful." I remarked taking in the sights.
I love the fall colors and honestly I haven't seen a more spectacular display of Fall foliage than in Sun Valley. Mixing in between the trees were old style homes and log cabins that added to the rustic flair of the area. It was like taking a step into another time.
When we reached the condo I called our hosts to let them know we had finally made it, an hour later than planned, and gave them a brief rundown of my mistaken turn and the trip over Trail Creek. Both laughed with me but Trish said that several people go that way to see the beautiful scenery while Suzan remarked that she avoids that road at all costs.
Our hosts had set up an amazing weekend of activities to do and fantastic places to eat but one of the things I was most looking forward to was finding Hemingway's home in Sun Valley. Like so many people my age I had been introduced to Ernest Hemingway's writing by assignment in an English class. In my American
Jonah and the Bear
Literature class I had a heap of reading assigned and was also required to choose one additional book from a list, read it, and write a six page paper about it. Being an excellent student I reviewed the list thoroughly in order to find which book contained the least number of pages. That great honor fell to Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. To my pleasant surprise I enjoyed the novel and wanted to learn more about the man. When I found out about his life in Idaho I felt a deeper connection and filed it away in my mind. Even though I am not much of a Pilgrim, I thought since I was in the area anyway I should stop in to pay my respects.
The next morning we started out with a fantastic breakfast at The Kneadery where Jonah was accosted by a large bear when he refused to give the bear our table.
After breakfast we enjoyed biking through the miles of bike trails that had been converted from the old railroad tracks that crossed the valley. On our way into Sun Valley we had passed a sign directing people to the Hemingway memorial. It was too far to bike out there and back so we decided we would go there that evening before dinner.
With the sun just completing its' eleven hour work day we pulled into the gravel parking area of the Hemingway memorial. There was a small dirt trail that lead off into the weeds which we ambled along. It wound down a gentle hill to a stream that filled a small rock pool. On the opposite side of the pool was the bust of Papa Hemingway with the inscription that read:
me at the Hemingway memorial
Best of all he loved the Fall
the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
leaves floating on the trout streams
and above the hills
The high blue wilderness skies
...Now he will be a part of them forever
Ernest Hemingway-Idaho-1939

When you look online there is very little exact information on the location of Hemingway's home in Sun Valley but behind the memorial there is another small dirt trail that meanders down the mountain. We hypothesized that his home might lie at the end of the trail. So in the darkness we bravely went forward to the bottom of the mountain. We could see at some distance a clearing with a sign before it. This seemed the obvious direction to take so we marched onward to what we hoped would be Hemingway's home. When we arrived at the sign with our little hungry boys in tow it read: Please do not walk onto golf course. Although we had not found Hemingway's home we did find a nice alternative way onto the greens. There would be time for more searching the next day.
Papa Hemingway's final resting place
That next morning we awoke to gray skies and the threat of rain. Charity had been able to find some vague directions online and after a fantastic brunch we set off again, first stopping at the Ketchum cemetery to pay our respects to Papa Hemingway and in some odd superstitious way perhaps gain some favor for my upcoming novel.
It took some time to finally find Papa Hemingway's tomb, among the beautiful headstones in this peaceful place, but when we did it was humbling to see the adoration and respect that people continue to pay to him. Coins of various values and countries cover the long gray slab of granite that marks Papa Hemingway's final resting place, while at the head are offerings of fine libations. As I was tossing a coin of my own onto the tombstone the dark clouds finally gave way and released the heavy rain that had been pulling them closer to earth. The thunder cracked and lighting split the sky. I silently hoped that I could ignore the superstitious overtones.
Charity and I dashed back to our car and continued on to where we hoped we would get a glimpse of Hemingway's home. I followed the directions Charity read off. We looked for a green house we could see from the road, but did not see one. She tried to find another set of directions. By following those we were in a dead end road overlooking the entire valley and although the view was marred by the dark clouds of rain it was still spectacular. Finally in a small article about a civil case involving the home she found an address, instead of a random assortment of useless directions. It took us ten minutes to cross the valley and finally arrive on the street. We had been down mountainsides, crossed residential areas, run through the rain, hiked in the dark and finally we had arrived.
I turned to Charity and we exchanged a look of accomplishment at a job well done. I looked back at my boys who were playing with legos.
"That is where Ernest Hemingway lived." I said with pride as if I had just uncovered some long lost tomb.
"Can we go back to the toy store?" Riley asked.
"Yeah!" Jonah chimed in.
Well, to each their own.

As a final note, I would just like to publicly thank the families of the Blaine County Republican Women who made this trip possible for my family. Thank you and bless you all.
-Clark  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest Post: Runaway — Inspired by Mandy Rose Writen by Author Susie Finkbeiner

I would like to introduce you to Author Susie Finkbeiner. She is from the great State of Michigan and has just finished her first novel and is currently working on three collections of short stories. She is one of the founding members of Kava Writer's Collective and is currently in works to start a literary journal for Michigan writers and artists.If you enjoy her work like I do please check out her website http://susiefinkbeiner.com/
Without further ado I give you Susie Finkbeiner:

Author Susie Finkbeiner

I woke up. The alley was dark and smelled like every bad odor mixed into one. My head was bleeding. And I had no idea who I was.

“Look at that. Runnin’ so fast you fell down and cracked your head.” That voice sent chills through my blood. When I looked at him, I was even more terrified. “Baby, why you gotta act like you don’t want it.”

“No. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. I wished I could make my voice less pathetic. Less pleading. “Just leave me alone. I’m hurt. I need help.”

He started at me, hand on his belt buckle. He licked his lips in a way that made me want to throw up.

There was a crashing sound. He fell down. A woman stood behind him with a rolling pin.

“You okay, honey?” she asked.

It took me a minute to realize she was talking to me.

