RectorWriter

Adventures in storytelling by Bob Rector


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A STORY BUILT LIKE A BRICK . . .

Brick-Outhouse

The “. . .” in the title refers to an outdoor accommodation that those of us of a certain age have memories of that are probably not so fond, especially when this facility was used on a freezing cold day. Usually these were simple wooden structures that anyone with basic carpentry skills could hobble together in a few hours. But occasionally some industrious soul would dazzle his neighbors by constructing his “necessary” of brick. Overkill? Yes. But impressive nonetheless.
MaeWestFull

So it may not be surprising that back in the days when this facility was still in common usage, a woman with a knockout figure, Mae West for example, was referred to as being built like a brick . . . Well, you get the idea. In other words, she was constructed exceptionally well.

The same analogy can be used with storytelling. Or should be. But seldom do you hear or read a discussion about story construction. Yet to me it is the most important element of good storytelling. It’s the skeleton that holds everything else together. No matter how muscular the characters or plotting, the story falls apart when it is poorly constructed.

Before I get labeled as sexist, lets shift the analogy away from female pulchritude to a well constructed home. From an outside perspective it must be aesthetically appealing with all the elements balanced. In it’s simplest form, a home is four flat walls and a roof with doors and functional windows. You can exist in a home like this but who would want to live there? Yet how many books have you read that are constructed as simple functional boxes to hold the characters and plot?
Home-Ideal

Conversely a house built of contrasting angles and rooflines with decorative windows and doors designed to enhance the overall balance is referred to as inviting, homey. It is constructed to compliment the surrounding landscape and often add to it with shrubs and flowers and flagstone walkways. The interior of the house reflects the same symmetry of design. There is a planned logic in moving from one room to another that makes us instantly comfortable. We’d like to spend time there.

Take this same home and clutter its driveway with automotive clunkers, leave the yard unattended and unkempt with discarded toys scattered everywhere, fill up the front porch with packing boxes and rusting tools, let the paint peel and substitute broken window panes with pieces of cardboard and it becomes anything but homey and inviting.

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The same is true inside. If the only way to get from one room to another is by tripping over excessive furniture or décor, all the aesthetics of the original design are lost.

Isn’t the same true of good story construction?

How many times have you thrown a book against the wall in disgust because the story was fraught with useless and unnecessary plot devices? How often do you find yourself tripping over totally inconsequential events or characters simply because the author was trying to fill pages? Worst of all (for me anyway) how many times has a story led you down a wandering path to the point you wonder where the hell you are? That’s when a story becomes akin to a nightmare.

home-building

Many storytellers believe that story construction and plot construction are the same thing. They’re not. Plot is about a main character who wants to accomplish a certain objective but is impeded by a conflict he or she must overcome. Basically simple and hasn’t changed much in the past three thousand years or so. Story construction is the house you build for your plot to unfold in logically and unimpeded.

That’s what I think anyway. I would very much like to hear what you think. I believe this is a discussion very much worth sharing among professional storytellers. Won’t you please join in?


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LETTERS FROM THE FRONT NOW AVAILABLE IN PRINT & KINDLE

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

What’s the difference between writing novels and writing plays? Both involve the ancient craft of storytelling. Both use words as the essential building blocks. Beyond that, well . . . Having done both, here’s what a play means to me.

Standing Os. Cheers. People coming up to me and shaking my hand, saying thank you, telling me what my play meant to them. Face to face. Night after night.

Wouldn't it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

Wouldn’t it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

We seldom get that response with our books. Perhaps at a book signing. Or when somebody writes a particularly flattering review. With my play Letters From The Front, I got it after every performance, year after year, all over the world.

I wish every writer was able to experience that.

MargueeHutchinson

After releasing my one (and so far, only) novel Unthinkable Consequences, I’ve often wondered how people responded when they read it. A few have been kind enough to leave enthusiastic reviews, but that was after they’d read the entire book and had time to analyze their feelings toward the work.

It’s very different with a play. The reaction is spontaneous and continuous. Night after night I sat in the dark with hundreds of others and watched and listened to their reaction while the performance was in progress. A laugh here, a tear there, a gasp, a groan, shuffling in their seats when their attention wasn’t being held completely, leaning forward when it was.

