What Shall I Write About Today?

Stop by for the musings of your cordial host, Richard Hartzer

donkey standing beside concrete wall

If you ask my family and friends to describe me in one word, they would probably say things like “witty”, “elegant”, “hilarious”, “poignant”, and “alive”. They would probably eventually mention the word “stubborn.” And they’re right.

I usually don’t like people telling me what to do, because I’m totally smart and my way is always the best way. At least in my mind it is. However, there are times when my stubbornness gets the better of me and keeps me from doing something great. There’s no greater example of this than what I recently experienced with my work in progress.

All good writers (and lots of bad ones) know that getting feedback is crucial to developing a strong book. The feedback I have received from my totally awesome suspense novel, “A Confession of Faith”, has been very positive, but a couple of people had some constructive criticism for me. And if I’m completely honest, I didn’t like that so much.

This manuscript has undergone several revisions and I have put a LOT of thought into every part of it in order to erase plot holes, ramp up the foreshadowing and suspense, and just making sure it didn’t stink. I felt like every part of it was vitally important, or else I wouldn’t have included it. So when these two people suggested I rework the first few chapters, removing nearly all of the backstory, and starting the novel a little later in the timeline, I thought they were crazy. I remember saying to myself, “Every part of those chapters was deliberately written and everything serves a purpose. How can I take that out? Who cares if these suggestions came from professional authors and editors? Surely I know more than they do.”

gray steel scissors

I mulled this over in my head for a few months, and wrestled with the notion of cutting around 10,000 of my perfect words from my perfect manuscript. I wasn’t afraid of the extra work; I was just too stubborn to admit that somebody might know more about writing than I do. I finally decided that maybe, just maybe, the professionals were right, and I decided to make some changes. I asked myself, “What would I do if I had a publishing contract and my editor told me I absolutely had to make these changes?” I talk to myself a lot, don’t I? Yes, I do. But I’m one of the few people who understands me.

I started by making a bulleted list of the things that happen in my first three chapters. Once I really looked at it, I realized that while it included some amusing anecdotes and cute things, very little of it was actually vital to the plot. And those things that were indeed vital could easily be plugged in a bit later (or maybe I’ll just release a special expanded edition along with the director’s cut of the movie version).

I began rewriting the opening of the book and found that I could set the stage with a couple of paragraphs instead of using a couple of chapters. (This is the whole “showing, not telling” thing I’ve heard so much about). Instead of my main character writing a few paragraphs about how often her father is gone on business trips and how this is straining their relationship, she now looks at her father with a pitiful face and asks, “How long are you gonna be gone this time, Daddy?” That one sentence tells the reader a lot about their strained relationship due to his frequent and prolonged absences.

Once I made this change (and similar changes), I realized my opening was much stronger and much more engaging. By doing this, I still manage to let the reader know what’s going on, but I get them to the action of the story much faster. This reduces the risk that my reader will lose interest and stop reading before they get to the good parts. When I was able to take my emotion out and look at this part of my manuscript objectively, I discovered that the pros were right. Who knew?

Even though I deleted a lot of things, I’m glad I wrote them because writing those two chapters of backstory helped me understand my characters much more deeply. I don’t view it as wasted time because although it won’t be published, it makes the book much stronger and makes my characters more like actual people instead of cardboard cutouts.

So my point is, you don’t know everything. You’re probably smart, but when it comes to your creation, you have blind spots and sometimes you can’t see the problems. When people give you suggestions, act as though they just might be right. If you think it through objectively and don’t agree with their suggestions, that’s fine. This is your vision, after all. But if you hear the same suggestions from multiple people, or from people who really know their stuff, they may be on to something. Don’t be stubborn…unless you need to be. That being said, in a future blog I’ll talk about times when it’s good to be stubborn.

Have any of my writer friends ever experienced something like this? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. And be sure to subscribe if you want to be notified when I post more words of wisdom. Until next time.

people ice skating on field surrounded by high-rise buildings

When I was in college, I had some (former) friends talk me into going ice skating. “It’ll be fun,” they said. “It’s even easier than roller skating,” they said. “You won’t embarrass yourself in front of a few hundred complete strangers,” they said. Liars. All of them.

I have a scar on my chin that I earned when I was roller skating as a child (one of my five emergency room visits in the span of 3 years), so since then I’ve had a healthy fear of foot-related modes of transportation. I’m terrified of items such as roller skates, ice skates, skateboards, and those Acme rocket powered skates Wile E. Coyote wore, so I’ve avoided them like a person avoids those people they don’t want to talk to in the grocery store (I often wonder how often people avoid me in the grocery store). However, this one night I gave in to the peer pressure.

I should have known I was in for trouble when I couldn’t find a pair of skates my size. One pair left my toes curled up like overcooked bacon, and another pair was so big I could have stapled Vienna sausages to the ends of my toes and still had room. I decided to go with the size 18’s because I hate when my toes get cramped up. I also hate it when my socks get stuck between my toes, but that’s a story for another time.

I laced them up and tried to walk around a bit. If you’ve never worn ice skates, picture yourself trying to balance your entire body on something the width of a piece of paper. Not the width as you lay the paper flat, but the width if you held it on edge. I’m surprised I didn’t break my ankles as I tried to keep my feet from collapsing inward or outward. Little did I know, this would prove to be the only victory of the evening.