“Yeah. I guess so.”

She stepped over him to help me up. “Let’s get you inside and call the police on this scum bucket. I figure he’ll be down for a good half hour.”

“I have no idea who he is.”

“Well, you sure are lucky. Cause you was just about to get to know him pretty bad like.” She looked upwards. “Hey, Glen! Get yourself down here and make sure this dude don’t get back up. I’m callin’ the cops.”

She pulled me into a doorway. Had me sit at a dining room table. Gave me a glass of orange juice and a few crackers.

“Thank you,” I said. “Can you please tell me where I am.”

“You’re in Detroit. You from around here?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Whatchu mean you don’t know? Don’t they be teaching that kinda stuff in school no more?”

“I don’t know. But something’s wrong. I can’t remember anything.”

“We should get you right to the hospital. You got insurance?”

“I hope so.”

“Well, you got yourself a wallet?”

I checked my pockets. Just an address and $20. “Do you think this is my address?”

“Ain’t no city or state written on there.”

“Is that weird?”

“Honey, this all be weird.” She drew her face near to mine. “Your eyes be lookin’ funny. We better get you a ambulance.”
The doctor examined my eyes. Used tweezers to pull dirt out of the gash on my head. Cleaned me, stitched me, bandaged me.

“You don’t remember anything, eh?” he asked.

I shook my head. The  movement sent shots of agony down my neck.

“Well, then you probably don’t know that you match a missing child profile.”

“Do you mean, like, I was kidnapped or something?”

“Runaway. We’ve contacted your parents. They’re on their way.” He stood. “Would you like a sucker?”

“Yeah. That’s cool.” I took the treat. “Hey, did you talk to my parents?”

“No. One of the nurses did.”

“Can you ask her if they sounded excited?”

“Of course. But what parents wouldn’t be enthused that their lost child was found?”

“I don’t know. I just had a feeling.”

“Interesting. I’m going to make a note of that in your chart.”
Two adults walked into my room. A man. A woman. They stood, awkwardly far apart. They were afraid to touch me or show emotion or say anything.

“Are you my parents?” I asked. “The doctor said that I might recognize you. But I don’t.”

“Yes, sweetie,” the man said. His voice cracked. “It’s daddy and mommy.”

“Oh, I’m so glad they found you.” The woman rushed to me, held my head close to her chest.

“Please let go. You’re hurting me.” I pulled at her arms, knowing that the bandage would have to be wrapped again.

“Do you feel okay?” The man walked to the other side of my bed.

The man and woman both held my hands. Trying to see who could get the most eye contact. Competitive over me. Their daughter.

“Why did you run away? Precious, we’ve been so worried.” The woman let a tear fall on my bed sheet.

“I called the police right away.”

“I made sure they did an Amber Alert.”

“The news stations came to me for a press conference.”

“Well, who got the prayer chain going?”

Were they fighting over me? A memory slipped back. They were fighting. All the time. Screaming. Throwing things against the wall. Cheating on one another.

“You’re getting a divorce, aren’t you?” I asked.

“The doctor said you wouldn’t remember anything.” My mother put her hand on my forehead. I wondered if it was instinct or a power-play.

“I remember the fighting.”

“Oh, honey, you weren’t supposed to hear all that.” My father placed the back of his hand on my cheek.

“It was so loud. How could I not hear it?”

And so, I ran away. I remembered. I ran because I couldn’t take it anymore. All the battles over custody. Money. The house. The cars.

My father’s voice reverberated in my memory, “If we’d never had her this divorce would have been over long ago!”

I remembered the pain of realizing that I was part of ruining their lives. They could have been happy. But I was there, forcing them to remain miserable. How many nights had I sobbed, trying to be quiet so they wouldn’t hear me? Countless. Far too many.

And so I left. So they could be happy without me and without each other.

“If you wouldn’t have fought so hard for the house, she would have never left,” my mother said, accusing my father.

“Oh, don’t you put this on me,” he answered. “She was fine. The divorce wasn’t bothering her.”

They yelled over my hospital bed. Cussing and spitting venom and not once listening to the other.

“Okay, listen up!” The voice was loud. Smooth. “The last dude that bothered my friend got a rolling pin to the skull. Anybody else wanna tango with me today?”

“Excuse me,” my father turned his tempter toward her. “This is a family affair here. It doesn’t concern you.”

“What’s her name?” she asked, smiling at me.

“Vivianna.” My mother looked at me. Scowling. “His mother insisted on that name. Otherwise we wouldn’t get an inheritance.”

“That’s not true. She just wouldn’t put money in Viv’s college fund.” My father pointed his finger into the air.

“Yeah. A lot of good that college fund did. She’s just a runaway now.”

“Vivianna,” the woman said, her dark eyes sparkling. “I know enough Spanish. That name means ‘life’.”

My parents backed away from my bed. It was like some kind of magic repelled them.

“Vivianna, your parents be some selfish peoples. You know that, right, sugar?”

I nodded.

“But that don’t mean you gotta be runnin’ around, gettin’ jumped by every scum in Detroit.” The woman put a hand on my foot. “It sure be hard to know which is better. The street or bein’ with these two. They be unhappy folk, ain’t they?”

I nodded again. It felt like a trance I was being pulled into.

“It ain’t your fault. You know that? It’s their fault. They be the ones messed up. They be the ones not workin’ it all out. But it ain’t your fault at all, baby girl.”

I felt a freedom. A new life. Fresh air. Brighter light. Weight left me.

“I know somewhere’s in their hearts they love you. I suspect they ain’t gonna be so hard on each other. Not no more.” She looked at my mother and father. “Right?”

They nodded at her, in awe.

“You be precious, Vivianna. You live. You stick around at that house of yours. Don’t come back to the streets. Ain’t no place for you.”

