Adventures in storytelling by Bob Rector

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aud-react1Question: Why does a playwright put funny lines in a drama?

Answer: So the actors will know there’s an audience out there.

Actors on stage have thousands of watts of bright light blasting directly in their eyes. The audience sits in the dark. This renders them virtually invisible except maybe for the first two or three rows nearest the stage.

aud-wipe-tearsA dramatic line may get an occasional gasp or sob if you’re lucky. Mainly it gets silence, even though it may be emotionally powerful for the audience.

A funny line gets a laugh – proof there really are warm bodies out there and they’re paying attention.

A generous sprinkling of humor throughout a dramatic play is as welcome as cheese sauce on boiled broccoli.

But what makes a humorous line tickle your funny bone?

The same thing that makes good suspense tingle your spine: Surprise.

3-2-back2backOne of the biggest laugh lines in my play Letters From The Front (having witnessed audience response night after night for hundreds of performances) is when Johnny and Katharine are having one of their many clashes of ideology. Katharine is tottering on the verge of sanctimony when Johnny suddenly says, “Hey, what’s that on your sleeve?” Katharine stops and looks at her sleeve, as does the audience, then Johnny says, “Oh, it’s just your feelings.”

Not what the audience was expecting. Big laugh.

But a funny line has to work within the context of the play. A gag just for the sake of a laugh is called standup comedy. Put that kind of humor in a play and the audience will be offended. They may even walk. And that definitely is not funny.

UC-EbookCov7Sep14This same rule applies to writing books. No, as the author you’re not going to be able to sit next to the reader and hear them laugh out loud. But I think that makes it even more essential. That’s why I loaded my novel Unthinkable Consequences, which is an intensely dramatic narrative, with generous dollops of humor.

Why? Because the relationship between a reader and an author is much more personal than the relationship between an audience and a stage production where the main focus is on the actors. With a book there is a trust, a bonding of sorts, between reader and writer. Skillfully executed humor lets your reader know you’re human.

Besides, humor is the greatest stress reliever humans have ever devised. Except for maybe money.




ShuttleLaunchFBOkay my new book is upright on the launch pad and centered so that the scorch marks from my previous launches are barely visible. I’d like to think of it as a gigantic NASA rocket surrounded by a gantry hundreds of feet high with clouds of liquid oxygen swirling around it. Anticipation is high as the countdown begins. In the control room the “ignition” button is flashing green. All systems go. Soon there will be a deafening roar and the very earth will tremble and off into the stratosphere and mesosphere and outta-here it goes. Next stop: infinity and beyond.

How’s that for dramatic flair?


In reality my book is more like a model rocket being launched from a couple of overturned cinder blocks in my backyard (look out birds!) and I’m kneeling beside it with a flaming match in my shaky hand trying to ignite the fuse, hoping that when it blasts off it goes up, up, and away and not sideways over the fence into my neighbor’s yard and generate a threatening call from his lawyer. Yeah, it’ll make an impressive roar when it takes off and it’ll shoot out red and white sparks that will make the kids in the neighborhood jump up and down and clap their hands. And after a few seconds of glory it will spit and sputter and fall ingloriously back to earth. But here’s the real kicker: you can’t shoot it off again.

Any of this sound familiar?

Author Claude Forthomme (click on image for info)

Author Claude Forthomme (click on image for info)

So I’m preparing to launch my latest book. It’s been proofed by people I trust. All the typos have been caught and corrected (I hope). My good friend and fellow author Claude Forthomme’s suggestions about changing the placement of several chapters have been implemented and the book is better because of it. Thank you Claude. All systems go, right? Well not quite. Haven’t got a cover design yet. Haven’t formatted it into any of the ebook formats. Haven’t written a synopsis yet. I do have a title but I’m keeping it secret until I really am ready to launch – that’s just how superstitious I am.

My dilemma is this: which launch pad do I want to blast off from?

I’ll be very candid and admit I’m only interested in blasting off. I’m pretty mercenary when it comes to my work; always have been. I’ve been creating content in the entertainment business for 45 years in film, TV, video, live shows and now books. Hundreds of projects over the years; I’ve got a storeroom full of the end results. The ones I have the fondest memories of are those that were the most successful. Egotistical? Probably. But the fact is that the most successful ones reached the greatest number of people. And isn’t that why we go to all this effort? Some say they do it for ego gratification or that they write because they have to. Fine, but I’ve got a wall full of ego gratification and yes I had to write too — or not get paid. Putting food in the bellies of my wife and kids and keeping a roof over their heads has always been my greatest motivation. To some this approach may seem crass and crude and maybe they’re right. Doesn’t change how I feel.


I’ve previously published two ebooks: Unthinkable Consequences and Letters From The Front. The latter effort was merely to make a play I wrote in 1991 accessible to those in the ebook market who have expressed an interest in reading it. Most plays are never published and are hard to come by. Unthinkable Consequences is a romantic suspense adventure that has received great reviews among readers and did moderately well in sales. I was new to this platform and I think I made just about every mistake a novice to self-publishing sales and promotion could make. I now question whether I want to go that route again and investigate more traditional methods instead.

