Five Things I Learned From Lee Child

The January issue of Writer’s Digest contains an interview with bestselling thriller author Lee Child that I found fascinating for several reasons:

  1. “Lee Child” is actually a pen name.  People who read my blog know by now that I, too, will be selecting a pen name. My real name is far too common (and I’ve never liked being a “Debbie”). Unlike Child, whose real name is Jim Grant, I’m not “playfully” toying with various possibilities; Virgo that I am, I’m methodically trying to come up with something that’s me, something I can grow into, something that will serve me for the long haul — because I sure don’t want this aggravation again down the road!
  2. Lee Child debunks the myth of writing what you know. He says, “In the thriller genre, for instance, nobody knows anything that’s worth putting in.” Rather, he advises writers to write what they feel. That makes sense on a lot of levels. Shoot, I’ve never killed anybody, but my yet-to-be-sold first novel is full of murders! The Internet puts information on a wealth of topics right at our hands (just be sure you research the research!). With facts to back you up and feelings to provide the oomph, you’re steps closer to writing a story people will want to read.
  3. Lee Child says you don’t need vices to write. Other than admitting to being nosy and watching people, Child says he doesn’t claim the oft-mentioned writers’ habit of downing too much alcohol. Despite my Irish heritage, neither do I. In fact, I cringe when I hear of another writer battling seen or unseen demons through drugs or liquor. Or prescription pills or oversleep. I don’t have to be an alcoholic to understand one’s inability to just say “no.” Nor do I need to gain 200 lbs. to empathize with an overweight individual.
  4. Lee Child came to writing rather late. Fired from his job at an English TV channel just before his 40th birthday, Child turned to fiction writing. He says working all those years gave him good work habits and skills; he also had absorbed life. He explains, “I honestly believe that writing is possibly the only thing that not only can you, but you should do it later.” I tend to agree. Now I’m sure there are many young writers fully capable of telling a gripping tale (and plenty of older ones incapable of that), but for myself, I know I wouldn’t have had the courage necessary to call myself a writer if I hadn’t experienced life’s ups and downs over the years.
  5. The publishing industry has changed since Lee Child came on the scene. Child admits he signed with the first agent he queried and the first publisher they pitched his novel to. Amazing, huh? Especially to those writers who could paper a room with rejection letters. But as he says, “All that matters is coming up with a great original story.” Amen!

So, do you have a favorite mantra when it comes to writing? Something the rest of us could benefit from? Do share!

Winter Misery

The one person you never want to see in your hometown is Jim Cantore.

Not that he’s not cute as a bug and smart as a whip.

No, it’s because he always shows up when bad weather is on its way. Or has already arrived.

Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Blizzards? Yep, poor Jim gets ’em all.

If you’re lucky enough not to be where he is, you can watch him on The Weather Channel. Better for your nerves, you know.

Anyway, Jim’s probably wearing hip-high waders, standing in the middle of storm surge with floating debris circling like sharks, talking about uprooted palm trees and windows shattered out of buildings.

Or he’s in an L.L. Bean parka, stocking hat, and insulated gloves, pointing out downed limbs, frozen water pipes, and a coating of ice on streets and sidewalks.

Not something you want to endure in your lifetime.

Wonder what poor Jim did to deserve the difficult assignments (or are they plum assignments? I sure wouldn’t know). Perhaps it’s just his nature, to follow the bad weather, sympathize with its victims, and explain it so those of us not suffering through it will understand what happened and why.

But I think it must be depressing, having to listen to all those sad stories from residents affected by Mother Nature’s wrath.

Speaking of weather, have you noticed that suddenly, we’ve got named winter storms?

The first time I heard The Weather Channel talking about “Athena,” my interest piqued. But as they moved to “Brutus” and “Caesar,” it became just plain annoying.

We’ve been calling hurricanes by name since the 1940s, way before many of us were born, so we’re used to that. Besides, hurricanes don’t generally roll in one right on the heels of another.

