Steve Kurkjian the Mastermind: Pulitzer Winning Themes

Photo: Kurkjian at The Boston Globe Pulitzer Prize Winners by J. Wilder Bill

Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Master Thieves, Steve Kurkjian on Pulitzer Winning Themes—

While Stephen tirelessly researches and investigations, his recognition wouldn’t have reached such heights without his developing a powerful writing style. He authored a nonfiction book, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, which creates such complex controversies regarding the theories behind the unsolved mystery, it is being made into a movie.

Purpose of the Theme

Kurkjian takes responsibility as a journalist by informing the public of what it lost as a result of the art theft. His objective in writing the book creates his theme and ties the subplots together. He shares a personal curiosity about the theft because his father was an artist. He identifies with the value of history being taken away due to his ancestors surviving the Armenian genocide. He dedicated his life to bringing awareness to the public for the purpose of demanding justice.

Which qualities in a writer do you consider most critical in creating a story with an impact?

Ernest Hemingway, who began his writing career as a reporter with the Toronto Star, said in an interview years later that working for a newspaper can make someone a better writer but they have to have “quit” in time. By that, I am thinking he meant that if the reporter wants to become a creative writer they must give up the standards/principles that journalism is based on and depend on a different set of tools in capturing the readers’ attention. 

Whereas Fairness and thoroughness are needed in journalism, imagination is the essential element – and determination the difference-maker between success and failure – of the creative writer. (I recall an interview with Bruce Springsteen in which Ted Koppel asked him now that he was successful and well-to-do, how would Bruce write those songs which were so vivid about the underclass and the downtrodden. Only a hint of his songs stemmed from real-life experience, Bruce responded, the rest was pure imagination and the gifts of language and song.) I like to tell the journalism students whom I teach that they should have no illusion they are artists – we’re craftsmen, and –women. Your siblings who are cooks, ballet dancers or woodworkers are the artists in your family.

Present one theory, relay the facts from every angle, and then present another theory.

Since the crime that I was writing about in Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, has not been solved I needed to present the facts of the case in the clearest way. That included showing why a select number of individuals had been considered suspects yet the doubt that involved each of them, which meant why they were never indicted, and why they never assisted with any recovery.

Deliver suspense.

I knew the material would turn tedious if the reader enters the chapter or segment knowing that the individual isn’t going to lead to a recovery. But I still present them in their most human terms – what brought them to the attention of the authorities, what shreds tied the to the case, etc. –  and in that way made the reader like a mini-investigator capturing the thrill of the hunt as well as the frustration of the final say.

Is your style of leaving no stone unturned a secret weapon for creating award winning stories? Can you tell us what makes a writer rise to the level of winning a Pulitzer?

Working with diligence and determination, and writing with honesty and clarity are the essential elements of great reporting. I often say that the most powerful sentence in the English language starts with these words: 

“I am (name of the reporter) from (the local newspaper) and I would like to know….” 

Inspired by free press.

The reason has nothing to do with the name of the individual or even the news organization they represent, but more important because of the First Amendment to the American Constitution which ensures the freedom of the press. We have an essential role in a functioning democracy and it’s the reason why Jefferson wrote that if he had to choose between a free press or government, he’s opt for the free press. And the reason is that he knew that the only way that divergent views on public policies – those expressed by the minority party – would never get the attention of the public unless there was an independent press showing where the majority party was failing to meet its obligations to the citizenry, where tyranny, corruption or force was taking place rather than adequate performance. The press/media has immense influence in what the public thinks about the performance of government and major institutions in America, but it also has immense responsibilities in carrying out those responsibilities.

Clean writing style.

I would like to say that my creative writing was responsible for any of my three Pulitzers but it wasn’t. Creative writers don’t usually come out of journalism. There a terrific Hemingway quote, which I used in my book that goes something like this: 

“Working for a newspaper can make you a better writer but you have to quit in time.” 

Having spent a 40-year career in newspapering I can say definitively that I never quit my craft.

Facts for journalism.

