Billions and billions…

That was how the late Carl Sagan would describe how many stars there are in the cosmos. And that’s how many ideas there are out there for books and stories. Some are even good. That’s not to say the rest are not, no. It’s just that they never get exposure (like undiscovered planets) and therefore are unfairly consigned to the scrap heap or a desk drawer unfinished.

However, all of those stories fall into one of seven tropes or plots. In no particular order, they are: the quest; a voyage and return; rebirth; tragedy; rags to riches; comedy; and overcoming the monster. Any story may be a hybrid of these, but this about covers the basic plots.

A question I’ve been asked is have I chosen a particular plot before writing a story. No, consciously I haven’t but that doesn’t mean other writers follow the same game plan. There’s more of them (billions and billions) than the seven tropes listed above.

But, it could be lurking in my subsconscious as the idea develops. To paraphrase an old-time radio show, The Shadow, “Who knows what lurks in the mind of the writer?” At the outset, I sure as hell don’t. That’s to be discovered in the writing. It will go where it wants to.

Do I know how the story will end? No, just like life, I don’t. It’s not circular, ending where we started. It’s one of the tropes mentioned earlier, the quest, just one of billions, yet to be revealed.

Your honor, please.

No, this is not a post about the law. This is about honor. Yours, mine, and society in general. And in general, it appears to be missing.

Let’s talk about honor. Who are some honorable people? Lincoln? OK. Washington? Yeah. Rosa Parks? Definitely. Anwar Sadat? No question. Nelson Mandela? Without a doubt. The list goes on and on. Each one need not be a complete paragon of virtue, after all they were only human and surely must have had their own failings.

So, what are the qualities that make an honorable person? Generosity – for sure. Honesty – top of the list. Considerate – of course. Civility – you bet. This list could go on and on as well.

But, and this is important, who in positions of influence would be included on your list? Certainly, everyone will have their own list of candidates and depending on the individuals asked, there may be little to no overlap of opinions. However, lists currently drawn up may be on the short side. Why is that?

The world, and particularly the USA, is in a fractious period. Trust is at an all-time low. Not blind trust for that originates in ignorance, a pie-in-the-sky belief that nothing requires questioning. Honor may be ascribed to someone for no other reason than position of authority. Let’s not confuse respect with honor. Respect should only be rewarded when honor is displayed and not only for one time though that is to be recognized.

Honor is not a sometime thing. Either you got it or you don’t. We strive to live with honor daily, a hard task. In the long run, that will benefit everyone.

Now, who wants to tell our friends in DC to do the same?

What is art? And what does it cost?

All art, arguably, is a partial self-portrait of its creator at that moment in time. No matter the medium, look or listen closely enough and one can learn something intimate about the artist.

Years ago while going through a particularly rough time, I endeavored to memorialize, by photographing, those people throughout my life who were meaningful and had a profound impact on me. They were with me (some in spirit, others in reality) to that point and helped me get through it.

In creating this body of work, I attempted to reveal something about the subject that also addressed their influence on me. By and large, it was successful. Each person’s portrait was unique from the others. Some were humorous, others quizzical, a few ambivalent, and a couple displayed discomforting elements. All I believe were honest portraits – both of the subject and myself. All but one of the subjects approved their portrait.

That one who didn’t cost me a friendship that had endured for twenty-odd years. What was once a close, sometimes raucous relationship had become casually indifferent. It was heart-breaking. None of the portraits were meant to be demeaning or injurious, yet one of the subjects felt offended by their portrayal. What was displayed in that image was accurate on how both of us were entering a similar phase in our lives. Was it too accurate? Was the mirror too honest? I still don’t know.

What I do know is that piece of well-intended art cost me a valuable friend. And that’s a cost then and now I did not want to pay. Like the cliche, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, the intent was good, the result, not so much.

What is art? And what does it cost?

All art, arguably, is a partial self-portrait of its creator at that moment in time. No matter the medium, look or listen closely enough and one can learn something intimate about the artist.

Years ago while going through a particularly rough time, I endeavored to memorialize, by photographing, those people throughout my life who were meaningful and had a profound impact on me. They were with me (some in spirit, others in reality) to that point and helped me get through it.

In creating this body of work, I attempted to reveal something about the subject that also addressed their influence on me. By and large, it was successful. Each person’s portrait was unique from the others. Some were humorous, others quizzical, a few ambivalent, and a couple displayed discomforting elements. All I believe were honest portraits – both of the subject and myself. All but one of the subjects approved their portrait.

That one who didn’t cost me a friendship that had endured for twenty-odd years. What was once a close, sometimes raucous relationship had become casually indifferent. It was heart-breaking. None of the portraits were meant to be demeaning or injurious, yet one of the subjects felt offended by their portrayal. What was displayed in that image was accurate on how both of us were entering a similar phase in our lives. Was it too accurate? Was the mirror too honest? I still don’t know.

What I do know is that piece of well-intended art cost me a valuable friend. And that’s a cost then and now I did not want to pay. Like the cliche, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, the intent was good, the result, not so much.

The first cut is the deepest…

So states the title of a Cat Stevens song. To paraphrase it, the first line in a story is the hardest. It will help determine the direction of your story. Where does one start? How much does one have to write before you realize, damn, that’s the wrong direction. Then you have to go back and start all over again. Creating a first line that grabs the reader is one of the biggest obstacles a writer faces. “It was a dark and stormy night…” Uh-uh, I don’t think so.

It may be the reason why so many stories/books are started and go either absolutely nowhere or downhill fast. My own file on these stillborn ideas grows large. Could it be the fault of a bad first line? Or was it just a lousy idea? Or both?

On the other hand, I’ve written, what I think are, some really great first lines only to have them sink upon review into the tar pit of my imagination. Yet, there may be hope.