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Do people react that way while they read our books? No doubt they do. We’re just not there to see it. Its been hard for me to get used to that.

That little observation aside, what is Letters From The Front about?

It’s been called an emotional roller coaster. I’ve watched audiences ride that roller coaster enough times to know that there’s evidently some truth to the statement. CBS Evening News called Letters From The Front “A patriotic tribute to the men and women who so bravely serve.” NBC’s Today called it: “A wonderful show.” The Shreveport Times said it was “A tear-jerking, hand-clapping, mind-blowing stroll through history.”

I guess it’s all those things.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

Here’s the official blurb: This play weaves actual letters to and from soldiers and their loved ones going as far back as Valley Forge, into a story set during the waning days of WWII. The personal themes in the letters are honestly reflected, as is the commitment of everyday Americans to preserve freedom.

Popular essayist Katharine Hartgrove, whose son is fighting in Northern Italy, has been commissioned to write a play based on these letters. She enlists boyfriend, Johnny Chastain, America’s favorite radio wise guy, to assist her. He provides an unseen twist to the story, along with plenty of comic relief. When the laughter and tears subside, Johnny is the most unlikely of heroes and Katharine is healed from emotional scars that have haunted her for 20 years.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she's been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she’s been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

Letters From The Front is a heartfelt and surprisingly humorous story of heroism, hope, and redemption.

Okay, but to me what the play is about is better summed up by a statement made by Katharine Hartgrove midway through the show:

“To me, this play isn’t about individual wars or the politics behind them or who was right or who was wrong. It’s about the fragile and precious nature of life. It’s about everyday people who suddenly came face to face with their own mortality, or the prospect of losing a loved one. It’s about people reaching out to each other, maybe for the last time. Each of these letters was affirmation on the part of the writer that at their darkest moment they were not alone.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about people, what’s in their hearts, who they love, how they deal with life’s adversities. At the core is a conflict of massive proportions – World War II. Millions are thrown into the conflagration.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

But Letters From the Front focuses on just two people as they struggle to understand, adjust, put events into some sort of meaningful perspective, and discover the depth of their love for each other.

Maybe the song As Time Goes By captures the sentiment best: “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory.”

Inside the playbill handed out as people enter the theater there is a comment card. Over the years we’ve collected tens of thousands of them. Here are examples of comments from people who have seen the show.

Inside the playbills are comment cards

Inside the playbills are comment cards

~~ “I was touched beyond belief. I am a better person for having seen your show.”

~~ “I have never been so deeply touched as I have been with this production. You have brought the reality of the home front to light with such clarity and tenderness.”

~~ “You broke my heart and brightened my day. Fantastic!!”

~~ “Some of the best theater I have seen. Better than most from Boston and New York. Impressed!”

~~ “Uniquely heartwarming, tearjerking, hits home hard. Thanks.”

~~ “At the base of every conflict is the men and women who have fought it. The wants, needs, desires, and fears never change no matter the time or place. Your group presented this in a truly memorable way. P.S. I cried about ten times.”

~~ “It was without a doubt one of the most touching and patriotic shows I have experienced. It was filled with humor, tears, laughter, sadness, and a wonderful sense of being an American.”

~~ “Hits close to home, close to the heart.”

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Letters From The Front. Being a play, it’s a fast read. It’s available both in print and Kindle at http://goo.gl/ZQQGqN. You can learn more about the play itself at the blog https://lettersfromthefronttheater.wordpress.com/


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2014 in Review: A Turning Point for Self-Published Authors

rectorwriter:

Claude Forthomme’s analysis of the eBook market as it currently stands is a must-read for anybody traveling or wanting to travel that path.

Originally posted on Claude Forthomme - Nougat's Blog:

This is the end of the year, a perfect day to draw lessons from the main publishing events in 2014.

