August 15, 2017 (re-posted with permission from cselston.com)
5 Books I Think Would Impact Me As A Writer But I Haven’t Read Yet
Alright, I’ll admit it. This is kind of a weird topic for a blog post. But, there are many books that consistently get recommended to me and I haven’t gotten around to reading them all yet. I’ve read a lot of them (some good, some not so much) but, for whatever reason, there are a few that I just haven’t tackled. Several are even sitting on my bookshelf just waiting to be read. So, this is a list of the books I know I should read, and intend to at some point, to get better at my craft.
From what I understand, this is about getting back to basics and remembering that sometimes simple is better. The “back to basics” is probably one of the reasons I have put off taking the time to go through this book. However, even professional athletes need to return to the fundamentals from time to time. I’m told this is a must read for writers at all levels.
John Gardner has written several books on the craft of writing but, I’m told that this is the most important. It also contains a quote about the writer’s gift that I have loved ever since I read it on the wall of the tasting room at the Redhook Brewery while on a tour about fifteen years ago.
This is, apparently, a contemporary approach to good writing that helps the reader understand the importance of writing clearly while teaching them how to know when to follow the “rules” and when to ignore them.
Of every book on this list, this is probably the one I can’t believe I haven’t read yet. It’s a masterclass by one of the most prolific and popular authors of all time. I must read this book! Almost everyone else has, it’s sold over a million copies for crying out loud!
This is an absolute classic and it’s embarrassing (not quite as embarrassing as the Stephen King book though) that I haven’t read it. It’s short, too. So, there aren’t any good excuses. Almost every writer I know has this on their shelf.
July 28, 2017 (re-posted with permission from cselston.com)
The Inspiration Behind “The Gift of the Elements” Books
Music, and the often-accompanying lyrics, has been a source of inspiration in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my dad introduced me to songs like “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean and the Tommy Sands version of “Sinner Man” (although I now prefer the Three Dog Night and Nina Simone renditions) when I would ride with him in the car on trips from the northern suburbs of Seattle to the southwestern tip of Washington State where he spent one weekend a month serving in the Coast Guard reserves at Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco. The time with my dad was priceless and the music he introduced me to on those trips began my love affair with song lyrics. The love affair allowed me to branch out into different genres of music and gave me an appreciation that threw a wider net than it otherwise may have.
I fell in love with the stories those lyrics told and the emotional impact they could deliver. As I got older, however, I started noticing that certain songwriters are poets who deliver that impact more consistently than others. Not all lyricists are created equal. Some of my favorites over the years have included Willie Nelson, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, Johnny Cash, Brandi Carlisle, Lecrae Devaugn Moore, Bob Dylan, Ed Sheeran, Billy Joel, Jason Emmanuel Petty (aka, Propaganda,) Hank Williams, Hank Williams, Jr., John Legend, Toby McKeehan, James Taylor, Merle Haggard, Kevin Max Smith, Bernie Taupin, Leonard Cohen, Alan Jackson, Rich Mullins, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Paul Simon, Michael Tait, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Chris Tomlin, Stevie Wonder, Adele, Chris Cornell, and recently both Zac Brown and Chris Stapleton. It’s an already ridiculously long list that could go on and easily become ten times as long as it already is.
I left one important name off that list because it’s the most critical one when it comes to “The Gift of the Elements” series. That name is Vladimir John Ondrasik III.
I was in the backseat of my parents’ car on the way back to their house after having dinner and the song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five For Fighting came on the radio. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it. It may very well have been the 100th. The song got a lot of airplay following its release in April of 2001 and this was at the height of the song’s popularity. However, for some reason, the lyrics impacted me in that moment more than they ever had before. Perhaps it was because “Smallville” had started airing around the same time. I honestly can’t remember if I had even seen the show yet at that point. But, whatever the reason was, I listened to the song and began to think about Superman, this being of immense power, more as Clark Kent than I ever had before. It struck me, on a deep level, how difficult and lonely that life could be.
Then I began to think about what it would be like if you had grown up without those powers but suddenly, they began to develop with the onset of puberty. That would be, in addition to lonely, completely terrifying. But, once you accepted what was happening to you, you’d have to make a choice. Do you use those powers for selfish gain? Or, do you use them for the betterment of humankind as a whole?
I was told once that my writing seems to have a common theme of redemption. Maybe that’s why the lyric that struck me the hardest was “I’m just out to find, the better part of me.” It’s thoughts like that that stick with you. They give you a thread that can spin off into a whole new piece of work. It did for me.
In fact, three weeks later, I had completed a screenplay called “The Gift of Tyler.”
It wasn’t until about a decade later that I pulled the script back out and began to develop it. Through that process, I dropped the whole puberty element and also decided I liked the idea of something larger happening around the world and experiencing it through one of the few people chosen to play a major role in it. This could possibly have been influenced by how brilliant I thought M. Night Shyamalan’s concept was for the movie “Signs.”
Then I put that polished script away again and decided to write my first book, “The Four Corners.” By the time the book was finished, I had gotten married and left Los Angeles after about fifteen years and moved back to the northern suburbs of Seattle to be close to my family. With “The Four Corners” out in the marketplace, I knew I wanted to write another book. I decided to wait on the sequel to the first book and write something new. So, I sat down and developed a 7-book game plan for a series called “The Gift of the Elements” based on “The Gift of Tyler.”