I made it to the ice and began to make my first lap around the rink, clutching the rail along the wall, and inching my way around like a sloth covered in maple syrup (Or honey, if you prefer). I think it took somewhere between 3 and 300 minutes to complete my first lap, but I did it without falling. I felt confident enough to work my way out from the safety of the wall and into the flow of traffic.

Picture someone shuffling their feet down the Autobahn, one inch at a time, while other cars zoom past at 100 mph. Well, that’s about 10 times faster than I was actually moving, but at least I had liberated myself from the hand rail. I was on my own. I was free. I had graduated from sloth speed to “slug speed”, and felt my confidence growing with each passing millimeter. I was getting the hang of it, but it wasn’t long before my feet slipped out from under me and I collapsed onto the ice like a bag of wet cement. I don’t know how or why I fell, but I soon learned something about ice skating. When you fall, you get wet. Ugh.

two giraffes on land


I managed to hoist myself off the ice with all the grace of a newborn giraffe on ice skates, and began to move forward again. It wasn’t long before I repeated the process. Fall down, get wet, baby giraffe, fall down, get wetter, baby giraffe, etc.

If there’s one thing everybody knows about me (besides my affinities for Spam and “Weird Al” Yankovic) it’s that I’m stubborn. I determined that I was not going to let this stupid activity get the better of me, so even after I fell for the umpteenth time, I never thought about quitting. I never entertained the idea of turning back even though I was only 20 feet or so from where I started. This baby giraffe was going to make it around the rink…not once, but maybe even two or three times!

By this time my bruises had bruises, my pants looked like I had been swimming, and I had embarrassed myself countless times. But I didn’t care. I got back to my feet and started skating again. But something was different this time. I didn’t fall. I didn’t even wobble. I was as steady as the fabled tortoise (What’s with all the animal analogies?) and nearly as fast. Before I knew it, one lap became two. And two laps became three. And three laps…ouch, fell again. Three laps became four, and I began to move quickly enough I could finally feel the wind against my face and wet clothes.

I don’t know how many more laps I did, but eventually they made the announcement that the rink was closing. It was a shame, because I had never felt more alive. I was one with the ice (probably because I had so much of it on me), and I didn’t want the fun to end. I decided to go out with a bang, so I picked up speed and headed around the back stretch of the rink like Eric Heiden (I didn’t have to Google that because I did a book report on him in 4th grade). If you’ve seen the scene in Christmas Vacation in which Clark goes down the hill on his saucer sled, that’s how fast I was now traveling.

Only one problem. Nobody ever told me how to stop. I had spent the entire evening trying to go, so it never dawned on me that I would have to eventually stop. And to make matters worse, everybody was leaving the rink, so as I approached the seating area at warp speed I was heading straight toward a mass of humanity the size of a herd of wildebeest (What’s gnu with you?) (Stop with the animal analogies!). I had but two options…plow into the mass, or steer myself into the wall and crash into it as gracefully as I could. I decided to aim for the wall, but then a third option presented itself: crash into the poor, innocent woman who had unknowingly crossed into my path.

I decided my only hope to avoid obliterating this poor soul was to hit the deck and hope I could create enough friction to stop me. I crashed down on the ice with all the grace of a baby giraffe on ice skates (😡) and dug myself into the ground as hard as I could. I yelled in an effort to warn her, but she didn’t hear me. All the bystanders heard me though, so they turned around in unison just in time to see what transpired next.

I was able to slow myself from warp speed to cheetah speed, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a collision. I slid into the backs of her legs like a bowling ball from the arm of Pete Weber (I Googled “best bowler of all time” because I never did a book report on Pete) and watched as she fell down on me, squishing me between her posterior and the ice, and knocking the wind out of me in the process. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. I’ve never read any books on etiquette, but I’m pretty sure they don’t address this specific situation. I figured the polite thing to do was to wait for her to climb off of me, then stand to my feet, and help her stand to her feet. It was a nice thought, but it was not destined to play out that way.

I managed to get to my feet, apologizing profusely along the way, and asked her if she was ok. Fortunately I provided enough cushion so as to protect her from the unforgiving ice, and she had escaped without injury. I held my hand out as a gesture of good will, and she took it as a gesture of misplaced faith. I pulled as she tried to stand, but as she got nearly vertical, I lost my balance and fell, bringing her down with me. I tried a couple more times, but had similar results each time. Everybody continued to watch as I tried unsuccessfully to help her up. I’m just glad this was before cell phone cameras (and cell phones themselves) were popular or I would have definitely gone viral.

I finally realized we weren’t getting anywhere, so I did the only thing a true gentleman would do in this situation. I took my new friend by the hand, and dragged her across the ice to the seating area so she could crawl over to a bench, and pick herself up with whatever dignity she had left. I don’t remember anybody saying anything to me, but I’m sure I know what they were thinking.

I emerged from this traumatic experience with my body and ego bruised, but I learned something about myself that day. There are times in life when you’re going to fall down, but you have to pick yourself up and keep pressing on until you fall again. And again. And you may as well laugh at yourself, because everybody else is laughing at you.

Do you have any embarrassing experiences you would like to share with the world? Drop me a comment if you’re brave enough. And be sure to subscribe to my blog so you’ll be notified when I post my next embarrassing story.

