Friday, July 4, 2014


Some days, like today, I hunger to get back to writing historical novels. I love all history, but I expecially love American history. Here's a small segment from a Fourth of July address I gave some years ago. It's based on a magnificent talk by David McCullough. I hope it adds an extra spark to your Independence Day festivities.

Washington's army must have known that just because it was right didn’t mean it would be easy. They had endured devastating losses on the battlefield, smallpox, typhoid, typhus, and epidemic dysentery. Men defected, men deserted. They were starving, and filthy, without any winter clothes and their numbers dwindled as the battles increased. More men died in prisons ands from disease than from war wounds. They crossed rivers during freezing winter storms and marched through a noreaster that caused the temperatures to plummet so badly that “two men froze to death on the march.” Though their numbers and circumstances worsened, Patrick Henry understood what carried them on. He declared:
 "there is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us."

Friends and angels perhaps. They never should never have won the Revolutionary War. Sherrie Dew, a corporate president and member of several international boards, puts it this way: “They were outmanned, outmaneuvered, outsmarted, and outgunned again and again by a superior British army, yet they prevailed. The only explanation is the intervention of God.”
On Dec. 31, 1776, all the enlistments for the entire army had expired leaving every soldier free to go home. Washington called the troops into formation and urged them to reenlist, promising them a large bonus if they did. As the drums rolled, he asked those willing to re-up to step forward, but nobody did. Many of their farms were neglected, their fields had lain barren and their families were starving. Despite their desperate poverty they were ready to reject the money. They just wanted to go home. Washington turned and rode away from them. Then he stopped, turned back and rode up to them again. Listen carefully to what he said:

 “My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstance.”
“. . .your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. . .”  Consider another general named Moroni who, like Washington, was attempting to rally his own troops by writing the necessity of the cause upon their hearts. The words he used are known as The Title of Liberty and they read:

"In memory of our God, our religion, our freedom, and our peace, our wives and our children,”
Words that touch upon the noblest of men’s sensibilities. Moroni’s words brought loyal men forward to defend their families and homes, and likewise, when Washington’s drummers began to roll the drums, the men began stepping forward. “God Almighty,” wrote Nathanael Greene, “inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.”

As beloved as he was, Washington could have set himself up as a king, but understanding that another form of government was desired for this land, he announced that he would not seek another term and that he would instead relinquish the Presidency. Imagine the thoughts of conquered King George III when he heard that Washington might do this . .  that the men who had led a rag tag army against the greatest army in the world and had beaten them . . . the man who was revered enough by his people to be catapulted into the highest office in the land . . . that this man would then turn and walk away from that position of his own accord against the cries for his people to remain there . . . When King George heard this he remarked,
“if he does he will be the greatest man in the world.”

 Character, integrity, honesty and a vision of the greater cause, “the glorious cause of America” is what made these people great. And it is what can and must make our generations great as well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Surviving the Synopsis

More and more writer friends are reporting that a synopsis or outline is now required by their agents and/or publishers. It sounds easy enough, right? You wrote the book, so how hard can it be to distill 1-2 pages of the manuscript's most critical plot points, characterizations, and its unique essence, and do it in a style that models your writing voice?

It can be harder than you think.

After asking agented friends for their best synopsis-writing advice, I jumped in and suffered through the paring-down process much the same way I did when abridging a book for audio production. The key is "selectively neglect."

First, prepare your query letter. Read, reread, cut, change, and tweak until you're sure it illustrates the uniqueness of your book. Now use those query points as the scaffolding for your synopsis.

Outline or list the MC goal, primary opposition, and the resolution.

Now insert key plot points that support the story, and the twists and obstacles upon which the action turns.

Pare the list down to the absolute most critical points, and expect to suffer a little as you selectively neglect some seemingly delicious moments in favor of more critical ones.

Write what you've selected in a story format that reflects your writer's voice, and walk away.

Return, reread, edit, and walk away again. If you're within the agent's length parameters, (usually 1-2 pages,) repeat the edit, read, walk away advice a few more times asking yourself if what you've written succinctly summarizes what's special about your book. If it does, great! If not, cut some more and then reread, edit . . . You get the picture.

Get some fresh eyes on this baby. Beta readers are a writer's heroes!

Good luck.