Hopefully reading

Ever since the coronavirus officially entered Indiana, the state I live in, I’ve been reading books that had a post-apocalyptic and/or world spreading virus theme. For instance, I’m a little under 200 pages left in Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

At first, I thought I was reading it out of sheer morbid obsession. Reading a book about 99.4 percent of the world dying from a super flu while the actual world is living through a pandemic with flu-like symptoms. But then I got to page 904. For those that don’t know, “The Stand” starts with a super flu that kills off most of the population. The survivors are pitted in a battle between God and Satan. The prophet that God has chosen to lead His people is Mother Abagail. Spoiler Alert: She instructs some people to travel to the heart of evil, Las Vegas, and stand up to Satan’s prophet, Randall Flagg.

Here’s the end of Mother Abagail’s instructions. “But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand. You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand.”

Now, only one of those chosen four were religious. The other three were skeptical at best, but they all believed in Mother Abagail. And Mother Abagail believed and trusted God.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’ll be finishing the book this weekend. For those that have lost track of the date/time (I know I have on several occasions), it’s Easter. For those that don’t know the specifics, here’s a brief rundown of events.

Beginning in the Bible, Matthew 26:47, Jesus was betrayed by Judas. He was arrested, taken to the high priest Caiaphas, accused of false crimes, condemned to death, mocked, beaten, and crucified. Here’s the thing, Jesus knew this was going to happen. He knew Judas would be the one to betray him and that he would be put to death. Knowing all of this, he didn’t fight the Sanhedrin physically or try to escape (I imagine he could’ve if he so decided).

Now, I’m not saying that the Bible and The Stand are equal in importance. If there was one text, I would advise reading it would be the Bible.

Both have a great moral story to them and teach a valuable lesson. In fact, in each text, it’s the same moral story. The moral is that if you trust in God and stand against evil, you will prevail. Even if your results aren’t what you desire, you’ll eventually prevail.

And that’s why I’m reading the Bible and The Stand. Not for the doom saying or the plagues or the death and destruction. Trust me, there’s a lot of that in each book.
But there’s also hope.

In this time, the Era of Corona, we could use some hope. That’s why Easter is such an important time for those that believe in God. Jesus died and in three days he was resurrected. If we trust in God and are faithful to His instructions, then we will also live again in Heaven. It is my hope that you find something to read that inspires hope. For me, I find hope in the Bible and fictional novels like The Stand.

I wish everyone has a safe and happy Easter. Remain faithful to God, trust in the Word, and do the only thing we can in this harrowing time.

Stand.

Victory is Sweet

When it comes to games, I’m pretty competitive. Of course, if you ask my nieces and nephews, they’ll tell you I’m ruthless. When playing Risk, I’ll backstab my allies. When playing Sorry, I’m not sorry. I don’t try to collect four of the same kind in the game of Spoons. I just pass cards and wait for the first spoon to be grabbed.

In Candyland, there is no mercy.

Because of my ruthlessness, I’ve been accused of being too hard on the kiddos. Whenever I’m accused of this, I defend myself by stating that I want my nieces and nephews to win. And I do want them to win, but I want them to win because they achieved it. I want them to learn that if you want something in this world, you need to work for it.

When one of my nieces started playing Candyland, my wife (at the time) and I played. I took my turn, my wife took her turn, and then my niece took her turn. Now, if you’ve never played Candyland, the game doesn’t use dice to advance. Instead, you draw cards from the top of the deck and then advance to that color or location. My niece had drawn the Chocolate Swamp card that advanced her to the end of the board. While my niece was celebrating, I looked at my wife suspiciously. It only took one look at her mischievous smile to know that she’d rigged the deck. I understand that my niece was like three or four at the time, but it was irritating that my wife had just handed the victory to her.

Now, I know what you all are saying. “But Jim, it’s your niece. She’s like three-years old.” Or, “But Jim, it’s only Candyland.” Or “But Jim, you’re a monster.”

Believe me, I’ve heard all of these before. Sure, it’s only Candyland. But what about after Candyland? If we allow children to become used to winning because “it’s only Candyland,” then they’ll become used to winning. And like it or not, we can’t win all the time.

As an author and a survivor of a failed marriage, I know about not winning all the time.
When my two nephews started playing chess, I never let them win. My oldest nephew was about five or six at the time when he started playing the game. My second oldest nephew started about the same age. Both are formidable opponents to this day. In fact, I recently played my second oldest at a game and he nearly had me in checkmate.

proud uncle2
My nephew upon realizing he’d just checkmated his uncle.

I’m not a chess genius, but I’m pretty good. And with that ruthlessness, I’ve become elevated to a Bobby Fischer legend status in that household. My sister has beaten me less than a handful of times, and I think my brother-in-law had beaten me once. Other than that, I’m undefeated.

Well, that was until Zeke, the oldest at 12 years of age, defeated his uncle. He didn’t even know it at the time. It wasn’t until I extended my hand in defeat that he realized he had me in checkmate. The legend was defeated.

Seeing his face flush in realization and the gigantic smile was worth the six or seven years of being ruthless. He won because of his own cunning and merit, not because I gave the victory to him.

The publishing world is like a ruthless uncle. It will never hand you a publishing deal. It wants you to do the work. Write that novel, submit it, wait all of those agonizing months, and suffer rejections. Maybe, you’ll taste victory.