But in thinking about Hemingway’s statement, I have come to understand the reasons why it is such a truthful one. The newspaper account is primarily based on a strict adherence to facts. There is little left to the imagination, and the best pieces of fiction are based primarily on imagination. 

Imagination for fiction.

I remember vividly an interview that Bruce Springsteen gave decades ago and a reporter asked him now that he was famous and well-off how would he be able to capture those tales of the denied and downtrodden, whether in desperate cities or dried-out villages. Springsteen looked at him and said none of those stories had come out of any personal experience that Springsteen had – they all flowed from his imagination.

Unique perception for great story telling.

And it told me that the best of our writers are those with the most vivid imagination, who are willing to put in the hard work of hammering their stories into creative fiction. The story comes out of a single character or experience but then the writer, like the sculptor working at an anvil, has to hammer and hammer away until they have conveyed the essence of what their eyes saw in a moment’s notice or a chance conversation.

Faulkner said he gained the idea of Sound and Fury – perhaps the greatest work of fiction with the greatest title ever written – from a single scene: watching a little girl swinging high on a swing and exposing her britches while doing so. Now that’s an artist, that’s a creator!

***   

Thank you, Stephen Kurkjian, not just for sharing your five star writing techniques, but also for caring about your readers. Your devotion to writing transformed your family hardships and talents into a vehicle for protecting others. You’ve made a positive global impact that will continue for generations. 

Connect with Kurkjian at www.stephenkurkjian.com to learn more about the facts behind Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, and keep an eye out for the release of the movie.

For more thoughts on factual writing, please see, Stephen Kurkjian Mastermind: Plotting Style & Stephen Kurkjian Mastermind: Presenting Complex Relationships.

 

Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Plotting Style

Photo: The Boston Globe by J. Wilder Bill

Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Kurkjian brainstorms story structure and plotting.

In his non-fiction book, Master Thieves, Kurkjian begins with the suspect who has the most emotional connection to the crime scene and ends with the suspect who has the clearest motive. In between is a diverse cast of outrageous criminals who have complicated relationships with one another. He interviewed witnesses, investigators, and suspects for hundreds of hours. Then, compared their testimonies.

The evidence is layered with several theories that build on one-another. He holds back information, until he’s established his case to support a fresh theory. He concludes with documented proof.

What is your criteria in deciding the order you reveal the facts and introduction of characters?

With newspaper articles, the structure is almost always the same, and is built like an inverted triangle. The key element of the article is at the top of the story – and it is written as directly/powerfully as possible. These stories usually are written after months of reporting so there is a lot of material to wade through to figure out “what it all means,” “what do I have here,” and how do I convey this material so the most important element is at the top and potential lasting impact of the information is conveyed.

Pulitzer winner structure.

Remember in the movie SPOTLIGHT there was an internal debate on the team as to whether the original story that would be written would focus on one priest – Fr. John Geoghan – whom the Boston Archdiocese had moved from parish to parish despite a litany of complaints about his molesting boys at each past assignment or focus on that there were dozens of such priests within the Archdiocese who had such allegations against them. 

Strongest facts shape the lead and set up future stories.

In the end, the editor of The Globe decided the initial story would focus on Geoghan and that decision was primarily based on the fact that the Spotlight reporters had information on Geoghan which was more unassailably true than the conclusion that similar forgiving actions appeared to have been taken on other priests. Newspaper articles need to be accurate, especially investigative ones, and the fact that Geoghan was not a solitary figure within the Archdiocese, that there were so many other priests who had abused kids who had been treated with such forgiveness by the church, would be revealed with future coverage.

Research is critical.

Investigative articles like this are meant to shock the reader, to capture their attention. Often though the material is complicated and perhaps suggestive of an abuse rather than convincing. The necessity is to present the reporting as accurately as possible – with on-the-record interviewing; documentation; and data collection. Data rebuts or clouds the revelation must also be included as well as an honest effort to convey “the other side,” that is the explanation of the individual, agency or institution whose performance is being questioned by the article.

Theme trumps motivation.

