Iraq Invaded Kuwait 30 Years Ago Today

Thirty years ago today, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Today there is an initiative to build a memorial to commemorate and honor those who, as members of the Armed Forces, served on active duty in support of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Desert Shield. I was on beach in Florida that day in 1990 on a weekend Air Force trip when I heard of the invasion. I had no idea then how much that snippet of information would affect my life.

Logo+on+black+lo+resIn the summer of 1990, I was a newly married 23-year-old, preparing for what would be my fourth year of a five-year aerospace/mechanical engineering curriculum at the University at Buffalo. I had enlisted in the US Air Force Reserve the year before. My career goal was to fly planes. I’d get experience around aircraft as a C-130 cargo plan mechanic, then move to a pilot position flying something (I wasn’t sure what) once I had my undergraduate degree.

The reserve seemed like a great safe path to that experience, all while earning great money for part-time work. I volunteered for as many weekend trips as I could, as they paid well and were informative and fun. If there ever was a war, which I was sure there wouldn’t be because the Soviet Union had crumbled, we may be activated to fill in for the full timers that would go overseas to fight. But there wouldn’t be a war.

Wrong.

When the situation escalated to where we were sending troops overseas, slowly I realized that our unit could be activated, likely for stateside service. I wouldn’t be pleased about the inconvenience of putting off my college degree. I was eager to start being a full-time breadwinner. But if duty called, I’d respond.

Early in my college career, prior to joining the reserves, I had a conversation with a friend. He said that if there ever was a war that brought back the draft, he’d go to Canada. I couldn’t agree. I felt back then, as I do today, that so many of the blessings in my life were a direct result of the freedoms we have, fought for by many, some who paid the ultimate price. If my turn came, I’d go and pay my dues, I said with the confidence that it would never happen.

It did.

The message on the answering machine that late September day in 1990 was short and simple: I had a few days to report for duty for overseas assignment. Tears welled up in my wife’s eyes, and she asked, “What does it mean?” I didn’t have an answer, but I tried to be the rock I thought I had to be. “I guess I’ll be going on a three-month vacation to the land of the sand,” I said.

The truth is, I didn’t have to go. I could have pushed for a deferment because of my college status, as a few in our unit did. I never seriously considered that. I had made a commitment, and I would honor it.

That would become one of, if not the strongest defining moment in my life.

Desert Shield, and then Desert Storm, permanently shaped my life path and my perspectives. Some changes were good, some not-so-good. That’s life. Our characters are tested daily. I’d like to think that I have been more true to my character with every test partially because of my decision to not defer.

When we returned home from Desert Storm, it was flags and yellow ribbons everywhere. Americans were united. The mood of the country was good, and the ghosts of Vietnam had finally largely been put to rest (though some will always remain). That was the United States that encouraged me to serve.

Things are a lot different today.

I don’t know how it happened, though I, like everybody, have theories. I don’t have to tell anyone who was an adult then that we are more divided now than in 1991, or maybe in almost any time on our country’s history. If you don’t agree with the other side, your thoughts, positions, morality, and even standing of a human being are often questioned, if not completely berated. How did we come to this place?

I have experienced this firsthand, especially on Facebook (see my last blog post). I feel that I have lost my right to express my opinion. This is a topic for another post, another day. People are openly posting statements that are so blatantly full of hate. The worst part? I doubt that many, if not most can even see the hate. They take the worst possible aspect of the side they don’t like (you name the issue – politics, COVID, etc.) and automatically assume that if you don’t agree with them, you are the worst of the other side. And if that doesn’t work, the fallback is “if you’re silent, you’re complacent.”No middle ground, no consideration of discussion.

The United States of 1990 was one of differences, yes, but also one of compromise. We have lost much of the ability to discuss issues in a civil manner. Just open any news site. This is a very dangerous situation. Without discussion, divisions will widen. Our republic’s continuing existence isn’t guaranteed. It must be constantly attended to.

I haven’t lost all hope. If I were called back to defend the United States, I would serve, in whatever capacity I could. I love this country. I bleed red, white, and blue. But it won’t happen without fundamental changes in everyone’s hearts. And I believe that won’t happen without prayer. Lots of it. Honest, fervent, passionate.

God bless the USA.

The National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial is a new national monument that has been approved by Congress and President Trump (March 2017) to be built by 2021 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Visit http://www.ndswm.org/ for more information. Image from http://www.ndswm.org/

The Facebook Conundrum

I’m in the middle of a reboot of how I use Facebook, brought on by increasing frustration at the polarization of discussions. First, the problem, then the solution, I think, at least for me.

