“Our memories aren’t perfect.” – Brent McLaughlin, writer

In my latest interview, I posed a question to my friend, Brent McLaughlin, what it was like to journal on a regular basis. Aside from giving our thoughts a place to rest, Brent summed up his experience like so: it’s a means to look into where I’ve been; where I’ve come from. Because as he put it, “our memories aren’t perfect.”

I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement.

I’ve never been good at keeping a journal. I make time for reading in the morning. I make time for writing the next chapter of my book. But, when it comes to decompressing my thoughts in a journal form, I just don’t do it. And as of late, I wish I did.

Rushing from one thing to the next in life can make us feel like hamsters on a wheel. Most of us are good at setting goals. We look at our resources. We set our parameters – and we go for it. Yet we don’t always know how or what brought us there once we make it (if we even do). I believe if we took more time to reflect on what it was that got us through, we might appreciate our accomplishments more. We may slow down more. We may even enjoy our lives more.

Because, again, our memories aren’t always perfect. And we need those little reminders as often as we can get them.

The Writer’s Lens – On YouTube now!

I’m happy to announce every one of my podcast episodes can now be found on YouTube.

So not only are my interviews on YouTube, but every one of my individual episodes too.

And if you’re someone who doesn’t like doing the YouTube thing – no worries – you can still find me at iTunes and Podbean.

Because not everyone needs a visual to go with their audio, of course.

 

“How old are veterans anyway? I wanted to change that perspective.” – Dr. Robert Snyder, author of “What is a Veteran, Anyway?”

Veterans’ Day has come and passed. Yet, I am reminded of a great conversation I had with a veteran – and author – who was kind enough to let me interview him. On both fronts: being an author and being a veteran.

Dr. Robert Snyder is a professor, author, and former Iraqi war veteran whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a book signing back in October. He was covered from head to toe in military garb, and when I asked what he’d written a book about, I was (somewhat) surprised to find that he’d penned a children’s book. Its title was What is a Veteran, Anyway? And after some conversation, I asked him to appear in an interview for my podcast, The Writer’s Lens. When he agreed, we were able to dig deeper into the inspiration behind his book.

Turns out, Dr. Snyder had a vision for teaching young people about war veterans – a concept I found as intriguing as his rationale for doing it (and I’ll paraphrase): “When you think about a war veteran, you may visualize someone well into his or her’s later years. But, not all veterans are like that.”

In addition to that, Dr. Snyder hopes to educate others on what a family may experience when one’s parent is overseas. I can say I’ve never had that experience as neither of my parents served in the military. But, I have had the experience of family (my eldest brother) and friends / acquaintances being in active duty. The strain of these circumstances can be relationship-threatening both abroad and back on home soil. Dr. Snyder tackles these bigger concepts in picturesque form that isn’t too gritty and isn’t too “child-like” either. His work has earned him the distinction of being the 2017 winner of the Notable Social Studies Trade Book award for young people and a rather rigorous tour schedule (see his photos from recent events here). 

To see my full interview with Dr. Snyder, you can hop on to YouTube. Or, if you’d rather audio over my smiling face, you can find the audio-only version on iTunes or going here.

You can also find Dr. Snyder on Facebook and Instagram.

 

“I was more invested in the process; not the product itself.” – Daniel Luketic, entrepreneur

A lot goes into getting an idea off the ground. Careful planning. Risk-taking. Gathering one’s resources. Creative endeavors are never small undertakings. And though one may think intangibles like divine inspiration or sheer determination separate the winners from the losers – there’s another trait I’d argue to be equally important: the willingness to fail.

When I interviewed my (former) college roommate, Daniel, we agreed beforehand that our main topic of conversation would be his first business venture. After graduation, I ran off into the insurance world while he got busy working for a startup. And while I was loathing my existence – drowning in insurance policies – Daniel was building technology for insurance agencies. A project which culminated with him selling the business off.

