A lot’s happened from a personal standpoint since I last sat down to compose my thoughts in a blog post. There’s my day job, of course, and keeping up with my MBA studies. Then I spent a few days last month in Los Angeles for a wedding.
Meanwhile, the world’s been turning and through that course, some odd things have occurred. I won’t get into all of them, because they have nothing to do with what I’m about and what I’ve done as an author. But one of these events is what prompted me to come out from sabbatical to put something together, and that’s the comments made by the President of the United States regarding players in the National Football League and their actions during the national anthem.
I mention it because I had finished a manuscript just before taking on an MBA intended as a follow-up to “Leather Compass,” continuing that book’s theme of institutionalizing sport as a way of life in this country, football in particular. After talking it over with some people, I decided that the premise of the sequel was too far-fetched and clumsily done in current form, and it would need an overhaul before going to an editor. Who knows if it will ever see the light of day.
But even with as wild as my imagination can get, I don’t think I could make up what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard in social media channels the last few days. Entire teams kneeling and locking arms as the American flag is presented before the game; fans calling for a boycott of the league, seemingly led by the President himself, who referred to players by a name I won’t repeat.
That the NFL chose to respond in the manner it did over the weekend doesn’t surprise me, nor does it bother me. What troubles me is the backlash from sports fans. I suppose their beef can be chalked up to the greater divide we face as a nation these days, but saying that athletes shouldn’t have an opinion on social issues? That they need to just “stick to sports”? I believe that dehumanizes them, makes them nothing more than just another asset in our capitalist society to depreciate and then dispose of when its usefulness to us has run out.
I can’t really speak for athletes, I can only share what I’ve observed from watching games and being around players, and what I’ve noticed over time is that these are guys who want to make a positive impact on the world around them and happen to have the luxury of being good at sports. They recognize that, and they use that ability to set an example for others to follow. When not on the field, they can be found in their community helping with various programs that promote health, literacy, financial stability, and overall well-being. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but I have no doubt that some guys in the NFL come from nothing and know what it’s like to scratch and survive to get to the top, and they want to share that experience and encouragement with people who are going through the same ordeal. To me, those ideals are what the 50 stars and 13 stripes of the American flag should represent, and right now, I don’t think they do. And NFL players don't think so either, obviously.
Not to turn this into a commercial for “Leather Compass,” but I do want to bring it back to what I had published nearly two years ago. My intent with the main character, Adam McDonough, was that he would be a player aware of a problem that he called attention to, and worked to fix. Whether or not I did that is for the reader to decide, but I’m very happy to use my writing to show support for all the athletes who desire a better future for everyone.
On that note, I want to close this special post by calling on folks to donate toward hurricane relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico through the American Red Cross at https://www.redcross.org/donate Let’s all come together to show what the American spirit is truly about.
I wanted to give everyone a quick update on things. The people at Townsquare pointed out that I haven’t posted anything yet this month, and mentioned they knew I was busy with the Master’s program that I just began last week. The transition to grad student plus what I’m already doing has been smooth thus far. Granted, I’m taking an introductory course right now, which I think is meant to ease you into the rigors of classwork. Where it goes from there, we’ll soon find out.
Which is why I’ve made plans to curb weekly contributions to my site. This new endeavor will require a lot of research, which given my enthusiasm for exploration is exciting. However, it’ll also make it hard for me to come up with substantive material here on a regular basis. When the mood strikes, I may decide to bang out a few sentences and share my worldview with you. But for right now, I think the best thing to do is focus on my studies.
Feel free to message me over on Twitter or LinkedIn to see how I’m doing. Otherwise, I’ll talk to you later.
It’s amazing to consider just how much our technology has evolved in my lifetime. When I came into the world in the early 1980s, video games were already the rage, the personal computer was coming into its own, and cable television allowed people to get more of the programs they wanted to see at all hours of the day. These were pretty groundbreaking feats at the time, and have helped to get us where we are now: with the world literally in our pockets. We can now access those videos, games and files on the same device we use to make phone calls from just about anywhere and at any time.
ESPN is one of those services that arose from the infancy of cable. Intended to cover organized sport at all hours of the day, it grew over time into the place to go for all the hard-hitting action, buoyed by its live broadcasts of events and the nightly show “SportsCenter,” which featured anchors ad libbing their way through highlight after highlight, often with humorous results. Many of the hosts became as well-known as the athletes they showcased: household names like Chris Berman, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott, and scores of others. This mixture helped ESPN maintain a position of dominance well into the new millennium.
