Mother’s Day Gift

Continual learning is important. My family bought me a writing class to learn more about how to develop stories. So far, I’m learning more about genres, market audiences, character development, arcs, and structure to potentially create a script. I’m really excited about this new venture.

For our first assignment, we must really examine one of our favorite movie stories. I picked The Pursuit of Happyness which came out in 2006 starring Will Smith. This is what I wrote for my assignment:

I have three favorite scenes from this movie.  The first scene I love is when Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) gets into the cab with Jay Twistle.  Chris Gardner is a luckless entrepreneur who has invested most of his life’s dedication and family money in bone density scanners for doctors which are unfortunately mostly unsellable.  He dreams of working for Dean Witter Reynolds where Jay Twistle is the hiring manager for an unpaid and challenging internship program which apprentices only the best candidate to join their team.  Chris hops into the cab with Jay and makes several attempts to impress the distracted manager.  It is only when Chris shows Jay how to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the cab, that the manager sees Chris is very smart and has real potential with their company.

Throughout the movie, we see Chris trying to juggle so many responsibilities.  As a Dad and husband, he is as we learned in class, the character of a “loveable screw-up.”  As we see him try to get adequate daycare for his young son, try to sell the bone density scanners over and over again, get into a hilarious catch the thief escapade with some folks that have stolen his products, and also deal with financial burdens breaking his marriage apart and threatening his livelihood as well as home…we, the viewers, can sympathize with his plight and eagerly want him to overcome adversity. 

Chris faces many obstacles in his own pursuit of happiness which he sees at Dean Witter Reynolds.  He is a man with an extraordinary skill set of intelligence and quick thinking.  We also see a deep bond, a true love between father and young son.  This leads me to the second favorite part of the movie when Chris Gardner is watching his son play basketball.  He gets frustrated and tells Chris Jr. to give up on his dream of becoming a good basketball player.  Then we see him look out at the skyline of San Francisco and in particular, Dean Witter Reynolds, and he kneels down to talk to his son.  He tells his son not to let anyone tell him he can’t have aspirations or goals.  At that moment, we see his internal frustration but his love for his son drives him onward to be a good role model and pick up the torch again and try even harder to secure a position at Dean Witter Reynolds.  It becomes a pivotal moment in the film as he makes the choice to keep going. 

His external goal as a character is to provide for his family but also to take calculated risks that could lead to great potential for his future.  His internal goal as a character is to find happiness, or rather to prove his worth or value in a very busy society that keeps continually dismissing him. 

My third favorite part of the movie is the climax.  After jumping through many hoops in the unpaid internship program, he becomes one of the top sellers for the firm and attracts a major client by going above and beyond to make the sale.  His resourcefulness and persistence pay off even as he loses his home and, at one point, ends up on the streets locked in a public restroom with his son trying to get his son some needed rest.  This is a true love story as well between parent and child.  So, in the end, we see Chris Gardner called into the office with the bosses and offered the full-time position with Dean Witter Reynolds.  He fights back tears as he accepts the position.  In the closing comments we learn that this is based on a true story from the 1980s and that Chris Gardner works successfully for many years at the firm before venturing out to start his own firm. 

I love this movie and recommend it to my friends because it is very inspirational though it is difficult to watch all the trials and tribulations Chris Gardner has to face on his way to the top.  This is a great business and entrepreneurial movie with a happy ending that really pleases the audience.  I really like the choice of Will Smith for this film because he can convey all the physicality of literally running over and over again in the movie to pursue his goals.  Also, Will Smith is great at portraying a wide array of emotions and is very likeable as Chris Gardner.  You can see he really has a lot at stake but he is willing to take the big risks for a greater potential outcome. 

Girl 1 and Girl 2

I wrote another short story. This one came to me as I was working at the factory. I thought it over in my head for a few hours and then came home to write it out. It is a fictional story of two little girls and how their lives change as they grow up and face challenges. I really like the ending as each one comes to terms with their past and learns to heal and love. I wish I could turn it into a script but I am still new to writing and need to learn how. Here is the story. I’d love to hear your feedback. Thanks.