Don’t quit playing the game. Even if you receive rejection letter after rejection letter, keep it up. Strengthen your game, know your opponent, and plow ahead. My nephew could have given up playing the game. I assure you he had moments after a crushing defeat where he thought I was undefeatable. The next day when I’d walk into their house he’d say “Uncle Jim, let’s play chess. This time I’m going to beat you.”

proud uncle
Victory is Sweet!

I promised my nephews and niece that if someone defeated me at chess, I’d take that person to Dairy Queen for a reward. Last night, I did just that. We ate medium Oreo Cookie Jar Blizzards while talking about the game. Just a smiling teenager and his proud (and now humbled) uncle. For my nephew, victory never tasted sweeter.

If my nephew can topple that undefeatable and ruthless uncle, then you can get that book/poem/artwork/ (insert whatever goal you have) accomplished. Do the work, persevere, and never quit. Maybe then, you too, can taste victory.

Never Lose Hope

About a month ago, I was told that I shouldn’t get my hopes up about something personal. I won’t elaborate about that subject because, as I just said, it’s personal and I don’t share everything with you, my faithful readers. I felt mildly defeated after hearing that. It’s only natural to feel that way.

Here’s the interesting thing about the human spirit: it’s fairly durable. “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down,” Chumbawamba said in their immortal song Tubthumping. For those young enough not to know that song, I’d advise skipping that one. It’s useful for this instance, but really that’s about it.

The way I see it, you have three choices when faced with defeat.  Here they are:

  • The simple one is to quit. Sometimes the task you’re up against is just too massive for your abilities. There’s no shame in it, I’m sure we’ve all been there.
  • This one is easy to guess because it’s the opposite of the last one. Don’t quit. “Never give up, never surrender,” is the slogan of the fictional crew in the movie Galaxy Quest (1999). We’ve all been there too. You think to yourself, “okay I failed. But I’m sure that if I just put in another two percent effort, I’ll achieve it this time.”
  • This next one is a bit different from the first one. It’s this: Put it on hold. It’s technically not quitting if you focus on other ventures. Right? Sometimes that’s the best choice. Sometimes you aren’t ready, but you know that after some growing-up, time, money, or some other factor you’ll be able to come back to it. Maybe the next time you’ll be successful.

Now, depending on what you’ve put your hopes in, one choice may be more feasible then the others. Since this is Mastering the Craft, let’s put these choices into a book related situation.

So there you are, you’ve finished writing your first book. You’ve pumped so much blood, sweet, and tears into it over the years that it’s now become more like your child than a bunch of words on a page. Sending out took a lot of mental effort and you can’t wait to hear back from the publishers. “I’ve sent it to four different publishers. Surely one of them will accept it. Right,” you ask yourself.

It’s okay to talk to yourself, you are an author after all. It’s what we do.

Months go by and you’ve stopped checking your inbox every ten minutes. You’re eating Ramen Noodles, you’re a poor artist after all, when you hear your email notification ding. Throwing the chicken flavored noodles down onto the counter, you open up that email from one of the publishers. Even after reading it three times, it’s the same result. Rejection.

“That’s okay, there’s three other publishers that could say yes,” you say as you dive back into your Ramen.

Four weeks go by and you’ve been rejected from every publisher. Now what? Let’s go through the choices I mentioned above. You could quit. There’s really nothing lost other than your blood, sweat, and tears. Oh, and the crazy amount of time you spent working on that turd you call a novel.

Maybe you decide to invest time into another round of edits. You catch several things that the publishers caught. Now you’re ready to send it off to another round of publishers. Maybe they’ll say yes?

You weren’t exactly sitting on your thumbs while you were waiting for your response. You were busy working on another novel. In fact, it’s turning out to be a better one than the first. Maybe rejection was for the best. You don’t want your debut novel to be a dud, right? Maybe after you’ve gotten this whole “being an author” thing under your belt, you can come back and revisit that dud of a first novel. Maybe you can polish it after a few years and send it off again.

You might be thinking, “Why are you talking about this subject?” Well, like I said at the beginning of the column I was faced with these three choices. I could quit my attempts and not have lost too much. I could try again and see if there’s another outcome. I could put the challenge on hold and try my hand at something else. I was contemplating this conundrum when three things happened at the same time:

  • The song “Never Give Up” by For King and Country started to play.
  • I talked to a friend about the subject.
  • I opened my Bible, at random (I’m not making this up), and Romans 8:25 caught my eye. It states, “Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.”

I realized then, that I couldn’t live with myself if I simply quit. I could move on with my life and try something different, but I’d always live with that “What if?” hanging over my head. So I’ve decided to keep at it and see if my perseverance will eventually win. If you think I’m crazy, then you might be right.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” said an unknown person.

Sure, I know the odds. I know that what I’m trying to do has about as much chance as a snowball in Hell. But that’s what I thought when I sent my publisher the manuscript of my first novel. Because I took that initial chance and had hope about my writing career, I’m now the published author of three books and four short stories.

Sometimes you have to put your hopes into what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s what poker players call “going all-in.”

Sometimes it pays off and you’re rewarded for your efforts.
Sometimes your hope is shattered when you fail.

In recent years, I’ve experienced both results. When you win, you feel invincible. When you lose, you feel like you’ll never be able to put yourself in that position again.

I’ll end this week’s column with a quote from the film Rocky Balboa (2006):
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done,” spoke the Italian Stallion, portrayed by Sylvester Stallone.