“But the address…” I said.

“That address ain’t no place you wanna go, doll. You be findin’ all kinds of trouble there. I had a friend check it out. Full a’ no good. More a’ what that thug wanted in the alley.” She waved the thought off. “Now you go on home with your mom and dad. They ain’t gonna put you in the middle no more.”

Then she was gone.

My parents sat in the chairs. Looked at me. Were quiet.

I closed my eyes, trying to remember my family as whole. Happy. Smiling. That memory never came.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Finding Hemingway Part One

This past weekend was so fantastic. Truly one of the best weekends that I can remember. I spent it with my wife and two sons in the beautiful town of Ketchum Idaho. It wasn't the easiest of trips to begin with but before I get to the tale of woe I want to publicly thank the Blaine County Republican Women, especially Suzan and Trish for the support they gave to me and my fellow soldiers in Iraq this past year and for the amazing warmth and hospitality that they showed to my family this weekend, thank you.

In planning the route to take on a trip it usually comes down to one of two things: first, the distance and second, the scenery. However our route was planned by our dog Maggie. You see we weren't able to take her with us so we set up plans to have someone in our home town of Idaho Falls watch her but at the last minute those plans fell through and so I called my parents to see if they would do it. I actually knew that they would, they love Maggie but that is also the reason they weren't my first choice because I have a secret fear that one day they will snatch her and take her to Mexico or some other country where dognapping extradition laws are vague. At any rate Maggie was going up to the folks house and I had two choices: take Maggie up the night before or the morning of. Neither option seemed that exciting as it would add 60 extra miles on to my trip. So I sat and thought about it and it hit me that we could drive Maggie up, get lunch in Rexburg, and then go across the desert and see some of those pretty places we've never been to.

In retrospect I wonder if that is how the Donner Party started out, I can just imagine the conversation.
"Hey babe, why don't we take the Hastings cut off? We have to go that way anyway to drop the mining supplies off at your sisters."
"I don't know isn't it a bit dangerous this time of the year?"
"Oh we'll be fine. And besides it has great scenery. Maybe we can even grab a bite on the way."

With Maggie dropped off, lunch secured and iPhone map in hand we set off toward Arco via Mud Lake. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was bright and there were no clouds in the sky. We passed through Mud Lake and I commented that it would make the perfect setting for a good serial killer story. My oldest son wanted to know why it was called Mud Lake and being a good father I made up the best answer that I could think of.
"It's because there was a lake and now it is just filled with mud. In fact they only use it for mud wrestling and making mud pies."
Being the good son he is he immidiatly asked my wife if that was true and she just shook her head.
"He's just teasing you."
"Dad!"
As we crossed the desert my passengers began to be absorbed in their iPhones and Game Boys. I had small tinge of envy wishing they would put some form of video entertainment in the steering wheel so I would have something to do while I drove.
Our first stop would be in Arco. Before the end of the Cold War the US Navy trained its sailors on nuclear submarine engines in the Idaho desert near Arco and to commemorate that past, the town of Arco received the sail from the decommissioned USS Hawkbill. I had read about it in the local paper a few years ago and always wanted to go out and see Satan's Submarine, but just had never had the time to go.
Jonah, Riley and Charity in front of Satan's Submarine in Arco Idaho.
From Arco we would be traveling to the Craters of the Moon national monument where my budding scientist Jonah could learn about the area's lava flows, my wild child Riley could run off his energy and the rest of us would enjoy some scenery. This route would continue taking us along the very flat part of the Idaho desert. But as I drove this route the odd thing I kept noticing was the large mountains with just a touch of the first snow and the beautiful leaves that were showing their fall colors in the big clumps of trees. This did not seem right but I kept seeing the signs saying "Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway" so I continued to assume I was on the right road. It was when I hit the town of Mackay and needed to stop for gas that I knew I had gone the wrong way.
"Babe I really messed up and I missed our turn." I confessed to Charity.
"I thought you were just taking another way, see you can still get to Ketchum from here." She showed me the map on her iPhone. There was a small blue colored route that cut across the mountains just a few miles out of town. The map program said it would be an hour and a half drive but it was only 45 miles and we assumed that the program was just being cautious.
Finally making the turn onto Trail Creek, after I once again missed the turn, we found that Trail Creek was a lovely two lane paved road with a 55 mile an hour speed limit. The mountains were craggy, dotted with aspen trees that were displaying bright yellows and reds and the road passed over a score of mountain streams. To put it simply it was beautiful.
"This isn't bad at all." I said confidently.
We passed a small wooden sign that said "Chilly Cemetery." We looked off into the distance and saw at the end of a washboard road a small fenced off cemetery nestled at the foot of a mountain.
"We're not taking this way back, we should go see it." Charity said.
I gladly turned the car in and slowly trundled along the bumpy road. Both Charity and I enjoy, in a very normal unghoulish way, roaming through cemeteries. There is something about seeing the names, especially those that have died too young, that resonates with me and my own loss. And there is also a wonderful art in the memorializing of a person and their deeds in stone.

Chilly Cemetery off of Trail Creek road
It was remarkable to both of us how, this final resting place that was so far off the beaten path, was so well kept. There was also a surprising mix of very old and sadly recent headstones. Not only were these people buried in a place of beauty their loved ones cared enough to make the trek on a regular basis for the upkeep.

We took several photos and finally loaded back into the car and headed down Trail Creek road. We were making excellent time until we came down the side of one of the many sloping hills to see a sign I had been worried that might crop up; "Pavement Ends." Our 55 MPH highway turned into a 35 MPH back-road littered with rocks of various sizes and jagged edges waiting with hungry eyes to take a bite out of our tires. Not only was our little Toyota Matrix already feeling very out of place, up ahead loomed a small one lane mountain road that we would have to take in order to reach Ketchum and find Papa Hemingway's house.
It didn't look good, but it could be worse.
"Babe, we just lost cell service." Charity said.