Girl 1 and Girl 2

J. Speer

“Young girls are like wild horses running freely in the wind, full of spirit and vitality. 

Never let anyone break that spirit.”  – Anonymous

It is the first day of Kindergarten.  Girl 1 walks hand in hand with her mother to the little Catholic school.  You can tell her mother and her are close.  Her mother is a stay-at-home mom who always watches Girl 1. 

Girl 2 is walking hand in hand with her mother to the little Catholic school.  Her mother is in a rush so they hurry to get inside so her mom can get to work.  Girl 2 has always gone to daycare and as a result is quite sociable. 

You can tell that Mom 1 has more money than Mom 2 by the cars they drive, the way they dress, and Mom 2 is much more hurried. 

Girl 1 and Girl 2 are left at the Kindergarten that day.  Mom 1 hugs Girl 1 tightly and sheds some tears as she leaves.  Girl 2’s hair is tousled by her mom as her mom rushes out into the hallway.  “See ya later, kiddo,” she says. 

Girl 1 is very sad and alone and starts to cry.  She wants her mother.  She ends up hiding under a table for some time.  She won’t play with the other kids.  Girl 2 is playing with the other kids.  She is playing with toy horses and she stops to look at Girl 1 hiding under the table and crying.  She looks down at the horses in her hands and gets up to walk over to the table.  She looks under the table at Girl 1.  They look at each other.  Girl 2 offers Girl 1 her horsey to play with.  Girl 1 stops crying and eventually follows Girl 2 out to play with the other kids.  Girl 2 is protective of Girl 1.  They become best friends. 

Years go by. 

As little children, they go to the church and sing “Jesus loves me.”  They become fast friends and do everything together.  They read books together.  Girl 1 loves books.  Girl 2 still loves horses.   

More years go by. 

They stand side by side inseparable.  They have first communion in pretty white dresses.  Girl 1 is doted on and has a lovely expensive dress with a celebration afterwards.  Girl 2 wears a hand-me-down and gets a card with no money. 

Years go by.

Girl 1 lives in a peaceful loving home with a family and two loving parents. 

Girl 2 lives in a rental.  The situation at home is not that great at times.  Her Dad drinks a lot and is angry.  Her parents fight.  Her mother and father work low income jobs.  Girl 2’s mother leaves her father.  Her mom gets a divorce and Girl 2 stays with the dad who makes more money than the mom.  One night her father gets drunk and abuses her.  She is ashamed and keeps this a secret. 

Girl 1 boards the bus to go to school.  She usually sits with Girl 2 and a few other friends.  She notices one day that Girl 2 is getting moody and changing.  Girl 2 suddenly lashes out at Girl 1.  She bullies Girl 1 unexpectedly and Girl 1 doesn’t know how to react.  Girl 2 keeps bullying Girl 1 for a week or two on the school bus before school.  She makes fun of Girl 1 to the others.  Girl 1 is ashamed and keeps this a secret. 

Girl 2 drives Girl 1 away because she doesn’t want her to know what is happening at home.  No one protects Girl 2 at home.  Girl 1 and Girl 2 who were best friends before, break up their relationship.  Girl 1 throws a slumber party and does not invite Girl 2 because of her meanness.  Girl 2 gets very upset.  Girl 1 enjoys the party but inside she wishes Girl 2 could be there and they could be friends again.  Eventually, the two girls grow apart and stop talking to each other. 

Years go by.  As each year progresses, we see Girl 1 blossoming and flourishing more and more into a beautiful young woman.  In Junior high, she still loves to read. 

We also see Girl 2 struggling with terrible hardships at home.  She gets into bad company, getting involved with drugs and such, struggling with apathy towards grades, dying her hair dark and she wears dark clothes.  One day, in junior high, she tears down the horse posters in her room.  She hates horses now. 

Years go by.

