Thursday, May 31, 2012

Family Feud – Team Hatfield or Team McCoy?

I had mixed feelings last night when it came time to watch the last segment of Hatfields & McCoys  mini-series on the History Channel, wondering how it would affect my dreams and interrupt my sleep.  Though these two families did make their appearance in my nighttime adventures, it wasn’t as intrusive as the night before. 

As stated in my previous blog post, I was a bit wary this story would end without a resolve, forcing my brain and consciousness to provide one, or struggle from its absence. The History Channel didn’t let me down, and provided a partly sad, and partly hopeful, resolution.
Through careful determination, I reserved my judgment on either family, knowing this wasn’t a work of fiction, but based on historical facts and real families, until the conclusion of the matter.  I wanted to view this tragic story through unbiased eyes, being grateful I had not already had previous knowledge of the legend.  The only thing I knew before watching this series was that in the television show, “The Beverly Hillbillies”, their famous family feud was based on the Hatfields and McCoys, and that it was the basis for the game show “Family Feud”.  Actually, I had forgotten that last piece of information until my son reminded me yesterday. 

My judgment today:  I think this tale would make a great illustration for several moral principles, such as: sowing vs. reaping, generational curses, righteous indignation, religious hypocrisy, and the cause and effect of faith, grace, love and mercy, and the lack thereof. But the greatest lesson: the effect of hate and who really pays the price.

There are always many ‘reasons’ for hate, and in this particular case, it seems to have started at the end of the civil war with a blue coat amongst a gray coat society and mindset, but there are no ‘excuses’.  Hate is a personal choice.  In this particular environment, hate was prevalent, but it didn’t start with the Hatfields or the McCoys, but long before them both in a feuding country.  This particular feud was the fruit harvested after much sowing. I could literally see the ‘devil in the details’ through the side-line instigators on both sides, shooting their bullets from the shadows, stirring the anger, and fueling the fires of hate.

Who ultimately paid the price? The children.  Neither William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, nor Randolph “Randall” McCoy recognized the fruit of their hate until it became evident in the graves of their dead children. While they sought mercy, they refused to grant it.  I watched a skeptic turned into a believer, and a believer turned into a skeptic. I observed hate destroy love, and love overcome hate.  I witnessed grief destroy hope, and hope rise out of grief.  This is why this story captivates hearts and imaginations. 

In the end, am I team Hatfield or team McCoy?  I’ve always been partial to a Damascus Road experience - a murderer who seeks and finds redemption.  It’s the foundational concept in my novel series, “The Blood of Cain”.  So, I have to say, based on the evidence and story resolution presented, I’m team Hatfield. 

Till next time,
 ~T.L. Gray

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Hatfields & McCoys Nightmare

Thank you, Hatfields and McCoys, for interrupting my fantastical dreams and replacing them with a nightmare.

I’ve heard that dreams are a way for our subconscious to work out problems we couldn’t deal with while awake. I’m beginning to think that is true.  Often times, when there are things that stress me out in the light, I struggle with in the night.  Thanks to Fox, and their insatiable need to cancel every good show that airs on their network, I’ve spent a night or two trying to reconcile the answers to the cliffhangers that will never be resolved.  I wish networks, who decide to cancel a show, would at least provide an ending and not leave us frustrated without a resolution.  I’m now very reluctant to follow another Fox show for this very reason.  I fear I’ll be trying to ‘find’ the ending to Finder in my nightmares for months to come. Okay, time to get off that rant and back to my point.  This is part of ‘the’ point, but I’ll move on.

Monday, I began watching the new mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys on the History Channel, and I’m so frustrated at the situation, based on a real story, that could have been avoided if not for the pride of mankind. It would have taken two-word phrases by each man (I’m Sorry and Forgive Me) to have prevented a mini-civil war between West Virginia and Kentucky.  Granted, it seems the escalation of the tension between these two families were inflamed by instigators on both sides, not primarily by the two patriarchs, but their examples and a lack of humility and leadership, fueled the flames.  There was a lot of talk about God, but no evidence of His character in either; all judgment and wrath, but no mercy or forgiveness.
Needless to say, my dreams were plagued with trying to work out a resolution between the two families, which included desperate appeals from a distant relative (distant –as in a generational great-great-great granddaughter, traveling through time to bring a passionate plea for peace between her two grandfathers, ending with one killing the other).  

Perhaps there’s some part of me, recently discovering on a lineal connection to the Civil War, and my family coming from the same area, which reacts to this story on a personal level.  Who knows?  I have learned one thing: I’m so thankful to have been born in this generation.  I don’t think I would have done well in that particular time period of our history.  I can’t imagine the nightmares that would constantly plague me in search of solutions. I hope there’s enough resolution in the last part of this mini-series tonight for me to have a restful sleep, but I’m not holding my breath.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don’t Forget the Audience

This past holiday weekend, I decided to put ‘work’ aside and really looked forward into delving into a new adventure.  In the space of a few hours, one late afternoon, I went through three books before I finally found one even remotely interesting.  

