Tag Archives: SR Staley

Knowing Terror

By SR Staley

I now know why people die in riptides. And the experience was my first confrontation with sheer terror. I have known for a while that I am not a strong swimmer, but I thought I had taken all the appropriate measures to protect myself in the surf. In fact, I had swum safely in similar waves numerous times that day (and the day before) under the same conditions. What made this experience different was a wrong step–literally about twelve inches–where I unexpectedly found myself in water over my head.

The swimming in the ocean–just 30 feet from shore–seemed so normal. I didn’t realize I was caught in the riptide until several minutes later when I tried to swim back to the beach. After several minutes, I realized I wasn’t making any progress. This riptide had the effect of keeping me in place. All those tips about letting the current take you out to sea until it releases you, and then swimming toward shore? No help here.

That’s when I panicked. The waves were breaking over my head and I couldn’t touch the sand below. I was tired because I hadn’t recognized I was caught in the riptide until after several minutes of vigorous swimming. My wife was less than 10 feet away, but I couldn’t call to her thinking at the moment that I would just pull her into the same quandary. The lifeguard was easily a football field away–watching the busier parts of the beach. In these moments, I suddenly realized one poorly timed gasp of air, or one unexpected break of a wave, would send saltwater gushing into my lungs. I wouldn’t be able to cough it out. I would go under, and there was nothing I could do. I would drown. I was going to die.

Obviously, I survived. Why am I here? It’s not because I became a miraculous swimmer, or experienced a surge of adrenalin that gave me super human powers. And it’s not because others recognized I was in severe trouble, or I was saved by a lifeguard. I did not experience the direct hand of God, or an angel. In the moment, I foolishly thought no one could help me.

No, I’m here for other, more mundane reasons far more relevant for a life that is not so terror stricken:

1) I recognized that I was trouble and resolved to do something about it,

2) I recognized that I was panicking, and took mental steps to calm myself. I owned my mental state, accepted it for what it was, and resolved to move forward. I was quite surprised at how simply acknowledging that I was in a panic actually helped calm me down and settle my mind. Acknowledging and embracing my emotional state gave me clarity and rationality because I could compartmentalize it.

3) I stopped using the strategy that didn’t work–swimming toward shore. Instead, in a move that probably saved my life, I decided to go nowhere by treading water. This bought myself time and allowed me to physically regroup.

4) I remembered what all that life saving advice from the educational flyers about riptides. Even though it would have been a lot easier to be in a riptide they described–one that was taking me out to sea rather than the one I faced that kept me in a perpetual state of high water–I understood the principle. I stopped fighting the tide. I paid attention to the waves and the direction of the surf. I used this knowledge to rise with the breakers and claim inches that seemed like millimeters toward the shore and safety.

The entire episode probably didn’t take more than five or ten minutes, but I have never felt the level of intense, overriding fear that I experienced in those moments. I believed Death was literally coming from underneath to grab me and pull me from this life. I have experienced extreme, even life threatening physical trauma in the past, but I have few memories and no feelings from it because my brain shut down. I have learned that this is normal for trauma survivors and it’s part of the defensive mechanism of the human body.

Terror is different, I have now discovered. It’s so visceral, so overwhelming, that it sticks to your insides in a way that reshapes your body and mind. I doubt that feeling of being overwhelmed by nature, of helplessness, will ever leave completely. But having survived this trial gives me a confidence, self-awareness, and personal strength that makes me stronger and, with a little luck, wiser. (Note to self and others: No more swimming when the red warning flags are up, no matter how many people are in the surf!)

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St. Nic, Inc. Makes Royal Palm Literary Award Semi-Finals!

I am pleased to announced that St. Nic, Inc., my reality-based action adventure about the North Pole, as been named a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards! The next step is for a judge to review and score the manuscript to determine if it makes it into the finals. RPLA_SemiFinalist_Badge

This is the furthest one of my novels has gone in this competition, so I am keeping my fingers crossed. RPLA’s award competition uses a rubric for scoring the manuscripts. Manuscripts that reach a certain threshold in overall scoring make it into the semi-finals and finals. The award winners are determined by a panel of judges.

Reason magazine has called St. Nic, Inc. a “comic thriller,” and award winning author Donna Meredith writes:

When the talented SR Staley tosses DEA agents, moles, computer whizzes, and a multi-national CEO into one action-filled plot, you get St. Nic, Inc.,  a story that sparkles like the North Pole on a sunny day.  St. Nic, Inc. offers a fresh vision of what modern tools like the Internet and high-speed delivery services could accomplish in the hands of the right Little People. This heart-warming re-imagining gives us reason to believe—and fall in love all over again with our most cherished time of year.

 

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Reason magazine reviews “comic thriller” St. Nic, Inc.

Books editor Jesse Walker reviews St. Nic, Inc. in it’s January 2015 issue of Reason magazine (on p. 60), calling the novel a “comic thriller.” Walker writes:

If Santa Claus existed, the feds would probably mistake the operation for a drug cartel. So goes the premise of St. Nic, Inc. (Southern Yellow Pine), S.R. Staley’s comic thriller about a Drug Enforcement Administration operation that nearly takes Christmas down.

Staley, a frequent contributor to reason, teaches economics at Florida State when he isn’t writing novels. He draws on both careers when describing NP Enterprise, an Arctic software firm and toy distribution network run by one Nicole Klaas. Nicole, the fourth Klaas to run the family business, relies heavily on the skills of the world’s little people, for whom the company’s polar community is a haven against the discrimination they face down south.