Sounds like not a happy ending. Or, rather, perhaps a failed one. But, Daniel had a different perspective.

I wasn’t interested in the product necessarily. I was more interested in the process. Learning how to troubleshoot. Learning to come up with solutions. 

I wanted to ask Daniel, why insurance? Aren’t there more lucrative and exciting industries to get involved in? That wasn’t the point though. In fact, the point wasn’t about insurance – it was about building a skill set and cultivating one’s strengths.

This was my greatest takeaway from interviewing my one-time bunk-bed-buddy. Yes, one ought to find a niche. But, we ought to be just as invested in learning how to build better work habits, i.e. troubleshooting, presenting solutions and then actually carrying out. How many times have you been in a workplace where nothing happens until something bad happens? I’ve been in those environments. They aren’t fun. And they don’t grow either. Personally or on the macro level.

Yet, by taking the vantage point of: what am I willing to learn from this experience? Then we’ve already put ourselves miles ahead of our competition. But, we must be willing to put ourselves out there. Make mistakes. Then keep going.

If you’d like to forego our smiling faces and listen to the audio-only version of the interview, you can check it out here.

 

“…often their last book and their first book are different. They’ve changed.” – Darrick Dean, author of Among the Shadows

My freshman year of high school was a landmark in my life. I started the year with dyed blond hair. I ended it with brown. I started with no experience playing varsity sports. I ended it as our baseball team’s starting shortstop. I started with no braces and ended it with a consultation that would lead to braces (again).  Lastly, I started with no girlfriend…and wait, I ended without one too.

Okay, so it wasn’t a complete landmark experience. But, there was plenty happening that year.

My friends, and especially my family, noticed the changes I was going through the most. Especially when it came to my outward appearance. I shot up about five inches. It was a much-needed growth spurt. For the majority of guys in my eighth-grade class had apparently been taking horse pills during the summer break. So I needed to grow. And thanks to father time, I’d been given the chance to do so.

But, I’d also changed on the inside. I’d gotten more confident. I made decisions faster. I prioritized things. I even broke some rules that year. I stayed out later with friends. I took risks. And though it was uncomfortable at times, I was beginning to navigate who I was as a young adult.

Yet, I did my best to stay grounded. I liked doing things outside the norm. But, I didn’t want to lose who I was as a person. Yes, I wanted to become more independent; more

Writing is often seen as an outward expression of inner workings. The things that make us tick, boiling to the surface and out. How we feel about our world and what we think it ought to look like according to us. Ernest Hemmingway once said about writing, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And there you have it – minus the blood.

When I interviewed Darrick Dean, a fellow author, he and I were discussing how writers cand change over time. How even the most seasoned scribes like Stephen King can sometimes change their habits. How writers can alter their styles and even deviate from their core content (see my first book vs. my last).

And though this can be true of the writing world, I don’t tend to stress about it. Style can change; much like a teenager in high school. The only thing I do want to concentrate on is my message; the themes I am engaging. The feelings I am leaving with my readers. This is something I want to have some consistency in. For I believe any great writer knows his words will outlast his lifetime. That he will be regarded (and remembered) by the messages he left behind.

In my case, I can look back and see how I’ve changed; some ways more drastically than others. Yet, I must be aware that this is all part of the process. Finding a voice. Owning it. And being cognizant of how to utilize it. Every writer ought to be aware of this; every good writer, that is.

Because even if you aren’t recognizing every little change in you, your readers most certainly are.

 

 

“We Couldn’t Find a Mentor. Nobody Could Help Us.” – Rachel Scott, co-author of Better Than Blended

During my first interview on The Writer’s Lens, I asked the co-authors of Better Than Blended, Willie and Rachel Scott, if there were any mentors who helped them come to where they were today. Who was it that made an impact? Who helped to put them in a position to launch their book and their ministry for blended families?

Their answer? No one.

Sounds like a scary place to be. You’re passionate about something. You have a mission; a project you want to come to fruition. But, how to start? And where? So wait, let’s see if there’s anyone out there who might be able to help us….