That's all the time for Write Now but come back soon for part two.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Spooky Time!


This is hands down my favorite time of the year and if I had a way that I could bottle the Halloween feeling and drink it in everyday I would. I mean what is better than being able to make the outside of your house look like a creepy cemetery and the inside like something a witch would feel comfortable living in? And don't forget to top it all off you get at least one day when you can play dress up out in normal society and no one thinks you're too weird (sorry, but there will always be at least one person who thinks you're weird.)

As soon as October first rolled around I pulled out the skeleton flamingos and put them up in the yard. They were a little dusty but very eager to get out to work adding to the spooky ambiance with the tombstones. Inside my sons helped me put up wall decals and distribute the cobwebs. All in all a very good job, it's just sad it will all come down so soon. I stopped in at the local Every Think store and they are already crowding out the Halloween decorations with Christmas stuff. I really wish we could just get through one holiday at a time.
Anyway, all this great spookiness has been getting me thinking of writing some spooky stories. Certainly my new novel, Loves Deception, has some great thrills, but none of that spooky Halloween element that I see as the supernatural.

This last weekend I went to Salt Lake City for a wedding and while there took the family to see this great little shopping village where all the shopkeepers had decorated with these fantastic witches made from pumpkins and gourds. Just walking around and taking it all in gave me such a great Halloween feeling. Of course maybe if it was Halloween all the time it wouldn't have that same effect. It would be a lot like stores selling eggnog all year, sure it would taste great and...well maybe that isn't the best example, but I'm sure it would lose some of it's magic. Maybe in the same way I could write a nice supernatural spooky book on occasion. So although the next three books I've got planned out are all squarely in the Crime/Thriller genre I would still like to explore the fun possibilities of the spooky supernatural with all its' great monsters and settings.
Actually I've had a couple of really good ideas for a book with a good Halloween feel to them but the paranoid writer in me doesn't want to share them just yet because I just know you'll steal them (because they're that good). Suffice it to say when they do come out you'll look back at this moment and say "Yeah, I would have stolen those ideas."

But that does leave a pretty open question: What makes a great spooky story? I think most of us have sat around the campfire, or flashlight, and told or heard a spooky story. Those types of stories sometimes even invade our everyday life. In Iraq the unit I was with was moved to a new base and it was really large with a lot of foreign nationals. Immediately we were instructed that we had to travel in groups of two or more and under no circumstances should we ever go visit with a foreign national. When asked why the extra care was needed we were told the following story:

Not too long ago on this very base a US soldier, just like you, made friends with a foreign national. They were good enough friends and the US soldier felt safe with the foreign national. One day the US soldier wanted to go and visit his new friend but no one wanted to go with him so he decided that he would go alone. So he crept out of his CHU and do you know what happened?

He was never heard from again!

Now I have no idea if that story was even close to being true (and certainly I have taken some liberties in the retelling). I do think this type of story certainly demonstrates several of the parts that really help to make a good spooky story.
  1. Familiar Location.
  2. Similarity of character.
  3. Hanging ending.
So first, just like in realty, location plays such an important element. Having a familiar location that your reader can identify with will make it seem more real and therefore more believable. A lot of those old ghost stories I've heard might be the same but their locations are easily transplanted from one state to another.

Second, like with the location, you need characters that your reader can relate to in a close way. This of course is true in any genre of writing but in a story that will have the reader abandoning some reality to buy in to your supernatural spooky story I believe that you must add even more similarity to your main character to increase the believability factor.

Lastly the use of leaving the ending open for debate on what really happened will leave people talking about the story much more than if it was all wrapped up like a Scooby Doo mystery. And with this type of ending it leaves a nice opening for a sequel no matter how many of your characters you may have killed off.

Well that's about it for now. I hope you have some great Halloween plans and lots of haunting to do.

Ciao,

Clark

Friday, September 23, 2011

Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

The week of September 24th to October 1st is Banned Book Week. It happens during the last week of September and first began in 1982 because of the large number of books that were being challenged and some times out right banned in libraries, bookstores and schools. To this day there have been 11,000 books that have been challenged (to see a listing of the top books from the past two decades go to ala.org).
This week is an opportunity for all of us to join together in our support of keeping books on the shelves and our minds open to new and different ideas. I am very excited to be able to participate in banned book week through this virtual read out on youtube.com I hope that you will take a few minutes out of your day to pick up a banned or challenged book and add your voice to mine in supporting our right to read.
Although I could have chose several books that I enjoy that are on the banned and challenged list I have chosen to read from Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. I hold the Harry Potter series close to my heart because it really is the book series that got me excited about fiction again and without that excitement I would never have written my novel Loves Deception and also would never have been here talking to you about banned book week.
So without further ado here we go.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Back in the USSA

The Falls

So the past few months have been a crazy time for me. Lots of going here and there and doing this and that. Finally at the beginning of this last week I landed in my home town of Idaho Falls and it has been a fantastic reunion with family and friends.

There certainly have been a lot of changes in the past 13 months. The town has added and lost some businesses (one restaurant opened and closed in that 13 month period and I never had a chance to sample their wares). The politics of the country has certainly become more European and in so doing making the book Atlas Shrugged seem even more relevant (I'm also wondering when I'll need to begin paying my VAT). My nine year old decided he should grow to my shoulder height (I'm six foot one!) and my 3 year old is riding his bike like a pro and using phrases like "you frustrate me." I've certainly made changes. I've come back with a little more gray in my hair, a novel under my belt, and perhaps a little wiser in the ways of the international world. One thing is for sure, change is inevitable. No matter how badly we may want things to be one way it can't be that way forever.
It's like if you want a job very badly, so you educate yourself, you make the sacrifices and after putting in the hard time you get the job. But the moment you get that job you begin to lose it, others want it, the standards change, your priorities change. Life never gives you that moment where you can just sit still in the same place for long. And that's okay, life would be pretty dull if it always stayed the same, besides all you have to do is just let go and enjoy it (easy right?).

