Pick-up with a Basketball Goddess

_72639849_ao_closeup_ball_976The hardest thing for me to write was the romance in Working the Glass. I saw that early on that I could write the basketball scenes. People in Stanford writing classes said I don’t even like basketball but I love this character. But that’s only half the story.

Writing the love story takes living life and experiencing the ups and downs of relationship life. Now that has tStanford Universityaken years of living and writing and rewriting. These man-woman relationships are complex! I could spend my whole life pondering them. But I don’t have my whole life; this thing has to be done by the end of this year.Czech Hapsburg Tile Design

The novel’s main character Frank Savek has Shantelina as a love interest. As a novelist,  you toy around with a scene just to work through the dynamic tension in these characters. I did that with this little poem recently that isn’t in the novel but helped me explore what I wanted to say. And discover the archetypical dynamics at play between these intriguing two characters.

Pick-up with a Basketball Goddess

Once at the end of a date Shantelina and I walked past
An empty basketball court and she said,
“I played on a team my junior year in Svenska,”

“Want to shoot some player American?” I said “Yes,”
Though she was wearing a long black dinner dress.
She kicked off her high heels and rifled the ball to me.
 I stumbled to reign in the pass and we began. I drove right with power and she stole the ball.

 At the free throw line, she dribbled and waited, the ball hitting the concrete with staccato. She brushed the dark hair across her brow then locked eyes with mine. Her intensity betrayed only by a momentary smile. I crouched to defend.

Then with lighting speed she was underway
Drove to the baseline, jumped and shot
Swish. Two points. We played for awhile

Man in a black suit, woman in a long black gown,
I loved her cross-over and her sneaky hook shots,

She beat me hands down — so good —I wanted to marry her
How do you tell someone you met a few weeks before you loved her?
What about the fact she had a long-time Czech boyfriend who worked as a winebroker?

Shantelina doesn’t play basketball in the novel but her long-time Czech boyfriend is  broker of vin de ordinaire.  Follow me on this journey and buy the novel when it’s ready. After all, I’m looking to attract, you, the reader, too.

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Odysseus-like journey will take your very best

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Archive post: Yesterday’s post about the Civil War is accurate in the intensity but not the timeframe. The Civil War was short: 4 years. My journey to write the book has been on par with Odysseus’ two decade quest. This post captures the richness of the writer’s way.

Originally posted on Connection To You:

QS statue of Mary from Santa Clara CAOdyessus YoungHave Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.

Okay I like these verses by the Greek writer Constantine P. Cavafy but I don’t want the journey to last for years. I want to reach the island soon not when I’m old.

But so did Odysseus and his crew of 72 men streaming across the water with an armada of 12 ships. He just completed an exhausting 10-year war against the city of Troy. He endured. Most of the decade was spent in a fruitless encirclement of the city until the…

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Fierce fight fails to break you: What’s next?

I take a while to see the latest movies. This summer I saw the 2012 film Lincoln directed by Steven Spielberg. It was set between January and April 1865 during the American Civil War.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

There was a powerful opening scene of fighting in a swamp between Confederate soldiers and Union soldiers. The whole battle was intense and violent. Here were these two armies fighting hand-to-hand in three feet of water. Mostly with swords and bayonets against an enemy dressed in different colors. The vehemence with which the fighting in this scene played out was very memorable and even disturbing.

Two white gray uniformed soldiers held a black soldier dressed in blue while a third rebel stabs him in the chest with his bayonet. Then in another scene, a black Union soldier is held down underwater by a single Confederate soldier while shooting at others at point blank range with a pistol. In another sequence, a gray uniformed soldier is killed with a sword in the chest. Finally, right before the end of the movie and the war, there is a pile of dead soldiers from both sides. Lincoln and the viewer is shown a Confederate soldier at the top of the pile looking up to heaven with a beatific vision on par with a Renaissance painting of an early saint about to be killed by Romans. It was like the topping on the cake of a whole war of carnage.swamp

The motif of the Civil War is a powerful one that mirrors your life and writing journey. I know it’s been a part of mine. But my Appomattox Courthouse is near and promises an exciting and new future. So after Civil War winds down, I still have a life and destiny to fulfill.

We’ve all suffered traumas in life. Many of them are Civil War-variety struggles. There are those that didn’t die versus those that came back to life. Which one of those are you?