The story below is mostly true. It may have been slightly embellished for dramatic effect, but the basic story really did take place. Honest.

brown mouse on green grass

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare

I seriously doubt The Bard of Avon had my son in mind when he typed those powerful words many centuries ago, but there could not possibly exist a sentence that more accurately describes the “heroism” my son displayed today. My mouth was agape as my children wove this compelling tale this afternoon, and I will attempt to use my feeble wordsmithing skills to do this legend the justice it deserves.

It was a typical Tuesday at A. Crawford Mosley High School. The warning bell would soon sound, and 1,800 eager students would descend upon their classrooms, in much the same way a gaggle of ants would descend upon a lollipop that had been dropped by a careless toddler. My son, the hero, approached the front doors, not aware of the adventure that would soon greet him and his fellow Dolphins.

My daughter walked into the vestibule first, and felt something scamper across her foot, brushing the bottom part of her leg in the process. Was it a loose shoelace? Perhaps a strap from her backpack? Nope. She looked down just in time to see the foul creature that had just introduced itself. It was a rat. And not just any rat. This was a rat so gargantuan, it made all other rats look like really small rats. This was a rat that a really tiny human could ride if he had the right kind of rat saddle. Her words failed her, and all she could manage to produce from her throat was a yelp/scream not unlike the sound a chihuahua might make if it got its tail caught in a sliding glass door. She and her friend quickly and ungracefully sought refuge in the sanctuary of the front office, slamming the door behind them in the process. This left my son, Andrew, alone in the vestibule with Ratniss Everdeen. 

There are times in a person’s life when they are faced with a dangerous situation, and they experience the phenomenon known as “fight or flight”. Some people run from the danger…some run toward it. Andrew glanced at the office door, and briefly considered fleeing inside, but something held him back. Like Neo at the end of The Matrix, he screwed his courage to the sticking place, and decided to stand his ground. Two would enter this steel (and impact resistant glass) gladiator arena, but only one would escape. This was his school, and if he didn’t defend it, who would?

In a flash, Andrew looked and saw that one of the doors from the vestibule into the interior of the school had been left open by another student. Andrew surmised that if Ratniss could get through that door, he would wreak all sorts of havoc. He had to be stopped, no matter the cost. The same thought must have entered Ratniss’s little rat mind because he charged toward the door, ready to wreak. Andrew moved quickly (well, quickly for him anyway), and since his human legs are much longer than a rat’s (albeit only slightly less furry) he was able to close the door and thwart the rat’s attempt.

Knowing he had lost the first round, Ratniss looked up at Andrew with a mixture of respect and quiet fury. Andrew merely stood his ground, locking his human eyes with the beady rat eyes glaring at him from the floor. They both stood, waiting for the next round to commence. By this time, several other students had approached the front door to the school, eager to embark on that day’s learning adventure. Andrew barked orders at them, eschewing pleasantries, in a valiant effort to keep them safe. One of them ignored Andrew’s warnings and opened the door. Andrew saw an opportunity to end this battle and decided to drive Ratniss from the vestibule and out the front door. He stomped his size-12 feet in a way that any rat would find terrifying, and watched as Ratniss fled through the door, and out of the school once and for all. The rat’s path across the front yard of the school was easily identified by a series of shrieks and fleeing students.

Andrew walked outside and just stood there, breathing in the smell of sweet victory. Proud of the fact that he had saved the school from rat cooties. Ratniss scurried across the street, but right before he disappeared into the hole from whence he came, he turned around to exchange one last look with his nemesis. He nodded his head slightly and sent Andrew a slight smirk as if to say, “Well done, partner. Perhaps we’ll meet again some day.” Andrew simply replied with a steely stare that told Ratniss that any future visits would be met with the same response. 

Andrew emerged from this harrowing situation a hero, winning the adulation of all that dwell in the hallowed halls of Mosley High School in the process, and proving himself worthy of being called “The Verminator: Defender of Mosley High School.”

If you enjoyed this mostly true story please leave a comment below, and read the other posts on this humble website. If you would like to be notified when I unleash my next awesome story on the world, hit the subscribe button and you’ll be among the first to know.

brown wooden handle brown wooden handle

What shall I write about today? First of all, let me apologize to the multitudes (technically anything more than 1 is a multitude, right?) of followers that I have neglected the past few months. I know there has been a Hartzer-shaped void in your life, and for that I am sincerely sorry. If I’m being completely honest, the biggest reason for my absence is the fact that I wasn’t feeling very creative for a while.

If you remember my post about “Real Men”, I discussed some of the challenges life has hurled my way over the past couple of years. Well, not much has changed. We are still living in a travel trailer 16 months after Hurricane Michael, still waiting on insurance money (like many other people in our area), and still longing for the day when we can begin repairing the inside of our home. All of that, coupled with the events that took place “before the storm” (as we all say around here) can do a number on one’s ability to remain positive.

One of my good Twitter friends, Stoney deGeyter (@StoneyD) begins each day with something he calls “Daily Gratitude”. His first tweet of every day lists something for which he is grateful, and why he is grateful for it. I liked the idea, so I joined the movement. I stuck with it for a while, but there came a point in which I suddenly didn’t feel very grateful for the crappy (pardon my French) things that were happening, and I stopped tweeting my Daily Gratitude. I also stopped writing blogs for my website, stopped working on the book I am trying to publish (or the next book I have planned), and stopped doing anything creative. A few days became a few weeks, which became a few months. I felt like Luke Skywalker, who had closed himself off from The Force in “The Last Jedi”. The good news is that I got a lot of TV-watching done during that time (trying to see the glass as half-full).