Their cash transactions catch the government’s eye, and soon a federal agent is convinced he’s found a nest of narco-traffickers. He hasn’t spotted any actual drugs, but the pattern looks unmistakable. And then a bona fide War on Christmas begins.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Write a Reality Adventure About the Santa Claus Myth?

My newest book, St. Nic, Inc., takes on one of America’s most cherished children’s myths, Santa Claus, and places it into a fast paced adventure that readers have compared to Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler. (Watch the trailer here.) Many people have asked what prompted me to write this book, so here’s my answer:

My story’s origin begins with the question every parent dreads: Do you believe in Santa Claus? As parents, we worry over how our children will react to the “truth” that Santa Claus is a myth. The overwhelming majority of our kids, of course, do fine. They may feel a period of betrayal and a sense of injustice, but they get over it. I think, however, many people underestimate how difficult this conversation is for parents and adults. We perpetuate the myth because we believe in its spirit and the core value of giving as an unconditional act of generosity. In this way the values are very secular. We are afraid that if our children realize that the myth is not real, the value of the principle is somehow degraded. I believe strongly in the importance of unconditional giving and charity. I think its a critical element of any sustainable society or community. As a novelist and storyteller, I wanted to reinvigorate this idea for adults. That’s why St. Nic, Inc. is not a children’s book. It’s a story with characters that gives us the space as adults and parents to believe if we choose to believe.

 

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St. Nic, Inc. Makes It to Audio Book!

Southern Yellow Pine Publishing has announced that St. Nic, Inc. will be issued in an audio book format. So, for all those people that spend a lot of time on the road–in cars, on trains, and in planes–there’s not excuse for not reading my newest novel!

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Lessons in Writing Styles: Cussler vs. Clancy vs. Staley

One of the great benefits of Beta Readers–those brave souls willing to read drafts of your work before presenting it to the world or a publisher–is their insight into your writing style. Sometimes we resist these comparisons–as happened in this case–but they often yield a useful perspective that helps us define our own style and gives us a marketing angle as well.

This came home to me recently while my Tallahassee-based critique group was reading an early draft of St. Nic, Inc., my fourth novel released in August 2014.  After reading the opening chapters, critique group member and aspiring novelist Emily Timm said “Your book reads like a Clive Cussler novel.” After a few chuckles from the other members, she added, “and I mean that in a good way.”

Now, at this point, I was a bit embarrassed. I had never read a Clive Cussler novel, although I knew he had sold a lot of books. In fact, he’s sold millions, and his books have been on the New York Times best seller list twenty times. But this information was really useless to me as a writer, and I didn’t know how to process it. I wasn’t sure if this really was a good comparison.

Then, another reader (but not a critique group member), Mark McNees, said St. Nic, Inc. “artfully combines the action of a Tom Clancy novel with the insightful social commentary and multiple levels of experience as George Orwell’s Animal Farm.” Two more great cites. The contrast in writing styles between these now deceased writers was potentially significant: Orwell wrote in a class literary tradition while Clancy wrote action-adventure-technology thrillers. 

While I am very familiar with Orwell’s work, I wasn’t well versed in Tom Clancy’s, except for watching a few movies based on his novels. Tom Clancy was a genre buster and one of the few writers to have their inaugural novel (The Hunt for Red October) shoot to best seller status.  Still, I understood the genre pretty well, and I was curious how my writing style compares to Clancy’s.

The only way to find out was to read their books. What I found was quite revealing.

Of course, my writing style is different–neither Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, or George Orwell. In part, this is the result of my focus on writing for young adults and middle school readers for the first three novels. St. Nic, Inc. is written for the general fiction market although it is accessible to young adults. These readers want fast plots, plenty of action, and a gripping story. The rule is the less description, the better. In this way, Clive Cussler’s style, although he is geared toward adult markets, is well suited to my approach.

But I also included layered characters with arcs that peak at different times based on the trajectory of the main plot and subplots. Thus, my stories aren’t as straightforward as Cussler’s, and my characters experience significant life changing events that influence how they view the world. Like Clancy, I strive to make my fiction authentic. The Pirate of Panther Bay attempts to stay true to the real world of pirates and the historical context in which the characters live. The Path of the Warrior series attempts to ensure the martial arts self-defense skills are authentic and realistic, set within the context of middle-school bullying and violence. These values permeate the stories and books.

So, where does St. Nic, Inc. fall? Of course, it’s a little bit of each. I admire the lean writing style of Clive Cussler even if it won’t earn him accolades from the literary elite. (Of course, readers love it.) While I would like a little more flourish when reading Cussler’s novels, the action and pace keep me engaged, and I’m not sidetracked by subplots or thinly disguised attempts to be classic fiction. The characters and stories are straightforward, and that suits his fans (and publisher). These are very easy reads, the epitome of escape literature. I like Clancy’s commitment to keep the adventure-thriller grounded in reality and the characters more layered and complex. This also has turned out to be a highly successful strategy, and it probably reflects his own personality as a writer. While still escapist in its approach, Clancy’s novels require a bit more patience and enjoyment of the journey.

Based on the comments I’ve received from readers, St. Nic, Inc. seems to reflect a happy evolution of my writing style, one that embraces a lean writing style with layered stories. I am pleased to embrace comparisons to all three highly successful (for different reasons) literary giants. I’m not sure I would have made these connections, and become more confident in my own writing style, if hadn’t been for the prodding and candid observations of my beta readers, friends and critique group.

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