But as often happens, the landscape changed. Further development of the Internet made it possible for any sports-crazed person to start a blog or website to share their take on things. The four major professional leagues and even some collegiate conferences got into the game of narrowcasting and created their own channels. Meanwhile, ESPN added more sports and programming tailored to a broad audience, making it difficult to devote time to much more than the events it deemed major. Throw in the general problem cable providers have faced in the last few years of subscribers cutting the cord in favor of streaming through Amazon or Netflix, and it was only a matter of time before the events of a couple days ago would take effect: somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 staffers at ESPN learned this week that they no longer had jobs.
There’s been rumblings for a while from viewers about the perceived decline in the quality of ESPN’s coverage, complaints that the network spent too much time giving priority to teams and players attractive to advertisers, while dismissing the efforts and successes of the so-called little guys. That was a major storyline in my novel “Leather Compass,” where a fictional network helps create buzz about a player by supporting the manipulation of his genes. But no matter how you feel about ESPN, mass layoffs aren’t something to cheer about. I’ve been through a round of one myself, and I can tell you from experience that it makes you question who you are and what your value to society is, like you’ve been thrown into a deep hole and have no idea how or if you’re ever going to climb out of it.
So what does the future hold for ESPN? We know they’ve had to make other cost-cutting moves like combining studio operations in North Carolina into its Connecticut headquarters, and outsourcing most of its baseball analysis to MLB Network. Beyond that, only one thing’s for sure: I’ve picked an interesting time to look at the sports industry.
It is official.
I have been accepted into the Masters of Business Administration program at Grand Canyon University out of Phoenix and will begin pursuing my degree with an emphasis in Sports Business on May 11. The school has a fully online option, which I’ll be utilizing. As much as I enjoyed my week in Phoenix about a month ago, I’m not ready to leave Iowa.
Given my longstanding passion for creativity and writing, you might be wondering why I didn’t spring for something like a Master in Fine Arts. When you get right down to it, books are a product, and just like any other product you have to convince someone—be it an agent, publisher, even if you skip the middle man and take it straight to the consumer—that you have a product that’s worth buying. I feel that a business degree would better position me to do so than an MFA. Versatility is a key factor as well, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into just being a writer or just doing one thing all the time. This option here gives me a little flexibility to explore different avenues without feeling tethered to a certain path.
Now, why did I choose GCU when we have a great institution not far from me, the University of Iowa? Since I graduated from there 13 years ago, UI has added a Sports and Recreation Management program, but as of now that hasn’t been integrated into the MBA. The Sports Masters it does offer is on campus, which doesn’t fit my busy lifestyle at this point. Despite going with another college this time around, I want to assure everyone I’ll always be a Hawkeye.
The other selling point with Grand Canyon was that its college of business is named after Jerry Colangelo, the former Phoenix Suns owner who was also instrumental in bringing Major League Baseball and National Hockey League franchises to Arizona. And as mentioned in a previous post, the Phoenix Metro is home to spring training facilities for several MLB teams and has hosted such high-profile events as the Final Four, Super Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. It’s also where my aunts and uncles spend their winters, so there’s a lot to like about that area, you know, in case I ever decided a move was in order.
I won’t lie, I’m going through a spectrum of emotions over going back to school after more than a decade away. There’s some trepidation about time and, of course, money. But there’s even more excitement for the possibilities that lay ahead. I know in my heart this is the right thing to do, and I look forward to getting started.
On LinkedIn yesterday, I came across an article published in Forbes about a month ago where someone asked the writer how to go about becoming a “thought leader,” or a person who sets out to share their unique vision with a world always in search of the next great thing. I won’t go into a full summary of the advice that was given, you can view that directly on Forbes’ website, but I will say that it’s a good starting point to see whether you’re doing any of those things.
It seems that I’m on the right track, I wrote down the 10 things that were listed on a sheet of paper and found I already do six of them. While I’m very happy about that, I know there’s still a ways to go because it’s taken me a while to answer the core question posted by the author (Forbes contributor Liz Ryan), and that’s “What do I care most about?”
My first thought of course was something that I’m very passionate about, like sports or writing, which I’ve established in earlier posts and have made it a goal to pursue those passions in some capacity. But then in the process of writing this, I came to think about the question in literal terms: What do I care most about? And in doing so, I found the answer to be a no-brainer.
Not only would I be creating potentially tense situations by saying something other than the connections I’ve made, I would also be selling them—and myself—well short. Family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues from past and present, all make up a network of support that keep me going. They’re the ones who inspire me to write books, to get that MBA I’ve wanted but hadn’t had the drive to go after before now, to see all the beauty our world holds. I can’t begin to stress the value their presence has to me.