*insert cricket noises*

My own writing journey has often felt this way. In my downtime, I was often thinking, who out there is going to help me? Is there anybody? Anybody at all? 

When I first wrote a book, I had no idea how to get the word out. I figured I’d tell the people closest to me about it: my parents, my siblings, my co-workers. Those were safe places to start. So that’s what I did. And for a while, safe felt good. I could do the safe. Safe was manageable. Safe was comfortable.

But, safe didn’t produce a lot of growth (at least within this context). I needed to figure out how to make more of a buzz. And since there was no one in my immediate life who had any publishing or book-writing experience, I dove in head first and started swimming. And now, five years later, I’m still swimming. But, I’m doing so without a need for floaties. Or a rubber ducky. I have experience to rely on and in some ways, a chance to give mentorship to someone who is looking for it. I may not have had someone standing right next to me – much like Willie and Rachel – but as Willie and Rachel pointed out (and I’ll paraphrase), sometimes we have to walk through something so we can turn around and help others who have yet to go through it.

I found this to be very encouraging. Not only had Willie and Rachel found a calling – they’d walked into that calling and subsequently grew within it. And now they could offer the kind of mentoring and discipleship they’d hoped to have themselves. So, despite not having every piece in its place, they were able to move forward.

Yet another great lesson to be had. And one I certainly can relate to. As a writer and in my own life outside of writing.

 

Interview with Nic Saluppo: Overcoming personal obstacles

I have a special interview to share with you this week. And though each is special, this one is unique in that it’s in written form, not audio. A friend of mine and fellow alumni of Mount Union College (now University), Nic Saluppo, is a former track star and fitness enthusiast. But, he is also someone who works to inspire others via his vocation and through his social media reach. I won’t spoil what kick-started this desire to help others so you’ll just have to read more about it below (ha!). I had bugged Nic about doing an audio interview some time ago, but due to recent struggles with his vocal cords, Nic was not able to. However, he was gracious enough to send me some answers via email that I am now happy to share with all of you.

That being said, here’s that full text below:

Nic, thanks for wanting to be interviewed. I wanted to inquire about your desire to inspire others so let’s start there. You’ve had a blog for a while now where you share plenty of inspirational quotes and stories (even having yours truly on your site). What got you started doing that?

Josh, thanks so much for having me as part of your program. What got me started with wanting to inspire people is this: Life is short. A very simple concept, but very big implications. I used to live as if my problems were actually me. That is, I identified with my problems, rather than observed my problems. As I found healing from this condition, I noticed that 99% of the population was doing the same thing. Navigating life became so much more clear for me when I gained a new perspective of listening to what my pain had to say. This is in stark contrast to living as if I am my pain. Once I began learning from the inevitable pain that comes with life, the pain wasn’t so scary anymore. As mentioned, I began noticing that most people have no other perspective other than living to avoid pain. This causes people to sacrifice relationships and never take part in living out their God-given desires. My hope was that a new perspective would allow more people to embrace who they are, including the painful parts, and therefore not need to make the unnecessary sacrifices that go along with avoiding squarely facing the painful situations that are a part of life.

 

What’s a personal triumph you try to share with others? Or perhaps turned tragedy into triumph?

Nic Saluppo

I often share about my bout with depression. From the ages of 19-27 (I’m currently 33), I struggled with depression. Now, I don’t struggle with depression because I process my emotions as they arise. By processing what arises, no struggle is necessary. What was most significant about healing my experience of depression was that I needed to face some seriously scary, dark pieces of myself. I had to stop blaming others for my sad lot in life and begin looking at the fact that some of the painful experiences I’ve had in life were not my fault, but my emotions associated with those experiences were my responsibility. Nobody was going to fix me. Even if someone wanted to, they weren’t capable of doing so because the emotions causing the depression were inside of me. If the emotion is inside of me, then I am responsible for taking measures to resolve those feelings. As a result of taking responsibility for my depression (again, being responsible for my emotions is different than being at fault for them), I took drastic measures. I drove 90 minutes to Erie, PA every week to see my mentor, and I traveled all around the US to attend various workshops. The investment was a lot of time, energy, and money. If I didn’t take responsibility for my depression, I would still be depressed.  

