The True Meaning of Parenting

In the 20 years that I’ve been married, I have learned many valuable lessons. Perhaps the most valuable lesson involves children.  Parents, once you have children, your right to make decisions that are in your own best interest ends right there.  Once children come along, EVERY decision that you make must be made in light of what’s in the best interest of the children, even if it means giving up everything you’ve ever wanted and everything you’ve ever worked to achieve.

When I got married, I became a father of two beautiful children on the same day. I had spent years building my career as a management consultant, and I was poised for promotion to executive management.  It was everything that I had been working so hard to achieve.  But my wife and children needed a husband and a father who was home every night, not someone they only saw on weekends and holidays.  So I walked away from my career and chose one that best served the needs of my family.  It wasn’t the easiest transition, and it meant moving every few years to go where the work was, but it’s what they needed, and as a parent, I understood the obligation that I had accepted when I agreed to be a father and a husband.

I have no regrets about how my life turned out, and when I look at my kids and how they turned out, I know that I did the right thing. They are what mattered, not my job or job title or income or prestige.  When I agreed to marry my wife and become their father, they became my whole world, which is the only right course of action for any parent, in my opinion.

Parenting is our gift to the future. It doesn’t matter what we individually achieve, it doesn’t matter what personal goals we met along the way.  All that matters is that we raised our children to the best of our ability, because that’s our true job – the only job that matters.

If we don’t put our children first in our lives, then our children are nothing more than accessories to be displayed as we pursue our personal wants and desires. If you just want an accessory as you march on toward what you want, buy a painting, buy a stuffed animal, buy a new car, but don’t have children.  They are precious, and they require everything that you are.  They don’t need your money or your house or your car or your country club membership, they need you to be there for them when they need you.  Be there for them!  In the end, it’s all that truly matters.

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It’s Time To Just Let Old Wounds Heal

Anyone who knows me knows that I love historical fiction. I am a seeker of truth, and I also believe that the heroic deeds of those who have gone before can inspire us to live our lives with higher purpose. I love understanding the historical context of events from the past and knowing more about the people involved. But I’m concerned about historical pieces that clearly can only serve to inflame and anger the readers or watchers (if the historical work is a film or television program).

For instance, there is a new historical film regarding events in Ireland during one of the famines. This is a dark time in Ireland’s past, and rehashing it (as evidenced by the preview of the film) can only serve to create discord between the viewer and those that the film portrays as the “evil enemy.”

Don’t we have enough things to be angry about today without having to dredge up events from the past to be angry about? Are the filmmakers and authors/writers worried that we might not be angry enough and therefore they have to create a reason for anger that wasn’t there before? What’s the end game? Isn’t it time to focus on healing rather than keeping the wounds raw and fresh and festering?

Historical works like this only serve to paint a target on a particular group of people and tell the world that hatred toward that group of people is the right response. All that these works do is create anger and hatred in subsequent generations over events that are no longer relevant to today’s society and should not become the basis for our present day emotional state.

I have always enjoyed watching the movies Braveheart and The Patriot, but I’m not blind to what their messages are. Braveheart’s message is: “All Scots are Saints, and the English are the Devil.” The Patriot’s message is: “All American Colonial Patriots are Saints, and the English are the Devil.” Yes, many of the events portrayed in these films did happen, but when presented so heavy-handedly, these films stop being about entertainment and presenting historical facts, and start being about manipulating the emotions of the audience to rub raw old wounds that should have long been healed.

In my younger days, I championed a number of historical causes. I tried to inflame the passions of others to address the wrongs committed against my ancestors. But over time, I learned that change does not come from inflamed passions. It comes from calm, polite, and honest conversations between differing parties to find common ground, to educate on facts and truths in a non-threatening manner, and to demonstrate a willingness to work together and impart messages to others that present historical facts in a way that enlightens without emotional polarization.

There have been atrocities committed in the past. I’m not blind to the fact, nor do I wish to pretend that they never happened or attempt to cover them up or justify them. But trying to inflame the rage of people to keep them angry about these events serves no useful purpose. It keeps people from being able to interact calmly, and in a world providing more than enough reasons to hate our fellow man for their beliefs, their faith, their ethnicity, their political leanings, etc., why add fuel to the fire by adding historical wrongs to the justifications being used to continue hating? Understanding history so that past mistakes are not repeated is vital to our future, but history cannot be understood from an enraged, inflamed emotional state. It can only be understood from a calm and rational state.

The truth about the past needs to be promoted, but not in a way that stirs emotions against others. Past wrongs committed toward our ancestors need to remain in the past where they belong. It’s time to let the old wounds heal so we can focus on healing the newer ones. There can be no progress for mankind unless we learn to heal, learn to stop hating, and learn to work together to redress the wrongs that have been committed toward each of us here today.