There must be a new way after a long bloody war between the states. You must go back to the spouse, that Confederate or Yankee, you fought against so long and fiercely. You must write that book that you struggled against all these days. There is good energy in outcomes up the road. The more you can accept and let go of what happened; the healthier and productive you will be in this new era.   washington

Reconstruction calls for a new energy. The worst and best were brought out of you during this great siege. This can be a creative and fertile time for you if you remain open. You survived at the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg by trusting in larger forces to protect you during all that destruction and torment. Somehow the organization, God, and your belief in the cause kept you from dying when it looked over. Your response stands out. Now and during those worst moments.

There is a point in your novel writing that you sympathize with the villains for a time. Hate and love are two sides of the passion spectrum. This integration is necessary if you are to make your characters real and dynamic. Isn’t true that we get excited at night by the very things we protest against during the day?

Responsibility and danger resist each other but you must marry them back together. The North and South must reunite. They have to if you want to stay alive and vibrant.

You can’t draw out adventure, mystery, risk, surprise and the unexpected if you are always in the outlaw/trickster mode. Even Jeb Stuart’s Raiders have to come in and get off their horses when the fighting is done. You survived for a reason. Now this is the time to find out why. The world needs what is forthcoming in your heart and on the page.civil war bridge

You have to give up control and your freedom. A special sacrifice.  You have to sit down at the writer’s desk and write. There’s always the tension between staying safe/predictable and finding joy and transcedence. The poetics of language radiates in beauty because there is no permanence and security to be found.

There are new bridges to cross even for you one-time Confederates.

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The Next Big Thing: My updated thoughts

A fellow writer Heather Haven interviewed me for her blog in 2012. I updated this email interview with my thoughts today. Here are my answers to eleven interview questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book? Working the Glass: A Novel

Where did the idea come from for the book? This is my alternate past…what could have been. My brother had an offer to play professional basketball in Australia and the Czech Republic in the summer of 1993. He decided to go to Australia and he asked me to go in his place to play for a team up in the Krakonce Mountains (near the Polish border) in Bohemia. So that was the inciting incident. I didn’t go but wrote this story about what might happen.

What genre does your book fall under? Fiction. A brothers story of connection and basketball. And romance for the main character with a Slovakian woman with definite ideas of her own.Czech Hapsburg Tile Design

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? The main character Frank Savek would be an up-and-coming actor. Somebody 6-5″ or at least tall who can rebound believably in the paint. This film would put him on the map. Then I would have Liam Neeson. He would be a natural; he played a German Nazi in Schindler’s List. Why not an avuncular Czech basketball coach who is a legend in the Republic? For the love foreign interest of Frank, I would have Mila Kunis. She would work well. As for other characters I’d employ many of the actors from the Czech movie Kolya.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A 31-year old Chicagoan takes his brother’s identity to live in a glass factory where he plays in the 10-team Czech Superliga just after the Russians pull out and Czechoslovakia breaks into two.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? This has now changed. Everything has changed in the publishing world since this interview. Self-publishing is the way to go.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 13 years with interruptions for relocation, marriage, new jobs and the birth of two lovely daughters; I finished the first draft in March 2011. Looking to finish the whole thing by the end of 2014 now.Czech memoir

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Playing the Pizza by John Grisham has been the closest in the fiction category. I read that and learned a great deal about what to keep in and avoid. Working the Glass has more sports/basketball action and a real foreign love interest in a pretty exciting Central European locale.

I would also add the non-fiction book Expatriate Games was another great that inspired me. I read that book earlier this year. The author Dave Fromm did a great job on this book about playing semi-professional basketball in Prague in 1994. So the timeframe is pretty similar to my novel. He’s got a love story, coming of age for the main character, skinheads and gypsies in there. I loved it.

What about films, any movies that impacted you, and influence your story? I’d say a lot of sports films, Hoosiers, Rudy, the Gridiron Gang, the Boxer were certainly influential.

But one unlikely one that struck me was the Christmas Card. Okay, it’s a Hallmark movie starring Ed Asner. I saw it last Christmas. There is a love story in it that I thought was rendered very well. Basically, a stranger enters a small town in Nevada City, California. That stranger is Sgt. Cody Cullen on leave from the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He and Faith Spelman hit it off very well from the beginning but she has a long time successful boyfriend, who is taking his time to commit. By the end of the movie, the boyfriend, prompted by this Cody being around, asks Faith to marry him. She says yes, but it’s not that simple. She can’t marry the boyfriend when this Cody was really the one all along. As the viewer you know Faith and Cody belong together. But the screenwriter doesn’t have it happen when you expect it. It’s only until the last scene in the movie, Cody and Faith finally come together.