First, one bit of good news for 2014: it will be remembered as the year audio-book sales took off. In 2013, downloaded audio books hit an all time high in both revenue and units, and that trend continued in 2014 (see Bookstats.org). In February, I wrote on this blog about audio-books (here) reporting on the fast rise of audiobook titles. On Audible there are more than 150,000 titles in every genre – up from less than 5,000 in 2009, an amazing growth.  And 2014 was the year that saw the creation of the Deyan Institute of Voice Artististry and Technology (see here), the world’s first campus dedicated to audiobook production. Yes, audiobooks have come of age! Enhanced e-books, containing music and possibly video clips, long announced…

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39 YEARS AND COUNTING

One of the first photos of Marsha and I. We'd only been together a few weeks and were on location filming my outdoor-adventure film "Don't Change My World."

One of the first photos of Marsha and I. We’d only been together a few weeks and were on location filming my outdoor-adventure film “Don’t Change My World.”

Today, 12 December 2014, Marsha Roberts and I celebrate our 39th anniversary. Okay, maybe this is inappropriate for a blog but I don’t really care. It’s my blog.

We met while I was filming a big barn dance scene for an outdoor-adventure movie (very popular genre at the time) I wrote and was now directing. We needed lots of extras so we told everybody who was working on the film to call up relatives, friends, friends of friends, anybody who had a pulse, to show up. Marsha showed up because she was a friend of the cameraman’s mother whom we had already drafted to play a bit part. She brought Marsha with her.

I was in the middle of the barn positioning a couple of hundred extras when Marsha walked in the door. I saw her. I froze in space. So did every other guy in the place. It was like the old westerns when the hero walks in the saloon and the music suddenly stops and everybody turns and stares. Our eyes met and time literally stopped.

But I had a movie to make and quickly got back to work. I did notice that she was getting more hits than an Amazon give-a-way of a Stephen King novel. My heart sank thinking that by the time I finished shooting there wouldn’t even be bones left to pick over.

We finally wrapped about 2:00 AM. Earlier I had to shoot an exterior scene of the lead characters arriving at the dance. It was pouring and my fuzzy coat soaked it up like a sponge. Now that the lights were turned off, the temperature inside the barn dropped to near freezing and I was sitting in a folding chair out of the way, my teeth chattering.

I noticed somebody standing near me and looked up to see Marsha. She smiled with a twinkle in her eye and said the greatest opening line I’ve ever heard, before or since: “You look like you need someone to keep you warm.”

I was too dumbstruck to even speak. She sat down in my lap and put her arms around me.

She’s been keeping me warm ever since.

Bob&MWR-B-Barfield2

MARSHA’S VERSION

It was a bit wintry in north Georgia that night, in the 30’s and raining. The place they were shooting in was an old barn that had been outfitted for a dance, complete with a stage for the country music band and square dance caller. I was one of hundreds of people who showed up to be extras. There were dozens of cast and crew members hanging lights, dealing with make-up and costumes, moving around their new location in organized chaos. All of this activity centered around one man, the director, Bob Rector.

I was dressed in the warmest coat I had – it was honey-brown leather designed like a jacket, but it was full length. It had a broad lapel, big buttons up the front and a wide belt that showed off my trim twenty-three year old waist. When I walked into the Barn Dance that night, I was walking into a group of guys who had just come back from a month of shooting in the mountains of North Carolina, deprived of female companionship as it were… I have to admit, all hands on deck stopped what they were doing and turned directly towards me when I started to take off my coat. They just had to find out if what was underneath the coat lived up to the promise. Hey, I was twenty-three!

This is where my story differs from Bob’s. As far as I could tell, he didn’t look up from what he was doing, he was too busy. It looked like everyone except Bob turned, which was very disappointing!

Eventually I found a spot right behind the camera where I could see the filming better and I could watch how Bob pulled each element of the scene together. I couldn’t help but notice he drew everyone in the room towards him like a magnet. Especially me. He was not a tall man, but everything about him commanded authority, particularly his eyes, which were intense and smart. He had a stocky build, dark shoulder length hair, a full black beard and wore a Greek fisherman’s cap. His face had the look of a king from some ancient land. Yes, he was that compelling.

As they started filming, something happened that changed the course of my life. One of the characters in the shot started clowning around and the very serious and focused Bob Rector burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. He laughed from the bottom of his feet to the twinkle in his eyes. He was like a big kid. I fell in love with him right then and there, watching him laugh.