A bit of background. I have been a Facebook consumer and contributor for over ten years. I enjoyed the aspect of connecting with friends and coworkers and, later family (I was the first adopter for several years I believe in my family) and friends from years’ past. The latter was especially cool, connecting with people that I haven’t spoke to in years. Though my dad wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea at all, as he remarked “if I haven’t talked with them for so long, why would I want to start now?”

But the journey was blissful for the most part, as I enjoyed posts from people representing all phases of my life. Later, I followed various news organizations. Facebook became a primary news source for me in this internet age. Who watched the six-o’clock news anymore, anyway?

Then something odd happened, and not just for me, but for seemingly everyone. It must have been during one of the big elections, probably 2012, as by then Facebook had established its grip on Americana. People love to talk politics, but usually that’s reserved for bars and water coolers, not Thanksgiving or other family gatherings. Why? Because people can be very passionate about politics. But look out, now here comes Facebook, where anyone can broadcast their obviously correct opinion on anything to everyone!

If you have ever been on Facebook, you know what a mess that creates. Battle lines drawn, defriending, cutting people out of wills, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria… Many people smartly stopped talking politics altogether.

I had to be different.

This polarization really got to me in 2012. I couldn’t understand why people had to be off or on, and not a dimmer switch, varying between lightness and darkness. I don’t mean to imply that any position is darker than another, I’m just conveying variance. To address, I created a page on Facebook, The Moderate Party. I think two people joined. I think it’s still there, I haven’t done anything with it in years (maybe I need to return to it). Creating it though taught me how to do so, which has helped out my two businesses in their marketing strategies.

Elections come and go, and polarization subsides, like a regular ebb and flow. I realized I could navigate the waves well, because they were never extreme. Then came Donald Trump.

Trump is, at the very least, an interesting character. He may hold the world record for adjectives hurled his way, positive and negative, if such were tracked. Most, including likely Trump himself, expected Hillary Clinton to be elected in 2016. When that didn’t happen, the polarization went into warp drive.

Here it is, 2020, and I, like others, are faced with a huge decision for this presidential election. I like to look for answers, and opinions, and discussion. Such is hard to find face to face in the COVID-19 environment. I turned to Facebook.

At first, I’d posts questions and links with commentary, often from a conservative source (I am a conservative though like to think I’m open-minded). Often, they’d elicit polarized responses, so I shifted strategy, mainly posting links from mainly centrist (as objective as possible) news sites or calling out the bias if not. I hoped that it would prompt rational discussion.

It did not. Truthfully, some responses were blatantly hateful. No need to go into details, as probably most reading this have experienced similar, just that if you indicated you aligned with a particular position you were instantly labeled to the extreme. “Choose a side” people said. How to choose when you’re trying to have a civil discussion to form opinions that will then inform the decision?

Nothing worked, and my reaction was to step back from Facebook for my mental, spiritual, and physical health. Yes, this whole polarization and lack of common decency to not even try to see another side literally made me ill. I wasn’t sure if I’d leave Facebook completely.

That idea made me angry. I have every right to voice my opinion. I also have every right to defend and protect myself from bullies, even when it’s not the intent. Because those kinds of Facebook post responses are nothing less than bullying.

That’s where I’m at today. I don’t want to lose relationships from years ago, many rekindled through Facebook, but I also don’t want to be bullied because I have opinions and views that others may disagree with. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do, so in the mean time I “rebooted” (posted Windows Blue Screen of Death, then HAL 9000 and a generic programming background as my profile and banner pictures to signify the reboot and the programming that we have all endured to bring us to this polarized point). Now it’s “The Daily Dog”, a picture of a dog usually from Unsplash. After all, who hates dogs? I’m trying to step back into Facebook politics discussions, but my first attempt had disappointing results. I’ll just leave it at that.

Maybe the loudest win. But that doesn’t mean the silent have changed their mind. In some cases, it likely has strengthened their resolve. Maybe I’ll post about that tomorrow – after I post a Chihuahua for The Daily Dog.

Photo by Richard Brutyo on Unsplash

My NaNoWriMo Experience

For those unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing” according to the NaNoWriMo website. I had heard of it before but had ignored primarily because whenever November had come around in years past was when I was in a writing lull. Capture

This year, I opted to participate for a few reasons. First, I was reminded of it from an email from IngramSpark, a service I’ve used to self-publish several of my works. IngramSpark had a promo to waive title setup fees by using a NaNoWriMo promo code, even if the work wasn’t produced during NaNoWriMo. I happened to have finished all of the pre-production for my novelette Childhood, so the timing was great. But the reminder also caused me to check out the NaNoWriMo site.

