Monthly Archives: January 2013

Fiction and Storytelling as a Way of Visualizing Success

Authors are often surprised by the reactions of readers who seem to find things in our stories or arguments that we didn’t even see ourselves. I’m no exception. In fact, the way readers peel back the layers of my stories and characters energizes me as a writer as well as me personally.

I recently experienced this as I read reviews of A Warrior’s Soul, my middle-grade novel that traces the lead character’s evolution from a self-doubting and fearful victim to a leader willing to use his martial-arts skills to confront his middle school’s bullies. The martial arts could easily be seen as a plot device for ensuring the good guy, in this case Luke, wins, much like James Bond’s gadgets and high-tech weapons allow him to get out of impossible situations. I didn’t see Luke’s story that way, but I could see where some readers (and critics) might.
However, most readers, kids and parents alike, have recognized a more complicated plot line. A Warrior’s Soul is a story about a kid who needs to believe in himself more than anything else. His martial-arts skills, in fact, are useless because he doesn’t believe in himself. It’s only when he develops his own self-confidence that he begins to use the martial-arts skills for what they are: tools for solving a problem. Readers in the real world, it turned out, see in Luke’s story (and his best friend Lucy’s) a path toward resolving a seemingly intractable problem. In other words, my fictional story provided a way to visualize a real world solution.
I didn’t quite think of my story in this way until I read Tori Eldridge‘s excellent book Empowered Living: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection (a book I highly recommend). Tori’s book is a slim volume but chock-full of insight, common sense, and hard-earned practical wisdom. Among the nuggets that starting churning through my brain was something I knew from years of public speaking and participating in rigorous sports: Visualization is a critical component of success, even if the visualization is imaginary. As Tori says (p. 31), “The imagination is a powerful tool…. Studies have proven that repetitive visualization of a task results in the same, if not greater improvement than physically practicing the task.” 
And this is what A Warrior’s Soul (and probably Renegade) does for kids experiencing bullying. Luke’s path becomes a way for kids to visualize a way out of a nasty situation, even if they aren’t martial artists. Luke’s courage becomes their courage. Luke’s discovered faith in his own self worth and ability to stand up against violence becomes a way for real kids to think about how they can follow in similar foot steps. When a eighth grade teacher in Florida asked one of her students what he liked most about A Warrior’s Soul, his response was that it just seemed “really real.” He could see himself as Luke.
And adults respond similarly. For example, 
  • Becca Bryant writes at “With bullying being such a huge problem in today’s society I think this book really opens the door to teach not only young boys that they have a voice but also girls.
  • Pamela Wilson writes: “I would recommend this book to any pre-teen/teen boy or girl. It shows them what bullied children are going through, and positive ways to resolve the situation.
  • Adrian Moore writes: “I think this book will help teach kids to take charge of their problems, when adults can’t help them.
Honestly, I was taken aback at first by these comments (which are small parts of their larger reviews) because I didn’t intend for the book to be a “how to” guide on dealing with bullies. In fact, I include a disclaimer at the beginning so that it wouldn’t. This was supposed to be a good story with good characters, albeit grounded in a contemporary public school setting. 
What I’ve come to realize, however, is that fiction serves a very important role in the real world by allowing readers, whether young or old, to visualize, and perhaps even take, different paths toward solving problems in their everyday lives. That’s a very powerful, and humbling, insight into the power of our medium. 
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Dealing with Violence Against Women & Girls

One of my epiphanies writing Renegade centered on the role of violence in the lives of our children, both young and old. I’ve always wanted realism to be an essential part of my writing, stories, and characters, but I didn’t realize the degree to which violence was intertwined with the plots I seemed to instincitvely develop until I finished Renegade. Equally important, however, was a foundational value embedded in my stories: Violence doesn’t win the war. (For more on this, see my interview over at Writers4Higher (October 6, 2012).) Violent tactics might win a battle or two, but the ultimate solution has to involve either neutralizing the violence or avoiding it altogether.

This is why martial arts figure so prominently in Warrior’s Soul and Renegade. Martial arts is used as a self-defense technique, not a tool of aggression and domination. Even in The Pirate of Panther Bay, while violence is an unavoidable part of the plot–this is a pirate story!–it’s the love story and Isabella’s self-reflective discovery of the objective value of preserving human life that trumps the violence in the end.

In the modern world, however, the most practical way for individuals to defend themselves against violence, particularly bullying, is through training in self-defense. And martial arts provide the most comprehensive and effective way to develop the mental and physical skills necessary to neutralize the threat of violence.

This, of course, begs the question: Why don’t we see more people studying martial arts? Only about 1% of the US population has participated in some form of martial art. Moreover, most of these students are men and boys. Why don’t we see more girls studying martial arts?

I may be a good researcher, but I don’t have all the answers and I was curious. So, I convened a Roundtable consisting of some very acccomplished female martial arts practitioners and instructors and started asking them questions. The first question–why don’t we see more women and girls studying martial arts–is now live on my web site ( I will be posting the discussion on four additional questions throughout the winter and spring.

Hopefully, this roundtable will be begin a much broader discussion on the role of violence in our society and the ways we need to defend our selves against it for the purpose of defeating it. We owe it to ourselves and our children, and especially women and girls.

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Most Popular Posts for 2012

Well, the results are in, so to speak. The following are the top five blog posts in 2012 based on hits in this calander year (with date of original post):

1. How to Manage Sales Expectations (September 2011)
2. Suzanne Collins on Writing Novels (August 2011)
3. The Power of Movies (Versus Books) (March 2012)
4. Does a Writer Have to Sacrifice Story for Action? (February 2012)
5. Secret (Literary) Agent Math (June 2011)

Notably, three of the five stories were from 2011, suggesting once again that when we market we need to be invested for the long haul; it’s not a sprint.

Also, only Secret (Literary) Agent Math “survived” to stay on the Top Five list from 2011.

The high point the blog was in March 2012 when we received 2,512 visits! (We are averaging about 1,500 to 1,900 visits per month right now.)

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