Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Guest: Fiona Quinn

My Guest this week chose to put into words what many are feeling in their hearts at this moment. Ladies and Gentlemen...

As I write this article, the Friday 13th massacre in Paris just happened. Whenever there is a disaster either natural or man-made, I feel much more vulnerable and as a coping mechanism, I focus on the heroes. The ones who, while running for their lives, turn and grab the hand of someone. That choice often means life instead of death for a total stranger.

I was reading about a man at Bataclan who had been shot in the elbow and fell to the floor. From that vantage point, he could see the three gun men cold-bloodedly shooting those who lay around him. He rose up and ran for the exit, which was blocked by all those who were desperate to be outside and away from the deranged terrorists. He worked at moving forward and finally he felt the night air on his hand. And he thought, this is how I’ll die. Then, from outside, someone grasped his hand and pulled mightily. Pulled him right out of the body-parts-jumble that kept the people from escaping, and he landed, free and alive in the alley.

I watched a video of a pregnant woman dangling inexplicably from a window sill far enough away from the ground that if she lost her grip would mean her death. She held there for long moments.  I found myself counting the seconds under my breath because, from my time in the gym, I knew that after thirty seconds of holding one’s weight, things get dire pretty quickly. She held and called for almost two minutes. Finally, a stranger made the terrifying journey outside of the windows toward her, reached down, and suddenly she was safe.

These are the extremes hopefully none of us will experience. But as I learn about these events, it stirs a memory for me. One that to this day, ten years later, when I think about it, affects me as if I’m back in that moment. My eyes are red now, tears streaming down my face, it is that strong of a memory. I experience this overwhelming emotion every single time this event bubbles up for me.

I had surgery on my knee and my husband took me home. As I came back to awareness from the pain killers, I looked at my little girl, and I knew that she was about to die. I knew it as sure as I knew that I had a heart pumping blood.

It took me some time to convince anyone to listen to me – understandable to anyone who’s been near someone coming out of surgery. It took some more time to get the doctor to come to the same conclusion that I had come to. And it took time to get my daughter into the emergency department and under the care of the doctor who ultimately saved her life.

In all of that action and noise and horror, there was a moment which I would like to share. The doctor realized that my daughter had keto-acidosis -- a life threatening event which often precipitates the diagnosis of type-one diabetes. The ED doctor called my pediatrician so that she could be the one who broke the news to me, I guess because we had a rapport and I trusted her. The nurse who came to bring me to the phone must have known that the life-changing message was going to be passed through that receiver. And when I put the phone to my ear, she lined her body up with mine. She didn’t hug me, or lean on me, or invade that moment. But there was no space between where she stood and where I did, no light or air between our bodies.

I honestly don’t know what would have happened to me in that soul-fragile moment had she not done exactly that. It was so deeply human. It kept me sane. Thinking my six-year-old was going to die and then knowing that if she didn’t die that day, then she would be faced with this terrible disease . . .well you parents know. I don’t need to say anymore from that perspective.

But I’m telling you this story for a writerly reason. Sometimes the hand that is held out saves a life in an overt way like the heroes in Paris, and sometimes the gesture seems smaller – but it’s not. I can’t think of a time in my life when I have been touched so meaningfully -- that was as poignant to me. I never knew the nurse's name. I can’t remember her face. I was in shock, and I was desperate, and she was my anchor. That’s all I knew then, and all I know now.

When writing moments of personal desperation -- scenes that are explosive like the night of the Paris attacks, or scenes that are quiet like a mom, standing with a phone pressed to her ear at the hospital nurses' station – I always think about how I can include a tiny-gesture hero. The hero that with a brief moment of contact changes things enough that they are forever a vivid part of that recipient's story.

May you be blessed (whatever that might mean to you) and safe.

Fiona Quinn

(Message from Fiona to Eric: I would prefer not including anything with this article that would promote me or my books - I just wanted to share it as is)

Thank you, Fiona.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Guest: Nathan A. Goodman

My Guest this week has some serious advice (and a challenge) for those starting out as writers. This just may be the push you all need to finish that first novel. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Nathan A. Goodman

I don’t believe in luck

You still haven’t started writing that novel, have you? Surveys tell us that 80% of people just like you and I state that they want to write a book, yet only 1% ever do so. Why is that? If you are reading this article, my bet is that you haven’t started writing that novel yet. For each of us, the journey is a little different. Let me tell you about my own journey. Perhaps it doesn’t sound so different from your own. 