Second, I was gearing up to write Fatherhood, the full-length follow up to Childhood (which serves as a reader magnet to introduce the characters). Why not see if I could write 50,000 in a month?

A couple of caveats: I’m not endorsing the NaNoWriMo site – I used it to track my progress, nothing more, nothing less. I do plan to learn more of their mission but, honestly, writing 50,000 words in a month doesn’t leave much time for any other discretion time activities.

Also, I technically did not start at zero words. I had completed about 8,500 while I was working on Childhood this spring. However, because of changes to Childhood during the development editing process, I needed to rework those first six chapters, plus my outline. That’s reflected in the graph above; once I finished that (nine days in), I started to track.

As you can see, I made it, but not without a few significant pushes. I took a couple of days off from work around week three to write, completing over 5,000 each day. That helped to put me at a manageable but still difficult 2,800 or so per day pace to finish, which I stayed on consistently until the end. The last day was a Saturday, so I knew I could spend more time writing, and therefore took a break Friday. I knew at that time I’d make it.

A few lessons learned:

  • Having an outline was critical to success. I was determined not to write fluff. While this is obviously the first draft and will require much editing and revisions, the plot stayed on point because of the outline.
  • It became easier to write more. I got into a groove, a regular cadence of crafting a scene (typically 600-900 words), taking a break, then repeating until the goal was met.

This has also primed me to finish the novel draft this year. My previous novels have landed right around 80,000 words. With 30,000 to go, I launched another challenge for myself beginning December 2nd (I took the first off) – 1,000 words per day. Thus far, writing 1,000 per day has been relatively easy. I just completed one scene of 723 words and will complete the rest (part of the next scene) shortly after posting this.

Bottom line, for me NaNoWriMo helped kickstart my project. If all goes well, I will have completed an 80,000-word novel in two months, though in reality, it took ten months to prepare, including writing the novelette.

Childhood Cover Reveal and Offer

The cover is complete for Childhood the novelette prequel to my upcoming novel, FatherhoodChildhood follows young Katie Whetley’s quest  to find her place in life as she grows up in the small West Tennessee town of Maynard. Childhood will be released later this year.

The good news is that you can get a free eBook copy of Childhood before it’s released! If you have enjoyed one of my previous novels (Forgiveness, Leaving Darkness) and write a review on either GoodReads or Amazon, I will send you the eBook file once completed. Just email me (greg.schaffer@secondchancebook.org) a link to the review and I will add you to the list. As always, I appreciate your support!

Time to Write

What is your best time to write? Without doubt, I find the early morning to be when my creative juices flow best. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure it’s in part due to being a morning person. I routinely wake up before 5 AM and am often in the office before seven. Incidentally, this is a complete flip from my college years. I joke that now I wake up around the time I used to go to sleep.federico-respini-314377-unsplash

I have daily writing goals measured in words, as with most authors, when I’m working on a novel. For me, since I have a full-time job (I own a small virtual CISO firm), I don’t have the luxury of time to have lofty goals of 5,000 words or more. No, for me if I can reach 1,000, on average, for weekday mornings that’s fine. Weekends I relax my goals somewhat; if family time permits, I’ll get in some time to lay down words, but if not, that’s fine. Balance is key.

Sometimes people assume that my job is highly technical but that’s not the case. Yes, there are technical elements for sure, but more so I focus on strategy and my clients’ business goals, not the minutia of what most people think about with regard to information security (firewalls, antivirus, and so on). At times I’m called on to invoke my writing skills as well, mostly when crafting policies and assessment reports. However, I  don’t get a chance to exercise my creative side, at least not in the creating fiction sense.

I think that’s a prime reason why I am a morning writer. By the time I’m thinking about, say,  how the GDPR may affect a client’s operation, my brain has shifted its creativity to security and privacy strategic mode. It’s more difficult for me to shift to creative writing in the middle of the day than to start at it fresh in the morning. Plus, and I have no proof to back this up, just a feeling, creative writing to start the day seems to fuel my mind for the other security and privacy tasks at hand.

Therefore, I try to block the first hour I arrive at my office for creative writing. It’s quiet as I’m usually one of the first to arrive at my office suite. I don’t have the distractions of writing at the home office. So long as I can resist the urge to check work email, if I can give myself an hour of uninterrupted time before tackling the day’s duties, I usually meet (or often exceed) the 1,000 word goal.

I wonder if a study has been performed to see when fiction writers prefer to practice their craft, and why – anyone know?