A few weeks before seeing the Christmas Card I read somewhere they you have to frustrate the reader. Don’t give them what they want so easily. That adds to the tension and keeps the reader engaged in the story. I couldn’t see how that could work until I saw this movie. This movie and my novel are great examples of this principle of delayed closure in action. If you have two characters that like each other like Faith and Cody or Frank and Shantelina in my forthcoming novel Working the Glass, you don’t want that to consummate their attraction for each other too early. Otherwise you don’t have a story.

See the Christmas Card, I highly recommend it. Even though Christmas is four months away, it’s worth watching this movie now. Plus, it’s just an enjoyable, spirit-filled story. My favorite to date because it demonstrates the love interest stuff in a dynamic way. I rolled that into the novel.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? This book has been my destiny. Many leading lights inflamed the path. Vaclav Havel, the great playwright and politician who led the Velvet Revolution in Wenceslas Square, is one. He died in 2011. His death greatly touched me and while I never met him, I felt like he’s been always with me. All these years and even now after he’s gone. Then there have been creative writing teachers at Stanford Doug Dorst and Skip Horack. They helped me see the dynamic possibility of this novel that I have on my hands. Finally, Heather Haven, a great mystery writer, who has been churning out great books in the last few years. A wonderful writer and person.Romantic Chicago

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Flash forward a year from today. A CBS news reporter is outside the Presidential vacation spot in Martha’s Vineyard. She says, “It’s no secret that President Barrack Obama is a voracious reader, loves basketball and all things Chicago. While the President may be enjoying what many describe as a working vacation, a White House official says he did take time to buy precisely two books for himself today during a visit to a local bookstore. Three more books were brought to the island from home. Some are books are on economics that Mr. Obama expects to brush up on in advance of next month’s economic summit at Camp David. Those are expected. But one intriguing book in this presidential reading list is Working the Glass, a coming-of-age-basketball novel by a Czech-American writer, who set his book in the Chicago neighborhoods known as Czech-ago and the Czech Republic in the early 1990’s.”

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Trusting the universe, all the way to the end

In the movie Chariots of Fire, a runner nears the finish line in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, he looks back and is overcome by the runner behind him. He loses the race. In another heat, the lead runner nears the finish line and the idea to look back comes across his mind. But he doesn’t turn to gaze who’s on his heels and he wins the gold medal.image

The other morning, I was writing the ending of the novel. By the way, it’s a relief to be able to write the ending of the novel, even if I don’t have it quite right yet! And it may be cut out at a later date as I refine it. The bad endings (my own and others) have taught me most about novel-writing. After I read a novel I ask myself, “Is this how I would do it?” It’s a never-ending educational experience, a way of discovering in which direction the world will send you in.

But my approach through all this has been to persist. Now is not to the time to look at potential threats and stumble like the vaunted sprinter in the story above. I can produce. It’s a fierce but panoramic ending you are seeing from me as I shift into overdrive toward the finish.running photo

That’s not to say that there aren’t hurdles such as getting that surprising, yet inevitable ending down. So long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves. Novel writing – like great literature – must have experience of life at its foundation.

In ancient Greek the word “chaos” means “gaping void” or “yawning emptiness.” The most effective response to the chaos in our lives is the creation of new forms of literature, music, poetry, art, and film.

The world needs writers to fill in that void and bring things to life. Not give people prescriptive solutions; but use dynamic communication in stories with formidable tension to create organic insights in the heart of the reader of these symbols. That’s where the breakthroughs occur. That’s my anthem and mission.Waves closing in

When I started writing toward this target, publishers paid all the costs. But you had to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. A monumental shift has occurred in the publishing (writer-reader) marketplace in the last two years. I see a publishing world in a state of the revolution and the old maxims about success are crumbling at the edges. That’s a good thing that opened. It allows me and you to fulfill our destiny.

Finding the money to publish a novel is added responsibility in the new publishing marketplace. It’s an added pressure to the daily toil of writing. But money in the words of Werner Herzog has always had certain explicit qualities: it’s stupid and cowardly, slow and unimaginative.

And remember, money is just one form of energy in the universe. Creativity is another. Health and fitness still another. My edge has been creativity. I’ve had passion, spirit, perseverance. Imagination. This is more than some false marionette theatre, the dynamic tension is real. I will follow it. Like a star in the night sky. That’s been there since the beginning of this year.