The rest of the scene played out just as Bob described. I didn’t think of the line before I said it, it just came out like that.

As it turns out, there were dozens of times that Bob and I almost met before that night. But the timing wasn’t right. We have traced our steps back to the beginning of what lead us to be together that night, finally at the same time and same place after so many near misses. There is no doubt we were guided by the Hand of Fate. And what is Fate, but God. We were lead to each other by God and I am eternally grateful for His intervention into our lives that night.

We have had 39 years to prove that love at first sight is real. Here’s to the next 39!

Rector+MarshCrop72


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CROWD FUNDING FOR A BOOK — CASE STUDY

My wife and business partner Marsha Roberts has produced a long list of projects for outfits like Coca-Cola, IBM, Revlon, General Mills, and assorted branches of the military. She was once asked to explain exactly what a producer does. “Lunch,” she said.

Marsha Roberts performing her producer duties

Marsha Roberts performing her producer duties

Funny, but every entrepreneur knows what she’s really saying. The best way to close a deal is face to face and that means being there and that means travel and lodging costs, cab fare, restaurant tabs, and if you’re a woman, clothing and salon expenditures. In other words, it takes money to make money. Not original, but true.

The project Marsha is currently producing is for her book, “Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer and Her Parable of the Tomato Plant.” The book so far has sold several thousand copies and received rave reviews through normal social media outlets.

MWRBookOnly

Her goal now is to expand her presence into the general bookselling marketplace and to use crowd funding as the mechanism to finance her endeavor. Rather than try to explain what crowd funding is (if you don’t already know), just click on the Kickstarter or IndieGoGo logos here to get the full scoop.

indiegogo-logo2kickstarter-logo

Marsha started by establishing an account with IndieGoGo (no cost involved). She felt it was more simpatico with the creative nature of her project. They provided a template into which she dropped the kind of info you’d expect: personal bio, project description, detailed info on exactly what you’re trying to raise funds for and why, etc.

The catch is in the etc. A clear and compelling reason has to be made as to why your project is worthy of someone’s donation; particularly why it benefits them as well as you. It is also customary to provide ‘perks’ for those who donate funds at certain levels. For Marsha’s project these range from signed copies of her book to custom “I’m A Mutinous Boomer” T-shirts.

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But the centerpiece of a crowd funding home page is a video pitch about 4 or 5 minutes long, which is posted on YouTube. IndieGoGo automatically links it to your home page. Fortunately, Marsha and I both have decades of experience in film, video, and stage work so making the video pitch was not a problem. Here’s how we went about it.

Like any video production, it started with writing a shot-by-shot shooting script. We worked on this together and went through about a dozen drafts before we were happy with it. A lot of thought was given to setting and general approach. So many people who have read Marsha’s book said they felt as if she were sitting across the kitchen table, chatting with them over a cup of coffee. That’s what we went for.

We decided to shoot it in our dining room, but the wall was covered with curios we had collected during our travels around the world. When they were removed, we had a plain white wall. I shot a few tests of Marsha at the table and it was quickly obvious that the white wall was just too overpowering visually.

An early lighting test. The wall had been painted and the artwork temporarily propped up.

An early lighting test. The wall had been painted and the artwork temporarily propped up.

Our friend Richard Harrison, who did the cover art for my book Unthinkable Consequences, served as art director and decided to paint the wall a light beige. I shot more tests and the beige wall worked perfectly.

Rick then took a floor length painting Marsha had given me years ago showing an open French door leading out to a veranda overlooking the ocean. He used it to break up the wall and provide a feeling of depth. Opposite, he placed a pedestal topped with a flowering plant. On the table itself Rick artfully arranged Marsha’s laptop, several copies of her book, her Kindle and iPad, and a cup of coffee. The ‘set’ was ready.

Marsha picked out several outfits she thought might compliment the warm tones Rick had established and I shot tests of her in each of them. A red outfit trimmed in black worked best. It drew the viewer’s eye to Marsha, which was what we wanted, but blended in with the other elements in the frame.

A freeze frame from the finished video.

A freeze frame from the finished video.