Winter storms are different. As soon as one crosses the Rockies, another one forms to take its place. It’s nothing to see two or three of them dotting various locations on the map, with weather casters looking like jugglers trying to keep up with who’s who.

The idea of naming winter storms started with the 2012-13 winter season. Weather casters claim a name gives a storm personality, raises public awareness, and makes it easier to track.

What do you think? Do you prefer something descriptive like “Snowmageddon” or “Blizzard of 1980?” Or do you like giving winter storms a name like “Draco,” “Gandolf,” and “Khan”?

I’m not sure, but I think misery is misery, regardless of what you call it!

Healing Beads for a Friend

When the husband of a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer several months ago, I started pondering ways I could help.

Other than prayer, which I immediately did. And still do.

Luckily, Suzicate posted a blog about creativity, making a strand of prayer/meditation beads, and it hit me — I can do that!

As a Catholic and “beader”, I regularly make Rosaries. But my friend’s husband isn’t Catholic. And I never try to push my religion onto others.

Nor was I comfortable promoting the Buddhist philosophy.

Still, I firmly believe God put everything here on Earth that we need. Even rocks.

The Bible tells us God instructed His people to use certain stones — including jasper, agate, sapphire, and carnelian — when making the temple high priest’s clothing. And the Book of Revelation indicates the new temple will be constructed in Jerusalem using many of these same stones.

Do I believe gemstones, in and of themselves, heal? No, of course not.

Do I believe God can use gemstones to bring about healing? Definitely. He’s God; He can use whatever instrument He chooses.

So I designed and crafted a strand of healing beads. Not a bracelet, but a string of about eight inches long, consisting of semiprecious beads that supposedly have healing properties.

Stones like Flourite (to fortify bones), Howlite (to balance calcium levels), and Jasper (to ease emotional stresses).

On either end of my strand, I attached a simple Chinese coin, which traditionally is a feng shui money cure. Not that this man is suffering from lack of funds, but cancer treatments are expensive, and every little bit of “luck” helps!

Before I took the beads to him, I thought hard about what message I was sending. I didn’t want to mislead him by offering false hope, nor did I want to confuse him about Who is really in charge here.

So I told him some people call them worry beads. Others refer to them as prayer beads. Whatever we choose to call them, and whether they actually work, probably depends on our frame of mind. And the will of our Creator.

He was thrilled with my gift! He sat for a long while, fingering the beads and trying to memorize from my cheat-sheet which was which stone and their metaphysical properties.

Of course he’s undergoing traditional treatment. But if something as simple as gemstones can ease his mind during this difficult time, that’s a good thing, don’t you agree?

Thoughts about Manti

I’ve run into a lot of folks lately who are interested in my take on the Manti Te’o story.

You’ll recall he’s the Notre Dame linebacker and All-American who:

  1. Concocted (with or without help) a story about his girlfriend dying on the same day as his grandmother, or
  2. Was the victim of an elaborate scheme (by one or several people for as-yet-known reasons) that convinced him there was such a girlfriend in the first place, or
  3. Some combination of the above.

The truth is, we don’t know the full story — and might never know it. Suffice it to say, Manti’s “tragedy” spurred the Fighting Irish football team to rack up 12 victories, a perfect season, and earn their first appearance in a National Championship game since 1988.

Manti has chosen to tell his version of the story to Katie Couric on Thursday, so you’ll have to determine for yourselves his credibility. In the meantime, I offer the following thoughts:

  • We ALL bought into this story in the first place, encouraged by an over-zealous media (what became of fact-checking??) at a time when we were eager for a feel-good story, a hero. Tired of negative campaign ads, aggravated by politicians interested only in feathering their nests, worried and fearful over worsening economic conditions, we were ripe for such a story.
  • This is a college athlete. Sure, he’s been blessed with amazing talent and leadership skills, but he’s a 21-year-old kid, susceptible as all of us were, to flattery, tall tales, pranks, and poor advice from folks he trusts. And he’s grown up in the Internet Age, accustomed to meeting and befriending and trusting strangers online.
  • We must do a better job of teaching morals — right from wrong. Every religion in the world follows a moral code, so this isn’t peculiar of Catholicism. But do we really follow a code? Do we breathe it and live it? Do we pass it on to our children? Do we expect our leaders — government and business, in particular — to follow it, and do we hold them accountable when they don’t? Or do we turn a blind eye, then moan about school shootings, aborted babies, jobs going overseas, and other ills of society?