Then there are the tasks of getting the novel professionally edited, a great cover design, and sending books rolling off the press. Those require money. In the past, the book publishers bore those costs but not anymore in this brave new world of self-publishing. Granted, that’s an investment in my future as a writer. But right now I don’t know where I’m going to come up with 3 to 5K to make that happen.

What makes me rich is I’m on the right path. The world welcomes me almost everywhere. I’m offered hospitality, and daily creativity. Something you could never achieve with money alone…

The circumstances of funding and that elusive ending will appear, I firmly believe that. The universe will attract this energy to me like metal shavings to a magnet. Why? The reason is my writing life and journey as a novelist, at least I hope, have real substance.

And I believe in mysterious forces larger than myself.

One of the lead characters in Chariots of Fire reads this before his big finish: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

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Wanted: Soul and emotion to transform the status quo narrative

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Archival Post: Plays and novels that leave readers in an existential void are in vogue. I’ve read and watched a few of them over my summer vacation. However, I like stories that tie things up and endings that are bolder, surprising, and organic to story. There is a more creative urgency in that kind of deeper work.
Voice that literally emerges from the body represents the inner world. Courageous soul-filled writing is a good place to start.

Originally posted on Connection To You:

100_0141We say we want our art to have soul. We want the stories we read to have vibrancy and power. We say we want to go to events and hang around people who are about something deeper.

These are very things we want to see in the world. But yet if you as the creator don’t nuture the soul, then how can it emerge for people to enjoy and experience in your work? Like a body constantly under stress, there’s disorder and inflamation inside. Our bodies are systems themselves. They can’t function at their best and optimal if they are constantly under siege and forgotten.

We just came out of the Easter season. The Catholic Church is trying to reorient itself to the message and story of Jesus. Unwinding from captivity is not difficult. It starts with going deeper and nuturing the inner journey. Jesus had it right but the…

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Finding the transcendent, one green field and long street at a time

To write a novel, you have to plant a lot of fields and navigate long streets. There are dynamic results and inspiration you get along the way. But it takes fitness to be present and time to get good.Soviet Worker

Basketball, writing, and religion are the great through-lines of my personal narrative. By far, writing was the least developed of the three.

Then in February 1998, I stopped playing basketball. It was something I had done my whole life. One day, I said to myself,” I’M DONE.”

I had to let go of the personal and team dynamic: game winning shots at the buzzer, mysterious wins, connection to the other players and fans but also disappointing losses, injuries, fouls, mistakes.

But I wasn’t really done because I moved toward a new passion: fiction writing. And I never relinquished the love of basketball. My first project was writing a novel with basketball in it. I started the current novel right then (early 1998.) Little did I know what a journey this would be. I said I will be complete with this in 1999 and published by 2000 at the latest. There are larger mysterious forces in the universe and snags I encountered in this world of writing fiction! Here is the trouble, I didn’t know how to write fiction.Country Road

It takes years to develop skills and intuition. At least that’s the story of my writing journey.

I read recently that as skill level increases, less brainpower is used. So that tells me if you are laboring to use less of your brain, something else shows up: creativity, flow and greatness.

I still need help. Just yesterday, a long time writing instructor of mine I consulted with told me I have to change the names of two players Fernando Bunch and Lowell Hamilton in my novel. They are well-known (they helped Providence St. Mel’s win the state basketball championship in my home state (Illinois) and real life people. I played against them several times in high school.

The most professional writers are those that are flexible so I agreed to change their names. I had this pair playing on the Prague Superliga team in the novel against the Svet team.

What fictional names could I come up with?

I brainstormed and decided on the names of these African-American stars. Within 24 hours (yesterday), I had them. Fernando Bunch, the cocky 5’-8” point guard wearing a black eye patch like a pirate, became Escalante Greenfield. A fictional name that works. At least my daughters and wife thought so. They said he sounded like a real person. That’s the best you can ask for in a novel.

As for the fictional name for Lowell Hamilton, the 6’-7” shot blocker and dunking wizard, who is hard to thwart for the protagonist, I created Darius Longstreet. Greenfield and Longstreet star as teammates on the villainous and, seemingly invincible, Prague A Titans in Working the Glass.image

We are at our best when fully present to each other, our work, and to something deeper. And they transcend this narrow network of roads you see on the surface.

We are most ourselves when we are absorbed in those things truly worthy of us: creative work, good conversation, prayer. These all start to merge together like genres have in 2014.

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