If you’ve ever done anything creative, whether it be writing a story, writing a song, painting, sculpting, etc. you know the feeling you get when you think of a great idea. That little surge of adrenaline that puts a hop in your step. That feeling that tells you that you’re producing something beautiful and significant. I had not felt that feeling for a while, but one day it hit me in the most unexpected way. In the middle of a church service.

Strangely enough, this is not the first time the lightning bolt of inspiration has stricken me in the middle of a church service. When I was a couple chapters into writing “A Confession of Faith” (my first novel and future best-seller (glass half-full), I was sitting in a church service, intently listening to the sermon as I always do, when I got this feeling. You know that feeling when somebody says something and you just know there’s an idea for a joke somewhere but you just can’t find it right away? No? Just me? Anyway…I got this feeling that there was an awesome idea for an ending to my book lurking somewhere out there. I began to chew on some things within the vast expanses of my brain, and within a few seconds it hit me. The perfect ending for my book. When I got home, I quickly wrote an outline for the ending, and as I wrote the first draft over the next few months, I just couldn’t wait to get to that point in the story. I finally finished the first draft, fleshed out the ending, and it was everything I dreamed it could be. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it here. You’ll just have to read it for yourself, or wait for the movie (there’s that glass again). But back to my other church-service-inspiration.

In January, I was sitting in a church service, listening intently to the sermon as I always do, when an idea popped into my head. It was an idea I had never experienced before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. It was an idea for a song. I’m not what I would call a musician, (although I do manage to bang on the drums in a semi-coherent manner every Sunday), so I had never thought about writing a song. A few years ago I jokingly wrote the chorus of a parody of today’s country music called “Don’t Chuck in my Truck” (maybe I’ll post the lyrics to this song in the future), and I had dabbled in some poetry, but this was completely foreign to me. A phrase became a chorus, more ideas became parts of verses, and I immediately got my phone out and used my “Notes” app to save these ideas. When I got home, I finished writing out the first draft. I then thought to myself “All good church songs have a bridge”, so I came up with one of those too. By mid-afternoon I had what appeared to be an actual song. I didn’t have a tune in my head, but I had the lyrics. It even rhymed and everything. I had that feeling again. That feeling I had sorely missed for the previous couple of months.

For me, one of the hardest parts of writing anything is sharing it with other people. Even though it looks good to me, I’m always afraid they will look at it and scoff. That night, I overcame my apprehension and showed my song to my wife. I watched intently as her eyes traveled back and forth, and then I noticed some tears forming. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not, but it turns out that it was. Armed with a fresh sense of confidence, I then sent the lyrics to the couple who leads the worship team at our church. We got together, and they had some ideas for the melody. A couple of sessions later, they suggested I rewrite the rhythm of the verses and the idea that hit me was much more powerful than my original verses. There it was. Our new song. We made a recording with her singing and him playing the guitar, and then I was the one who started crying. Hearing that recording made me realize the magnitude of what we had done, and I felt simultaneously proud and humble.

We are in the process of ironing out some minor details, and we will be ready to present this song to the church in the next couple of weeks. I’m nervous, but I also can’t wait to share our creation. The words to this song are my life, set to music. It’s more personal than just about anything I have ever written, but it’s not just for me. It will relate to others that have gone through storms in their lives, whether they were actual storms such as hurricanes, or figurative storms. It’s a great reminder of how we need to respond when we go through things in our lives.

Strangely enough, my song inspirations haven’t stopped. Every few days it seems I am stricken with another idea. It may be a phrase, a line, or a scripture, but something gives me a spark. I then open my Notes app again and begin to type away. Sometimes I write out a whole song, sometimes it’s just a chorus that I leave alone for the time being, and sometimes it’s just a concept. Since mid-January I have saved a total of 12 songs and/or song ideas, so expect my first album entitled “Pastor, I Promise I Pay Attention to Your Sermons” to drop this October.

As a result of all this songwriting, I’m getting that bug again. Not the bug I had in December that caused me to lie in bed for 3 days straight. The bug that makes me feel creative. The bug that makes me want to keep pursuing the crazy dream of publishing “A Confession of Faith”. The bug that makes me want to write more books, songs, or whatever other ideas hit me. I just want to write. Sometimes it seems like the voices in my head won’t stop, and I have to get my phone out again. But I guess that’s just the curse of being creative. Even if none of these songs ever reach the top of the charts, it’s been a fun outlet and it has gotten my creative juices flowing.

What about you? Do you ever have these strange moments of inspiration in which you feel like these ideas just come out of nowhere? I’d love to hear about them in the “Comments” section. And if you like what you read, please subscribe so you’ll be notified when I post something new. I promise not to wait another few months this time. Now as luck would have it, I just got another song idea. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to grab my phone again.

What shall I write about today?  Well, my last post got a little heavy, but I know it involves an important and timely topic, so I felt compelled to share it. Today I’ll lighten things up a bit and talk about a recent epiphany I had. 