Likewise, these people have invited me to be part of their journey. Whatever my role may be in that, know that I take it seriously and with great honor. A lot of good things are happening for all of us, and I’m excited to be able to share in it.
I miss Phoenix already.
It’s been drab and dreary pretty much the whole time since I returned to Iowa almost a week ago: rainy, windy and cold compared to the sun and upper 70s/low 80s they had out West. The forecast here says it should be more like that this coming weekend, which I’m really excited about.
The other piece to that is that as a fervent follower of sports, it felt like I found utopia. I was in the Valley of the Sun at a time when MLB Spring Training was still going on. Even though the start of the regular season was on the horizon at that point, there were still a lot of fans for the various teams who have their facilities in the area. I actually saw more baseball fans than I did basketball fans in the leadup to the Final Four, held in the local NFL stadium. Part of that may’ve had to do with staying in a hotel right across the street from Surprise Stadium, shared by the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals.
I got to take in a couple baseball games on my trip: one between the Royals and Milwaukee Brewers in Surprise that went scoreless into the 10th inning, when Raul Mondesi Jr. ended the game with a solo homerun. The other was a youth game a family member was involved in. That contest was held in Denver, not Coors Field, though it very well could’ve been: my second cousin’s team was down 6-0 at one point, then came back to win 10-9. Talk about a polar opposite from the MLB game!
Before I embarked on this 3,600-mile journey, I knew I was very passionate about organized sport. I might’ve quoted Howard Cosell on here before, but I’ll risk repeating myself in saying that I never played the game, save for the one year after fifth grade I was on a coach-pitch team, but I’ve spent a lot of time attending games, watching them on television or listening on the radio (side note: satellite radio is great for long hauls, especially during those first couple rounds of March Madness). Heck, Sport Studies was my chosen minor when I was in college. The thought of working for a team or broadcast network like CBS or ESPN had been very enticing during that time, but I also wanted to diversify my interests.
It wasn’t until very recently that I began to re-examine turning my love into a full-fledged career, to the point where I’m considering an online MBA with an emphasis in Sports Business. It’s a major investment, and I don’t know what I’d do with such a degree once I completed it. The good news is, I don’t have to, because there are many avenues with which to choose from. Of course you have your high-profile professional and collegiate opportunities, but there’s also youth and community sports, fitness, nutrition, private analytics, etc. At the very least, I could use it to gain an even better understanding of how the sports industry works and delve deeper into the subject in future books. Wouldn’t that be fun!
I should note that I’m in the early stages of planning at this point, money of course being the biggest hangup. But I realize that the older I get, the less chance I’ll have to pursue this, so time is of the essence here. I’ll provide updates from time to time on my progress, but right now, I need to get going on making this happen!
Today I’m getting ready to leave for a couple weeks out West—going through Colorado and New Mexico before reaching Arizona. I’m very excited about being able to cross New Mexico off the list of states I haven’t visited, as well as Kansas on the way back (I don’t count the businesses across State Line Road from Kansas City, MO I patronized as visiting Kansas). I’ve been so busy getting ready for this trip that I haven’t really taken time out to think up material to share with you here. Not that it’s a bad thing, the more occupied I am, the less chance I have to dwell on my worries.
While in the process of preparing for my departure, I came across this article from Inc. magazine a classmate of mine had posted on social media. It’s from September 2013, but the scenario is still very much applicable, as it deals with entrepreneurs who endure the long, winding and often bumpy road of getting their vision off the ground. The stories shared by businesspeople are pretty interesting, they talk of how they sacrificed a great deal both financially and mentally in the name of innovation.
Independent authors and writers aren’t exactly thought of as entrepreneurs, maybe because what we’re trying to start up doesn’t sound as sexy as a technology company or homemade brewery. But we work just as hard, and I can tell you firsthand that we’re subject to the same emotional rollercoaster they are. I may have dropped hints here and there about it before, but this article has inspired me to open up more about my own longtime struggle with anxiety and depression, the former has just always sort of been there, but the latter pops up when I start to feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. And that happens a lot more than I want to admit.
It seems like it’s happened quite a bit these last few months. The same thoughts have crept into my head: my writing is no good, no one cares about it or me, all I do is fail, I’m never going to amount to anything. Much like the entrepreneurs in the Inc. story, I’ve been reluctant to tell anyone, even my own family, because of a fear that it shows weakness and a lack of confidence in my abilities. Please do not get the wrong impression, I’m not going to pull a Vincent Van Gogh and cut my ear off or worse, though there have been times where I’ve wondered if I have anything of great significance to offer society.