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

The Next Project

(Below is from the About Me section)

I am a Christian, husband, father (to rescue dogs), veteran, and information security executive consultant. I write Christian novels about tough subjects and how God’s grace can lead us out of those situations to live the lives we are meant to live, usually from the male point of view. I am seeking an agent.

I wrote my first novel in high school. 0It sits in some nondescript box in my basement in its original form on various types of ruled paper. Then, I’d write using whatever I had available, including spiral notebooks. I always hated the messy edges tearing a page produced (however, I am by no means a connoisseur of neatness). That novel, The Balance of Power, dealt with a topic as weighty as the title and too heavy for a teenager, a Soviet internal takeover of the United States. One day I will read it again – and cringe.

I always seemed to have a project in mind, and when not thinking about a manuscript I drafted poetry. It’s not that I particularly liked poetry – I didn’t. In fact, I would probably say then I hated it. But I did like songs and envisioned each “poem” as the next Bruce Springsteen hit.

The second manuscript idea was also one over my head, another national emergency with the glorious title American Terrorist. I abandoned, or at least put on hold the idea because I thought the premise was not realistic. Then Oklahoma City happened. Rather ironically, during the time I pondered creating this novel, I drove past Timothy McVeigh’s house every day on the way to work. That one never made it past a few chicken scratch pages, likely also on spiral notebook paper and now having long returned to its elements in some landfill.

Novel attempt number three began in 1991 as a method to deal with my divorce. I found myself fantasizing about “what if” scenarios. What if we hadn’t married early? What could I have done differently to prevent the pain I struggled with daily? I needed to live that fantasy, at least through writing. I wrote in the basement wood-paneled bedroom of my post-divorce house I shared with three others, I wrote during lunch at work in my cubicle, and anywhere I could find a few free minutes away from the world.

After a couple of years, a move to the south, and recovering from divorce depression, I touted what I thought was a finished masterpiece of time travel and romance. I took a community education course on becoming published and excitedly wrote query letters to the dozens of agents whose contact information the instructor had provided as part of the class materials. I’d be having to make the hard choice of choosing which agent to represent Second Chance soon, I was sure.

Then they came. Rejection after rejection after rejection. One had the gall to tell me I should change the protagonist from male to female. Ha! This was my work, my life. No one would tell me what to write.

And so that manuscript returned to storage, likely in the same nondescript coffin for The Balance of Power. A few times over the next 15 years or so I attempted to resurrect it but the crushing realization that no one would want to publish Second Chance discouraged me from going further. My passion was meaningful writing, not crafting useless query letters.

Then a conversation with a colleague in 2012 changed that. He worked for Ingram and mentioned their new product called Ingram Spark, a complete self-publishing platform. At last, I could get my book published, even if not traditionally. My spark (no pun intended) for writing had returned.

I set about reviewing the manuscript, at first anticipating only a few tweaks and then this masterpiece would be available for all. Much had changed though since those sad basement days, and the original story seemed, well, bland. And mushy. And cutesy. Even the title evoked images of a Harlequin romance paperback. I was no Fabio, nor was I a romance writer. Minor tweaks became major rewrites.

I needed a lesson, but what? What was I passionate about? I didn’t spend too much time on this, as I knew the answer. Abortion is a much-debated issue, but to me abortion for convenience is murder. No one speaks for the child, but I could through this book. Second Chance became Forgiveness, and soon I joined the ranks of gazillions of other indie authors with a book available on Amazon.

My nativity hit again. I thought that simply by listing on Amazon and a few tweets coupled with a basic web page ensured sales success. While many who read the book offered very positive feedback, the truth is sales were close to non-existent. I had to do something to market the first book and in the process made in hindsight a bad decision. I immediately began another book, buying into the concept that the best way to market a book was to write another, and ignored all other marketing opportunities.

That was the beginning of my list of mistakes. In crafting Temptations of the Innocent, I created such a complicated world comprising of this life and a fictionalized (certainly not Biblically based) version of the afterlife. I didn’t stop there, adding in an antagonist who is pure evil (if not the devil himself) and a Soviet plot to infiltrate the Catholic church. I like to write about weighty subjects, remember? Sprinkle in a span of 80 years and several continents with a few historical events and figures (one character meets President Reagan), and you have a recipe for disaster.

Perhaps disaster is not the right descriptor. Temptations of the Innocent is (in my non-objective opinion of course) a well-thought out and intertwined story that tells the backstory of Forgiveness. Everything fits together and lays the groundwork for the planned third novel Redemption, the sequel to Forgiveness. It is just too complex a story. I didn’t market the book at all (see my marketing efforts for Forgiveness), and sales reflected that.