Well there are some great changes on the horizon for you Clark Chamberlain fans. Loves Deception is on track for a November release on Kindle and I am already hard at work on my next thrilling novel which will be taking place in the great city of Butte Montana. Also coming soon will be the return of my weekly videos and a new podcast segment.

Talking about the podcast I am in search of podcasting partner, so if you or someone you know enjoys talking about writing, thrillers and life drop me an email writeclarkchamberlain@gmail.com

Come back Wednesday when I will be revealing the last character from Loves Deception.
Ciao,

Clark

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fare Thee Well Baghdad


I began this journey over a year ago and very soon it will be coming to a close. It won't be too long before I'm back in the states living a very different life, one with more freedoms and more responsibilities. I find that changes of this kind deserve a moment of reflection.
So how did I come to this point? Well it has never been my intention to make this forum an outlet about my military service, but this particular entry may require a smidgen of that detail. As I've mentioned in my post About Me, I had a moment in my life when I wanted to push myself and I decided that service in the army National Guard was the way to do it. In my contract there is a clause that if I am in college I won't be deployed overseas but when this deployment to Iraq came along I waived my right to stay behind and volunteered to go. There were a few reasons I made that decision: I didn't join to watch others go in my place, I have had experiences in life that I hoped by going others might avoid, and I wanted some adventure.
The original mission that I volunteered for was being a gunner on a convoy security operation. I would be out there every day on the dangerous roads having great adventures that would give me so much to write about later in life. Well as so many things change in the army my mission was changed as well and I was stationed as security at one of the entrances to the United Nations in the international zone (the green zone).
As you might have guessed my adventure level dropped considerably, certainly there were a few times my heart raced but it lasted for only a moment, like if lightning was striking close by.
I was a little disheartened over the switch, but if you don't know by now I make my own life so it didn't bother me long and as in the immortal words of Jagger and Richards "You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes well you just might find you get what you need."
Working the gate for the United Nations opened up an entire new world for me; allowing me to meet great new friends and share in their stories of life. It also meant that when my shift was over I had enough time to create this website and write my first novel Loves Deception.
So I have to be honest with you and I can't speak for the rest of Iraq, but Baghdad is a city that I would enjoy returning to one day (when it is more peaceful). There is so much history in this city and a lot of wonderful places to see and it's exotic in a way that I have not experienced before in my American travels. I know that I have not fully explored here and leaving now seems premature.
So it is with a heavy heart that I say farewell to the good friends I have made at the IOM and the UN and also to the city that has given me shelter for this past year. I sincerely hope that our paths will cross again.
Ciao,

Clark

Friday, August 19, 2011

Know What You Write


I was reading another blog where a guest writer was discussing that familiar phrase: write what you know. This writer was discussing, in under 100 words, why you should ignore the phrase and write about what you love, because if you only wrote about what you knew you’d never open yourself up to anything else. 
I have to agree with writing about what you love but I also believe that you should write what you know. This is my reasoning: if you love something you will learn about it, if you learn enough about it you will be able to write about it in a believable way.

Maybe I’m unique in my thought, but I believe that my real life experiences make me a better author. It’s not that I have experienced everything in life; I hope that I don’t, but especially dealing with human emotions there is a lot of spill over from one experience to another. Being able to call upon that real body of knowledge gives me more confidence that my reader will hear the ring of truth in my words. 
For me it all goes back to my civil war novella 100 Days Until Tomorrow. I was just writing a story without knowing anything. I was creating the characters, the battles and emotions (the emotions were the worst). I had no idea what I was doing and it showed. It was that novella and encouragement from a friend that started me on my journey of life. I began to engage others in a way I hadn’t before. I stopped opening my mouth so much and watched more, trying to take in what people did and said and the motivation behind it. 

I also recognized that if I was to be taken seriously I needed to do some decent research before I started writing. My new novel Loves Deception is set in Idaho, Utah, Seattle, and California because I know these places. I am working on the plots for two new novels one set in Iraq and the other Butte Montana. I know Iraq more than I ever wanted too but I have only passed through Butte a few times, so before I get really started writing that novel I plan on spending more time there so I can write about it in a convincing way. Both of those stories also will require more research. 
You don’t have to write everything to be by the book facts but it needs to be believable enough that the reader will surrender their belief or even better that they will walk away believing your story.

So what do you do when you want to write a story and you really know nothing about? Research! Learn all about it. If you can’t go to the place talk to someone who has. If you can't find a person to talk with start reading about it. Avoid taking the easy way out and going to Wikipedia, instead try the library. If you’re researching a specific time period or event check to see if there is a museum dedicated to it (you’d be hitting a gold mine talking with the curators of such an establishment). 
The great thing about whatever subject you are writing on, there will always be an expert. Seek experts out, not only will they be a wealth of information on that particular subject they may also have experiences that you can draw from for the story you are currently working on or a future story. 

I love writing because it is a never ending pursuit of knowledge. You have to continually be filling up your mind with new things, ideas, feelings and places. 