I also hope this isn’t misconstrued as a pity post. I don’t bare my soul for the attention, or because I want people to feel sorry for me. I’m telling you to demonstrate that I’m still fighting the good fight and will continue to do so no matter how many times I get knocked down. I also want to empower others who may be suffering in silence to recognize their own feelings and talk about them with somebody, whether it be a loved one, licensed professional, or by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-(800) 273-8255.
If you don’t see a blog post from me for a couple weeks, it’s because I’m enjoying myself in sunny Arizona. You can always look for updates on Twitter (@SigHawk04). In the meantime, keep on keepin’ on.
Steve Miller, the singer, may have said it best when he included the line “You know you’ve got to go through Hell before you get to Heaven” in the lyrics to “Jet Airliner.” For some reason, that concept is difficult for me to grasp at times. I’ve always been an idealist, my head in the clouds over how cool it would be to do this, that, or the other, not taking into account the blood, sweat and tears involved in the process.
As I’m finding out, there’s so much more to becoming a bestselling writer, championship athlete, CEO, etc. than just waking up one morning and deciding that’s what you want to do, like it’s some kind of errand to put on your daily list. The journey is so full of twists, turns and bumps, you almost need a motion sickness bag. You may or may not have an idea how tempting it has been to get off the ride, yet here I am, hanging on for dear life.
True to my nature, I’ve given a lot of thought to what motivated me to go through all this to begin with. I’m quite bad at lying, so I can’t tell you that passion and creativity were the sole factors in writing books. It wasn’t necessarily fame either, that’s incredibly hard to come by unless you’re as skilled as James Patterson or Stephen King. But I did hope to sell enough to start my own business or self-fund a Masters degree in business or sport administration.
Again, I understand those are lofty aspirations and the reality of what goes into achieving and maintaining those things is much different. It doesn’t stop me from chasing them. I may not reach the summit until later in life, if I’m that lucky. For certain, I’ll drive myself crazy and probably others as well. But I gotta keep not just hoping for the best, but also trying.
You may recall one of my earlier posts on here where I talk about my tendency to overthink to the point I drive myself crazy, and I’d like to revisit that for just a brief moment because lately I’ve found myself playing Monday Morning Quarterback once again.
It goes back to when I was in Journalism. I spent three years working in television news, two of those were away from my home of Cedar Rapids, but then I jumped at the chance to return. My time at the last station was up in the fall of 2007, and I attracted interest from a couple different stations in the fall of 2007, including a top-rated broadcaster in a nearby market.
But my heart was firmly entrenched in Cedar Rapids, I wasn’t interested in leaving again and to be honest, I had become weary of what all goes into putting a newscast together in such a short time. So I decided to do something different. I went over to the daily newspaper, The Gazette, and helped out with its various sections, including sports, entertainment and obituaries. Since 2008 was an election year, I also put together a guide with information for local voters. It was an enlightening process, to say the least.
A few months into my tenure there, the publisher brought in a new editor. Steve Buttry came over from an organization in Washington, DC; and received a baptism by fire. His first week in June 2008 was when the Cedar River overflowed into the streets of Cedar Rapids, creating a record flood. Steve led us through the historic event with absolute aplomb, even coming up with the memorable front page that summed it all up: “Epic Surge,” with a photo of the city’s downtown underwater.
Sometime after the levels went down, everyone went back to their work. Or in my case, I was trying new things. A colleague suggested starting a weekly show for the newspaper’s website. I took that suggestion and turned it into “GO Time” (a play on the GazetteOnline URL used at the time). We’d talk about practically anything going on in the community—politics, lifestyle, even sports. I think there are still episodes out there on YouTube, if you ever want to see it.
Steve took notice of what I was doing, and before I left for a couple weeks in the United Kingdom, he told me we’d have to chat about moving me into a reporting role when I returned. In December 2008, after The Gazette got through its election coverage, Steve named me Interactive Features Reporter. It was great, because I was getting to report on fun things like a Pokemon tournament in the local baseball stadium and a sitdown with the woman named Miss Iowa. Other Journalists may have looked down on such things, but this was how I always envisioned it was going to be like.
Unfortunately The Gazette, like other newsrooms across the country, was hit hard by the economic downturn in the United States and had to lay off several staff. Eight years ago this week, only two months into my reporting gig, Steve called me down to human resources to say the future of The Gazette did not include me. Sure, it was crushing, but I had to move on also.