You know, we’re taught that a person is presumed innocent until he’s been proven guilty in a court of law. But how many of us have already indicted, tried, and convicted Manti?

I think we’re angry over this story because we feel duped. Misled. Cheated. Our hero toppled off the pedestal we put him on, proving once again that he, too, is merely human.

But, depending on how this story is spun, he could very well go down in history as another football legend — someone bigger than life.

Time will tell.

Outdoor “Advertising”

On the way back to South Bend yesterday (returning My Favorite Domer to campus for spring semester) my attention was again drawn to a sign.

One of those billboard-sized outdoor signs, the kind you can’t miss.

The kind that normally advertises legal services or hotels or car dealerships.

Or “adult entertainment.”

The sign is nestled in a clearing on the east side of I-65, somewhere between Lowell and Merrillville, Indiana. It features a stark black background and immense white letters which read: “Jesus is Real” as you’re headed north.

The back side of the sign, as you’re traveling south, reads: “Hell is Real.”

I’d have taken a picture of it, but traveling along at 70 mph leaves little room for photographing stuff.

Even interesting stuff.

Besides, I’ve given you the description, and it’s not like it was photogenic.

This sign has been up for at least four years, and the former journalist and present-day writer in me finds it quite mysterious.

Who put it there? Why do they keep it in such good shape?

Was it erected by a born-again convict who’s seen the error of his ways? Is it being maintained by a church group hoping to nudge passersby into regular religious attendance? Or did a son or daughter use their inheritance to proclaim something dear ole Dad always used to tell them?

Once I called the Indiana Department of Transportation to find out some background on the sign.

But, sadly, they had no information for me. They said they really didn’t know who’d put up the sign, or how long it’s been there, or if there’s a juicy story behind it.

So, I guess I’ll have to do as I’ve done for the past four years. When I come to the vicinity of the sign, I’ll read the front side, then whirl around to read the back.

The one side is comforting; the other, sobering.

Anybody out there know the origins of this billboard or its proclamation?

Irish Lose to ‘Bama

Frankly, I’m stunned.

Anybody who watched the ‘Bama Crimson Tide roll completely over the ND Fighting Irish during last night’s BCS national championship game knows what I mean.

‘Bama, as usual, brought its “A” game. The Irish, sadly, failed to show up at all, leading to an ugly 42-14 trouncing.

The analysts and nay-sayers will have a field day with this one.

They’ll be quick to point out that the Irish — long a holdout on joining a football conference — didn’t face an opponent of merit all season long, thus earning them a perfect 12-0 season. But that disses the Irish’s worthy opponents, most of whom went on to post-season play, where many emerged victorious.

The pundits also will say the SEC has long been a dominant force in college football, and the Irish can’t compete with their size, conditioning, and power. But tell that to the Irish’s seven Heisman Trophy winners, 44 College Football Hall of Famers, 188 First-Team All-Americans, and 471 NFL draft picks (all figures which out-distance ‘Bama by a sizable margin).

In any competition, there’s a winner and there’s a loser (or rather, a non-winner). There are no losers on this Irish team.

They might have lost one football game (albeit an important one). They might have disappointed themselves and thousands of fans. They certainly put a black mark on their perfect record, having not lost a game since the 2011 bowl matchup against Florida State.

But they’re far from losers.

According to Forbes, just being in a BCS bowl game this season earns ND $6.2 million!

And ESPN statistics show the Irish graduate 97 percent of its football players, while the Tide’s graduation rate is 75 percent.

This football team, by any measurement, is special. They attend Mass on game days (and have since the 1920s or thereabouts). There’s a team prayer in the locker room before games. There’s genuine heart for helping others.