On homecoming night, Girl 2 stands with her friends on the sidelines near the metal stands.  They make fun of Girl 1 as she is crowned Homecoming Queen.  Girl 1 seems to have the perfect life and Girl 2 hates her guts at that moment.  Girl 1 is oblivious and naïve to these feelings.  Girl 1 is with her other friends now and celebrating. 

Fast forward. 

Girl 1 gets scholarships to go to a 4-year college.  She earns high marks on a degree and marries successfully.  The marriage is a big family event.  She has a few babies and becomes a stay-at-home mom with a successful hardworking husband. 

Girl 2 finishes high school.  She gathers up a few belongings in her clunker of a car, and drives out to California.  She crashes with a few friends of friends, gets into heavier drug stuff, but she also has a talent for writing so she begins to pen stories and scripts and submits them to studios. 

One of her stories is about a supervillain girl clique in high school and their mean girl homecoming queen.  It is in fact, a vivid mockery or satirical narrative and depiction of Girl 1.  This story becomes an international hit and she pens a TV series about it.  She makes some hit movies about the evil homecoming queen. 

Girl 2 is flourishing and blossoming now.  She becomes rich and successful.  She marries another woman.  Girl 2 does cocaine and takes sleeping pills.   She has a blissful life in the fast lane.  She and her wife have 2 children and they travel to Europe and the Caribbean on family vacations.  She seems happy now.  But she still has bad dreams at night about her childhood and she must take sleeping pills.    

One day while at home with her babies, Girl 1 reads a newspaper article and sees a picture of Girl 2.  She’s happy for Girl 2’s success.  She decides to watch the TV series while babysitting her children.  As she watches, she realizes that the homecoming queen character is based off her.  She becomes intensely horrified by the false depiction and narrative.  She is in a state of shock. 

She leaves the babies that night with her husband and goes to a movie theater alone and watches the popular high school movie in the dark.  She listens to the laughter and mean things that people in the theater and the community say about the character from the show.  She reads many news articles online about what people think of the character that portrays her.  She reads all sorts of hurtful stuff and online forum messages calling the girl all sorts of mean and horrible names.  She begins to feel very sad.  She goes into a deep depression and has trouble focusing on her babies.  They label her with postpartum.

As Girl 1 struggles more and more with mental illness, things start to fall apart for Girl 1.  As the years go by, we see Girl 1’s life unravels into divorce, and suicide attempts, and mental hospital stays, and meth use.  She has abusive boyfriends who mistreat her.  She loses her reputation, jobs, friends, and family.  She ends up living in a rundown trailer park working a deadbeat job and addicted to meth. 

Things go much better for Girl 2 who rides the wave of success and awards and accolades.    

One day, Girl 1 is beaten severely at the trailer park.  She is pushed into a bookcase of her old books and her Virgin Mary statue falls and breaks on the floor beside her crumpled-up body.  Her dealer says she owes him some money.  She tells him she knows where to get money.  She wipes blood from her nose and lip.  She sees the broken statue of Mary beside the old copy of the Count of Monte Cristo.  No one protects her anymore.   

That night Girl 1 watches a documentary about the life of Girl 2 and she researches Girl 2 online.  She stays up into the late hours reading everything she can about Girl 2.  She now hates Girl 2 with a passion.

She steals a gun from her neighbor and drives her beat up car to California.  In the car, the copy of the The Count of Monte Cristo is tossed in the passenger seat.  On the way, she stays at rundown cheap motels.  At one, Girl 1 looks at herself in the mirror.  She proceeds to cut her hair short herself with scissors and dyes it black.  When she reaches L.A., she learns where Girl 2 lives. 

She lives on the streets for a while as she studies Girl 2.  Girl 2 doesn’t recognize her. 

One night as it is raining hard, she sits outside the gates of Girl 2’s house.  She has a blanket and a hoodie pulled up.  She looks like a homeless person.  She waits with the loaded gun under the blanket and the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in her pocket.  It is raining hard.

Girl 2 arrives home in the rain and sees the slumped over figure of the homeless stranger.  She stops, gets out of her car in the rain, and walks towards the stranger.  When she gets close, she reaches in her wallet for some bills and offers a hand to the stranger.  She waits in the rain for the stranger to accept.  It is raining hard now and difficult to see. 