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Social Media – The Double Edged Sword

Social Media provides new and interesting ways for humans to connect with each other. People across the globe can see and respond to what you post. The power of this tool cannot be underestimated. But if you’re a published author, the danger cannot be understated either. I learned this the hard way.

I had a social media presence before I became a published author. I used it to further the causes and viewpoints about which I’m passionate. My friends/followers on social media cheered that I helped champion the beliefs we mutually held in common. The trolls and other detractors used my posts to trash me and my beliefs in public forums to help them feel better about themselves. It was all grand fun… or so I thought.

When I released my first book, I discovered the inherent danger of social media. Through my past postings on social media, I had created an image of myself which, right or wrong, stood out very strongly in the minds of friends and foes alike. As I began promoting my book, I realized that people on social media could not distinguish between me and my book. My book was being judged by peoples’ opinion of me as a person, not of me as an author. People offended by my past social media posts, who might have enjoyed my books, were not only determine to not read my books, they went out of their way to see to it that no one else read my books either.

I was stunned by this, and it took a while to decide what to do about it. Eventually, I took down my social media accounts and recreated them under my professional/author name. I determined that my posts would only include things about my books, books in general, publishing, and humorous items that would engage with my friends/followers and my potential readers. I decided that the only current events I would post about were things that related directly to topics covered in my books, and even then I agonized about sharing those posts out of concern for crossing a line that would reflect badly on my books. I had to reinvent myself on social media to keep people from judging my books harshly because of something that I may have done to offend them personally.

Over the years since I made this change to my social media presence, the trolls, for the most part, have gone away. I still use social media to interact with like-minded people who share my causes and beliefs, but I interact with them in private forums where the trolls cannot see what I post. I rarely post about my personal life because I want my posts to advance my books, not me as a person. In fact, I don’t really want people on social media knowing much about me as a person because my social media presence is not about me; it’s about my books. Other authors use (quite successfully, I might add) posts about themselves and their family members to advance their book marketing, but given the nature of what I write about, I have found that it doesn’t work for me. Each author has to decide how much of his or her personal self to reveal, but I suggest that any and all posts made on social media be viewed critically for their potential to advance your book readership – or at least not to detract from your potential book readership.

As published authors, we have the herculean task of tirelessly promoting our books so that potential readers will find, purchase, and enjoy the fruits of our labors. The market is exhaustingly competitive; over a million new titles are released every year, thanks to self-publishing. Our books have to stand out among that flood of new titles. Social media used properly can help get the word out about our books, but used badly can also give potential readers an excuse to ignore our books and purchase someone else’s instead.

Just as you don’t want to offend your publisher, who is responsible for preparing your manuscript for publication and helping you market your work, you don’t want to turn away potential buyers of your work by posting material on social media that they might find offensive. The old adage that “Any publicity is good publicity,” or “Controversy sells,” is bunk! There is too much competition for readers out there, and they’re not going to spend their limited dollars supporting an author who they find offensive in some way. Using an example of politics, which has become so polarized in recent years, it is a sad truth that conservatives rarely purchase books by liberal authors, and liberals rarely purchase books by conservative authors. If you have written a book that could appeal to anyone regardless of political leanings, can you really risk alienating half of your potential readers by using social media to make posts that might offend them? I think not.

I’m not suggesting that being a published author requires us to change our belief system, but I am saying that being a published author should impel us to be very cautious about how we share our beliefs through social media. Most of us joined social media sites to interact with like-minded people. But with the exception of a very few authors who write in specific niches, our books have a potential audience that’s much larger than just people who share our beliefs. I personally have very strong political beliefs, but my books appeal to an audience that has a wide range of political beliefs. Do I want to alienate potential readers because my posts on social media offend their beliefs? Absolutely not!

For published authors, social media is first and foremost a marketing tool. Once you make your book available to the general public, everything you do in public forums will reflect on your book. Anything you post that caters to your like-minded friends/followers has the potential to alienate a much larger potential audience for your book, hurting your marketing and sales efforts. It’s an awful risk to take if your goal is to be a successful published author (instead of the millions of unsuccessful published authors that come and go every year). The image you portray on social media should be tailored to what best promotes your book, not the various personal causes and beliefs that you champion.

Every author must decide how to best use social medial to market and sell his or her books. My suggestion is to be very cautious about posting anything that could turn away a potential reader. Use social media to create a positive impression of your books, not a negative one. To paraphrase a question used by one of those pyramid sales schemes, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be successful?” If your goal is to be a successful author, don’t risk offending potential readers of your books by posting things on social media that offend, inflame, or infuriate people who might otherwise enjoy or benefit from what you have written.

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My Latest Novel: The Legacy Enslaved

Have you ever noticed that as soon as you say you’ll never do something, you end up doing it anyway? I’m experiencing that right now.

