There is a lot of “success in life” or self-improvement information floating around out there; some of it great, some of it good, and some of it not so good. Many people are trying to succeed at their dreams. If you can make your hobby your occupation, that is indeed one form of success.
Rules for Success by Earl Nightingale
Cristian Mihai’s post on Earl Nightingale’s 12 rules made me think. You might want to check it out.
Reading this post made me take a good look at the things I am doing to succeed in my goal to be a successful author. While it would be hard to put all 12 rules into play at one time, we can certainly begin working on one and then expand from there over time. I know I am going to be re-evaluating some of the things I have been doing in the light of Earl Nightingale’s 12 Rules.
So, I would just like to thank Cristian Mihai for sharing this post with his readers. It is one of the more helpful blog posts I have read in a long time, at least as far as reaching my goals are concerned.
I went to the Vietnam Veteran’s Day Weekend held in Raleigh. It was sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of History & The North Carolina Vietnam Veterans, Inc. This turned out to be a very moving day. First, I will say it was a real honor to talk to several of these veterans. I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1979, so the Vietnam War had been over for 4 years. However, several of the drill instructors I had in Basic and AIT were Vietnam Veterans home from the war. As a young trainee, I was in awe of these veteran warriors.
Talking to Vietnam Veterans
Frank Lazarro was there with a display. Frank is a Marine Corps veteran who wrote a poem about PTSD that I posted on this blog some time ago. I also talked to a veteran who was talking to visitors about the Huey chopper. Kids and adults were having a great time climbing on the chopper and sitting in the pilot’s seat. It brought back memories of my experiences flying over the jungles in Panama when I was with the 1/501st Air Assault. I also talked to a veteran who had published a book and we exchanged some writer’s “tips.”
One Vietnam Veteran’s Dioramas
I found myself admiring several dioramas depicting scenes from the Vietnam War. A man came up and said if I had any questions about them, he would be happy to answer them. His name was Ron Harris. He had built the dioramas. They were all good, but the one depicting the tunnel complex at Chu Chi really intrigued me. The tunnel system built and utilized by the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies is simply amazing. Ron stated he had been back to Vietnam since the war, and the tunnels at Chu Chi have been converted to a major tourist attraction, albeit enlarged a bit to fit the frames of western tourists.
Etchings in Stone
We started talking about his dioramas and other topics and I mentioned my novel, Serpents Underfoot. I guess because its narrative begins in the jungles of Vietnam. Ron was interested in my writing and said he would have to get the Kindle version of my novel. I hope he enjoys it.
Ron then told me that the play, Etchings in Stone, they were showing a filmed presentation of in the auditorium was written by him. I decided I needed to see it. So, after viewing a few more displays, I went into the auditorium to watch the film. It was, simply put, amazing.
It opened with the playing of Taps. Then the audience finds themselves having the unique perspective of somehow being inside the black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial and listening to the thoughts and words of visitors to the memorial. An officer who lost men, a buddy, a girl friend, a Gold Star Mother, a Gold Star Father, the wife of an MIA, an Amerasian girl, an Antiwar Protester, and others. You participate in their emotional healing, their asking for forgiveness, their searching for answers, and longing for lost family members. Several of the scenes brought tears to my eyes. The heart-touching scenes are interspersed with photos from the Vietnam War and very moving music, mostly by Country-style artists … and very well done.
The scene that really got to me the most involved an Amerasian orphan. She approaches to the wall and talks of her birth parents. Her mother is a Vietnamese woman she has never met and who gave her up for adoption. Her father was an American soldier in Vietnam who was killed in action before he could marry her mother and take her back to America. The girl came to American, adopted by loving American family who has taken her into their hearts and home, and given her everything they could. She loves them dearly, but still sometimes wonders about her birth parents.
Now older, she goes back to Vietnam to try to locate her mother and perhaps find out who her father was. She manages to find an aunt, only to learn that her mother died in the 1980s. Her aunt tells her that her mother would never talk about the American GI who was her father. The young woman returns to America and next seeks the help of other Vietnam veterans to try to determine who her birth father was. But, there is simply not enough information.