Girl 1 sees Girl 2 offer her hand.  She stares coldly for a moment and there’s a flashback moment to the first time the two girls met.  Girl 1 remembers that moment hiding under the table and seeing Girl 2 offer her hand.  This throws Girl 1 off a bit.  She is not quite sure in that moment what to do.      

But she doesn’t accept the money or the hand.  Instead she clicks the safety off her gun.  Even in the rain, Girl 2 can hear the sound.  She watches the stranger.  The stranger watches her.  The stranger stands up.  The blanket drops exposing the gun and she lowers her hood.  It takes a while but Girl 2 finally realizes who Girl 1 is. 

Girl 1 says, “Remember me?” 

Girl 2 says, “I knew you would come.” 

Girl 1 says, “Why…why did you do it?”

Girl 2 says nothing at first.  Then says, “It was my father.”  There is a long pause.

Girl 2 continues, “He abused me.  You were my friend.  You should have known.” 

Girl 1 says, “Na, na…. you pushed me away.  How could I know?” 

Girl 2 says, “You should have asked.  You were my friend.  You weren’t there for me.  Not like I was for you.”

 Girl 1 says, “I didn’t know.  How could I know?  And so, you ruined my life.” 

Girl 2 says, “You were supposed to protect me like I protected you.  You abandoned me.” 

Girl 1 replies, “And what about you?  I lost everything.  Do you have any idea at all what it is like to be villainized and profited on for the entire world to mock and hate?  You slandered me.  You destroyed me…for years.  What you did is unforgiveable.”  Girl 1 lifts the gun but can’t pull the trigger.  Moments pass in the heavy rain. 

Girl 1 says, “I have PTSD now.” 

Girl 2 says, “Do you think you’re the only one broken?” 

Girl 1 tries again to shoot.  She can’t do it.  She lowers the gun, brushes past Girl 2 in the rain and walks away as Girl 2 watches her go. 

Girl 1 heads down the streets.  She throws the gun in a gutter and continues walking in the heavy rain.  She puts her hood up and walks and walks and walks in the rain while she cries.

Girl 2 goes inside her house and stares out the windows for a while.  Her wife welcomes her home.  Her kids are playing in another room.  She takes the sleeping pills off her bedside stand and washes all of them down the sink.

Girl 1 is lost in the rains.  She sees a minority church across the street somewhere in L.A.  She’s soaked in the rains coming down.  It’s getting dark and she sees the Virgin Mary statue out front.  She crosses the street and looks at it. 

She turns to go up the steps into the church.  The worn-out copy of The Count of Monte Cristo falls out of her pocket but she doesn’t notice.  She goes up the steps and opens the door to step inside.

It is warm inside and she stands huddled in her dark hoodie in the back of the church.  There are votive candles lit and pews ahead and a crucifix.  A Latin minister is instructing a small group in Bible study.  They turn to watch her cautiously.  The way she is acting is strange.  She hovers in the entrance with her face concealed by the hoodie.  Due to the church shootings and such across the nation and in the news, the minister and his bible study group eye her with concern. 

The minister hesitates and then he invites the stranger in to be with them.  She hesitates too, considers going back outside, and then turns to enter the church.  She keeps her hood up and her eyes downcast because she has been crying.  The others note her appearance.  She looks a bit unstable.    

The minister continues cautiously.  They are talking about the moment when Joseph reunites with his brothers in Egypt.  She sits down in a pew some distance from one of the listeners, a black man who watches her at first with caution.  She lowers her hoodie and makes brief eye contact with him.  He can see she’s been crying.  He smiles sadly and compassionately at her and hands her a bible.  She looks down at the cover with tears welled up in her eyes. 