Write what you know about. If you don’t know about anything then learn more. The greatest thing about writing is that it only requires your own mind (and at least a writing utensil and a piece of paper).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Great Attraction of Strength or Creating the Strong Heroine

When it comes to movies I see the majority that come out during the year but I am a very selective television watcher. There is just way too much produced to keep up with all of it. Of course the other reason that I don't frequent the TV airwaves all that often is the amount of really bad TV (mainly the endless supply of reality shows). However there is the occasional show that catches my interest: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Shield, and Burn Notice are a few. Today I watched the first episode of Castle, a crime show where an author and a detective work to solve the murder. If you are already a fan of Castle you now can know for a fact about my lapses in TV viewing as the show originally aired in '09. I'm excited to watch more of this show for three basic reasons: first Nathan Fillion is an enjoyable actor (and it's nice to see he's found something that has lasted for more than a season), second the story is anchored by a murder mystery author (which is pretty obvious reason for me) and third the female lead, played by Stana Katic, has these great strengths which I find irresistible. 

I'm not sure when the exact moment that I decided I was uninterested in the damsel in distress, in both the fictional world and my own life, but it was early on. Take the fictional character Sarah Connor from the original Terminator movies. If you recall in the first Terminator Sarah spends the majority of the time running around scarred for her life and screaming a lot, if you don't recall the first Terminator it's probably because you were too young to see it or maybe you weren't even born yet (either of which is regrettable because you're really missing out on a lot; maybe you can work on that). This first version of Sarah Connor holds none of my interest. Now in the second Terminator Sarah is bold, strong, capable, and, to me, infinitely more attractive because of it. Physically she is the same, she was attractive to begin with, but just like thousands of women like her there was nothing that made her uniquely stand out until she allowed her strengths to manifest.

So I don't know how it is for anyone else but for me when I was watching this first episode of Castle and Stana is throwing on her bulletproof vest and running, gun drawn, after the bad guy, I went proverbially weak in the knees. For me there is nothing more attractive than a woman with the confidence of her own strength. I'm drawn to these types of characters so they often find their way into my writing. So what are some of the characteristics to creating the strong heroine?
  • Personal Values
  • High Intelligence
  • Keeps Commitments
  • Courage
Let's take a closer look at each of the points:

Personal Values. A strong heroine is committed to herself. She has values that she will not compromise for anyone. Her values are not secrets hidden from all but her close friends; on the contrary she is proud of who she is and what she believes in. These values may or may not be in line with what is popular in society, but they are hers and she will never be afraid to stand up for what she believes to be right. 

High Intelligence. A strong heroine has to be highly intelligent and not just book smart but street smart with a lot of that uncommon element in society: common sense. Does she have all the answers to life? No, but her wits allow her to navigate any situation with the confidence that she will be able to find the answer. Although she can navigate any situation her high intelligence really shines in her chosen field of expertise. Whether she is a detective, freedom fighter, social worker, doctor, lawyer, human rights advocate, scientist or stay at home mom she is the beginning and end on the subject, and it shows.

Keeps Commitments. If a strong heroine has made a choice to begin a task she will stay with it until it is completed, even under the most stressful conditions. This is where the strong heroine will walk the razors edge between keeping her personal values and staying till the end of her commitments. If a commitment might compromise her values she will not abandon them but will find the best way to keep the commitment and stay true to herself.

Courage. It's not that she doesn't feel fear, she does, but she presses through the fear and the hopelessness. Even under the worst circumstances she will be standing tall, confident in whom she is. Some may consider her a loner because of her courage, but it is not a deliberate intention to keep people at a distance; the strong heroine wants to have close friendships and love; it is simple a balancing act.

This should give you a really good starting point for incorporating a strong heroine into your own stories, or work to develop your established heroine a little more.

Ciao,

Clark


Monday, August 8, 2011

Back At It

I'm still alive and kicking over here in the desert. Right now it's so hot that my sweat is sweating. Honestly I went out and started a fire the other day just to cool down a little.
It has been too long and although I'm still not able to get videos uploaded I wanted to get back to blogging here. These past few weeks have been very eventful, I've been getting some feedback on my first manuscript which means that I'm getting another step closer to releasing Loves Deception.

Overall the feedback has been very positive which is great for me because I won't have as much to rewrite. Of course it's not perfect and there are some changes that must be made. I think the most interesting thing that I'm seeing in the feedback is that as the author I sometimes forget that the reader doesn't know all the background of the characters that I know. It's just like in life, you're explaining something and it makes perfect sense to you because you have all the background information but to the person you are explaining it to might be a bit lost and may even have to make large jumps over the holes in the information you are giving (or not giving).
So in writing, or in day to day conversation, it's really the same: be detail oriented. So how can you be more detail oriented in writing? Start with the scene set up:
  • Where are your characters?
  • What are they wearing?
  • What time of day is it and how is the weather?
These seem so simple but can be easily overlooked as a writer because they are seen in our minds eye as we are writing and therefore are sometimes left out. As you are placing these set up details look for natural areas to place them. If you simply use the first page jotting down every detail you can have the opposite effect of helping your reader see what you see and instead they can become bombarded and actually tune out the details.
Next look at your character and plot details:
  • Are your character's emotions showing?
  • Is the plot moving forward?
Good detail will help to set up future chapters or can simply move the plot forward. If the detail you have in your chapters does neither it may be unnecessary or need additional detail added in.
I love watching movies but many times they cannot show you the deep emotion in a scene the same way that you can when you read it. Now with character emotions you can go one of two ways: tell what the character is feeling or show what they are feeling. Here are some examples:
Mabel's eyes lit up as she saw Henry enter the packed room.
vs.
As Mabel saw Henry enter the packed room she could feel the happiness wash over her.

Of course sometimes it might be better to have a combination of the two styles: 
  
Henry pulled the cell phone from his pocket; it was Jasper calling him. Henry's countenance dropped as it always did when Jasper called.

In this way you can show his emotion but tell that it happens often, the only way to show that it always happens would be to put several scenes in the story where it continued to happen and there may not always be room for that.
Try using both out to see which you like better.