I became frustrated after pushing myself through the first five chapters of the first novel, hoping and praying that the story will finally hit its stride, but it didn’t.  The pacing was slow, the events were unbelievable and the emotion was completely disconnected.  I so much wanted to love this story, because I loved the book blurb, the story idea and it had received lots of great reviews.  But, I refuse to read for reading sake.  There are too many great stories out there for me to waste my time on dull and dreary. That was $4.99 wasted.
The second story started off promising, but by the third chapter it began to jump from POV to POV without any indication.  I became lost as to who was talking, who was thinking and whose emotions were being described.  Sure that I had checked to make certain the book was not self-published; I was quite surprised to find that it was indeed.  I have given at least a dozen and one chances for the self-published industry to put out some great novels, to be let down a dozen times.  So, I found myself wasting another $2.99 on a literary mess.

The third novel, a self-published title -“The Fall of Billy Hitchings” by Kirkus McGowan, kept coming up in my Kindle library.  I don’t remember putting it in, or even where I heard of the book in the first place, but because it was self-published I kept pushing it away.  So, I spent the rest of my weekend watching movies with my family instead. But, this morning, and back to my regular routine, I needed something to read while on the treadmill (to keep my mind off the timer and the pain in my body), so I flipped on my Kindle and it opened to the last book I had been perusing.  I thought, “What the heck, at least try the first couple of chapters.”  So my dozen and one chances to find a great self-published title turned into a dozen and two.

The story started off with a bang, right in the middle of full blown action, and the dialogue flowed smoothly and is realistic in the modern-day time period, the style of writing was in my favorite  style (active/showing), and within a few sentences,  I was hooked.  I forget about the minute counter on the treadmill, and the aches in my arms and legs from having a laid-back extended weekend and now forcing them to perform at their top level, and got lost in the adventure.  Before I knew it, I the timer started beeping on the treadmill, and I was nearing the end of chapter four. I didn’t want to stop reading, but I knew I must.  I had a full plate of activities to complete (one including this blog) and would have to pick it up again the next morning.  

As I showered, I thought about how nice and refreshing it was to find a diamond in the rough amongst the bilge of self-publication.  I was literally at the point of fiercely advocating against ever reading another self-published title again.  I really, really hope the rest of the book lives up to the first few chapters.  I don’t even know the premise of the story I’m reading, having no idea how I even came across the novel.  It also made me think about how important it is to remember the reader, the audience, when writing a novel.  

Though we, the authors, are the first audience, it is not to ourselves to whom we must appeal, but to our readers.  Society today isn’t the same it was 100, 50, 25, 15 or even 10 years ago.  We live in a fast-paced world that demands our attention, and that attention is divided amongst multiple things in a single day.  A book written 100 years ago, could afford to start off slow and let the characters and emotion build around a central theme, because the readers usually only had one book at a time, and had plenty of time to read through it.  Today, books are published so often, through so many different avenues, and the reader is so inundated, that the writing style has to change to reflect the changing reader – or it will lose them by being left behind.   It’s too easy to put the novel aside and choose something else, and have instant accessibility through eReaders.  So, the story of today MUST be written in a format and a style that grabs the attention, teases the emotion, and broadens the imagination if it’s intent on hooking a reader.
For authors who refuse to change their style in order to meet the demands of the modern, current, and highly-pressured reading audience of the 21st century will find themselves left behind. So, my writing advice for today is this:  Don’t get stubborn and stuck in a rut (a ditch without an end), be open to change, and don’t forget the audience. Without readers, why write?  

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

I can't begin to express my gratitude and appreciation to all those who have bravely served in our armed services. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

My  baby is officially a Senior in high school now.  WHAT???  When in Hades did that happen?  It was just yesterday she was causing trouble in middle school.  These last few weeks have left me in the twilight zone.

My little girl (that's what she'll always be to me.  Have you seen that Subaru commercial where the dad is giving his 16-year old daughter driving and safety advice through the window of the car, but all he see's is a little 6-year old???? - well, that's how it is for me.) keeps reminding me that her 18th birthday is coming up.  I hear those words with my ears, but they don't compute like they should, because my inner ear hears "13" - the "3" being only half of the reflected "8". Everybody keeps telling me I have to let her grow up.  What I want is for somebody to SHOW me that law, and I won't accept ink and paper.  It has to be carved in stone by the finger of God.   I am in absolutely NO hurry for her to grow up.  She's doing just fine, just the way she is. 

Growing up is going to happen.  I know that. But, I don't have to rush it along.  I pushed too hard and too fast with my oldest daughter (23), and there's nothing I wouldn't give to grant her an opportunity to be a kid again.  There are some things I would definitely do differently.  But my time-travel superpower doesn't always work when I want it to.    My twenty-one year old son, doesn't seem to be in too big a hurry to grow up, but it's slipping up on him anyway.  One day I see a hungry, lazy, game-playing teenager, and the next I see a responsible, faithful, and mature man.  It goes back and forth between the two.  But, my baby ...I just refuse to think too much about it.  When it finally happens, I'll be forced to accept it, but until it does - leave me in peace, and let me enjoy what little time I have left with her still needing me.  Quit reminding me every two seconds that she's growing up.  Let me imagine her just a little bit longer, clinging to what remains of her childhood. 

