Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Author:

If you’ve been anywhere near a media outlet recently, I’m sure you’ve heard that there was a school shooting in Marysville north of Seattle this morning. Two kids will never hug their parents again, several more are gravely wounded in the hospital.

There’s no parent who hears that kind of news and doesn’t immediately ache for those parents who have to endure the loss of their children. All parents live every day knowing that a part of their heart is walking around out there somewhere, climbing too high on monkey bars or riding their bikes off the sidewalk. To be a parent is to love courageously, because having children makes you vulnerable. You want to make their worlds safe for them, but the older your kids get, the more you realize that the world is not a safe place. Not for them, not for anybody.

It’s full of wonderful things and dangerous things, wonderful and dangerous people, and every imaginable combination in between. Every parent knows this, and yet we still bundle our children off to school every morning anyway and hope for nothing more than to have the people in their lives confirm our suspicion about the best in people.

I think in a situation like this one, where the tragedy has struck so close to home and is yet one more heartbreak in the wake of too, too many others, the temptation is to get angry. Anger is powerful, it feels so much better than sorrow. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I spent most of my teenage years feeling angry, because when you’re vulnerable and hurt, anger at least makes you feel somewhat powerful again.

Angry people, who have seen too many crying children and sobbing parents on news broadcasts that delight in monetizing suffering, cry out for a solution. They want someone to do something, to stem the tide of this anger that seems, so perplexingly, to be directed at children who should never have to know that kind of fear.

If I can, in my small, quiet corner of the Internet, speak any truth into the void, it would be that the most powerful thing any of us can ever do is to treat other people with kindness. I know this seems weak. What can kindness do against a handgun? But tragedies like these are never just one big boulder rolling down a mountain. They’re avalanches, where the weight of too many disappointments and hurts builds on itself until the momentum is too great and something integral is lost.

I have no idea who the shooter was, and I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know a single thing about that person. Instead, I want to treat every person I cross paths with as though that person is one bad day away from losing hope. I want to be kind, I want to be helpful. I want to reach out and show that person that despite what the news would have all of us believe, there is good in people and safety if you know where to look.

You can’t affect what others do. You can’t change someone’s mind and you can’t make someone do what you would do. But, you can be nice. You can be generous. You can be the one good example in ten bad ones in a person’s life.

That’s all you can do. That’s all any of us can do. Arguing about gun control or mental health procedures is all beside the point, because the point is, life is precious but some people have lost sight of that. To the detriment of all, I think.

So, to echo my friend Summer, “Hug your children today. Tell them how much you love them. Hug them with all your might. And pray for those who can’t hug theirs again.”

Go be kind. Be a good example. That’s all we can do. That, and hope that it’s enough.

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Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Author:

81b900d32d23126cb6c8281719d0bedbAs you may or may not know, I live in Seattle, which is home to the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year, which was pretty exciting to be a part of. Seahawks fans popped up everywhere, spectators at CenturyLink Field broke decibel records by being the noisiest fans in the NFL, and every game brought a rush to Seattle that was contagious.

I think I, along with a great many people, fully expected the Seahawks to replicate their success this year. I’m not a football fan, really, but I’m married to one so I have a minor emotional investment in the team’s success. The Seahawks have had an uneven start to the season this year, and now we’re sitting on our second loss in a row. It’s kind of a bummer.

I’ve been interested to see the shift in attitude among the fans I know. When the Hawks are winning game after game, there’s a fierce pride and pleasure in being a fan. After a loss, or now second loss, no one is talking about the Seahawks except to complain about how not-fun it is to watch the games when the Hawks don’t play up to expectations.

Wes and I were talking about Sunday’s game on Saturday, and whether or not Wes would watch it later in the day since the game would be on while we were at church. He said that if the Hawks lost, he might not even want to watch the game.

Curious, I asked him why. Wasn’t he a fan of the team? I wasn’t judging him, I was just curious. I’d always assumed he thought of himself as a true fan, as opposed to a fair-weather fan who only cheers when the team is winning. I asked him whether my understanding of fandom is incorrect, and he replied that no, it wasn’t, and he decided to watch the game win or lose.

It’s interesting to think of sports team loyalty, isn’t it? Especially when it’s not as much fun or as rewarding. I have no idea how fan reactions affect professional football players. I have no idea why a team can play well one week and then be completely uninspired the next week. There’s a ton I don’t know about how the symbiotic fan/team relationship works.

All I can suppose, however, is that if you can call yourself a fan, that seems like a pretty big commitment to the team, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it mean you believe in the team, no matter what? So, then, shouldn’t fans be trying to cheer the team up after a loss? Organizing some kind of encouraging hashtag or something to let the team know they’re still awesome and people still believe in them?

I feel like that’s how I’d want to behave if I were a fan. Then again, what do I know? I barely know what a non-pastry turnover is, so I’m far from an authority on these matters. You probably shouldn’t listen to me.

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Author:

You know you’ve been married for a good long while when having sole discretion over what to watch when you’re by yourself is somewhat…overwhelming. This is not to say that Wes is come kind of TV programming tyrant who rules our household with an iron fist. Far from it! It’s just that we usually talk about our options before settling on one, and I’m quite out of practice when it comes to having that conversation with just myself.

Wes was gone on business last night, and as I wrestled my children into bed, I couldn’t help but wonder: What to watch?

what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting-blu-ray-cover-89After ruling out anything too violent or scary, I settled on American Hustle. I’ve wanted to see it ever since one of the presenters at the FBI seminar I went to recommended it as being pretty accurate. I poured a glass of wine, got comfy, and then turned the movie off after about forty-five minutes because I just couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t for me.