When it comes to motivation I pretty much subscribe to the explanation that Sidney Pollack gave to George Clooney who asked in the movie Michael Clayton why a colleague may have committed suicide: “Because people are fucking inscrutable, that’s why.” I can divine a host of reasons as to why a person might make an act that I would be writing about – greed, ambition, hatred, fear and even loyalty. But most often my readers aren’t interested in motivation – as an investigative reporter, my assignment is to come up with stories that they would not have otherwise known about had it not been for my reporting.

Facts boost story transitions.

The stories that I most often deal with are complicated matters, replete with data, anecdotal information, quotes and summary paragraphs which often serve as transitions. That’s a lot to pack in, and I like to organize the material before I actually sit down to write. The outline is what I call the spin of my story.

Sentence structure.

Being complicated, I try to write as directly as possible, and the more complicated the material, the shorter my sentences. I am wary of making the material tedious to weigh through so I arrange my paragraphs in such a way that every succeeding paragraph is going to address a question that might naturally flow out of the previous paragraph.

Establish the lead and summary.

Once I have finished stacking the material in as seamless a fashion as I can, I usually know what my lead will be, what my summary paragraph will be – at The Globe we use to call it the “who-ha” graph which basically translates into why the reader should be spending his valuable time in reading it, taken together what do the facts of the article say about the administration of justice or effectiveness of a particular agency that we are writing about.

Isolate shocking facts.

The outline will also isolate the major abuses that my reporting has found, and present them in a clear, hopefully powerful way, and include quantifiable data that shows the reader that the reporting is solid/accurate and substantive. 

Do you develop a story by plotting the arc of a hero’s journey before you investigate, or does the information you learn develop the pattern of the plot?

I spend an inordinate amount of time during and after completing my reporting in analyzing what I have found. That material – the proof that supports/proves – the lead is presented in summary form in the top third of the story. In addition, the top third contains the summary graph that presents how the abuse happened but also the underlying causes for it and what that abuse says about the overall integrity/effectiveness of the institution in question.

Show the how, why, and what in first third of story.

At the Globe, this paragraph is called “the who-ha” graph and is meant to convey the overall significance of what the article has revealed. Investigative reporters are in the end social scientists who have discovered something new and aberrant that has been taking place in our community and that this aberration is having a negative effect on the people within the community.

Selecting a hook.

During my career as an investigative reporter, I liked working on issues/articles that affected the largest number of people. Such stories usually involved me with public health, education, safety, transportation and the health of the local economy. These agencies that provide these essential services – schools, police and fire, economic development, public works, public hospitals, and courts – are paid for by the taxpayers’ dollars and it is an essential for newspapers and media organizations to be evaluating how effective they are doing their jobs. If the police are making fewer arrested for domestic abuse; if minorities are being stopped and frisked for minor traffic offenses; if the survival rate of cardiac patients is less (or more) at our local hospital; of some neighborhood streets get quicker snow plow services than others because politically-connected people live in the favored neighborhoods – then all of those possibilities deserve attention or at least awareness.

Standards for a journalist.

Reporters are trained in the essentials of journalism – fairness and thoroughness – in every course that they take. Such standards are maintained at every newspaper, regardless of their size, in the country and readers should be aware that such standards underlie every article that they read, and know that they can depend on the product of that reporting.

An example of objective and complete reporting.

Such an approach worked for me when I confronted a priest who several men had alleged had sexually abused them years before. This was during the height of The Globe’s coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and was shown vividly – with one major inaccuracy – in the movie SPOTLIGHT. 

Stephen Kurkjian continues brainstorming at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Pulitzer Quality Writing & at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Presenting Complex Relationships.

Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Presenting Complex Relationships

Stephen Kurkjian at a book signing

Photo: Compliments of Stephen Kurkjian

Author Stephen Kurkjian is known for his life-changing stories as an investigative journalist for The Boston Globe. He is a hero who grinds out the truth of a story to benefit the public. His tenacity in uncovering the facts is shown by his receiving numerous awards, and his winning the Pulitzer Prize three times puts Stephen Kurkjian within the most talented league of authentic storytellers.