So finally, the young woman comes to the Wall to choose a name to be “the name” of her birth father. However, she is overwhelmed. There are over 50,000 names on the Wall. How can she choose one? She decides to choose them all! She will come back to visit them often and when she does, if anyone asks her if she knows someone whose name is on the wall, she will simply answer yes, “My father.” It was all I could do to keep from crying.
On the way out, I stopped to tell Ron Harris how much that play had affected me and how much I enjoyed it. It was really quite an amazing day.
Writer’s block is experienced by every writer at some point. If you are a writer, it is fairly inevitable. You stare at the your display, fingers poised over the keyboard, but nothing comes. It is like you have lost the ability to produce any new work, or at the very least, you are experiencing a massive creative slowdown. You are not alone in this. Some great writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Herman Melville (Moby Dick), and Joseph Mitchell (The New Yorker), have suffered from this affliction. So have cartoonist Charles M.Schultz, composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, and songwriter Adele.
Common Causes of Writer’s Block
Conflicted feelings are often what causes writer’s block. You know how it goes … the writing needs to be perfect … there is a deadline looming … we want the project completed on time. We know what we know about our subject matter but we don’t know what our readers will know about it. We know how the story should unfold, but we don’t have all the research or facts we need. Our creative mind is stuck in neutral. And, no matter what we try, it will not get back in gear.
Some Common Suggestions to Overcome Writer’s Block
There are several several popular tips for overcoming writer’s block. I included a few below. But, to be honest, I have not had much luck with any of these.
Step away: Do something else creative like maybe working on your website, painting, playing an instrument. Exercise the creative side of your brain and you should soon be back into the groove of writing.
Move:Dance, ride a bike, do yoga, practice Tai Chi, or swim. Activities such as these will relax your mind and let the creative process flow again,
Eliminate Distractions: Turn off your phone, unplug from the internet. Straighten up your work area. Ask you friends to honor your time devoted to writing. Writing takes solitude.
What I Have Found to Work Best
Sometime ago I was at a North Carolina Writer’s Network writer’s conference at UNC Greensboro, In one of the sessions I attended, the presenter discussed this very problem. He explained that often, writer’s block is caused when your brain is unhappy with the direction your narrative has taken. He suggested looking carefully at where your narrative started down its current path … and deleting everything from that point forward. Yes … it certainly seems a bit drastic, but I used this technique twice while writing Serpents Underfoot. And, it worked very well. In addition, you can also tailor this technique to be chapter specific. This technique does not necessarily need to be applied to the entire project. If you write like I do, you may do some jumping around.
That’s right, I wrote Skadoosh! I am celebrating another Five Star Review for Serpents Underfoot!
What is skadoosh, you may ask? It’s a secret technique from the movie, Kung Fu Panda. The “word” kind of stuck in my brain. I use it as an exclamation of thankful appreciation, kind of like ‘Bingo” or “Yippee.” My novel, Serpents Underfoot, has just scored another Five Star Review on Amazon.com! So yes, I could have written “yippee,” but “skadoosh” just sounds so much cooler!
Thank you, Kathleen Palazzolo, for your great review and kind words. This makes a total of nine … not that I am keeping count or anything! Reviews like this really make it all worthwhile and I really appreciate the feedback.
I am hard at work on the sequel, Montagnard. Of course, my goal is to make it even better than Serpents Underfoot. I did learn a good deal writing the first novel, so this should turn out to be the case. Soon, I will be posting some teasers and sample chapters on my website.
It is Friday, so I hope everyone has a bodacious weekend ahead of them!
P.S. Please remember to occasionally check back here for updates … and, I do have an email subscription form! I promise not to spam anyone, but I will announce things like Advance Review Copies if anyone is interested in getting one … of course, that will be a bit off yet!
What does shape the story? Several people with whom I have spoken after they read my novel, Serpents Underfoot, have asked me if there are some of my life experiences woven into the story. What life experiences helped shape the story? And I answer, of course, there are.