The minister asks the others why Joseph forgives his brothers after all that happened, all the suffering.  He says it is because he sees a bigger picture, a Providence to being thrown in the pit with snakes and scorpions, sold into slavery, placed in prison for years, manipulated, mistreated, and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.  Joseph knows too that what was meant for his harm would eventually turn to good.  And Joseph knows that unforgiveness is like poison to the soul.  It will hurt him so Joseph must learn to let go.  The minister goes on to talk about learning to forgive others even when you never get the apology.  He explains that leaving resent and anger pent up inside of you is toxic and it is important to release it.    

The floodgates of her emotions finally open up.  Girl 1 cries and cries and cries in front of the minister and the others.  The man beside her in the pew sits closer and he very slowly reaches out to place his hand on her shoulder. 

They ask her if she’s been saved and, there in the church, she accepts Jesus as her personal savior as the minister and the man in the pew and the others help her that night. 

Fast forward to a few days later. 

Girl 2 calls her agent and says she’ll no longer write episodes for the popular TV series.  She starts meditation and goes to a counselor to discuss her past.  In the counselor’s office, she finally talks about her father and she cries and cries and cries.  She finally lets go of the anger and resentment.    

Later that day, she sits at home with her laptop with her family and she begins writing a new TV series about girls at a horse ranch.  She bases it off her own 2 young girls.  The TV series becomes successful yet not as successful as the high school drama.  But still, it makes her happy to write this story instead. 

Fast forward some more to the future. 

Girl 1 is in a car with the man from the pew earlier.  They are looking at an old abandoned lighthouse on an island off the coast of North Carolina.  There are green dunes all around. 

There are children in the back seat.  Girl 1 looks healthy again and much happier.  They tell the older children to wait in the car.  She takes the baby girl in the back seat out of her car seat and holds her.  She plays with the beautiful baby girl for a little bit and kisses the baby’s forehead.      

Her husband, the man from the pew, also gets out of the car.  She holds the baby on her hip as she and the man walk together over to the building. 

“It will need some work,” she says.  Earlier, she had picked this island online because of the wild horses roaming nearby.  She watches them off in the distance amid the green dunes.  The horses are beautiful.  The whole scenery is breathtaking.      

He says, “It’ll be a good spot for us to start the ministry.”  They walk to the lighthouse together holding hands. 

Fast forward a few years. 

The lighthouse is remodeled and there is a church beside it with a large church gathering out front.  It is a church picnic.  There are many people laughing at picnic tables with friends.  They are sharing a potluck meal together and BBQing and having fun.  Children are running back and forth, playing.  The wild horses can be seen in the distance.  There is a big wooden cross in front of the lighthouse. 

Girl 1 is with her husband, the minister, when she notices her daughter Mara playing with her friend Karissa on a blanket in the green grass.  They are fighting over toy horses.  She walks over to them.  The cross and lighthouse are in the background. 

The two little girls are fighting with each other.  She squats down beside them. 

“Mara, what’s the problem?  Why are you fighting?”

Mara says, “She took my horse.  That’s my horse.”  The two little girls begin to tug back and forth on the toy horse. 

“Karissa, is Mara your best friend?”  Girl 1 asks.

“Yes,” says Karissa and the little girl stops tugging.

“Mara, is Karissa your best friend?” Girl 1 asks again.

Mara nods and also stops tugging.    

“Mara, what do we do with best friends?”

“We protect them,” says Mara.

“Mara, what are the most important commandments?”

“Love,” says Mara.  She hands the horse over to Karissa. 

“Take turns, you two.”  She hugs them both and they go back to playing.  She stands up and looks at the wild horses.  The horses are running free spirited and beautiful in the distance before the setting sun.  She looks at the church, at the lighthouse, and the church sign named Providence.  And she smiles.   

Teaching Students

I’ve been invited to speak to English class students in a few days and am looking forward to it! I wrote out a whole speech for the thirty minute presentation and tried to make it interactive and interesting. We’ll be talking about writing, publishing, and selling books. I’m including the speech here below for anyone who wants some ideas for speaking to students about book-writing. I hope I can stick to the script! I’ll be practicing a lot the next few days.

Hello. I have a box in front of me.  I need a volunteer to open this box.

(Pick volunteer )

Now please, open the box.  What is inside the box?