Kurkjian reached such heights by developing a powerful writing style. He authored a nonfiction book, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, which creates such complex controversies regarding the theories behind the unsolved mystery, it is being made into a movie. 

I had the pleasure of getting to know Kurkjian while he investigated the art theft. I am thrilled to share his award-winning writing techniques over a series of articles where he brainstormed the elements of style. 

Presenting Complex Relationships

Stephen covers every angle with an emphasis on revealing the perceptions of the people he interviews, which read as fully developed characters. He introduces each prospective criminal with his back story. He uses the lifetime of struggles and desires to pave an explanation of how each could have been involved with the art heist. Stephen’s colorful descriptions made me care about the suspects. 

How do you develop a character a reader can relate while exposing their darkest sides?

The characters whom I write about have not been created by me as I write solely in non-fiction. What I try to convey about them is their uniqueness, what sets them apart from their criminal associates. For the most part, it is because they were smarter and/or more violent than their associates, and I try to capture/convey that as honestly as possible.

How to approach an interviewee. 

I like to let such associates describe/define themselves so as much as possible I seek interviews with the bad guys whom I am writing about. I am persistent in seeking their cooperation but never offensively so. (You have to remember these men usually have a tendency towards violence!) My first approach is to their lawyers so the target knows right from the start that I am trying co interview them, and why. I also let them know why I am seeking their cooperation – how they fit into the story. These men don’t like to be surprised, nor upset.

Establishing elements of back story.

It is important in writing about them in newspaper articles to try not to magnify their roles or mock them. I will include some of what may seem like their excesses – the frequency of their dropping F-bombs in their answers; their suspicious natures or narrowness of views – but I also try to get to what drives them to use violence, real or faked, as a tool in their everyday operation.

Support the allegation.

How to assure myself of that? Every case is different, but I always depend on documentation to prove my allegation – and not opinion or an unidentified source. Second, I make every attempt to confront the person whom I am writing about with the substance of the allegation before I publish it. That means giving the person a copy of the document on which I am basing my article, or providing them with the data on which I am basing my conclusions about their performance.

Level of proof.

After deciding on what story I am going to pursue, my basic rule of thumb of whether I have proven the allegation is “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” To be indicted on a criminal charge, it must be shown that the offense took place “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s not good enough for me because I believe that I am going to be taking away something even more valuable than a person’s liberty/freedom by a negative story, I am going to target his reputation. There is an old country expression that I was brought up on, lose your arm before you lose your name. So before I publish an allegation, I want to make absolutely sure that it is correct.

Getting the interviewee to open up.

In the end it is almost like asking the individual to confess his crime, or at least provide an explanation for why they did such an offensive act. The approach I take in such cases is to confront the individual in person and tell him or her that such criminality or corruption will continue to go on unless those who are caught in its grips speak up and explain why they did it.

What to report.

My job as an investigative reporter begins by answering two fundamental questions about a piece of information that has been presented to me as news (we call it a “tip”): 

1.) Is it true? And, can I prove it is true so I can document it. 

Once, I pass through those two gates, the next question that I must answer for myself and my readers is: 

2.) Even if it is true, is it worth the time and hard work that it is going to take to publish it in the paper? 

Choosing a hook.

As a rule of thumb, I prefer to spend my time reporting on issues that involve the greatest amount of people – so tips involving the public health, education, public safety and transportation gain my most interest. To write about a public works commissioner who had a lavish vacation home built for him free of charged by a developer whom he had favored with multi-million dollar contracts is going to draw headlines, of course, but is it a more important story than showing public transit in our community discriminates against poorer, black neighborhoods with slower service and more unreliable buses and drivers? Those questions must be asked by reporters and editors all the time.

Baiting the hook.

Since I am a news reporter I try to find the motivation that would explain why an individual might have committed a particular act. As you know, the reporter’s job is to answer these fundamental questions of an event – 

1.) Who did it? 