Or did I? I look back on the decision I made to do something other than TV news and wonder if it was the right one. If I had stayed the course, maybe I’d be at CNN by now. Or more likely, I’d still have gotten burned out. And I never would’ve crossed paths with Steve Buttry, a man who fostered creativity and innovation better than any news director I could ever have worked for.
This past weekend, Steve died at the age of 62 from pancreatic cancer, a truly devastating disease. And though he’s no longer bringing his insight and dreams into newsrooms, that passion still lives on in those who’ve met him. That includes me, I like to think that I apply the same blank canvas approach to my books that I gave the “GO Time” webcast all those years ago. Strange as this may sound, if not for Steve pushing me in a direction toward feature reporting, I may not have come up with an idea like Leather Compass.
I don’t know how much justice I’m doing Steve with this post, but it’s important that everyone knows how key he was in instilling the confidence to blaze a new trail. I only wish I’d told him that before he went away, another thing for me to dwell on.
I want to begin by apologizing for lack of content last week, there’s a lot going on right now and I really didn’t have a whole lot to say. If I ever do reach that point where there’s a lot to write about, perhaps I’ll make up for it with a double-post week. We’ll see, but it certainly won’t be this week.
Another excuse, if you will, for the delay is because I really struggled with whether or not to discuss current events on my blog. By and large, I’ve tried to stay away from it because I know not everyone wants to hear what I think about certain things. Shaking the tree so to speak can go one of two ways, people can either become inspired or turned off by it.
Many sports figures are facing the same issue right now, figures like the CEO of Under Armour, who faced controversy for calling the President of the United States “pro-business” and an “asset” to the country, as well as two prominent stars who endorse the apparel maker, Steph Curry and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, both disagreeing with the sentiment from the head of the company.
Under Armour of course has some consumers choosing to skip future purchases of their products, while others are all in when it comes to supporting the statement, so you can see why, as someone trying to promote my own work, I’m a bit hesitant to weigh in. Yet there is the fact that my first book has elements of sports advocacy in it, and the new book I’m working on will expand that theme further. In that sense, I don't feel that I’m out of line in addressing it as it pertains to the athlete.
Keeping that in mind, here are my thoughts: I can’t for the life of me understand why people think athletes have no place in social activism, that they need to just focus on their sport and be glad they don’t have to deal with the problems plaguing the common folk. Through their work on the court or the field in front of millions of people both in the arena and on TV, athletes enjoy a very visible platform. Kids are buying up the jersey of Steph Curry, one of the biggest players in the NBA at the moment. As for The Rock, he’s gone well beyond professional wrestling and become a big draw in movie theaters. These people command attention, and they want to use that power to make the world around them better. I don’t know how you can fault them for that. It would be like telling a writer to stay out of current events and stick to writing books.
What exactly would we write about if we didn’t use what we saw, heard and experienced? It’s through reality that we’re able to get better acquainted with our audience: know what their interests are and what inspires them. By doing so, authors stand a better chance at connecting with the right audience, and growing their platform where it can one day be as big as that of Steph Curry or The Rock. Maybe.
I was well into this week’s post, over 250 words in all, when I decided to scrap it and start from scratch because I felt it was bordering into “whiny” territory. While I want to be genuine and honest with you, I also don’t want to come across as a total nutcase, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Part of my job as a writer is to convince you to read my work, and I do that by spending a lot of time talking about myself in that capacity—my process, my goals, etc. That only goes so far though. If I’m going to write for an audience other than myself, I need to know more about what they want out of a book, its characters and so on.
“Leather Compass” was meant to be part of the New Adult genre, those people making that transition from adolescence into the real world, the college type if you will. That’s why it’s set on the campus of a university and the central characters are of that age. I’ve always wanted to reach those people, though I certainly don’t mind a broader audience like fans of sports and fiction in general.
As much as it pains me to say this, I haven’t done nearly enough to gain the attention of my intended audience, and I could spend a lot of time making excuses for why—not enough time, too much of a rookie to know what I was doing—but I’d rather focus on how to fix it in time for my sophomore effort. How I want to approach my next steps is to start by asking a simple question: what do you want to see out of a fiction book?
Leave me a message via any of the contact options available on this site and tell me what would compel you to read a story. Is it because you heard about it from TV, the radio, or a friend? Did you come across it at a bookstore and think the cover was pretty? Or are you a sucker for a certain genre? There is no right or wrong answer, you get to be the author on this and share your interests. I really do want to hear from you, so drop me a line.