I have about 35 years of martial arts experience as a student, instructor, and dojo owner. That experience plays a crucial role in Curtis’ and especially JD’s interest and development in the martial arts, and for JD, specifically in Isshin-ryu Karate. I based Sensei Tokumura’s character on my last karate sensei, Sherman Harrill, who helped me to understand what real karate is all about. Those who have trained with Sensei know what I mean. It was a real honor to be that man’s student.
An Army of One?
While it also helped shape the story, the military stuff is a bit more complicated. Even as a young child, I wanted to be in the military. The backyard was my battlefield where my brother and I had legions of little green army men with jeeps, trucks, tanks, field artillery, etc., all under our command. We had trenches and foxholes. It was quite a battlefield. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d reply “I want to be an army!” I still remember my parents laughing and telling me that one man cannot be an army, but you can indeed be a soldier.
Maybe that is why the recruiting slogan adopted in 2001, an “Army of One” was so short lived and was replaced by “Army Strong” in 2006. Perhaps Army officials either talked to my parents, or they decided “Army of One” was a bit contrary to the idea of teamwork, an approach the military relies so heavily upon.
I did not just want to join the U.S. Army … I wanted to be an Army Ranger. And later, maybe even get into the Special Forces. I still remember that day, when I was perhaps 14 or 15-years-old, being so impressed when a Ranger team put on a demonstration of their skills at a park in North Adams, Massachusetts. That was what I wanted to be! The problem was I stuttered, and in my younger years, it was quite pronounced. However, this did not change my dreams of joining the military.
There was just one problem!
My stuttering seemed to lessen at least in comparison to my earlier school days. Either that or I slowly became better at concealing my stuttering depending on the circumstances. So, in July of 1979, I went down to the recruiting station in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I had just blown the ASVAB right out of the water, so I could pick whatever MOS (job) I wanted. Looking back on it now, I should have probably chosen some good technical skill (maybe “in-flight missile repair technician”), but I wanted Ranger School; so that meant picking 11Bravo (Infantry) as my MOS. I had planned on an initial tour of three years, but I ended up signing a contract for four years (they offered me a $4,000 cash enlistment bonus upon completion of training if I enlisted for a four year period instead of 3 years).
On my way!
According to my contract, I was going to Basic Training at Ft. Knox, Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Benning, and then directly to Ranger School which, if I remember correctly, was also at Ft. Benning. I guess it was because of the high ASVAB scores that I was able to lock this in. I took the oath, and the recruiter gave me a ride home to get a toothbrush and say goodbye to my parents, and we headed off to Ft. Knox, Kentucky that same afternoon. The recruiter who’d signed me up was going back to Ft. Knox, so he kindly offered to give me a ride. Several hours later, dropped me off at the induction center. Amazingly, I had not stuttered once this whole time, even when taking the oath. It was like a dream come true. I was going to be a U.S. Army Ranger.
Basic training began. And, yes it was pretty freaking tough. But, I loved it! Unfortunately, much to my dismay, some of the drill instructors discovered I stuttered. For me, it was virtually impossible not to stutter when they jumped dead in my shit; they were experts at it. I knew it was only part of the mind game they played to see who could take the stress and who would crack. If you could not handle their crap, you certainly had no business on the battlefield. I will say that, once they figured out what was going on, they did not belittle me for it. They were, however naturally concerned about me screwing up their Army. But, I was also doing very well with the training; physical training, shooting ranges, running, hand-to-hand combat, grenade ranges, mud, running, probing for mines, weapons cleaning and assembly, rain, running, heat, road marches, more running … I was eating that stuff up!
Just one catch!
Then one afternoon, I got called into the Company Commander’s office. I was pretty nervous about that, wondering what the heck I had done. Once I reported, I was ordered to stand at ease. The Company Commander was a young Army captain not much older than me. The Captain told me that the U.S. Army appreciated my volunteering, my efforts, and ambition, etc. He went on to say that by all the reports he had, I was performing outstandingly in my training. However, in spite of that, the U.S. Army could not send me to ranger school. The Captain explained that my stuttering presented too much of a risk, especially with the cost of the training provided during ranger school. I was severely bummed out! But, deep down inside, I could see their point … and I hated it. The Captain went on to explain to me that, because they could not honor the contract they signed with me, I could get out of the Army honorably if I chose to.