I was left exhausted and with no desire to write anything further, let alone the sequel. Then in January of 2017, I received a God nudge to pick up the pen again. I sketched out a three-act story on a piece of paper that would tell the story of healing through small group ministries. I had at that time been involved with one such ministry for several years and was very passionate about it, having seen firsthand the positive changes this eight-week group had on people willing to change.

I accepted God’s assignment and began to plan the story. I was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the first two novels. This one would follow a simple arc but would involve a weighty topic, necessary to show healing. I chose depression and began creating my third novel, Leaving Darkness.

This time, I did not self-publish solo though Ingram but rather contracted with WestBow (the assisted self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson). I worked with an independent development editor, a worthwhile expense. My goal for sales was not income but to get this in the hands of those struggling with depression so they may realize the path to healing through God’s grace, so I wanted this story to be the absolute best it could be. Leaving Darkness was published in the fall of 2018.

 

Release!

So much goes into creating LD Front Covera novel that when it is released there is a corresponding release of stress, emotion, and even some angst. A week ago, Leaving Darkness was released by WestBow Press. While I have experienced (and am still experiencing) all of those emotions, I also feel a sense of having completed an assignment.

Westbow is a self-publishing service that transcends others because of its mission, succinctly stated  on their main landing page as “Publishing Christian authors’ stories to bring Him glory.” I began my assignment in January of 2017 in response to a calling to create a story that communicates the effectiveness of sharing struggles in a Christian small group environment. Specifically, I drew on my experiences with Restore Small Groups, a Christian ministry with humble beginnings nearly 20 years ago as a local support group that has grown to help people around the world today live the lives God meant for them. I know, as I’m one of those.

I wanted to share this process of growing in faith as the foundational support of positive change by writing a story about just that. But what story? Not mine. My story, honestly, is boring. No, it had to be fiction. But that is what I had positioned myself to do, having written and self-published two novels. That experience taught me much about writing and gave me the confidence to tackle this project.

The concept of the darkness did come from my personal experience. Without going into details, many years ago I found myself in a place where the happy Greg had vanished, replaced by one who dreaded the mornings. I don’t think I was seriously depressed, certainly not where Lowell ended up (the main character in Leaving Darkness), but I was not myself and therefore could not fulfill God’s plan for me. Much like Lowell, I found a flier that led me to a support group, which subsequently led me out of my darkness, because of His grace.

Thus, Leaving Darkness is to bring Him glory and bring those lost to contemplate a path to light. For me, it represents a response to a calling. I hope the tale helps others as I was helped. But for me, I am finished. Well, writing it, that is. Now the marketing begins.

Leaving Darkness available now from Amazon.

 

POV Discipline

pexels-photo-287398Earlier this week I sent the completed manuscript for Leaving Darkness to the publisher. As the formatting, cover design, and other work commence, I plan to set aside some time to write about lessons learned. As indie authors, we should look at every opportunity to learn as we progress and hone our craft.

I decided to engage a development editor – that in itself was a smart move and a positive lesson in itself. The lessons in writing alone brought value – it was akin to taking an advanced college course in fiction writing. It helped that the editor I engaged was a college-level instructor as well.

An early and perhaps the most significant lesson from this graduate-level experience is learning what I dub POV Discipline. Of course, the point of view is how the story is told, and there are many examples. I wrote Leaving Darkness in limited third person, following the arcs of two characters, the protagonist and the antagonist. As you can imagine, this created the danger of mixing point of views.

I could have switched and restructured the antagonist’s portions to be seen from the protagonist, but doing so made no sense in the story I was trying to tell. I wanted to show the rise of one, the fall of another. My solution, as suggested by my editor, was to structure each chapter from one of the character’s point of view. Doing so was not easy, but it worked.

Still, there remained some elements of POV crossover. When POV discipline is not maintained from the start, it becomes very difficult to correct as the project matures. We gloss over POV step outs because the story is so familiar to us, yet when pointed out the error becomes so obvious.

Some are easy to cure – instead of, “He worried about what Bill was saying,” we can write, “Bill saw the worried look on Joe’s face after relating the bad news.” We still don’t know for sure that Joe is worried, but the message comes across that likely he is.

I never paid much attention to POV discipline in the past, but going forward it will be forefront in any future fiction project. I suspect some may be thinking, “Well, yeah, that’s obvious, Greg!” but for those of us without a formal fiction writing education, it can be a challenge. It would seem to maintain a consistent POV does not come naturally, rather it is a learned practice.