At the end of every month, Townsquare Interactive sends me a report showing where my website traffic comes from, and it’s really fascinating information. Some of the locations aren’t that surprising—Cedar Rapids, my hometown, and Charlotte, where their office is located. But I’ve also seen places like Chicago and Santa Rosa, California on there. So I know people are looking, and I’m not only interested to know who, but I hope they take a moment to tell me what type of story they hope for out of an author, and tell their friends to join in on the conversation!
I had the great privilege yesterday to hear sportscasting legend Al Michaels speak at an event for Charles Schwab. Sadly, we weren’t in the same room—he was in an auditorium at UCLA while I watched from my laptop at home—but it was still neat because what the man who’s provided so many great calls over the years was there for had nothing to do at all with sports. Instead, it was his passion for investing.
To be certain, Al is as knowledgeable about the stock market as he is football, the sport he’s best known for covering. But my biggest takeaway from the conversation came when someone in the live audience asked what career advice he had for young people. His response was simple, yet effective: “dream big.”
That’s a concept I have no problem with whatsoever, because for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a dreamer. Just before I turned 35 years old this past fall, I mentioned that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. It was meant mostly as a joke, but there’s some truth to that as well. The dreams I’ve had involve me being some type of media personality. Some days it’s been a news anchor (I was in the news business briefly, but as a producer), others a talk show host on TV or radio, I’ve envisioned myself as an actor and/or comedian, and yes—a sportscaster like Al Michaels. When my brother ran the Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, NY a few years ago, I had the chance to stand at the foot of the ice where the United States beat the Soviet Union in the Winter Olympics, and I imagined myself being a part of a moment such as the one Mr. Michaels announced in that arena.
Other roles on my wish list have included a businessman and get this, a record producer! After last week’s post where I touch on humanizing athletes for my stories, I may have convinced myself that sports psychology is a viable option. In short, you could say I’m a real Walter Mitty. Even so, I don’t want it to sound like I don’t have an appreciation for the way things are now. I’m not in a bad place to say the least, but I know there’s so much more going out there that if I become complacent, I will get left behind.
In this sense, writing has truly become a godsend because it allows me to bring my imagination and my passions together with reality. And when you get right down to it, that might be the core meaning to all the dreams I have: the ability to share my compilation of imagination, passion and reality with the world at large.
There is, I believe, a tendency to place labels on individuals based on certain characteristics and then compartmentalize them accordingly. This happens all too often in regards to race, socioeconomic status, region, religion and political affiliation. It even occurs so far as the activities we participate in.
Take creative types, for example. I’ve read material where people such as myself are thought to be aloof, manic, attention-seeking, depressed, outspoken, and so on. Certainly, we’re quite passionate about the things we see and do, and we want to emulate that and turn that energy into a force for better things in our world. I have to think all people are like that, regardless of their backgrounds or interests.
Which brings me to today’s topic: character development, easily one of my favorite aspects to putting a story together. In my mind, characters are just as important to the story as the plot, if not more important. After all, they’re the ones who end up carrying the plot out from beginning to end.
When I think about my reasons for writing what became “Leather Compass,” having compelling characters was always a high priority for me. I ended up taking the sports route partly because I enjoy watching them, but I aIso have a deep admiration for the human athlete. They have abilities and experiences most of us either wish we had or hope our children somehow get.
Like Howard Cosell, "I Never Played the Game," save for one summer during my youth when I was involved in coach-pitch baseball at the local YMCA. But I've spent enough time around athletes to form the opinion that they're nothing like those stereotypical tough-guy jocks with a high self opinion but low IQ like you may have seen in other media. Yes, they're big into sports and physical activity, yet very much in tune with the world outside the locker room.
They're intelligent, do great things for the communities in which they play, some are even involved in theater and music. Their most redeeming quality is that they’re still human and in spite of having a job with high risk and public scrutiny, they have the same basic needs, desires and emotions as those of us not blessed with the talent to sink baskets or throw a ball. It was a lot of fun to be able to take what you don't always read on the sports page and bring them to the pages of my book.
Furthermore, I’m really excited that the characters from “Leather Compass” are returning for a follow-up book that I resumed adding content to earlier this week, they'll be joined by some new additions I’ve also enjoyed breathing life into. If you haven’t read the original yet, you should do so to get yourself prepared for what comes next!
From the time I first wrote this blog, I made it a goal to put a lot of focus on telling my story as a writer to readers instead of relying too much on gimmicks like commentary on current events. There are enough opinions out there on news sites and Twitter that I don’t feel the need to use space on here to offer my two centers. And for the first five entries, I’ve done a pretty good job at sticking to discussing the creative process.