A couple weeks ago I did something I almost never do…I let my wife have the remote and watch what she wanted to. There are many times I can’t find something I really want to watch, but I dare not relinquish the remote, so I find something on TV I can at least tolerate. I know, I’m shallow sometimes. Then there are times when I feel extra nice (or guilty) and I let my wife choose what we watch. On this particular day she chose to watch a marathon of “Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman” on Hallmark. I found the show to be cheesy and formulaic (more on that later), but it was during the commercial breaks that I was stricken with a sudden realization that will change the way people all around the world (or at least those who bother to read this) view TV movies. Allow me to share. Are you sitting down?  Ok, here goes…Hallmark romance movies are just Lifetime movies…in reverse. 

You think I’m crazy, don’t you. Or at least a little crazier than you already thought I was. Just hear me out. Think about the plot of your typical Hallmark romance movie…especially the Christmas movies. They go something like this:

  1. Girl despises boy. He’s either trying to kill her career, or he’s disgusting and annoying, and even though he’s incredibly handsome, she wants nothing to do with him
  2. Girl and enemy boy fall victim to some sort of calamity that forces them together
  3. Relationship deteriorates farther because she hates him even more, and she sees him as an enemy. 
  4. Girl sees boy in a moment of tenderness (talking to a small child, helping an old lady cross the street, etc) and realizes he’s not as boorish as she originally thought. 
  5. Relationship between girl and boy slowly begins to thaw and she realizes how much she loves him. 
  6. Girl and boy are in love and appear to be on their way toward a “happily ever after” life.

That pretty much summarizes every Hallmark romance movie I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Now, contrast that with your typical Lifetime movie and see what happens.

  1. Girl and boy are in love and appear to be on their way toward a “happily ever after” life. 
  2. Relationship between girl and boy slowly begins to thaw and she realizes how little she loves him.
  3. Girl sees boy in a moment of rage (yelling at somebody, pushing an old lady down in the street, etc) and realizes he’s not as great as she originally thought.
  4. Relationship deteriorates farther because she loves him even less and she sees him as an enemy.
  5. Girl and enemy boy fall victim to some sort of calamity that forces them apart.
  6. Girl despises boy. He’s either trying to kill her, or he’s angry and sadistic, and even though he’s incredibly handsome, she wants nothing to do with him.

See? At first you thought I was delirious for even suggesting such an idea; but admit it…you’re nodding your head thinking “Holy moly, this man is a genius (even if his comma and semicolon usage is subpar at best).”

I’m not one to say, “I told you so,” but I did. 

Most of these movies are examples of formulaic storytelling. Personally, I don’t like it when stories are too predictable and cliched like that. I’m fine with a story in which the main characters don’t end up together. I like it when the ending isn’t all sunshine and puppy dogs (unicorns are OK). I appreciated the fact that the parents didn’t get back together in “Mrs Doubtfire” (Spoiler Alert). Oh wait…Was I supposed to say “Spoiler Alert” before the actual spoiler? Oh well. Too late now.

I like to be surprised by a story and I like to be taken on a journey I didn’t expect. If a story is cheesy and formulaic I tend to dismiss it as lazy storytelling. When I’m writing I often think to myself, “What does my reader expect to happen next?” and immediately rule out the next several ideas that pop into my head. I like to be unpredictable when I write. Aardvark cornucopia dishwasher!  See, you didn’t see that coming, did you?  Because I’m unpredictable. 

We’ve established the fact that I’m not fond of predictable, formulaic storytelling, but I also dislike storytelling formulas. I see articles promoting things like “The Five Traits to a Successful Novel” or “Every Good Story Must Follow These Steps In This Exact Order Or Nobody Will Read It” and I cringe. First of all, I’m a stubborn man so I bristle anytime anybody tells me what I need to do. You’ll notice I said “bristle” and not “refuse to do”. That’s one reason I’ve managed to stay married for 17 years. But back to storytelling formulas. 

Writing is an art. And like all art, it cannot be quantified. Writing is subjective and it speaks to different people in different ways. To suggest that there is one surefire formula for writing is like suggesting that there’s only one recipe for baking a cake. Or only one direction to drive on a one-way street. There are virtually unlimited paths to a great story, and the beauty lies in the fact that they are all different. And we are all different. Your storytelling path may resonate with some, but not others. Their path may not resonate with you. And that’s OK. One is not less beautiful than the other. 

So go ahead, forge your own path. Write the story that’s in your head and heart, even if it doesn’t follow a traditional storytelling formula. Break the rules if you want to. Be a pirate. It’s your story. It’s art. It’s beautiful. Arrr!

That being said, come back for my next post in which I discuss the value of storytelling formulas and why formulaic storytelling is great (even after I railed against them today). Seriously, that’s my next topic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to reclaim the remote before the next episode of “Dr Quinn” comes on. 

What shall I write about today?  Well, I’m going to write about a subject I know a little about because I’ve been one as long as I’ve been alive…men. I know technically I didn’t become a man for a couple decades, and my wife is still waiting for me to become a grown up, but I think I’m qualified. Men are strange animals, with strange qualities, and even stranger odors. We grunt. We sweat. We make messes. We’re rough around the edges and soft around the middle. We have dad bods. We have bad habits. We do gross things and we laugh at them. Now excuse me while I go try to belch the alphabet…

…I’m back. Sadly I only made it to “L”. I’ve regressed since middle school when I could make it to the second half of the alphabet without breaking a sweat. No time to practice now, because I have important writing to do. 