My choice was clear!
I did not even have to think about it. For me, that was not an option. I asked if I could remain in the infantry if I stayed. The Captain replied that I certainly could. So, I stated that I did not want out. I would continue my training. The Captain nodded, saying that he had expected no less, and then dismissed me. I completed Basic Training achieving a high score on my end of cycle test, which I felt was quite an accomplishment. I boarded a bus for the Infantry School at Ft Benning, Georgia.
One of my best memories of Ft. Benning occurred on the rifle range. We were conducting rapid-fire exercises with our M-16 rifles, and I was knocking them down. Drill Sergeant Winters stopped pacing and stood behind me for a few minutes, watching. When the range officer called for a cease-fire, I stopped and cleared my weapon. Drill Sergeant Winters looked down at me and stated, “That is some mighty fine shooting, son! Wherever you end up, they will be glad to have you.” I finished AIT by earning the maximum possible score on the Infantry Qualification Test.
Breakfast at Denny’s!
One other great memory. Another soldier and I were eating breakfast at a Denny’s in Columbus, Georgia. We were on our first weekend pass. After we had eaten, we would catch a cab back to the base. We were sitting there in our khaki uniforms when an older woman stopped by our table and started talking to us. We had no idea who she was. She was telling us how good it was to see two such outstanding young men in uniform and told us she was going to buy us breakfast, We both said thank you, but that it was not necessary. She would not argue. The woman then asked us if we knew who she was. We both replied that we did not. She told us she was Lillian Carter, the President’s mother. We were surprised, but finally noticed the men in suits standing around us. Probably Secret Service agents! The President’s mother took care of our check and then wishing us well, left with her escort. That was simply amazing!
Fun, Travel, and Adventure!
So, I served my four years in the U.S. Army Infantry. I traveled the world, saw different cultures, and did some pretty exciting things. In Germany, I was stationed at Wiesbaden Air Base with the 2/22 Infantry. Shortly after arriving, I was asked to report to the Battalion Executive Officer. My first thought was, Dang! Here I go again! I reported to the XO as ordered. He had been looking at my file and needed a driver. I took the job. I served as the Battalion Executive Officer’s driver for almost two years and spent a great deal of time patrolling our Battalion’s area of operations near the Fulda Gap. Our job was to slow the Russians down if they ever came across the border.
Finishing my two years in Germany, I got orders to Ft. Polk, Louisianna. The last place in the world I wanted to go was Ft. Polk, Louisianna! So, I went to the CO and asked how to get out of having to go there. He replied that I just needed to volunteer to go someplace else nobody else wanted to go. I asked him where. He said Alaska or South Korea. I chose South Korea.
During my year in South Korea, with the 1/17 Infantry, I did a 90-day tour on the DMZ between North and South Korea. That was pretty exciting stuff, a real mission. Real guns, real grenades, real bullets, and a real enemy you could see from the observation post. And, sometimes … even stumble on while patrolling the DMZ itself.
I enjoyed the Asian culture and immersed myself in it. This cultural appreciation certainly shaped the story. I got involved with the local Amerasian orphanage and helped put a new roof on their building and also helped feed the kids Thanksgiving dinner. My year was up way too fast!
When I got to my last duty station, I was assigned to the 1/501st Air Assault at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. We later deployed to Panama, flying down on a C-130. We were cruising along at about 30,000 ft, sitting in slippery, canvas bench seats that ran lengthwise on the plane. As we approached Panama, a light turned on, and suddenly the plane stood on its nose and dove. We all slid sideways toward the front of the aircraft. It leveled out at about 400 ft if I remember correctly, and the back ramp opened. A group of men we never even knew were there (they were sitting behind our stacked gear) stood up and ran off the lowered ramp, jumping out into the night sky. When the ramp closed, the C-130 stood on its tail and climbed back to cruising altitude. We all slid back toward the rear of the plane. We were all surprised. I would never have thought an aircraft that big could fly like that. I’d always figured the group of men was a team of Army Rangers on a training exercise, but who knows?
Invasion of Panama?