This week, I’m going to break from that if only slightly because the thoughts I have deal with two of my greatest passions: sports and the arts. It deals with the acceptance speech Meryl Streep gave the other night when receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, but I want to zero in on her suggestion that sports such as football and Mixed Martial Arts don’t qualify as forms of art.
I certainly won’t argue the main point she made: there is a glaring lack of civility in our society and we need to do what we can to combat that—all of us, not just the people who hold public office. But again, that’s getting away from my intended focus. I can also understand where someone heavily involved in a traditional form of art such as Ms. Streep might not see catching a ball or ultimate fighting as belonging in the same sentence with Shakespeare and Picasso.
That doesn’t make them any less artistic than her wonderful performances. Art is everywhere you look at sporting events: you have your players, who spend hours upon hours working at their craft in the hopes of making a name for themselves. When they make that big play, it’s as emotional as anything you’ll see on stage, screen or in the pages of a book. Speaking of stages, the stadiums and fields where these athletes act out their roles are architectural wonders in their own right. Throw in some ambient noise from the crowd or recorded music, and chances are you’ll be looking at a true masterpiece being produced right before your very eyes.
Of course you still need the other media to thrive as a culture, sports isn’t the be all and end all. But to say it isn’t art, well, that’s an opinion I’ll just have to disagree with. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and say that looking at sport beyond its fundamentals and objectives really helped me to put “Leather Compass” together, and I believe it will serve me well in the next project I’m working on.
We did it! 2016 is officially behind us, and we’re now into a new year that’s sure to be full of opportunities and challenges. This is of course the part of the year where we look at ways we can better ourselves as individuals. A lot of the goals set are centered around health, whether that be physical health, mental health, or in my case, creative health. I want to keep growing as a writer this year, and the blog helps, but I’m getting a boost from other sources as well.
While I was out in Denver for the holidays, my brother gave me a book as a gift. I could tell it was a book, I was just hoping it wasn’t the one I’d written. It turned out to be a nice surprise, a recently-released nonfiction hardcover by artist Danielle Krysa titled “Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And Other Truths About Being Creative.”
I had to return to Iowa on Christmas Day, so I had the opportunity to read through some of it on the flight, and finished the rest of it in a week’s time. To summarize, it’s about the voice that exists in our heads, you know, the sulky one that says we can’t do this or shouldn’t do that, and how to keep it at bay when trying to do creative things like painting or writing. Other artists make guest appearances to discuss how they deal with that voice and still make works.
Overall, I like the advice Danielle gives to her readers. In fact, I’ve incorporated some of those ideas into my daily routine. One suggestion was to pen a letter meant for someone you’re envious of. I won’t say who I chose, and they’ll likely never see it, but I do like how it came out.
Another idea coming from Danielle’s book was a month-long project where you draw, write or take photos of something based on a theme for the day. I chose pictures, because they can be easily done and then posted onto social media. You can see what I’ve done over on Instagram. The theme for Day 1 was “water,” so I grabbed a shot of the kitchen faucet. Today, Day 4, is “fly,” and I happened to be back at the airport last night picking up my father, so I got a good shot of the plane he came in on. You can see other photos I’ve taken on my Instagram stream as well.
This post isn’t so much a review of the book as it is a tie-in to previous posts about my own creative journey. I want to reiterate what a liberating process that has been and I’m very excited to keep plugging away in 2017, armed with newly acquired knowledge.
Once you get past the short days and (if you live in a northern region like I do) bitter cold temperatures, this is a great time of year because of the festive spirit you find in the air. Some would argue that the holidays have lost their shine and become too commercialized. Sure, retailers have gone over the top lately trying to get consumers’ hard-earned money, but to me, gifts are a big part of what make the season so special.
I’m not talking about receiving gifts, although it is fun to be on that end. But the old adage “’Tis better to give than receive” does apply come December. Even if you adhere to celebrating the birth of Jesus, you’ll recall that the three wise men who traveled to Bethlehem came forth bearing gifts for the newborn child. Granted, it wasn’t a toy fire engine or the hot new video game, but the concept really isn’t that much different—a celebration of hope and new beginnings.
Giving doesn’t have to be limited to the holidays either. It’s been my great honor to donate copies of “Leather Compass” to organizations for auction outside of peak time. One book was part of a larger package in an October fundraiser for the Horizons Survivors Program here in Cedar Rapids. Another one I just sent to Kansas City, where it’s to be included in a black tie gala this spring. How much they’d fetch, I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter to me. I’m just happy to take part in events that help change lives.