We spent a day preparing to shoot. This consisted of lighting and makeup tests, shooting a few cut-a-ways such as her book on a bedside table, and rehearsals so that Marsha could feel comfortable in front of the camera and get her pacing right. Good pacing is essential in a pitch video. Frank Capra explained it to his actors this way: do your scene at the pace you feel comfortable with, then speed it up 25% and it will look right on the screen.

At the end of a very long prep day our microphone blew up on us. This was the small lavaliere mike Marsha would be wearing concealed under her clothing. While replacing the battery something snapped and it was dead as the proverbial doornail. To replace it with a compatible mike would take several days. We decided this would create too many negatives. We were set and Marsha was primed and ready to go.

The solution was to use the built-in mike on the camera. Not a great solution but workable even though it added a bit of a hollow sound because of the distance from Marsha to the camera. I shot several tests and found it was noticeable but not distracting. We decided we could live with it.

Getting ready for another take. Holding the slate is artist Richard Harrison, who served as art director for the video.

Getting ready for another take. Holding the slate is artist Richard Harrison, who served as art director for the video.

It took us two days to shoot the 4-1/2 minute video. Why? There were the usual interruptions that occur when shooting on location: trucks rumbling by, aircraft passing overhead, the guy across the street with his leaf blower, dogs barking, car doors slamming. Face it; we live in a noisy world.

We didn’t have a teleprompter, so Marsha had to memorize long passages, many of them filled with tongue twisters.

Only enough of the wall was painted for framing purposes. Notice I didn't bother to retitle the slate.

Only enough of the wall was painted for framing purposes. Notice I didn’t bother to retitle the slate.

Adhering to the accelerated pacing while keeping her energy and enthusiasm levels high also resulted in a number of blown takes. But Marsha came through like a champ (she always does) and by the end of the second day of shooting it was ‘in the can.’

There were a number of graphics that had to be created then converted to video, but I’m pretty good at Photoshop, so no problem. A number of photos also had to be converted to video complete with leisurely zooms and pans. For this I used a program called StillLife.

I edited our opus with Final Cut Pro which allowed me to fine tune color correction and density, add a few dissolves, drop in superimposed titles, adjust sound levels, and bookend the video with a short piece of music. Total editing time was about a day.

We posted the finished video to YouTube as instructed and voila, Marsha’s crowd funding campaign was ready to go live. To see how it all came together, click here.

The funds we’re trying to raise will be used to hire the services of a professional publicist who can secure Marsha and her book targeted media exposure beyond the reach of social media. This will include interviews, personal appearances, and book signings, which in turn will require travel expenses. There will also be advertising costs. If you are an indie writer, I hope you’ll visit the campaign site and see what we’ve done. This is a learning process and we want to share what we learn with other writers.

As many of you know, we toured our play Letters From The Front around the world for 15 years so we know what’s involved in getting the word out. We know how it’s done because we’ve successfully done it. Now we’re ready to do it for Marsha’s book. In the process, hopefully we’ll discover a pathway that other writers can follow and benefit from. Support from our fellow scribes can help pave that pathway.


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MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR NORM CLARK

Joining me today is Norm Clark, author of the spy thriller The Saladin Strategy. While reading his book, hints of who he is as a person seeped from the undertone of his writing style, and much of it I could identify with. For good reason as I learned after communicating with him.

We were both born in the midwest and our careers have taken us to many colorful places both in the U.S. and abroad. We were both military brats, him as a youth, me as an adult (long story). We’ve both done gigs in Yokosuka, Japan, though not at the same time. And we both wrote our first novels in ‘later years.’

I was so taken with The Saladin Strategy that I wanted to get to know more about what makes Norm Clark tick and share it with you on my RectorWriter’s Blog. To read my review, click here.

Norm Clark's slam-bang thriller 'The Saladin Strategy.' Click on image for Amazon page.

Norm Clark’s slam-bang thriller ‘The Saladin Strategy.’ Click on image for Amazon page.

RECTORWRITER: Norm, thank you for participating in my version of ’21.’ We’ve corresponded over the past year or so through various social media venues and have established a rapport as writers. In my review of your novel The Saladin Strategy I described it as “a slam-bang adventure story that moves at the speed of a Hellfire missile.” What’s the genesis of this fine book?