There is probably no other quality that defined a man more than our “toughness.” Men need to be tough. We need to be strong. We need to be in charge. People depend on us so always have to come through for them.

Think back to the olden days. You had movie stars like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Chuck Norris. You had songs like “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, and “A Boy Named Sue.” You had manly men who oozed toughness from every manly pore of their manly bodies. Men who could single-handedly take out an army, then take out a beautiful woman to a nice dinner. These were real men who showed no weakness and would never, ever stop to ask for directions. They could do it all on their own and they didn’t need help from anybody. We men should strive to be more like this because we never need help. 

Or do we?

I want to talk about a different kind of toughness. Not one that is measured by the ability to take out an army, nor by the ability to shoot lots of bad guys without missing a single shot and somehow never running out of bullets. This kind of toughness takes a whole lot more bravery, and it is far more important than the other kinds of toughness. I’m talking about the toughness it takes to admit when we need help. 

Over the last 15 months I’ve been through a lot. I was transferred from a job I loved at my alma mater to another school in the district, hid under the stairs with my family as my hometown was decimated and my own home severely damaged by a category 5 hurricane, saw daily reminders of the storm, lived with eight other people and four dogs in my in-laws’ three-bedroom house for five months, moved into a travel trailer in our driveway (in which we still reside, and will do so for another three or four months), and lost my mother, who lost a nearly twenty-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis in March. Any one of these calamities would have a huge impact on any man, but the combination of them is enough to bring even the toughest man down. 

(For the record, I love my wife’s family and I am incredibly appreciative that they allowed us to live there for so long. However, the living situation was definitely less than ideal.)

For months I knew I had to be a tough man. I was hurting and stressed out on a daily, no, hourly basis. I couldn’t sleep at night because of the weight of being a tough man. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t because I had to hold it all in for the sake of my family. I was a rock. I was tough. I was wrong.

Deep down I knew that I needed to talk to somebody, but I didn’t know where to turn, nor did I have the guts to ask. In March, 2019 I was called into the Superintendent’s office and he told me I was transferring to another school. In all honesty, these have been good moves for me, but in that moment, all of the stress, pressure, and emotion came to a head and I began to cry in his office. It was an ugly scene, but it was necessary. I told him what I had been going through and he referred me to a counselor. I was hesitant because real mean don’t need mental health or depression counseling. 

I decided to make an appointment and met with the counselor several times. He listened as I spilled my guts and spilled my tears. He reaffirmed what I had been feeling and assured me that I wasn’t alone with these feelings. He offered several suggestions (including writing) and I have felt a million times better since then. There are still moments that get to me, but for the most part I feel great…even if our house is still nearly gutted and we will be lucky to move back in by Christmas (which would be 14 months since “The Storm” as we call it around here). 

I didn’t tell you about all those bad things so you would feel sorry for me. I appreciate the support of my friends, but that’s not my goal. I write these things…these things I haven’t told anybody but my wife…in the hopes that somebody else who needs help will be convinced to seek help. You may not have gone through the same exact situations, but you feel the same exact pressure and depression I, and so many others have. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a manly man. Don’t be an idiot. If you need help, get help. It’ll be one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever make, but it will be one of the best. 

As a Christian, I don’t want to neglect the spiritual aspect of dealing with depression and stress. Believe me, I did a lot of praying during this time. Prayer is essential no matter what you’re going through, but there are times when opening up to another human, being willing to tear down the facade, and sharing your problems with that other person carry benefits as well. Even if you’re not a religious person, there is still help available if you’re tough enough to ask for it.

I hope these words help at least one person out there. And I hope all you tough guys out there are tough enough to get help when you need it. Don’t try to go it alone…even if you’re as tough as Chuck Norris.

by Richard Hartzer 7/22/2019

What shall I write about today? Well, since this is my first blog post I really need something special that hooks you and encourages you to subscribe, so I could promise to give my first 1,000 subscribers a free $100 Chick Fil A gift card (only valid on Sundays). Nevermind. I don’t want to rely on gimmicks to gain subscribers. Instead, I promise to give all my readers a blog-reading experience like no other. I am a strange and complex person so you should expect a series of strange and complex blog posts. Some posts will make you laugh, some posts will make you think, and some posts will make you cry because you’ll think of all the reading enjoyment you lost because I didn’t start blogging sooner. That may sound like hyperbole, but I almost never exaggerate. Now, a little bit about myself and my writing experience…

…When I was in 4th grade, our teacher used to make us write sentences using that week’s spelling words. Not content to merely write a series of unrelated sentences, I wove fascinating tales using our spelling words and featuring unforgettable characters such as Little Johnny Infant and Super Pickle. Sadly, none of these amazing pieces of literature found their way into the Smithsonian (or even our refrigerator door), but it ignited a spark of creativity inside me. A brilliant spark that would not be extinguished until I moved on to 5th grade and discovered that girls didn’t have cooties after all. I still remember Amanda…my square-dancing partner and first love. I was captivated by her gorgeous amber hair and her stylish parachute pants…and also by the fact that she could hold my hand without immediately wiping it off afterward like the other girls did. I’m looking at you, Harriet. I didn’t do much in the way of creative writing for a long time after that, but all that was destined to change on a historic Saturday morning on my back porch.