Eventually, the pain of not winning this one game will ease. Eventually, the Irish Nation will move forward, looking to a new season with hope and optimism. Eventually, this group of seniors will graduate, and many will move on to NFL or other professional careers.

But today, Irish eyes sure aren’t smiling.


Strike up the Bands

My son (AKA My Favorite Domer) departed yesterday.

For Miami/Ft. Lauderdale.

The BCS National Championship football game.

Notre Dame vs. Alabama.

Monday, Jan. 7, 8 p.m. EST, televised on ESPN.

He was excited. And a tad nervous. After all, he’s never been to Miami before. Never participated in a National Championship game.

And doesn’t particularly like to fly.

Especially the taking-off part.

But he looked all spiffy in his Band “traveling clothes” — collared shirt, nice jeans, dress shoes.

Dress shoes, I asked. In Miami?

C’mon, Mom, it’s the BAND, he told me. We don’t want to embarrass the University.

Or the BAND.

Well, okay. There is that.

So I put him on a plane after a big hug and made him promise to not “be a stranger.”

In other words, to let me know every once in awhile that he’s alive.

And well. And safe.

Who’d have thought, back at the beginning of this season when the pundits were talking up everybody but Notre Dame and the Irish were struggling to eke out wins, that the Fighting Irish would be where they are?

With a perfect 12-0 record.

Going up against the SEC’s Big Boy, ‘Bama?

With its “Million Dollar Band”?

Should be a great game.

But don’t be surprised if it’s the BANDS who put up the biggest fight!

Thank You, My Friends!

Well, I’m officially back, rested and raring to tackle the new year.

But don’t think I’ve been too far away. No, I’ve been lurking, reading all my usual blogs and even putting in my two cents’ worth on occasion! I’ve missed you all fiercely — what is it about blogging that bonds us into a community, where we find acceptance and appreciation and support?

While I was AWOL, the friendly folks at WordPress were kind enough to provide me with a summary of my blogging achievements over 2012. I found them pretty fascinating, and it seems like a good way to ease myself back into things.

Now, I don’t want to hear anybody saying they don’t give two hoots about statistics. Of course you do. We all do! It’s the connections we make that are most important to us, but we can’t help looking at (obsessing over??) our stats. We feel a need to find out where our readers are coming from — in my case, most of you are from the U.S., but the Netherlands and Canada aren’t far behind. In fact. visitors arrived to my blog from 114 countries worldwide this year, something I have a hard time grasping! Thank you.

My blog had more than twice the number of views in 2012 that it had in 2011. My busiest day of the year came on Aug. 24 after I posted about the “fun” of another move-in day at the University of Notre Dame. And I was right — I hardly remember the trials of that hot August day, preferring I suppose to concentrate on the joys of having my son a student on that beautiful campus!

I averaged 1.5 posts per week — not great, compared to the prolific writers around me — but consistent. See, I’ve just found something to remedy in the new year!

My top referring sites were via Katybeth, Dawn, and Barb (along with Facebook and Google Reader). Thank you, my friends, for doing what you do to help publicize my presence here — I’ll be glad to return the favor in 2013, if you’ll let me know how!

Changing the subject, do you make new year’s resolutions? Typically, I find myself reiterating the same chant — lose a few pounds, exercise more, etc. — without regard for how I’m going to measure success. Or failure.

This year, however, begs for something more concrete, and so, herewith I set down the following goals (y’all hold me to them, ‘k??):

1) Blog twice a week. Hey, if I find I can do that easily, I might up the number, but I’ve got to start somewhere!

2) Finish my novel. I’m trudging around in the murky middle ground at present and, while I have a pretty good idea how it’s going to end, getting there is no easy feat.

3) Learn a programming language. Perhaps I’ll have to audit a class; perhaps I can teach myself. But it’s got to get done!

4) Lose five pounds — and keep them off. I’m not a candidate for bariatric surgery; I just want to feel better and look better.

5) Set up an author Website. No, I don’t have any books to publicize yet, but I want to be ready when the time comes!

Anybody want to take bets on whether I can attain these goals??