 

Are there any mentors you’d attribute your successes to? Why were they helpful? Why were some not so much?

There is one man who was significantly helpful in my healing journey- Ron Gainer. After knowing him for less than 10 minutes, I could tell that he knew more about me and my situation than I did. In other words, he had walked the road before me. I still had to walk the road myself, but Ron was my guide. I drove to Erie PA weekly to see him for 5 years. A lot of time and energy, but I wanted to heal. Essentially, depression results from “stuck” emotions. Something on the inside needs to be processed, to move. I’m not talking about acute depression, but chronic depression that becomes a lifestyle. I met Ron at the age of 25, and before meeting him, I was taking medication for my depression and believing the lie that if my outer circumstances were to change, then I wouldn’t feel so bad. In other words, I was looking everywhere but inside of myself for the cause of the depression. Ron told me, “If you want to heal, you need to get off the medication and have the courage to look inside. Looking inside will be painful. It will be like walking through fire. But on the other side of that pain will be great joy.” LOL: I mean, how could I have known this? There’s no way I could have known this. Yet, Ron knew that this is what needed to happen if I wanted to heal the depression. Looking inside was painful. But, as it turns out, there was great joy on the other side of the pain. He knew the path.

How do you cultivate a creative edge to what you do?

Definitely meditation. Meditation is like clearing the road. It’s like laying out the red carpet so creative ideas can walk upon it. When I go into meditation, all the thoughts, worries, and anxieties about finding an answer dissipate. Then, when I come out of meditation, creativity simply arises with no effort other than being present to it. It seems that too much analytical thinking actually blocks the creativity that is beneath all of the endless thoughts. Take writer’s block, for example. It’s not a lack of ideas, it’s that there are tons of ideas swirling around in the writer’s head, but none of them are pertinent or relevant to the current piece of writing. None of them move the piece of writing forward. The creative answer is beneath all of those swirling thoughts. And, the way to access the creative answer is by dissipating the swirling thoughts through meditation. Once the swirling thoughts have dissipated, the creative response can arise naturally.

 

I know you from your running days at Mount Union. Do you still do that? What else do you fill your time with?

Haha. Sprinting on the track team was a big part of my life. I still do some of the sprint workouts. Interestingly, I also train sprinters. I’m currently training a sprinter from my alma mater high school who is almost definitely going to break my records. What I love about sprinting is that you get out of it what you put into it. Unlike football, for example, you can train your butt off all year, but if your teammates don’t do the same, then success may still allude the team. Sprinting is much more simple- if you train well, the time on the clock will be lower than it was.

I also read a lot of books and attend workshops, both about inner healing. I’ve found that the more I work on myself, the more I can offer other people.

I said Nic was a track star, didn’t I? Here’s the proof.

What would you say to people who say they’re constantly let down by circumstances? By other people even?

I touched on this earlier, but the first thing I would say is nothing at all. People first need to know that I care about them. When I facilitate workshops, groups, and one on one coaching for inner healing, the first thing I do is ensure that the person who is dealing with a difficult circumstance knows that they have been listened to. What they are experiencing truly matters. It’s hard and painful. But, there is a less painful way, and that is the way of inner healing. The fact that there is a solution to their problem doesn’t matter much if they don’t understand that the person providing the solution cares about them. When it comes to helping those dealing with intimately personal issues, depression, for example, providing a solution is much, much different than when it comes to less personal problems (repairing a flat tire, for example).