Chronologically, “The Gift of Tyler” is the fourth story in the series. However, the first four books all stand alone since they are individual stories about the four people chosen to play a major part in that global event. It isn’t until the final trilogy in the series that those four characters interact with one another. So, I wrote “The Gift of Tyler” first and then followed up with “The Gift of Rio” which is chronologically the first book.
I’m finally writing the sequel to my first book while I also do the final edits on “The Gift of Rio.” But, I’m already anxious to get back to “The Gift of the Elements.” The entire series carries themes found in the song that inspired it all and they still manage to touch me deeply, the same way they did in the backseat of my parents’ car that day.
Vladimir John Ondrasik III (aka Five For Fighting) hasn’t gotten a shout-out in either of the first two “Gift” books. Perhaps, I’ll throw him a bone in “The Gift of Mattias.” After all, like the man said, “even heroes have the right to dream…”
July 10, 2017 (re-posted with permission from cselston.com)
Five Books On Screenwriting That Have Influenced All Of My Writing
I grew up wanting to write novels, pretty much from the time I began to learn how to read. However, in my teens and throughout my twenties, I was distracted by the allure of Hollywood. So, most of my “writing education” came through learning how to become a screenwriter. I studied it both in and outside of school and the following five books became influencers. I don’t have any regrets about my years of “distraction” because I believe that studying the art of the screenplay provided me with a much stronger sense of strong dialogue and story structure than I would have had without it. So, whether screenwriting is your goal or not, for anyone who wants to create great stories, I would highly recommend the critical education the following five books provide.
The first book on the list is the first book on screenwriting I ever read and one of the most influential books on the subject to date. When you study the structure Syd Field lays out and then turn on a DVD, you can practically set a stop watch to most movies in the modern era and watch the precision unfold.
This inside look at the movie industry is an equally fascinating and entertaining read. The most educational part, however, comes with the peek into Goldman’s own creative process. After all, the guy wrote “Marathon Man” and “The Princess Bride” — he knows what he’s doing!
Perhaps the only book to rank as high as Syd Field’s in terms of influence, McKee offers an even more comprehensive look at the methods behind creating a great script. Quite simply, it’s a master class on the craft of writing for the screen.
As a writer, when someone asks my what I’m working on or about one of my books, my tendency is to want to go into a long explanation. Kosberg taught me how to whittle my ideas down to as few words as possible. If you can accomplish that feat before you even begin writing a script or a book, you’ll have the heart of your story at the forefront of your mind throughout the entire journey.
Equally masterful as Syd Field or Robert McKee before her, Hunter takes the basics you learned in the four previous books and shows you how to polish your lump of coal into the diamond you always knew it could be.
July 7, 2017 (re-posted with permission from cselston.com)
The Inspiration Behind “The Four Corners” Books
For my first entry in this new blog, I thought it would be appropriate to share the inspiration for my first book and its upcoming sequel. So, without further adieux, the inspiration behind “The Four Corners” books…
I was driving down the 101 freeway just North of Los Angeles, California, somewhere between Studio City and Sherman Oaks about twelve or fifteen years ago. I was looking out the side window of my Jeep Wrangler and, as I passed by a sea of houses and apartment complexes, I don’t know why I was thinking about this but, I was thinking about all of the unhappy home environments that exist all around us. I thought about the fact that a lot of people who feel unloved really are in fact loved. They are just in an environment where the people who love them either don’t know how to say it or show it, or they’re too wrapped up in their own problems to recognize the problems they’re causing in the lives of the people they love by simply not expressing the love they really do have deep down. Sometimes, we just overcrowd that love with so much self-created, negative clutter, that no one can see it because it’s like a wonderful gift hidden in the back of the closet where no one can enjoy it.
That got me thinking about how quickly someone’s attitude could change if they were faced with losing the person or people they love. Somehow, that translated into this fantasy world called Kadosh, which is a Hebrew word that means “set apart for a Holy purpose.” In the books, people are being yanked out of the real world and separated onto islands, presumably, for eternity. So, while God intends for these people to love one another, the fact that they are not doing that in the real world gives the demon ruler of this fantasy world the ability to pull them into his realm where he can keep them apart from one another.
Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. And, in an extreme situation like that the aforementioned gift is going to find itself through the clutter in a hurry. Then what do you do? When love and regret overwhelm you like that, you can’t keep it inside. You must let the people you have those feelings for know about it. In the case of the Snyder family in “The Four Corners,” that means an incredible journey lies ahead. Ultimately, the risk is worth the potential reward.
The sequel, “The Four Corners of Darkness” is inspired, at least in part, by a one-act play I acted in while attending college at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. I think it was called “Doors” but I can’t remember for sure and I have no idea who wrote it. But, the play was about a bunch of people trapped in a house and they couldn’t get out. The doors were locked and couldn’t be opened, the windows had bars on them… It was an allegory about sin and salvation. Ultimately, someone from the outside had to come in and show them the way out. In the same way, while the Snyders and a bunch of others find their way back home at the end of the first book, the youngest child, Kinsey recognizes the responsibility that comes with that accomplishment. He knows they must go back and show those who didn’t take the journey with them the first time that there is, indeed, a way to get back home. And, that’s the book I’m working on right now…
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