On a lark, I decided to give What to Expect When You’re Expecting a try, because a friend had mentioned it on Facebook, and I was surprised , SURPRISED, by how much I enjoyed it. I’m normally not one to enjoy “chick flicks” but for some reason this one was the right movie in the right place at the right time for me.

So now, in the cold light of day, I have no choice but to wonder…What does it say about me that I’d rather watch a Cameron Diaz movie than a Christian Bale movie? American Hustle was bursting at the seams with quality acting talent and yet…Snoozeville. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, on the other hand, was light and fun and enjoyable to watch. It wasn’t high cinema by a long shot, but it was entertaining and that was primarily what I was looking for.

So again I ask, Have I become some kind of Facebook-addicted, lowbrow Philistine who’d rather be entertained than challenged? And if so, why don’t I feel bad about it?

Heady questions, friends. Heady questions.

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Author:

When you’re a thriller writer, chances are pretty good you’ll eventually have to write a fight scene. When that happens, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this my character’s first fight? Second? Ninetieth?
  • How does my character feel about his/her opponent? How does that assessment of his/her foe affect his/her strategy for the fight?
  • Is my character a trained fighter? If so, what kind of training?
Photo credit Erric, Deviant Art.

Photo credit Erric, Deviant Art.

Personally, I love a good fight scene, as a reader and as a writer. They’re a ton of fun if they’re done well, and informative to boot. After all, how many of us get into fights regularly enough to know good street fighting strategy?

When I was coming up with Bai Hsu, the main character of my Bai Hsu series, I had a really important decision to make: I knew I wanted him to be a skilled martial artist, but which martial art? Believe me, it is in no way sufficient to just say someone has a black belt and then leave it at that. A person with a black belt in Aikido is going to handle an attack a LOT differently than a person with a black belt in Krav Maga. You can’t write a fight scene unless you narrow the parameters a bit.

To do this, Wes and I watched a lot of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights. We assessed Bai’s physical strengths and ran those against his personality type and decided he held a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and had picked up Krav Maga and Muay Thai after joining the CIA. This means I get to have a lot of fun with fight scenes.

Typically what I’ll do is I’ll get the bones of the scene down and figure out three things:

  • What is the eventual goal of this fight scene? (Meaning, is Bai fighting for his life, or is he trying to disable someone? Is he responding to a threat, or is he making a point?)
  • What are Bai’s limitations? (How is feeling physically? Is he armed? Is the other person armed? etc.)
  • What is the other fighter’s skill level? Is Bai fighting a marshmallow who’ll go down in two moves or is he squaring off against someone with real training? (It’s always trickier to, but more fun, to write fight scenes with skilled opponents because then I get to figure out the blocking twice!)

Bai is very smart and he’s a strategic fighter, so he’s constantly thinking about these three things whenever he faces off against someone. After I answer those questions, I watch tutorial videos and MMA bouts until I have a general idea of what sequence of moves I think will take place, and then Wes and I will work out the blocking for the fight in our family room. It’s hilarious fun, we look like two lumbering, oafish brawlers.

After all that is finally done, I write down the scene all bare-bones like and then rewrite it and polish it until it matches the rest of the manuscript. It’s a ton of work, but it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. If Bai were here, he’d tell you it’s one of the best parts of his job, too! Good luck!

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Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Author:
Photo credit Aaron James Imagery

Photo credit Aaron James Imagery.

True confession: I’m not a “fancy” person. I can’t look at high art and ‘get’ it, I can’t really differentiate the nose of a Cabernet and a Merlot, and I can’t taste a gourmet dish and tell you what, exactly, I like about it other than that it tastes good.

That said, I do like things. I can’t always provide a fancy-pants high brow explanation of why I like things, but I definitely know what I like. (Unless we’re talking about writing, of course, about which I know enough to be exceptionally picky.)

When it comes to photography, I tend not to be interested unless the photo in question tells a story of some kind. I’m a storyteller, I like to be transported. I fully believe in photography’s ability, when done right, to take you somewhere new so you can feel something. It’s about freezing and preserving a moment in time. I like photography to be rich and textured, and can’t usually say I’m terribly blown away by what I see touted as photography.

Photo credit Aaron James Imagery.

Photo credit Aaron James Imagery.

Except when I look at my friend Aaron James’s work. There’s something magical about what he does with a camera. It isn’t anything fancy or contrived, he just has this natural ability to capture the exact images that define moments and feelings. The guy’s got great instincts, and it shows in his work.

I don’t know if it’s because of how he uses light, or because his finger instinctively knows when to press down on the shutter, or because he’s just one of those people for whom these things come naturally. What I do know is that he’s serious about his craft and it’s a lot of fun to watch him do what he loves.

Photo credit Aaron James Imagery.

Photo credit Aaron James Imagery.

His real specialty is children. He’s a father of three and, as such, has this uncanny ability to take pictures that tell you everything you need to know about his subjects in a single image. Unfortunately for you, I can’t show you the incredible pictures he took of my kids because I’m protective of my kids’ privacy. Just trust me. They’re stunning.

In case you’re a Seattle area local and you want Aaron to make you look good too, he’s currently taking bookings and charges reasonable (read: affordable) rates. Check out his website here or just email him at aaronsbjames{at}gmail{dot}com.

He in no way asked me to blog about him or compensated me for this post, I just believe in him. A good photographer deserves to have tons of work to do, and you deserve to have terrific photos taken of you. You’ll be so happy you hired him, trust me.

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