When it comes to issues of inner turmoil, a person must first know that they are cared about. Without this, your “solution” will fall on deaf ears. Mother Teresa talks about this extensively. Do a quick Google search of “Mother Teresa quotes,” and you’ll find quote after quote about simply caring for and about people. The reason this is true is because most people dealing with inner turmoil have an underlying issue of needing to know that they matter, that they’re cared about. If they keep going forward on the journey, people will eventually realize that they can care about other people. But, when a person is raised in a family incapable of offering them love, it will be very difficult to turn a corner in life until they encounter someone who does care about them simply for the sake of caring, not in order to get something. I see many well-intentioned Christians and pastors struggle in this area. “Here’s the solution to your problem!” they say. But, the true solution is caring for the person, not giving advice. Once a person feels cared about, they will ask for advice; it can be a mistake to offer it too early.

 

Are you a believer in hard work? Having God-given talent? Or both coming together somehow?

I’m a believer in smart work, plus paying attention to circumstances.

 

What would you like to be doing if you weren’t working at your current vocation?

Working in the area of inner healing is the most meaningful thing I can think of. Last year, I facilitated a great workshop. Since then, I’ve been facilitating small groups and one on one coaching. What I’m working toward now is having a piece of land where outdoor retreats can be held. So, although I admit there are times when I wish God would move things along FASTER (I am a sprinter, after all LOL), I can’t say that I’d like to be doing anything else. I’ve been looking at a few plots of land, so prayers from yourself and your audience are greatly appreciated—if I do end up finding the right piece of land, may it be a place of healing.

 

Lastly, do you have any endeavors like penning a book or opening a gym in your future? I’m all about writing books, as you know.

I definitely touched upon this in the previous question. However, YES. I do have more writing in mind for the future. Whether it’s an e-book, or a complete 225 piece of non-fiction, I’m not yet sure. It will depend on what will best bring healing to people.

Thanks so much for having me, Josh!

 

For anyone who would like to contact Nic directly about what he does or any other follow up, you can reach him at this email: nicsaluppo@gmail.com. 

Purpose in Reflection

Yesterday I was reminded of something.

That when you set a goal, you ought to track it.

So when you reach that goal, you can look back and see what it took to get there.

Case in point, I was reminded of a goal I set many months back. It happened during a radio interview I took part in back in March. I had stated I was going to do a podcast this summer – and guess what – I did. Not because I was entitled to it. Or because I had a magic formula at my disposal.

No, neither of those amount to much. It was persistence and focus that brought about these results. But, neither are worth anything if you don’t have some direction or purpose behind it (thanks to another friend of mine for that reminder too).

We can build big things. Make elaborate plans. Craft new and innovative designs; but unless we have purpose and direction, we are simply spinning our wheels. Yesterday I was reminded that purpose must be a driving force in all we do. Otherwise, we’re just wasting time in fruitless pursuits. As for me, I’ve always wanted to tell good and engaging stories. That purpose continues to push me into new and uncharted territory. And hey, that’s a good thing.

Yesterday, I was reminded of this. So today, I am encouraged to keep moving forward.

Character Dynamics in “The Road To Mars”

The Road To Mars follows, for the most part, a trio of characters (trying to be #SPOILERfree here). There’s Darion, my protagonist; Jack, the “thief”; and the Shepherd, my larger-than-life visitor from Mars. Each has his own agenda. Each is searching for something. And each may or may not take issue with someone in the group; unbeknownst to that person.

I know because I wrote it that way.

When I began fleshing out The Road To Mars, I envisioned it like a really bad family vacation. Nobody likes going somewhere – especially far away – with someone they don’t like. Or someone they’re not too familiar with. The Road To Mars is all about unfamiliar travel. Mars, by itself, is already an unknown landscape. But, in my story, it’s a haven. An escape. A place Darion wants to be. He wants out of the mess the Earth is in. The Pulse has damaged Earth with clouds that sap light and energy. The Earth, as far as Darion is concerned, is a lost cause. So he’s trying hard to leave it behind and get to Mars. Not just for himself, but for his daughter as well.