Any product, books or otherwise, has the potential to change lives for both the work’s creator and their audience. I know it’s why I go through the creative process. Sales and recognition are nice to have, but they can never fully replace knowledge, inspiration and hope to a world that’s always in need of these things. So go on out and buy gifts for those you care about, and if you need ideas, “Leather Compass” makes a great stocking stuffer.
I close the blog for this week and ultimately 2016 by wishing you the most joyous of holiday seasons. I look forward to providing you updates again in a couple of weeks!
This week is all about moving on, certainly from a personal standpoint but for the purpose of this blog, I want to share what that means in terms of my writing. It can be difficult to move on, especially when it’s something you’ve spent a long time on. “Leather Compass” has become part of my life for the last five years. Between its initial concept in 2011 and publication last year, I went through a period of rewrites, edits and submissions. Believe it or not, that was the easy part. The real work started once my story became a physical product. There was the matter of drumming up support—setting up a presence online, seeking reviews and interviews, things that seem quite daunting when you’re introverted.
I am very proud of my freshman effort, and of course hope that people will enjoy reading it just as much as I enjoyed producing it. That being said, it’s one book. My ultimate goal is to build a portfolio of literature. To do that, I have to keep on writing. A longtime author who is sadly no longer with us once told me that you should always be working on the next big thing while waiting for the manuscript you finished to be picked up. I didn’t follow the advice, I think I just needed a break from it after the long process, but once “Leather Compass” was published, I began a follow-up to the book. A year later, I’ve written over 79,000 words! Right now, I’m going back in the draft to look for loose ends that need tying up. My aim is to finish the manuscript in six months’ time.
There’s another side project I’m working on as well, can’t get into the details at this moment, but needless to say, I’m not without stuff to do. And of course, there’s the original “Leather Compass,” which I will pitch as a gift for New Adult readers during this holiday season. More about that next week.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone about the Fear Of Missing Out that compelled me to start writing this blog. I explained how I felt like I wasn’t reaching out and connecting with people the way I’d like to. That brought forth a pointed observation from who I was talking to: they wondered if perhaps I’d been overanalyzing things.
It’s quite possible I’ve been doing so for a long time. Even while in college, I remember being a stickler for details when it came to what I’d include in reports or presentations. Same with working through school as a supervisor in the Cedar Rapids airport restaurant—I stayed long after close because I didn’t want staff to come in the next morning and say something hadn’t been cleaned or stocked the night before. The eagerness to please lasted into my post-graduate career, and no matter how hard I tried to avoid it, it did lead to situations where I made mistakes.
Thankfully, I’ve come to the realization in later years that perfectionism really is hard to come by and if you try chasing it, you’re going to end up missing out. Still, I have my moments where I’ll perseverate over something I’m working on—like my writing. I often wonder if I did this right or got too technical in one place.
Exacerbating my anxiety is the advice I find on the Internet because it talks about all the things you need to do to impress agents and publishers, etc. Then there’s various author forums, where like-minded people recommend not worrying too much about the semantics, just keep on writing. I like the sentiment of the latter, however, I suppose there needs to be a medium. I want to craft a good story for my readers, but I also don’t want to get bogged down in the finer points. That’s what drafts are for, I suppose.
This isn’t a manuscript, however. It’s a blog post, one I’m very likely overthinking.
I don’t know whether it’s a written rule or not, but I have to think a general best practice whenever you’re starting a new blog is that you introduce it with an outline of what you plan to present and what you hope the reader gains from it. Not by a long shot is this my first attempt at a blog, but it’s safe to say that my objectives for each of us have never been clearer to me.
The reason for a new blog really came out of necessity. Sometime before the Thanksgiving holiday, I came to the cold, hard realization that people just don’t know who I am or what I have to offer. I’ve traveled the world—places like the UK, Ireland, Italy, Canada and the Philippines—and yet it feels like I’ve trapped myself into a silo, isolated from those not within my tightly-knit circle. When you think about it, there’s a great big audience out there that I’ve allowed to go untapped, and so I’ve done myself and them a great disservice.
Forgive me for just a moment as I slightly delve into the political arena, but there’s a lot of talk out there these days about building walls to keep people out. Speaking from experience, that doesn’t work. I want to tear down the wall I’ve amassed over the years and let people in to hear my story, and in turn I hope to learn something about them. That’s how you gain meaningful connections in this world.
In short, this is more than just an introduction to my newest blog. It’s an introduction to myself as a person and a writer. In the weeks ahead, my goal is to share more with you about my writing progress, tell you about the book I have published (“Leather Compass”) and get you excited for future projects in the wheelhouse. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know more about what you want to hear.
All the best,