When I was 43, I felt this stirring inside me. A stirring I hadn’t felt since that fateful dinner of gas station sushi back in the summer of ’04. But this stirring was different. I had this idea in my head to try something crazy (although slightly less crazy than eating gas station sushi) and write a book. I constantly annoy my wife by criticizing movies, TV shows, and books when they fail to live up to my lofty expectations; so, tired of all the subpar entertainment in the world, I decided that I would show everybody how it should be done. I needed a hook so I thought it would be fun to think of a really depressing thought and base my book about that. I decided to write about a teenage girl that was about to be executed for treason. How did she get in that predicament and how would she get out of it? Or would she get out of it? I grabbed my laptop, plopped down in my favorite recliner, sketched out a rough outline of the story and the characters, and began writing. I was amazed at how easily the words flowed from my brain into my fingers and I wrote the first couple of chapters in no time. Amazingly I never experienced the dreaded writer’s block and over the next 3 months I churned out a 100,000-word masterpiece that nobody knows about yet. One year and several drafts later, I’m looking for an agent to believe in me and my work.

Platform

While I have been waiting for my big break, I heard all authors need “platform”, so I decided to get one of those. I created a Twitter account for my author persona and quickly stumbled upon the Writing Community. I have made tons of friends, received tons of advice, posted tons of goofy GIFs, and possibly even accidentally dispensed some good advice to others. Overall it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, but evidently a “platform” must include a website and blog as well, so here we are. In all honesty, I’ve long desired to be a columnist with the humor of Dave Barry and the gravitas of Andy Rooney, so this will be fun for me. It’s too early to say whether it’ll be fun for you, but here’s hoping.

My follower list continues to grow, and hopefully my blog subscriber list will do the same as I embark upon this journey with you all. I truly appreciate everybody who takes the time to read my tweets and I admire your dedication to make it this far into my blog post. Your endurance (or lack of anything else to do today) is to be commended and I look forward to seeing you again in the near future.

If you like what you see, please subscribe to my blog. You’ll receive an e-mail every time I post something new, so you’ll be able to drop what you’re doing and be among the first to check it out. Thanks.

“Time flies like an arrow…fruit flies like a banana.”

What shall I write about today? Facebook has a mostly wonderful feature that allows you to see what you posted on that day in previous years. I say “mostly wonderful” because many of my posts are filled with witty observational humor or adorable anecdotes involving my family. However, sometimes I look back on what I posted and think, “Why did I post that? Nobody cares about the fact that I finished an assignment for my masters degree or I downed a whole pint of Talenti gelato in one sitting.” Now the one time I ate 13 Taco Bell tacos on my birthday was impressive, but I’ll save that for a future post. I’ve wasted enough time, so now it’s about time I talk about…time.

This week my Facebook memories have been festooned with pictures of my children on various first days of school throughout the years. Each picture features a child with a forced smile (wishing they were actually at school instead of taking that stupid picture), wearing their most awesomest school outfit, and holding up the number of fingers to show what grade they are starting (fortunately when they each started first grade they managed to hold up the right finger). I can’t wait until next year when my oldest starts eleventh grade and has to remove one of her new shoes to hold up a toe.

Each of these pictures also carries a caption that says things like “Can’t believe she’s already in fifth grade. Where does the time go?” Or “Can’t believe he’s starting high school. Time flies.” Or “can’t believe she’s driving now. We seem to be experiencing time at an increasing rate even though the concept of time is a man-made construct and there is actually no such thing.” (My wife gets rather wordy when she waxes philosophical)

The concept of time flying, or going faster every year is common among us humans, and maybe some other animals as well (except slow-moving animals like sloths and teenagers). Lots of songs have been written about time. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper, “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, and “One More Minute” by one of my favorite artists, the incomparable “Weird Al” Yankovic. 

We often bemoan the fact that we cannot stop the passage of time, nor even slow it down. As Tracy Lawrence majestically crooned, “Time Marches On” and until the Flux Capacitor becomes a reality, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. The best we can hope to do is to make the most of every important moment. I know that sounds cliched, and I try to avoid cliches like the plague, but it’s true. 

Collect Moments, not Things

People often say their life flashes before their eyes when they experience a near-death experience…which begs the question, does a dog’s life flash before his eyes seven times faster than a human’s? Wait…wrong question. What I meant to ask is, “If your life flashed before your eyes, what would you see?” I don’t think any of us actually knows how much time we have on this planet (or any other planet) so let’s be proactive. Rather than reflecting on how fast time passes, lets be sure to reflect on the way we spend this valuable time. Are we taking advantage of the time we have with our children while they still live with us? I love taking vacations with my family (usually), but I also love the memories we make on family game nights, or by sitting on the back porch, talking about stupid stuff and laughing like hyenas, or by reminiscing about the way time flies, and discussing the fond memories we have made together. We may have told these stories a thousand times, but every time we tell them, we tell them with the same excitement and fervor we had the first time we told them.