Books.  Books are inside the box.  Ordinary looking books, nothing extremely fancy about them, right?  These are some great books though with really fantastic stories meant to inspire and educate you and to transcend you to other times and places.  They will make you laugh.  They will make you cry.  They will teach you new things. 

That is the power of books.  They can influence art.  They can influence music and movies.  There’s so much that one little book can do. 

Now let’s start at the top of the stack of books.  Each one of these books was written by an author that wanted to contribute their thoughts to the world.  Each one of these books is also a different type of genre.  What is a genre?  Well, it means a certain style of book or category.  And thinking about your genre or niche, thinking about what you know about the world and what you can contribute to the world of books……….that is one of the first steps for an author. 

So let’s go through the books in the box real quick.  I want you to hold up each book to the class and let them guess the type of genre that book is and I will write it down on the board here.  There are, in fact, many different types of book genres. 

(Go through books.  When student volunteer is done, let him or her pick out a book to keep from the stack.)

Ok, so if you want to become an author, we have already established that you need to figure out what you are good at, what you have knowledge of, and what you can write about.  But what if you are a specialist on something really remote like say bugs?  What if you know everything there is to know about the bug world and you write a fabulous detailed and precise book about bugs?  Your next question to yourself should be……will that book sell?  Will you make any money or return on your investment if you write and publish that book? 

Your next step as an author should be to analyze the current book market.  Do some research.  For instance, what are the top 5 sellers now in the self-publishing book market?  You can look that up online and the answers are:

(Let students guess the top 5 sellers)

  1.  Romance novels
  2. Science Fiction novels
  3. Fantasy novels
  4. Mystery, Thriller, and Crime novels
  5. Nonfiction novels  (Self-help or Business, etc.)

Ok, so with that in mind…….what type of book should the bug enthusiast write to get the most sells?  Perhaps a love story between two bugs?  A story like this one, maybe?

(Hold up the DVD for A Bug’s Life) 

So, I recently wrote a book that falls into one of these categories here listed above.  Based on the cover design of Searching for Fire, which genre of book would you guess that it is? 

(Let students guess.)

The answer is Fantasy Fiction.   That is number 3 on the list.

Now, I’ve got an interesting question. 

In the year 2013, according to BookScan.com, how many millions of hardcover and paperback fiction copies of books were sold in the United States alone?

(Give students time to write down their guesses.)

The answer is 256 million copies of books in one year in the United States alone.

(Figure out which student came closest to the answer and applaud them) 

Now, comes the hard part……..

What is the average number of copies of a book that an author sells?  What would you guess?

(Ask a few students what they would guess.)

According to Publisher’s Weekly, an average author only sells 250 copies of their book in their first year and around 2,000 to 3,000 copies of the book in their lifetime! 

So…….what does that mean?

First, if we do the math and take 256 million copies of books divided by 250 copies of books, we realize that the current global book market is massive! 

(Write out equation on the whiteboard)

That places the number of original editions of books on the market at around 1.2 million books and that is just for one year!!!  What about all the other original edition books published prior to 2019??? 

According to Google, there are roughly over 130 million original books in the world today.  That is A LOT of books!!

The second thing, we learn from these statistics is that authors like Stephen King and JK Rowling are an amazing and unique phenomenon.  They are not the norm.  They are super successful but they had to write many, many books before they became that way. 

Ok, so why am I telling you all of this? 

Because I want you to understand that writing is a hard challenge and very few people are bestsellers.  If you want to become a writer or author, it will take hard work and dedication but more than that……you just gotta write for the sake of the storytelling itself rather than money.  You gotta love writing for writing in and of itself.  Yes, the money is very important but the reality from these statistics is that you might probably only sell 250 copies in your first year and maybe 2,000 to 3,000 copies in your lifetime.  So that means, the average author makes maybe $2,500 their first year and maybe $20,000 on a book in their lifetime. 

Writing and Publishing books is Big Business though.  And if you decide to become a writer, you need to look at it from a business standpoint and view yourself as this……..an entrepreneur.  What is an entrepreneur?  According to Merriam-Webster, an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. 