NORM: The storyline was born from an actual incident of a missing nuclear warhead six years ago and the resulting cover-up. I did take literary liberties with the end result for the benefit of the story. A major underlying premise for the book series is the importance of re-election to incumbents as opposed to our national security, which is a major component of the story.

RECTORWRITER: After reading Saladin, I assumed you must have had some experience in intelligence work because the labyrinth twists and turns woven into the plot and characters have a distinct ring of truth. How did you go about researching the inner workings of the spy world?

NORM: Growing up a Navy brat in San Diego created a military mindset that allowed me to become friends with several special-ops people in my adult life—Navy Seals, a Force-Recon Marine, and a Viet Nam era pilot for the CIA’s Air America. Their anecdotes and mission stories shared over many sessions of liquid refreshment provided untold hours of entertainment. Years later, at the onset of my writing career, the details from those conversations surfaced and became solid input for my books. The research came from a variety of sources: the headlines, Internet, local library, and television documentaries.

Author Norm Clark

Author Norm Clark

RECTORWRITER: Tell us a little about how you created the main character Jack McDuff.

NORM: The protagonist needs to be the focal point of the necessary conflict in fiction. Therefore, when I created Jack’s bio at the start of the series, it set the stage to force Jack into unsanctioned, rogue missions, which carries an underlying conflict theme throughout the stories.

RECTORWRITER: Tell us a little about how you formulate your plots.

NORM: For me, a factual event or scenario provides the most realistic seed to build a story around. Once decided, I create a minimal outline—start, turning points, and end. All are subject to change throughout the manuscript construction. When writing, I tend to outline one to three chapters ahead to stay in touch with my characters, their interaction, and the plot directions.

RECTORWRITER: Talk to us a little about writing good dialogue.

NORM: We’ve all heard the ‘Show don’t tell’ advice a thousand times. While a small amount of tell can be needed at times, I try to keep it to a minimum. Proper dialogue is a key element in fiction. It moves the story along to keep it from bogging down, introduces new information, escalates conflict and tension, and can give the reader a ‘cliffhanger’ to turn the page to the next chapter.

RECTORWRITER: What did you enjoy most about writing The Saladin Strategy?

NORM: The entire creative process was fun, but the times the story seemed to write itself was the most interesting for me. When I read what I input at those times, it was new to me, which seems crazy. It still needed editing however.

RECTORWRITER: Yes, when you reach the point where auto-writing occurs, that’s the best. What did you enjoy least?

NORM: The tedium of self-editing shared by many writers, and I am certain your name belongs on that list Bob, can be a painful process. For example, all writers can relate to that once perfect sentence in the draft that no longer works due to a rewrite and must be deleted for the quality of the finished product. Ouch!

RECTORWRITER: In film editing it’s called the face on the cutting room floor. In writing I guess it’s the words on the cutting floor. What attracted you to writing?

NORM: L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz turned me into a voracious reader at about the age of eight, but the writing bug surfaced in my mid-twenties when Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett planted the writing seed and prompted me to buy my first ‘How to Write Fiction’ book.

Norm and his wife Pamela vacationing at Mt. Rushmore.

Norm and his wife Pamela vacationing at Mt. Rushmore.

RECTORWRITER: I was inspired by Follett too. What other writers have inspired or influenced you most and why?

NORM: My early-adult reading was consumed by Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler who planted my head squarely in the mystery genre. The epic phase followed with Leon Uris’s Exodus and The Godfather by Mario Puzo, which thrust me into a lost weekend and prompted the purchase of another ‘How to Write Fiction’ book. More recent authors include Lee Child, Daniel Silva, and Brad Thor, who write in a similar genre to mine and serve as successful examples for me. I would be remiss if I did not mention your great book Bob, Unthinkable Consequences, which is a great example of an outstanding indie publication.

RECTORWRITER: Describe Norm Clark to us when he is writing.

NORM: His world is arm’s length when in the writing zone. Distractions are a death knell to the creative process.

RECTORWRITER: I hear you. What person has influenced your life most and why?

NORM: Unquestionably, my wife Pamela has impacted my life more than anyone else. She supports and understands my need to write, and prods me forward when I get lazy. So, hats off to the great lady in my life.