I know most of you have faced this same dilemma. Many of you are authors whose work and opinions I respect. Perhaps you also have new books that you are pushing out onto the launch pad. How do you feel about it? I would love to hear your comments.



Click on image for info

Click on image for info

Happy to see that my book Unthinkable Consequences is still getting enthusiastic response. Here’s Grady Miller’s recently posted 5-star review:

“This book was recommended to me a while ago. Now that I finally opened it up I was neck-deep in a lusty, hard-boiled, hard-driving read that took me back to the scene of a movie that absolutely scared the bejeesus out of me as a kid, John Huston’s ‘Key Largo.’ I didn’t want to put it down though I blushed at the more heated scenes. Rector’s deft drama and subtle understanding of the contrasting and contradictory forces at work in people distinguish “Unthinkable Consequences” from run-of-the-mill kill and double-cross noir. His Paula, a 1950s housewife caught between passion and duty, is a vivid, breathing creation. Five stars for achieving a thriller that entertains while conveying human beings with all their thorns and roses. I’m looking forward to more from Rector…”

There is more. I’ve just completed a new novel that is now undergoing final editing and proofing and will be announced soon. This book is quite different from Unthinkable Consequences. It is a comedy satire in a contemporary Caribbean setting and pokes fun at just about everybody and everything in a world where nothing succeeds like excess. More details to come.

Click on image for info.

Click on image for info.

Meanwhile the script for my play Letters From The Front is also available. It’s a WWII story that takes place during the final days of the war in Europe. Interwoven into the storyline are a number of actual war letters written from the battle front and home front during every major conflict as far back as the Revolutionary War.

The good news is that the play is being revived and is scheduled to open Nov. 4, 2015 at Bob Harter’s Theater In The Square in Marietta, GA just above Atlanta. The play will run there through Christmas. The engagement will serve as the launch pad for a military base tour the following spring. Letters From The Front toured the world for 15 years and is known as “the world’s most decorated play.” Find out more about it at:

On July 1st Bob Harter (2nd from left) received the keys to Marietta GA's Theatre On The Square from owner Philip Goldstein (far right). On either side of Harter is Bob Rector (playwright/director) and Marsha Roberts (Producer) of LETTERS FROM THE FRONT. Harter originally starred in the play from 1992 thru 1996. He has since starred in movies and TV shows and founded Atlanta's premiere acting school with partner Della Cole (who also starred in the show for many years). Harter plans to bring a wide variety of entertainment to the venue including plays, music and comedy shows.

On July 1st Bob Harter (2nd from left) received the keys to Marietta GA’s Theatre On The Square from owner Philip Goldstein (far right). On either side of Harter is Bob Rector (playwright/director) and Marsha Roberts (Producer) of LETTERS FROM THE FRONT. Harter originally starred in the play from 1992 thru 1996. He has since starred in movies and TV shows and founded Atlanta’s premiere acting school with partner Della Cole (who also starred in the show for many years). Harter plans to bring a wide variety of entertainment to the venue including plays, music and comedy shows.

I hope you can see from these three works that I am not a writer who is locked into a specific genre. This is probably the result of many years of making films and videos on a wide variety of subjects. I found almost all of them interesting whether it was a documentary about the first time man and bird flew together or a feature film about the struggles of one man to preserve the great outdoors. It all boils down to good guys and bad guys, romance and heartbreak, suspense, humor, everyday life suddenly put into a tailspin, and above all the hopes and dreams of everyday people.

Or dogs. That’s my next book. I think. Still mulling it over in my mind. In the meantime if you haven’t yet read Unthinkable Consequences, please give it a try. Here’s what some other’s who’ve read it said:

“The plot is well-structured, a thriller full of fast-paced action, with unexpected twists and turns. The dialogue is lively, you can literally see the scenes unfold before your eyes. Paula is beautiful and combative” – Claude Forthomme

“A very touching portrayal of two people not just enjoying each other physically, but enjoying true love for the first time in their lives, a love where acceptance, protectiveness, in-sync bantering, and joy was very well portrayed.” – S. R. Mallery

Another version of the Unthinkable Consequences cover. Which do you like best?

Another version of the Unthinkable Consequences cover. Which do you like best?

“Bob Rector demonstrates profound knowledge of the human psyche, instincts and desires, interweaving some original insights into the life of the main characters, i.e. Paula and Kurt; thus rendering this written work a best-selling page-turner.” – Boyko Ovcharov

“Unthinkable Consequences provided me with everything I love about reading: a fast-paced plot with thrills, main characters seriously flawed, yet with hope for redemption, and a landscape lush with sandy beaches, laughing dolphins, and mangrove-lined streams leading to a mysterious and sensuous home.” – Patti Ann

“Mr. Rector has written an absolute masterpiece. I couldn’t stop reading once i got started. The characters had so much depth. The flow of the book is flawless and never gets bogged down. Don’t miss this true treasure.” – Amazon Customer

“Bob Rector’s writing style sated all my senses. I became intimately engaged with the characters, intoxicated with the author’s descriptive imagery, and found myself reading late into the night. He has a writing style I can only describe as signature Bob Rector.” – AquaJock

Image from the back cover of Unthinkable Consequences.