(Pick up candy bars for this part to show to the audience.)

So say you are an author, an entrepreneur……..you write a book you want to sell to the world, this book “this Whatjamacallit” that you have…..perhaps it is a sci-fi fiction book, perhaps you wrote about the “Milky Way” or maybe it’s a sports history book and you wrote about “Baby Ruth”………well, as an entrepreneur you take on financial risk to publish this book (perhaps you pay for editing services or custom design of the cover, etc.) and then you put it on the market and sell it.  If you sell say, “1,000 Grand” copies well then you hit “Payday”  but say you don’t sell any at all, you might get “Snickers” from friends and family and colleagues.  But that is the risk, you are willing to take because you are now officially an entrepreneur.  An author.

(Open bag of small Milky Way candy bars to pass around the classroom.)

And the book market is what is called a “low margin market.”  Meaning that for most people, it does minimally well but for the right folks, it could hit big time jackpot.  Kinda like going to a casino or winning the lottery.  JK Rowling basically hit the lottery for writing books because she’s really a great writer.   

So we’ve determined that you maybe have your genre and you’ve realistically studied the book market and know the risks and possible downfalls as well as positive outcomes associated, the rest of developing a book can be divided into three parts:

  1.  Writing the book
  2. Publishing the book
  3. Selling the book

Let’s talk about writing.  Nowadays, there are lots of tools you can use to help you write better.  There’s Grammerly to help you with spelling and grammar.  There’s also Scribner which is an app to help you keep track of your writings.

I wanted to talk to you about a specific theory that helped me write Searching for Fire.  It is called the hero’s journey and was developed by a mythologist named Joseph Campbell.  In 1949 he wrote The Hero has a Thousand Faces and in this book, he said that there is a 12-step pattern to developing an action adventure quest story. 

Action adventure quest stories are featured in many of our contemporary movies.  Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix? What about Lord of the Rings?  Or Star Wars?  What about the movie Finding Nemo?  Yep, Finding Nemo also uses the 12 step pattern and I will show you how in this handout I created for you today. 

(Pass out handout to the class.)

So I wanted to write Searching for Fire and I wanted it to be a hero’s journey.  Next, I had to pick a location and setting.  I chose Northwest New Mexico and Southwest Colorado because I traveled to Mesa Verde and did an archaeology dig there once and knew it would be a fantastic location in North America to set a story in. 

What type of characters did I want this to be about?  This was another question I had to answer.  I chose to make the story about Native Americans in a hidden cliff village and they journey into the Old West of the 1800s as well.  Because this was a North American story, I wanted it to be about ordinary people who overcome difficult challenges through grit and determination just like the ideas we uphold here of an American dream.  I noticed as a mother that a lot of the shows my kids watched growing up were about lords and ladies, knights, and kings and queens which is interesting but I wanted the heroes to be just like you or me. 

So how did I start writing?  I already had a two page short story.  My first step after that was to prepare an outline that covered all the action in the book from beginning to end.  My outline took a week to create and it included the 12 step pattern of a hero’s journey.  I started first on a prologue that I hoped would hook the audience in and relay some very important background information.  Then I started working chapter by chapter by chapter until the book was completed.  To be honest, I did skip one chapter though and came back to it at the end.  Can anyone guess who that chapter was about?

(Ask audiences for their guesses.)

Yes, it was about the super villain.  He was the hardest person in the book to write about. Is it possible to have a favorite villain?  Yes, I think so.  What about you?  Who would you consider to be an interesting villain? 

(Ask audience for their responses)

Can anyone tell me what are the five elements to a good story?  Think about these 5 elements as you are writing.

  • A great protagonist that readers identify with
  • An antagonist that thwarts the plans of the protagonist and is an interesting character
  • An inciting action that pits the two against each other
  • Conflict – this can be internal or external
  • Resolution – the climax where we see who wins the conflict

The actual work of writing Searching for Fire took me 6 weeks at 6 hours a day but I also spent 8 hours each day at work at the factory carefully thinking over the sequence of events.  I would work out the ideas in my head for hours long before I came home each night to write them.  This meditation time is also really crucial to developing better twists and turns and maybe fight scenes. 