In 2015, I signed a deal to publish my Knights of the Saltire 7-book series with my new publisher, Progressive Rising Phoenix Press. In my mind, this was a complete series spanning three generations of modern-day knights who were dedicated to helping others obtain justice but without becoming vigilantes in the process. I was convinced that I’d never write another book for the series, even though I had created a vehicle for a book series that could have dozens of volumes. I felt that I had taken the characters as far as I could.

However, in October 2016, an idea came to me for an eighth book in the series. In the first seven books, I had dealt with thieves, murderers, stalkers, rapists, drug dealers, smugglers, corrupt politicians trying to take over the government, arms dealers, mercenaries, foreign and domestic terrorists, crooked cops, and counterfeiters. But there was one crime that I had never written about, and it’s such a scourge on humanity that I believed it was the perfect material to include in the series: human trafficking.

After months of research on the subject, I put the project aside to let the ideas percolate in my mind. Over the next year, I periodically revised my outlines and notes until I felt that I knew what story I wanted to tell. Then in January 2018, I started writing. The first draft took twenty days to write (one to two chapters a day for three weeks). I have to admit, I was proud of the first draft. To my surprise and delight, the integrity of the first draft survived the next two months of revisions with my editor and critique group members, and the final draft was completed and submitted to my publisher this week.

While I am very proud of every book in the Knights of the Saltire series, this new book may be the best. I have matured as a writer since I first began writing the series in 2009, and the feedback I have received on this volume reinforces my belief that my writing has improve significantly.

So without further fanfare, I am pleased to announce that The Legacy Enslaved – Book 8 of the Knights of the Saltire Series is complete and should be in publication soon. Watch for announcements regarding the release date.

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Funerals

Historically, I don’t attend funerals. It’s not because I’m without compassion for those who have suffered a loss; far from it.  But I believe that grief is a very personal thing.  I don’t believe that I should have to be on display when I’m grieving, and I don’t like watching others have to display their grief to satisfy the opinions of others.  I actually had a cousin of mine (a clergyman, mind you) tell me that I didn’t love my father because I didn’t display enough grief to satisfy this cousin at my father’s funeral!  I reminded him that how I choose to grieve, publically and privately, for my father is my business and is not the business of or open for comment by anyone else.  This is one of the reasons that my will prohibits having a funeral service of any kind when it’s my time to go.  I want people who choose to grieve for me to do so privately.  But I’d never push my opinions on others regarding funerals. Some people need the service to say goodbye, and some families need to be surrounded by loved ones while they’re grieving.  I respect this, and all I ask is that they respect my desire to grieve privately.

In the last month, I have attended more funerals than I have in the last three decades.  And while the services were beautiful, the last one will, unfortunately, be remembered more for the aftermath than for the beauty of the occasion.  Every member of my household got terribly sick (two colds, one flu, and one sinus infection).  Two weeks later and we’re only just now finally getting over it all.  I find this interesting because the same thing happened at the last funeral I attended (which was also in Texas, but was more than 20 years ago).  I’m detecting a pattern.  I think I’ll avoid attending any more funerals for quite a while.

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My Writing Process – Revisions

So someone asked me what my writing process is – especially as it relates to revisions. Here’s my answer:

I start every day of writing by re-reading and revising what I wrote the day before. I have my grammar critiquers review each chapter as they are written to keep the manuscript clean. I have my continuity critiquers start reading each chapter once I’m past the half-way mark to make sure that the book makes sense and that I didn’t stray too far off the mark as I was writing.

Once the manuscript is finished and all critiques are incorporated, I re-read the entire manuscript and make revisions as I see them, keeping notes of anything that could create a continuity issue later in the story. Then I turn the manuscript over to my editor. Once those revisions are made, I re-read the manuscript one more time and make additional revisions. Then I send the manuscript out to beta readers. Once their feedback has been incorporated, my editor and I go back through the manuscript together to look for grammar, continuity, plot, and any other issues.

Once those revisions are made, I re-read the manuscript one more time and make any final revisions needed. Then I send the manuscript to my publisher, and I make any revisions that the acquisition editor and the publisher want made.

That should be the end of it, right? Wrong! Even after the book is published, I re-read the manuscript periodically to see if anything slipped through the cracks (and there are always things that slip through). Once enough revisions have been made to the published manuscript, I release a second-edition of the book to correct the things that still bother me.

It’s never really over for me…

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Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Someone who knows that I have published a non-fiction work asked me why I prefer to write fiction. My answer was simple.  “When I write non-fiction, I’m writing FACT.  When I write fiction, I’m writing TRUTH.”  Fiction gives me the vehicle to write truth in a fictional (or semi-fictional depending on the story) context.  I can pour all of my beliefs, standards, ethics, and philosophies into fiction, but I could never do that in non-fiction.  So, I will continue to write fiction and pour my truth into each story.

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