Jack, on the other hand, is more like a baby bird fallen from its nest. He’s survived the fall – survived the Pulse – but now he’s alone. Nobody is looking out for him. Until he meets Darion. And then, ultimately, the Shepherd of Mars. Jack has had little direction in life. He’s a got a bad seed in him, you might say. But, meeting Darion has given him direction. And the Shepherd has given him hope. Two things he’d never had before; and important to any person.

As for the Shepherd, his mere existence defies logic. He’s huge – more than seven feet tall. He’s built like an Olympic gymnast and speaks like he’s lived 10 lifetimes. Yet, all that power and wisdom is a cause for concern. Even for Darion, whose entire journey has been about finding said Shepherd. No man can be all these things in one. There must be a catch or something hidden. But, Darion – and Jack – are willing to see whatever that is till the end.

What I’ve just told you is incredibly important to any story: character dynamics. As much as I like the mythology in The Lord of the Rings and the universe where Harry Potter resides, I know neither of these stories would be worth their weight in salt if it weren’t for the characters. Where they come from. How they interact. Who they are driven to be next to. Or be in conflict with – all are imperative. For the characters push the plot. Push the agenda. And keep your audience interested till the end (Writer’s Digest has a good tutorial on this very topic).

For The Road To Mars I wanted to get this as right as possible. Each of my characters needed to feel natural. Needed to have predictable behaviors, yet be thrown into unpredictable circumstances. For it’s the unusual scenarios where development happens. Characters become more than a name on a page – they become (almost) like real people. Someone you or I can relate to. It’s key to telling any good story. And it’s key to transforming a book from I-read-five-chapters-now-I’m-done to, “Hey, when does the next one come out?”

I, for one, prefer the latter.

When a story “stays with you”

It’s 1989. I’m five. And it just so happens to be Christmas. I open my first present: a VHS copy of my soon-to-be-favorite movie monster, Godzilla. I watch it. It’s a horribly made dub, but I’m in love. Giant mutant dinosaurs wrecking cities with the theme of nuclear proliferation has me hooked. And from then on, I’m convinced the greatest thing I can do as a grownup is become a monstrous reptile myself (keep in mind, I’m still five at this point).

Flash forward to 1997. I’m in my English reading class. The teacher asks me what my interests are. I sheepishly admit science fiction and “monsters”. He selects Dune by Frank Herbert. I read through the novel – understanding little, but absorbing much – and when I’m done, I feel like I’ve been to another galaxy, another world entirely. One that’s full of monsters and sci-fi goodness.

Now, it’s 2013. A friend has been suggesting I read Ender’s Game for a long while. I finally take the plunge and read it. And I love it. Not only is it good (to me), but I find myself recognizing similar storytelling techniques that I might employ as a writer. Soon, the idea that I could write a full-scale novel comes alive. And I start writing that said novel, finishing in the latter half of 2015.

So what’s the point of all this? For one, I’m still a fan of Godzilla. For two, I am still a fan of Herbert’s original Dune saga and for three, I’ve read plenty more of the Ender series since reading the original Ender’s Game. Why? Because each of these stories had an impact on me. They had that “it” factor. But, most perhaps importantly, they stayed with me. We’ve all seen a movie or read a book we’ve found to be entertaining. But, was it good enough to come back to? Again? And then one more time? Aside from the three stories I listed, I can think of a few others that have had that affect on me. I’m sure you can think of your own list too. Often it’s just the right timing. Other times, it’s just our interests being realized through story. And yet, in some instances, it’s a good story that grabs us and doesn’t let go.

As a writer, I tend to desire many things: great sales, a following of dedicated readers, maybe a movie deal, to name a few. But, one of the greatest compliments I can receive is a reader who not only reads my work, but comes back a second time to read it again. And a third. And maybe even a fourth. Because that’s when you know you’ve written a good story. It stays with someone. It doesn’t end on the last page. It just keeps going, reigniting that magic you felt when you were five. And that’s a great feeling, as I can recall.