Image from the back cover of Unthinkable Consequences.

“The way the suspense is built is truly unique. Astonishing how accurate the writer describes a woman’s feeling…” – Amazon Customer

““Unthinkable Consequences” by Robert Rector takes place in 1959 Southern Florida where Rector’s creative storytelling talent takes us on a roller coaster ride of genres from erotic to hard-hitting action. Rector’s vivid writing forces you to turn the pages to the very end.” – Norman K. Clark

“A well-crafted, rapid-fire thriller about lust and betrayal amidst the mangroves, with intense, conflicted characters who are up to their tank tops in unthinkable circumstances. Well-written Largo heat.” – Dan

“I am wiping the sweat from my brow as I finish this spectacular book. What more can you need. Delicious lovers, wild sex, fab jewels, thrilling adventure, islands in the sun, good guys, bad guys and crazy action. What a brilliant concept as the unloved wife leaps into this wild affair and even wilder adventure. Very atmospheric descriptions that left me feeling as though Florida in the late fifties was certainly the place where all the action happens.” – 1D82 Many



Here in the good ol’ US of A this is the day we celebrate or at least acknowledge our feelings of patriotism. There will be parades and fireworks and cookouts just as John Adams predicted. This is the day American men prove they can cook as long as it’s over an open fire and there’s meat involved. This a day for pool parties and baseball games and family reunions and baking on the beach (look out for those sharks).

An over-the-top patriotic moment from my play Letters From The Front done to Stars & Stripes Forever. It gets ne of the biggest laughs in the show, especially from military audiences.

An over-the-top patriotic moment from my play Letters From The Front done to Stars & Stripes Forever. It gets one of the biggest laughs in the show, especially from military audiences.

Unfortunately there is one activity seldom associated with our Independence Day: reading; reading about how it all came about and the continuing struggle to maintain our independence during the past 239 years. That’s too bad because there have been some excellent books written on the subject.

AprilMorningCoverThe one that hit me like a sledgehammer when I was fourteen and my eyes had acquired the ability to see beyond the end of my nose was Howard Fast’s April Morning. Maybe it was because I strongly identified with the protagonist who was about my age and like me was struggling to put childhood behind and grasp what was expected of me as a man. Could I, would I measure up? My father and uncles who had fought in WWII were like monuments to me, strong, principled, unwavering in their concepts of right and wrong (with my dad it was either/or, no inbetween). Could I ever be like them? If I was confronted with the option of having to stand and fight for what I believed in at the risk of my life, would I?


Adam Cooper, the young protagonist of April Morning, faces these same questions. It’s April 19, 1775 in Lexington, MA and the redcoats are marching down a country lane ready to atack, their drums and boots heard long before they can be seen. The men of Lexington — farmers, shop owners, clergymen — gather in the village green, muskets in hand and wait, ready to stand their ground against the most powerful Army on the face of the earth.

So vividly did Fast describe this that when I read it I could see it, feel it, and my scalp tingled. The birds chirping in the trees as if it was just another day, the clatter of horses’ hooves, the grind of canon wheels on the dirt road, the rattle of sabers and bayonets, the pounding of Adam’s heart as he stood beside his father and wondered if his life was about to end. Thanks to Fast’s skillful writing I felt like I was there too, standing right beside Adam, struggling to catch my breath just as he was.


This was the book that did it for me, the one that made me want to be a storyteller. I wanted someday to be able to make readers (or viewers, since most of my work was for the screen) feel the way Howard Fast made me feel that hot summer day in south Georgia laying on the chenille bedspread of my grandmother’s bed, so absorbed in the book that Grandma actually had to call me to supper — and that had never happened before.

April Morning blew me away. A book is made up of white pages of course. So for me it was read, white and blew me away. Great patriotic experience.


I also highly recommend two books by master storyteller David McCullough: John Adams and 1776. Like April Morning these books are not just American history tomes, they sweep you up into the everyday sweat, blood and tears as a ragtag group of daring men and women stand against the ruthless tyranny of Great Britain. You see it, you feel it, you live it.

Last but certainly not least read His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis. Ellis shares Fast’s and McCullough’s ability to weave a spellbinding story filled with flesh-and-blood characters — not easy to do with a monument like our Founding Father. Ellis manages to make Washington human without ever knocking him off his well-deserved pedestal.


So after you’re stuffed with barbecue and you’ve put Noxzema on your sunburn and you’re ready for some quiet time, break open one of the above books and find out why we do this every 4th of July, what it really means. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

So what are your favorite patriotic reads? Doesn’t have to be about the Revolution, any period in American history where acts of patriotism were involved. A lot of that going on right this minute. I’d love to hear your thoughts.




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.

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?

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.


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.


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?



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.


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.


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 You can learn more about the play itself at the blog

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

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.

Claude Forthomme's Blog about Social Issues and Books

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 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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