Nowhere is it written that one or several of these ideas may not be revisited, even salvaged into something readable. It might be a hell of lot better than its crappy first line.

But how do you know if it’s any good? Initially, you may not. Go back and review it periodically. Does it relate to the story you’re now writing? Will it intrigue the reader to soldier on through your book? Or should you table that project and start a new one?

There’s nothing wrong with that but now you have to find a new first line.

You get a review, and you get a review and…

Oprah Winfrey aside, this is what it’s starting to feel like. Now don’t get me wrong – if Oprah were to offer me a new car, I’d have to seriously consider it. But that’s not going to happen, at least I don’t think so.

However, reviews of my book A Coward’s Guide to Living are coming in and I’m more than willing to accept them as they’ve been very positive. I”ll even take the less than positive ones as they have real value as well.

So, here are excerpts from some of them as posted on Amazon, GoodReads, and Reader’s Favorites:

“I felt as if I saw a human caterpillar turn into a butterfly; the character development was compelling. Great read.” – JW

“Just like Homer and Kerouac, Meisterman peels back layers of his protagonist with a journey, one only the courageous can truly complete.” – FM

“Bruce Meisterman provided so many nuggets and passages of wisdom in A Coward’s Guide to Living that were eye-opening… If you’re looking to gain some understanding and direction for improving your life, this book will be a great way to start.” – VN

“A character-driven drama about a young man’s quest for self-discovery, A Coward’s Guide to Living focuses on the little things that can hold a man back from living his life to the fullest.” – PD

“I highly recommend this book to anyone in search of a good story. This story makes you laugh and cry and feel like you’ve never felt before. This book is not to be missed.” – AS

“This is a GREAT BOOK !!! It will hold your attention. Full of Truth, Love, Discovery and Humor. Once you start to read it, you will not want to put it down. You will definitely “become” Jacob, the main character. It is a MUST READ.” – MF

So with reviews such as these, I’ll skip Oprah’s cars and go for more of these. But if she wants to include me in her book club, I’d have no choice but to say “Yes”.

The game is afoot, Watson.

So says Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. And indeed it is.

In many things in our lives. persistence is often the key to success. How many times have we given up on things too soon? Think about sports teams who when faced with lop-sided scores against them have thrown in the towel rather than continue to fight. Then think about those teams when confronted with similar situations, endured and ultimately prevailed. Which ones do you think get the movies made about them?

A definition of persistence is as follows: Refusing to give up or let go; persevering obstinately.

A definition of stubborn: Refusing to change one’s mind or course of action despite pressure to do so; unyielding or resolute.

Those who know me well will attest to my persistence. If I had a family crest it would probably feature a dog with a bone, unwilling to give it up.

And those same people know when I believe in a project, I become resolute in its pursuit. Foolish? Perhaps. But why?

In publishing and marketing a book, one must be either or both. Getting the book out there is not enough. While writing the book is perhaps more time consuming, it is in comparison far more enjoyable. But the effort put into that is wasted if commensurate industry is not committed to its marketing. Most authors I know want people to read what they’ve written. How can that happen if no one knows about it?

Media must be contacted ( incessantly?) and sold on the book’s premise and why it’s significant enough for them to commit time and/or space to it. Outlets need to be influenced in order for them to see the value in the book’s placement. It can’t be a one and done enterprise. Reviews, good or bad, need to be solicited. From the outside, it may appear to be small steps and yes, that is exactly what they are. But with enough small steps, you’ve built a staircase whose height is unlimited.

The game is afoot. Just take one step at a time and see where it takes you.

It’s never done.

Ask any artist if they’re satisfied with the work they’ve created. Chances are they’ll say “no”. It’s also a good bet that while creating that piece, they’ll wonder if it’ll ever be finished. Most artists I know struggle to put the brush, camera, or pen down and accept that it’s finished. Truthfully, it’s never finished.

That painting on your wall may not be finished as far as the artist is concerned, but there it is, just the same. The book you’re reading is the work of countless hours of writing, editing, writing some more, and then editing once again. Hopefully, you’re enjoying it. And yet upon reading it in published form, the author may look at it and shudder, thinking she/he should have done it this way instead.

Still, at some point, we have to let it go, for better or worse and the critic’s opinions.

As my new book has been on the shelves for two months now, I look back and see things I missed during its creation. If only I had… Right?

Well, it’s out there. Nothing can be done about it. That’s as it should be.

So, without anything else to do, I’ve started on a new book. Let’s hope I can finish this one.

A face for radio…

When television reared its ugly head, many radio stars lost out on jobs for entirely cosmetic reasons. Hence the saying, he/she has a face for radio.

As an author, it’s the words that do the heavy lifting, so no pictures here, just the semi-dulcet tones of the writer.

In preparation for a book signing for my new book A Coward’s Guide to Living, I was interviewed by Darel Snodgrass on WKNO-FM’s Checking on the Arts program.

Here’s an audio clip of the show. Hope you enjoy.

A cast of thousands…

So goes the marketing hype for films made right through the ’60’s. Such spectacles featured a couple of A-list movie stars and then the requisite number of extras hoping for their chance at celluloid stardom.

But what about our lives? How many “extras” populate them? Not the people we don’t know, but those with whom we have a regular or at least semi-regular relationship. It’s probably still a number too high to calculate. And that doesn’t include your social media such as Facebook friends in that number.

Then, who are the people in our own cast of thousands who influence us in some way or another? In the case of Jacob Will, the protagonist of my book A Coward’s Guide to Living, he too has many people who in the course of his story change his life.

Just like in real life, some of these people have a positive impact (A-listers), others not so much (B-listers). But it’s his cast of thousands. Who’s in your story? Who’s on your A-list? Are the B-listers important? That’s a question for a later time.