This action all took place shortly before we took out General Manuel Noreiga, and I always figured we were sent there as a show of force … hoping to calm things down. I am not so sure that worked. However we could not just sit on our collective butts, so while there at Ft. Sherman, we completed the Jungle Warfare School. My squad broke some battalion record for completing the Jungle Obstacle Course. We got a steak and lobster dinner, compliments of the Battalion Commander, for that accomplishment.
When it came time to reenlist, I did give that some very serious consideration. However, the paths I really wanted to take were essentially closed to me because of my speech impediment. So, I decided to seek my fortune elsewhere. I suppose you could say that the military adventures of Curtis Cordell and his son, JD Cordell are fantasies … depictions of the kinds of adventures I would like to have had if things had worked out differently.
All of these experiences did combine to help shape the story.
Tuesday, February 27th, I arrived at McKay’s Used Books and CD’s in Knoxville, Tennessee to set up for my first “commercial” book signing for Serpents Underfoot. The book signing was scheduled from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM. It was a bit intimidating. I mean, what if nobody buys a book? How silly would I feel then? Anyway, I got set up and waited. My daughter-in-law Leah, a great photographer, came by to take s few pictures for me. That was very kind of her, and she also did a great job!
The First Hour
The first hour went pretty slow. A few people looked as they passed by, but nobody stopped. I started to wonder if my initial worries might come true. Leah and I chatted about odds and ends, but book sales-wise, it was looking pretty grim. We noticed a military service member come in. He did stop by, and we chatted a bit. He was a Captain in the U.S. Army. I had served in the Army from ’79 to ’83, so we discussed Army life for a bit. I ended up giving him a book and signing it for him to thank him for his service. I figured, at least I could give one book away!
The Second Two Hours
However, I think giving the book away started something! A few minutes later I had sold a few books. People were stopping by and asking questions about the book, me, how long I’d been writing, etc. It was fun at that point. Then Brad Walker stopped by and chatted a few minutes. Brad is an Isshin-ryu colleague of mine and also sells real estate in Knoxville with Keller Williams. As time went on, I sold more books. All-in-all it was a great experience and a lot of fun. I am looking forward to doing more. I guess I will start in the Cary area, then maybe Charlotte and Asheville!
If I Missed You at the Book signing
Serpents Underfoot is available at several online booksellers: Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million. Anyone interested in acquiring a signed copy can always reach me through my website. I am willing to ship the book about anywhere. I have shipped one copy to the UK so far.
I am also working on the sequel, Montagnard, and will be posting excerpts in the not too distant future.
Onwards and upwards!
One More Thought!
If you have purchased a copy of my book, Serpents Underfoot, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your support! If you read my book and you enjoyed it, please take the time to give it a review on whichever website you happened to purchase it from. Reviews are a big help to authors … especially good ones!
Hello friends! I will be having my very first book signing on Tuesday, February 27th, from 12:00 to 3:00 pm at McKay’s Books in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is pretty exciting! It is a lot of work establishing yourself and getting your name out there. Every little bit certainly helps. If you are out and about during this time period, I hope you will stop by and say hello! And, maybe … even buy a book. I will have both paperbacks and hardcovers available. I will also have a sample chapter from my upcoming sequel. Please let your friends, family, and even acquaintances know …
Currently Available At …
Serpents Underfoot is currently available in paperback, hardcover, and Kindle versions on Amazon.com. It is now also available online from Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million. I guess it takes a lot of work to actually get a book on the shelf in the brick and mortar stores, but I am working on it! I am also working to get it out on Audible, iTunes, and other media outlets.
Now I am busy working on the sequel to Serpents Underfoot. I don’t want to put any spoilers in here, but it will involve a return to Vietnam, more Navy SEAL action, and some interesting twists and turns. It will be an interesting story … a lot of history, excitement, and of course … new adventures for JD Cordell and his faithful K9 partner, Ajax! The research has been interesting. Because of their support of the American forces fighting in Vietnam, the Montagnard people were nearly wiped out by the communist government after the War. I have found that there is quite a large group of Montagnard folks that were resettled in the United States after the war and are now living near Cary here in North Carolina.