Come back often as I will be revealing the last two characters in Loves Deception and keeping you posted on my writing and sharing tips to improve your writing.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Going Offline...

I just wanted to let everyone know that for the next month or so I will be offline do to living conditions here in Iraq. This is an inconvenience and will certainly set me back a little bit in the upcoming posts I've planned out. Thank you all so much for your support and I'll be talking to you again real soon.

Best wishes,

Clark Chamberlain

PS- I should be able to still email on occasion so feel free to write me writeclarkchamberlain@gmail.com

Monday, June 20, 2011

Plotting Your Course

I'm very excited to share with you a series of videos that will go step-by-step through my writing process. I hope that you will find these How To Videos helpful.

In this first video I will introduce you to plot development that will get you started out on the right foot to creating an amazing novel.

How to Plot Your Novel

Monday, June 6, 2011

These Times Have Been a Changing

So I had the opportunity to sit down with a new friend and have a long conversation about how we both arrived at our current states in life. As I was telling him about my life I began to take notice at how much things have really changed in a very short span of time. And I'm not just talking about the 53rd update to Angry Birds, I'm talking about radical life altering game changes.

I'll be turning 35 this month, halfway to 70. My wife teases me about making such a big deal about age, but I'm very aware of how quickly the first 35 years have gone by and how short the next 35 will be. When I was 17 I had a long distance relationship and I would call her about once a week from a phone booth paying 25 cents for three minutes of talk time, but for the majority of our communication we sent letters through the *gasp* US postal service. Now I have cell phone, magic jack, skype, email, facebook, just stacks and stacks of communication ability. I haven't adapted quickly to all of it, although I did adapt pretty quickly to using the cell phone, but it wasn't until I was dating my wife that she taught me how to use text messaging, although I still refuse to use the shortened text words. But all of these advances has allowed me today to sit in Baghdad, my family 7000 miles away and I can talk to them for free over the internet and see their smiling faces.

When I began my broadcast communications program in college, way back in 1997, there was just talk of digital cameras. I really wanted to make movies, but to do so it cost huge amounts of money because you had to buy film, pay to have it developed, and pay to work in someones editing studio. You could use VHS tapes but the quality was awful and you still had to book studio time at the minimum of ten dollars an hour. Today you can shoot high definition on a camera that costs less than 100 dollars, load the footage onto your laptop and edit it anywhere.

I was able to get paid and published in a small anthology when I was 18. The person who organized the publication was self publishing it and going to book stores trying to work out a consignment fee so they'd carry it. Eventually she found a company who picked up half of the copies, but I don't think she ever recovered the money she spent on self publishing. So when I started writing my novel, Loves Deception, I was only doing it for three reasons:
  1. I loved writing.
  2. I needed something that would keep me occupied in my minimum downtime while I was here in Iraq.
  3. I figured that this would be the perfect time in my life to be able to write a full length novel.
I honestly never dreamed at the beginning of this that I'd publish (well there may have been some fantasies about me being the next JK Rowling, not that I'm saying I was dreaming of being a woman, just of being an international publishing sensation). But as I worked more and more on the novel, tightening up scenes, deepening the plot, reading other novels in the genre I was writing in, I realized that I my writing was on par with some of the published books. But even with that I had resolved that if my work was good, it was going to good enough to have someone else publish it, I would not self publish with one of those Vanity Presses just to see my name in print and have to drive around the country hawking my books out of the back of a truck in some Barnes and Nobel parking lot.
Because of my belief in the quality of my writing and the fear of self publishing I begin to look more in-depth into what it would take to be traditionally published and that's when I learned about the Authors Platform.
I had read the term in a writing magazine and it kept saying that publishers want you to already have an Authors Platform before they'd even look at you. The article did not do an adequate job explaining what an Authors Platform was so I googled it for more info and that's when I came across Joanna Penn's website, The Creative Pen . The articles on her website were the inspiration and push I needed to start Write Now.
 The more time I've spent working on my website and meeting others the more I began to learn about the new world of self publishing with Amazon's Kindle and I realized just like before in my life the times were changing; fast. Once again a wall has been broken down and anyone can play the game.

This brings my last thought for today: Content is king. Just because I can make a movie, or publish a book still doesn't mean that I will become a success. It's great that the world has been brought closer to me but that means that all the other authors in the world have also been brought closer as well. With easy access comes a lot of noise. I know that every word I write has to be the best I can do so my work can filter through the noise.

If you have one novel or a stack of novels written and have just been waiting for the write publisher, that time has come and it's name may well be Kindle.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Art of Suspense

What makes a reader spend their time turning the pages of a book? In one form or another the story is compelling, it makes them want to know what happens next. The opposite is true for why someone would put down the book and go do something else. In the fiction genre category of Mysteries and Thrillers that compelling force in many instances will be suspense. Suspense can make you believe that anything could happen including the loss of a main character. Good suspense should make the reader decide to stay up reading for another thirty minutes because they have to find out what happens next. If a chapter ends and everything is okay and there is no suspense then a rewrite may be in order. That does not mean it has to be a nonstop thrill ride where your characters can't even catch their breath, but by the end of the chapter there needs to be good suspense, compelling the reader to move forward.

Now I am not the master of suspense, I believe that title still belongs to the amazing filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Now why would I bring up a filmmaker in a blog about writing books? It's my belief that there are many elements that can be taken directly from a visual story telling medium such as film and be placed directly into writing. If you look back to my previous article, Devils in the Details, I talked about watching clips of dance movements to better describe a scene in my novel so that it would have a more fluid movement. The same principle could be used in creating good suspense. Of course I'm not suggesting that you lift a scene from a thrilling movie and drop it right into your novel. Instead watch closely to how a film builds suspense. Film directs the viewer to very specific things, it leads the viewer to see and experience exactly what the filmmaker wants them to see and experience. A good author can do the exact same thing.