When my children grow up and leave the house I want them to carry many things with them…a solid education, a passion to do what’s right, the problem-solving ability to tackle life’s obstacles, and a treasure chest full of memories (mostly pleasant) that they can revisit throughout their lives. To me, that’s more important than how much “stuff” we gave them. Toys and clothes get outgrown, electronics wear out and lose their allure, and the Christmas present they so desperately wanted is often forgotten by spring. But memories…memories are the things they will always have with them. Memories are the things that will bring them a smile in the midst of a tough time. Memories are the things that will bring them peace when they lose somebody close to them. And memories are the things that we still have, even if we lose all of our possessions. 

If you haven’t made a conscious effort to make memories, it’s never too late to start. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be small things like a meal out at a restaurant, an evening playing board games, an afternoon outside at a park or beach. Anything that forces everybody to unplug and focus on each other instead of their electronic devices. Your children might complain, but that’s how you know you’re doing it right. These may seem like small, insignificant moments, but I assure you, they won’t seem small and insignificant when they are remembered in the future. 

To quote the famous American philosopher Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

How about you? How do you make the most of the time you have with your loved ones? Drop me a comment and let me know; and be sure to subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out on a single moment of the fun. Time flies, and you want to cherish every moment with my words that you possibly can. 

What shall I write about today? Well, I couldn’t come up with anything on my own, so I asked my Twitter followers if they had any questions or suggestions for me. I know that seems rather lazy, but when in Rome…

I received some good responses, and I would love to use them over the next several posts, but one question really struck a chord with me. My good Twitter friend, and hilarious wordsmith Denis Shaughnessy (@denishaughnessy) sent this response: “It’s said that writers need to read. Can you give a specific example of how your writing has been influenced by reading?” That is a very deep, thought-provoking question and originally I shied away because it sounded too much like a homework assignment (No offense, Denis). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could be fun so brace yourselves as I share my writing influences with you now. 

John Grisham

Perhaps you’ve heard of a moderately successful writer named John Grisham. He has written a handful of books, some of which became movies, and has achieved slightly more success than I have thus far. He also had a profound impact on my writing. I’ve read many of his novels, but my favorite Grisham novel is “The Firm”. I find the story to be extremely compelling, but what I loved the most was that main characters never knew whom to trust. People were spying on them and chasing them, and they had to find ways to outsmart folks on both sides of the law. I enjoy reading a book or watching a TV show or movie when you aren’t sure whom to trust and you really aren’t sure who’s a villain and who’s a good guy. All of those concepts found their way into my novel “A Confession of Faith”.

Michael Connelly

Perhaps you’ve heard of a moderately successful writer from named Michael Connelly. He has written a handful of books, some of which became movies and TV shows, and has achieved slightly more success than I have thus far. He also had a profound impact on my writing. While Connelly is adept at building suspense, I really admire his plotting. He ends chapters on what I call “mini-cliffhangers”, and he also keeps things hidden from his readers until the time is right. I borrowed one of his techniques in “A Confession of Faith” when I ended a chapter by saying that my protagonist (Faith) had a revelation about another character and she just needed a way to prove it. Rather than explaining her plan, I kept my readers in the dark until the next chapter in which they watched the plan unfold. This method compels the reader to continue to the next chapter and it maintains the suspense as they are left in the dark until they discover what Faith’s revelation was all about.

Rian Johnson

“The Last Jedi” inspired me to take risks with my writing and take my story in directions my reader is not likely to predict. I work hard to keep my reader off balance and endeavor to take them for a ride they will never expect. When I’m writing I often think to myself, “What would the reader expect next?” and I go in the opposite direction.

I know Rian Johnson is a film writer/director, but I was greatly influenced by “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. This film was well-received by critics, but many Star Wars fans railed against it because it didn’t follow the typical Star Wars formula and it took risks. Those are precisely the things that resonated with me. It was one of the few movies I have seen when I truly did not know what was going to happen next. It didn’t follow a traditional formula and (gasp!) several of the characters actually failed along the way. Not all of these risks worked for me, but overall I loved the movie and I enjoyed the experience of watching it.

Writers of “Breaking Bad” & “Better Call Saul”

These are two of my favorite shows, but I really get great advice on writing from the accompanying Podcasts. The show runners often talk about their approach to writing, and I have learned a lot from them about trusting the audience and refraining from spoon-feeding them information. I also learned that the story does not come from me…the story comes from the needs of the characters and the story dictates where it should go. As writers, we must put ourselves in the heads of our characters and let them take us on their journey with them. These writers also taught me how fun and challenging it is to put our characters in impossible situations and let them figure out how to get out of it. It’s rough on us and our characters to write this way, but it’s extremely rewarding to the writer, and it leads to a reading experience that our readers will enjoy.

Dave Barry

One of these things is not like the others. What in the world is a humor columnist doing on a list with suspense writers? I’ve read countless Dave Barry columns and books, and he excels at crafting his words in such a way that the prose itself is entertaining. Even if there isn’t a lot of action taking place, a book or article can still be entertaining because the writing itself is entertaining. Barry has a way of making any topic enjoyable just with his writing style, and that is a skill that I try to duplicate in my writing. Not to sound like a kiss up, but the gentleman who inspired this blog post is very similar to Dave Barry, and I enjoy his writing as well.

So Denis, there you have it…a veritable smorgasbord of writing styles and genres that float around in my head and out of my fingertips. I appreciate your question and I appreciate everybody who took the time to read this post.

What about you? Who are some of your influences? Please leave a comment below and let us know who inspires you (besides me).

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