A good size book for your first novel could be about 100 pages written in MS Word.  The publishing company will also need to format the book and put in extra pages and different fonts and illustrations.  By the time the publishing company was done with the formatting, my 100 page work turned into about 140 pages. 

When you finish writing, you will feel great!  Truly great as if you just created something truly wonderful.  But don’t let that cloud your judgment.  You need to give the manuscript to a confidante, a close friend or two, that would be willing to read your work and edit it.  Drew was the first person to read Searching for Fire.  He was a big help to me.  The other person that helped me a lot was my sister, Jerri.  She has worked at libraries for years and had many great ideas for how to improve the manuscript.  After that was done and the revisions were made, I knew I was ready to submit the work to others.

I chose to go with a company called Archway Publishing because they are closely affiliated with Simon and Schuster and also because they were affordable for me.  When publishing there are three routes an author can take:

  1.  Traditional Publishers & Book Agents – This is the best route but the hardest to attain for a first time writer.
  2. Smaller Presses or Pay-to-print Presses – Some of these publishers require you to pay them a fee to help you publish your work.  If you are new to writing, you might consider this carefully.  You can get your book into stores but only if you have great professional reviews from Clarion, BlueInk, Kirkus, The Library Journal, The Midwest Book Review, etc. 
  3. Self-publish – Can anyone tell me the name of the one company that has revolutionized the book market in the past few decades?  I’ll give you a hint……the company starts with the letter A. 

(Wait for responses.)

Yes, the answer is Amazon.  Nowadays many many authors choose to self-publish and why not?  You keep royalties for your sales.  But the downside to this is that you must contract out work that publishing companies would do for you and when you self-publish, you do all the marketing yourself.  Also self-published works sometimes don’t get a lot of online traffic or get sold in bookstores.

I went with the second option.  I submitted the manuscript to Archway and they approved it for print.  Then I went through about a dozen editing revisions with Archway, many of which I worked on first-hand.  There was an editor that did line editing which is setting the book to Chicago Style grammar and spelling.  After the edit process, then the book moved to cover design.  The publishing company had a huge database of images to use for the book.  I picked an image with the help of Ella and Drew.  Then the cover designers created the cover and sent it to me for revisions.  From cover design, we moved then to production.  The production agents then prepared the interior formatting of the book and they created things like the dedication page and title page.  I approved what they sent and then they got it ready for print into paperback books and also to setup on Amazon live in paperback and Kindle eBook format.  In the future, I’d really like to get the book into the audiobooks market as well. 

So that’s publishing, now came the hardest part of all……….selling the book!  I though the hardest part was writing……no, no, no…….the hardest part is convincing other people to take a look at the book.  This part is called book marketing.  Book marketing should be viewed as a long term irrigation process rather than a thunderstorm at the beginning of the release.  You have to plan things out longterm and plan to do something new each month to promote the book.  The first month, I had a book launch party at the Pittsburg Artwalk.  In September, I had a Local Author Night at the Root Coffeehouse.  In October, I have planned an author night at the Pittsburg Public Library and a book signing at the PSU bookstore, and a Writers’ Faire.  In November, I plan to go to other places. 

Another part of book marketing is social media:  blogging, a book website, vlogging, a Facebook page, Instagram posts, email newsletters. 

Newspaper attention also helps to get the word out.  Thus far, for Searching for Fire…..I have contacted the Pittsburg Morning Sun, The Tulsa World, The Joplin Globe, The Parsons Sun, The Fort Scott Herald Tribune, and the Lawrence Journal World.  Other things to consider are book clubs, professional magazines, professional review journals, and especially book contests and book awards. 

So, finally, that is all I know about writing my first book.  I still have much to learn.  But these are the pros and the cons, the ins and the outs.  Now we have time for questions and answers.  Does anyone have any questions?