I've been reading Michael Crichton's State of Fear. As I'm sure you know many of his books have been turned into films and it is very easy to get wrapped up in his books as you continually get pulled forward by that feeling of suspense. In one section of State of Fear his main characters are in Antarctica and they are being briefed on all the dangers of being caught out in the frozen cold and how each of the vehicles they will be driving hold a number of survival gear items. Instead of just telling the reader there is survival gear, Crichton goes into detail of the type of gear so that you see it. And what do you suppose happens? That's right, the characters get trapped out in the ice and begin to panic. As a reader you think "Go to the box with the survival gear!" The character finally remembers the gear in the back and they get to the chest and find that in the crash it's been damaged and won't open. SUSPENSE. The character finds a screwdriver and hammer and begins to break the box open. It takes agonizing minutes. MORE SUSPENSE. When the box is finally broken open it is empty! EXTREME SUSPENSE. As you can see I have to continue reading. 

When I sat down to write Loves Deception I had a clear outline of what I wanted to happen. I wrote the first five chapters and sent them to my wife to read. I eagerly waited for her to praise me on my extensive writing prowess. Unfortunately it seemed I was found lacking. Although the characters were a bit interesting there was very little compelling her to care about what would happen next. I was writing a Thriller and was delivering a boring commentary on the action. The chapters were also very short in length, roughly 1500 words (not that a small chapter can't make a big impact). So I took those five chapters and sat back down with the goal of making the story have suspense, to make my reader care about the characters and want to know what would happen next. I nearly tripled the length of the chapters and created a rich tapestry of the world I was placing my characters in.

So this week look through the chapters of your own work and ask:
  • Where is the suspense?
  • How can I point my reader to see what I want them to see and remember it for the future?
  • Is the end of the chapter compelling enough to keep them reading. Will the reader lose sleep because they have to keep reading?
Make changes that will give you a more suspenseful result.

The first chapter of the Tale of  Doug Martin will be out this week!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It is Finished or How I Learned to Embrace Possibility

     There was a part of me when I wrote the last sentence of  Loves Deception that was in total disbelief that I had really completed a novel. And I don't want this to sound like a bunch of patting my own back or tooting my own horn (if your more musical) but I feel really good, like here is something that I created and finished.     
     Of course it's not complete, it is simply the first step on my way to seeing my novel in print or on a Kindle or Nook: it is the first draft.
     My next step is the rewrite. One of the things that thankfully I have noticed over the course of putting 84,722 words down on paper is that the quality has become progressively better. So while I will need to go back and rewrite the first 84,720 words the last two, The End, are solid.
     Of course I'm just being a little silly in my complete giddiness for having accomplished my goal. Now that I have a finished my first draft I'm so ready to begin doing the rewrite. For Christmas my wife sent me a book titled Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I was so excited when I received it and immediately jumped into the book only to find that the author, Donald Maass, suggests that his workbook is more successful when using it with a complete manuscript. So I set the book on the shelf and eagerly waited for my chance to open it up and get started.
     As I've talked about before I had a long stretch of years where I really didn't accomplish much of what I started and the few things I did complete I immediately sat down and took up residence on those small achievements (like I'm not even bothering playing Super Mario Brothers 2 because I already saved the princess). I saw it happen with several guys I had known from basic training who went on after accomplishing a very physically challenging course and in the process losing lots of weight and becoming more fit only to return home our to there next duty station to become the guy who just sits around and doesn't have to do anything more because they already got fit and did that training. Of course in a few more months they were back to where they had started wondering why.
     So what I'm saying is don't rest around too long. I'm reveling in my achievement because it means a great deal to me, it showed me that I can write a novel, which means I can write more novels. But I'm not sitting around waiting for everyone to come up and tell me how great it is because I can see that the road ahead is still requiring more from me and I'll give it everything it needs in order for me to reach my ultimate goal of publishing my book.
     I'd like to share a few small things that I have learned from this process:
  1. It is possible. 
  2. It takes work.
  3. If it's not working, adapt and change.
  4. Celebrate.
     It is possible. I set a goal, wrote it down and made it happen. How amazing is it that we live in a world where we can make what we want in life happen. I think in my life there have been so many times that I have looked at a task and said "This is not possible." I wonder how many things I could have accomplished had I known that the reality of any situation is: it can happen, it is possible. The other side of that coin is that making the possible happen will not take place with out work.
     I think that the four letter word work is the swear that escapes the lips most for those who fail to accomplish their New Years resolutions. Work, or the fear of work held me back in the past because I was not willing to make the sacrifices needed to accomplish what I wanted to have happen. Very little happens without work. If you want what is possible to happen you need to figure out what it's going to take. When I was writing my novel I set smaller goals that were manageable and I had to give up other things that I wanted to do to make room for my new goal. I also put in the time everyday. I heard someone say that results are the outcome of action multiplied by time, or something to that effect. What it means is if you do small things everyday they create the big thing you want.
     In my writing I came to three sections that just didn't work, I was sitting down with paper and pen in hand and fighting to get every single word. At first I simply used the above method and it worked I had a chapter done, it was the hardest chapter I had ever written and I tossed it because it still didn't work. It never worked. Did I stop writing the novel? Of course not, I did have to change tactics, adapt, which lead me to a chapter that flowed simply. Life is ever changing and you either continue to adapt to those changes, still making your way to your original goal or you fight it and end up taking a much harder and longer path that you may find in the end has not lead you where you really wanted to go.
     When you reach the end of the path, before taking the first steps down the next path stop and enjoy what you've accomplished. Life is about learning how to let go of suffering and embrace the good that is there. When you accomplish a goal that's good and it needs to be embraced, shared and celebrated.

Did I tell you that I finished my novel? Pretty cool huh?