RECTORWRITER: Are your characters drawn from life, fabricated from the needs of the story, or developed in some other manner?

NORM: Fiction characters are created from a writer’s total experience with people in their lives. We draw on past friends and associates, family members, and total strangers encountered and observed for our character’s appearance, personality, and demeanor. There are times, however, we just make them up to fit the plot situation—whatever it takes.

RECTORWRITER: Well said. What other fields or professions did you work in before becoming a writer?

NORM: Most of my working career was spent in the ceramic installation field, with a notable exception. I spent three-and-a-half years doing wine and liquor promotion for a topnotch importer in New York, which was great fun and allowed much desired travel.

RECTORWRITER: How do you feel about the world of indie writing/publishing in its current state?

NORM: The indie business has realized exceptional progress from the growth of the electronic age with no end in sight. Major publishers denigrate the quality control of indie products on one hand and have jumped on the digital bandwagon on the other. They cite their expertise as necessary to improve the industry, but, in my opinion, their overall print output through the years disproves that claim. I’m convinced their interest in the ebook market is purely from a profit perspective with the price to be paid by indie-writers and the reading public. There may be a battle, but we have some big guns on our side too.

RECTORWRITER: How do you think it can be improved?

NORM: To my thinking, the 80/20 rule applies, where eighty percent of the sales are generated by twenty percent of the available product. Perhaps, the creation of truly, independent and unbiased reviewing companies to rate the indie products could be of benefit.

RECTORWRITER: Many indie writers share your sentiments. If money was no object, what would you do with your life other than write?

NORM: This is a no-brainer for me. I would resume my traveling days. There is however, a caveat here—the new sights, people observed, and cultures learned, would stir my writing blood and drive me back to the keyboard.

RECTORWRITER: What has been your most disappointing experience as a writer?

NORM: My first publication received a review with the header ‘Could be better’ and drove a dagger in my heart. However, when I read it, I realized it was a positive three-star review with great constructive criticism, and I derived much benefit from the input. No author, regardless their last name (ie: King, Grisham, Patterson, etc.) will publish a book loved by every reader. They receive their share of negative reviews. The most frustrating thing for all authors are the cruel, mean-spirited reviews received for no apparent reason, but they are part of the life we choose to live.

RECTORWRITER: What has been your most satisfying experience?

NORM: The host of unsolicited, unbiased reviews received from readers (many of them peers) that validate my choice to be an author. Quality reviews are the lifeblood of all authors.

RECTORWRITER: What do you think are the biggest pitfalls for aspiring writers?

NORM: Fledgling writers have no concept of the commitment required for even a modicum of success for their masterpiece. The learning curve is steep and infinite, but it is a reachable goal if they remain dedicated to their dream. Most do not realize they need to write a good book, properly edited, with a great cover for any chance at a successful publication. It is a long, hard road to a rewarding conclusion. If any would-be writers are reading this, do not be discouraged, it is a wonderful trip with many good friends made on the journey. Make up your mind to commit to your dream and start writing.

RECTORWRITER: How do you define success as an indie-writer?

NORM: Your peers and readers judge your validity as an author in many ways. The aforementioned review process with continued and growing sales issues the verdict on your success in the marketplace. My peer’s acceptance is of equal importance for me. Their interaction demonstrates acceptance in the writing community. This interview invitation from you Bob is a perfect example of the support rendered, and I thank you very much.

RECTORWRITER: My pleasure, Norm. Any other books in the works?

NORM: Book three of The Jack McDuff series, though untitled as of yet, is officially a work in progress. I hope to start writing very soon.

RECTORWRITER: In that case, I’ll let you get back to your keyboard. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you better. Thanks Norm.


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LETTERS FROM THE FRONT NOW AVAILABLE IN PRINT & KINDLE

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

What’s the difference between writing novels and writing plays? Both involve the ancient craft of storytelling. Both use words as the essential building blocks. Beyond that, well . . . Having done both, here’s what a play means to me.

Standing Os. Cheers. People coming up to me and shaking my hand, saying thank you, telling me what my play meant to them. Face to face. Night after night.