Here's a little bit of statics for you:  You are an infant for only two years.  You are a child for only ten years.  You are a teenager for only seven years.  THEN you're an adult for the rest of your life.  Don't be in too big a hurry to become, or push someone else into becoming, an adult.  We've only got 19 years, on average only 5%, of our whole life to be in this youthful stage. So if my brain computes 13 instead of 18 - let it. In this instance - ignorance is bliss.

Now, I've got to get to work and see how much editing I can squeeze in before she wakes up and starts interrupting me - wanting or needing something, or just plain ol' bored and I'm the distraction.  (No, I'm not bipolar - but I sometimes play one in print.)

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Me Time!

Don't forget to take time for yourself.  
What we do, accomplish and inspire comes from what is already inside.
If you don't take time to replenish yourself, you won't have anything to give.
Do something for yourself today.
Have some "Me" time.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Know Your Strengths

I love the truth, but most of all I love those who are willing, and are brave enough, to tell the truth.  It would be great if ALL of us could do EVERYTHING.  But we can’t.  We are not God.  We are human and infallible; we have limitations.  However, we ALL have the potential to be heroes in our own quests.  Too many people waste their lives chasing the wrong dreams, wanting the happiness, love, success, career, family or money that someone else has received, and then feeling like a failure when they don’t achieve the same things as their neighbor. Most often – we want what they have, but we’re not willing to do what they did to get it. We live in a society that encourages success without effort.  Yet, each of us has within us, the potential for true greatness. 

I met a man recently, who has spent over forty years of his life chasing the dream of becoming a knight in shining armor, believing that slaying dragons was the only way to be a hero.  He traveled from town to town, searching for damsels to save, proclaiming his greatness while looking for the perfect quest to prove it.  However, in the meantime, he has not trained, not taken the time to practice his skills with a sword, or spent the time to train his horse for battle.  He has two left feet and is severely near-sighted.  He has not researched or studied the habits of his enemy -the dragon, nor has he bothered to procure a suit of armor.  He is a prince of a man, and travels with those who tell him only what he wants to hear, and so he believes himself to be what he is not.  However, there is another side of this man that the townsfolk also see – a man with a gentle heart, who is generous and kind.  He is often delayed in his pursuit toward heroism because he constantly stops, and with his wealth, helps those in need along the way.  In his wake, he has left a long line of encouragement, gratitude and goodness. Yet he sees none of it, only his failure to be the Knight of his dreams.  

The sad point of this story: Not everyone is born to be a dragon slayer, and it’s a shame this man must suffer because no one cared enough to tell him the truth.  This prince will probably die the first moment he faces a dragon, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations, but it will be the world that loses the most – it will lose a gentle, caring heart. We need both dragon slayers and missionaries (conservatives & liberals, soldiers & doctors, gatherers & givers). One is not more important than the other (though both often believe they are), but we need them to be what they were meant to be, or its all vanity.

Examine yourself. Know your strengths.  Most of all – don’t wait on someone else to tell you the truth – discover it on your own. Look around and behind you – what impact have you made? What kind of path have you left in your wake?  More than likely, no one has the guts to tell you the truth, anyway. And, if you’re self-deceived (which is very possible), you’re blind to the truth. Don’t waste your life – live it.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Story of Our Lives

Oh, how I long for the days of getting lost in the pages of a great adventure, where not only my mind, but my heart, soars for an honorable quest.  Every day I learn more and more why I love fantasy and the rise of a reluctant hero.  As I look around me, I see a world full of excuses; people blaming someone or something else for their own weaknesses and failures; too many pessimists lying daily by the gates and refusing to stand and carry their mats.

Where are the moral quests and those with the fortitude and integrity to face their demons in the midst of their fears, and rise above them? 

Where are the dreamers who dare to hope and do what they must to rise above their situations? 

Who has the courage to rise out of the blight and reach toward the heavens and change their stars?

There has, and will always be, class warfare.  Money and prestige isn't what makes the difference - but the heart. The heart determines whether we are heroes or villains.   It's the compassion and determination that can take a poor farmer and turn him into a knight in shining armor, or a make a king into a tyrant, or gives courage to a valiant prince to lay his life on the line for his kingdom, or turn a beggar into a rapist or thief. Yet, the daily squabble continues over who has and who has not, and I search the faces for a reluctant hero to rise from the masses.  

If fantasy has taught me anything, it's this:  The sword is in my own hand.  It matters not who I am, what I have, or where I'm from - only who I want to be, what I want to achieve and where I'm going.  I am my own hero - and I control my own adventure - I determine what kind of story I will live.  No one else has that power over me.   

What about you?  Which character are you?