In 1992, I sat down and wrote a page of text. It was something that just spilled out of me, as if someone had begun to pour a glass of milk that overflowed the rim. I didn’t have control over the words spilling out, they just came. It was only a single page of text, but to this day, it is the single best thing I’ve ever written. Some of you reading this are scoffing right now. I can hear you. You’re saying, “Yeah, that’s great for him. He’s got words pouring onto the page, and I can’t think of how I’d even start to write.” And that may be true. With those first words, I was lucky. But those of us who believe we are lucky are actually the same people who make their own luck. I don’t believe in luck. I believe we are given a set of circumstances which surround us, and the “lucky” ones are the ones who take those circumstances and make something out of them. We forge our own way. In short, we decide. We decide to write. We decide to take action. We make our own luck.

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But how do you start? I didn’t know how to write a novel back then. I did know that I had enough creativity inside me to write, but I had no idea what to do next. To me, it felt like wanting to build a house with no help, and I didn’t even know how to create a set of blueprints. Fortunately, others have gone before us and written novels, and you can too. Enter a book written by the author Stephen King. This book was not another novel, this book was written for budding authors. In it King revealed the way he writes. He’s written books for decades, and his method of writing does not change. Once I learned how he does it, I was hooked. It was like I had suddenly found the key to what was locked inside me. I knew how to get it out. And, I felt so much freedom in what King was telling me to do, I felt unencumbered from any need to delay.

'On Writing' (Amazon Link) revealed the most simplistic of approaches to writing a novel. No outlines, no character studies, no research. In fact, no organization at all. So how does King do it? First, he sits down and thinks up a question. The question you think up will end up being the basis of your entire novel. 

Here’s an example. ”I wonder what would happen if a struggling, alcoholic writer (both these things described King at the time), were to take his family and become the winter caretakers of an old hotel during the isolated winter months. Oh, by the way, the hotel is haunted.” That question became the entire novel, 'The Shining'. Here’s an example question I created for my bestselling thriller, 'The Fourteenth Protocol'. “What if the CIA, in an effort to break a terror cell, followed the playbook that the Drug Enforcement Administration uses when breaking up a huge drug ring?” You see, the way the DEA conducts investigations is that they first make drug purchases from low level dealers. Then they make larger and larger purchases as they climb higher into the drug organization, until finally, they arrest everyone involved. So what would happen if the CIA started actually funding a terrorist organization with the same goal in mind? 

When I asked myself this question, I didn’t know the answer. But following Stephen
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King’s lead, I just began to write. I created a character and put him into the midst of this situation. Once I understood, I was free to just start writing. I didn’t have to plan everything. I didn’t have to map the story out. I didn’t have to think up each character and create a full personality profile and background on them. In fact, by creating a story this way (unplanned), I came out with a much better novel. Why did this method produce a much better novel? Because planning a story before you write it hamstrings the story. It boxes it into a set of parameters. If instead, you let it be unscripted, you have no idea where the story will go, and you’ll uncover amazing new thoughts and twists along the way. 

Whatever became of the one page of text I wrote back in 1992? It became the novel 'Twinkle', which was probably the most satisfying thing I’ve ever written. Now it’s your turn. I want you to take this one action item, right now, before you get back to email, raising kids, cooking dinner, or getting into traffic during your commute home from work. Go buy a copy of 'On Writing' by Stephen King. You never know just where it will lead you.

There is a novel inside you. It’s your job to get it out. 

This could be the beginning of something amazing.

Nathan A. Goodman is the bestselling author of 'The Fourteenth Protocol', a runaway thriller with over 150 reviews. For a limited time, receive a free copy at

When Nathan is not writing action-packed thrillers he can be found here:

Twitter: @NathanAGoodman

Thanks, Nathan, for sharing this invaluable advice. I've read 'The Fourteenth Protocol' and recommend it; it's a masterful page-turner!