Wouldn't it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

Wouldn’t it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

We seldom get that response with our books. Perhaps at a book signing. Or when somebody writes a particularly flattering review. With my play Letters From The Front, I got it after every performance, year after year, all over the world.

I wish every writer was able to experience that.

MargueeHutchinson

After releasing my one (and so far, only) novel Unthinkable Consequences, I’ve often wondered how people responded when they read it. A few have been kind enough to leave enthusiastic reviews, but that was after they’d read the entire book and had time to analyze their feelings toward the work.

It’s very different with a play. The reaction is spontaneous and continuous. Night after night I sat in the dark with hundreds of others and watched and listened to their reaction while the performance was in progress. A laugh here, a tear there, a gasp, a groan, shuffling in their seats when their attention wasn’t being held completely, leaning forward when it was.

aud-react1

Do people react that way while they read our books? No doubt they do. We’re just not there to see it. Its been hard for me to get used to that.

That little observation aside, what is Letters From The Front about?

It’s been called an emotional roller coaster. I’ve watched audiences ride that roller coaster enough times to know that there’s evidently some truth to the statement. CBS Evening News called Letters From The Front “A patriotic tribute to the men and women who so bravely serve.” NBC’s Today called it: “A wonderful show.” The Shreveport Times said it was “A tear-jerking, hand-clapping, mind-blowing stroll through history.”

I guess it’s all those things.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

Here’s the official blurb: This play weaves actual letters to and from soldiers and their loved ones going as far back as Valley Forge, into a story set during the waning days of WWII. The personal themes in the letters are honestly reflected, as is the commitment of everyday Americans to preserve freedom.

Popular essayist Katharine Hartgrove, whose son is fighting in Northern Italy, has been commissioned to write a play based on these letters. She enlists boyfriend, Johnny Chastain, America’s favorite radio wise guy, to assist her. He provides an unseen twist to the story, along with plenty of comic relief. When the laughter and tears subside, Johnny is the most unlikely of heroes and Katharine is healed from emotional scars that have haunted her for 20 years.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she's been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she’s been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

Letters From The Front is a heartfelt and surprisingly humorous story of heroism, hope, and redemption.

Okay, but to me what the play is about is better summed up by a statement made by Katharine Hartgrove midway through the show:

“To me, this play isn’t about individual wars or the politics behind them or who was right or who was wrong. It’s about the fragile and precious nature of life. It’s about everyday people who suddenly came face to face with their own mortality, or the prospect of losing a loved one. It’s about people reaching out to each other, maybe for the last time. Each of these letters was affirmation on the part of the writer that at their darkest moment they were not alone.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about people, what’s in their hearts, who they love, how they deal with life’s adversities. At the core is a conflict of massive proportions – World War II. Millions are thrown into the conflagration.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

But Letters From the Front focuses on just two people as they struggle to understand, adjust, put events into some sort of meaningful perspective, and discover the depth of their love for each other.

Maybe the song As Time Goes By captures the sentiment best: “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory.”

Inside the playbill handed out as people enter the theater there is a comment card. Over the years we’ve collected tens of thousands of them. Here are examples of comments from people who have seen the show.

Inside the playbills are comment cards

Inside the playbills are comment cards

~~ “I was touched beyond belief. I am a better person for having seen your show.”

~~ “I have never been so deeply touched as I have been with this production. You have brought the reality of the home front to light with such clarity and tenderness.”

~~ “You broke my heart and brightened my day. Fantastic!!”

~~ “Some of the best theater I have seen. Better than most from Boston and New York. Impressed!”

~~ “Uniquely heartwarming, tearjerking, hits home hard. Thanks.”

~~ “At the base of every conflict is the men and women who have fought it. The wants, needs, desires, and fears never change no matter the time or place. Your group presented this in a truly memorable way. P.S. I cried about ten times.”

~~ “It was without a doubt one of the most touching and patriotic shows I have experienced. It was filled with humor, tears, laughter, sadness, and a wonderful sense of being an American.”

~~ “Hits close to home, close to the heart.”

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Letters From The Front. Being a play, it’s a fast read. It’s available both in print and Kindle at http://goo.gl/ZQQGqN. You can learn more about the play itself at the blog https://lettersfromthefronttheater.wordpress.com/

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