2.) What happened?

3.) Where did it take place and when? 

4.) How did it happen? and,

5.) Why did it happen? — the most important and difficult question to answer.

For more thoughts on factual writing, please see, Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Plotting Style & at Stephen Kurkjian the Mastermind: Pulitzer Quality Writing.

.

Cas Peace on Medieval Storytelling

image of St. Andrews ruins in Scotland

Photo: Cathedral of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland by J. Wilder Bill

King’s Envoy is the first novel in the fantasy series, Artesans of Albia, by Cas Peace. An Albian Baron in the fourth dimension sets out to destroy the Artesan craft but first he must gain the power to cross through each realm. Peace shares how to craft a fantasy set in medieval times. 

Are your realms based on the Buddhist concept of multiple worlds, where each is unable to see one another, yet at times, they notice one another’s presence?

My five realms does owe something to Eastern beliefs, if only in a small way. I was intrigued by the possibilities that might arise when completely separate and self-contained worlds, all of which evolved their own distinct beliefs, cultures and customs, could be visited at will by denizens of the other realms. Add the proviso that only an elite core would have this ability and you create a volatile and infinitely variable set of possibilities.

If you met either of your main female characters in person, what qualities would you want to change in them?

I love this question! Each of my characters have their faults, such flaws are what make us human. One is a healer. She is trained, talented and extremely capable, the kind of person you’d want by your side in a medical emergency. Yet take her out of her comfort zone and she becomes shy and insecure. Her confidence only extends as far as her knowledge of herbs, ailments and treatments. As the series progresses she does gain personal confidence, but only when among people she knows.

My other female lead possesses all the confidence the healer lacks. She knows her strengths and weaknesses and isn’t afraid to test herself against whatever life throws at her. She takes her successes humbly, while her failures do not break her. Her worst quality is that in times of stress she resorts to bad language.

In the opening chapter, Taran’s poor judgment places the wrath of an ambitious kingdom on his clan. What does this reveal about the character?

This was a method of showing Taran’s naivety and innocence. He’s had so many failures that he’s willing to try anything. Based purely on some notes left by his father, he sets off to a foreign realm, with the aim of challenging a man to a duel. Its dreadful outcome leaves him morally wounded as well as physically. It reveals the flaws in Taran’s training as well as his nature, and leaves him embarrassed and vulnerable. Yet although he is broken and frightened, he doesn’t shirk his responsibility. Here lies Taran’s strength, and what enables him to move forward and become the person others know he can be.  

Your heroine released her individuality and abides by the codes and orders of her superiors. Did you model her on a medieval knight? 

The fantasy genre doesn’t have enough women who compete with men, and become superior to them, without compromising their femininity. My heroine’s wounded past, and the events that befall her, mold her character and cause her to react in certain ways. When coupled with her deep sense of loyalty and duty, and driven by the tremendous power she commands, they create a dangerous entity, one who possesses the capability to destroy as much as to heal. The question is – will the many traumas she suffers during the course of her mission overcome her love and loyalty, turning them to hatred and destruction?

Which did you consider to be most important, authenticity of the medieval period or the elements of fantasy?

Fantastical elements become stranger and more wonderful when placed in a mundane setting. Small details, provided they’re not overdone, help bring a character vividly to life. Immersing myself deeply into my story and my characters, so deeply that I see what they see, smell what they smell, and hear their voices, is the only way I can write.

Did you develop character through the joy of developing a bond with horses and in showing how they are necessary for survival?

My intention in incorporating such intimate details was to allow the reader to become immersed in the setting. Horses were an essential and vital part of medieval life. I harbor a deep love of horses; I am a qualified horse-riding instructor and spent my early adulthood working and teaching in a school of equitation. I purchased a small Welsh cob named Lively – and trained him to pull a carriage. I competed in cross-country driving events, carriage-dressage, and was among the first allowed access to the M25, England’s most notorious motorway.

The point of view shifts between characters throughout King’s Envoy. Was it imperative for the reader to know more than the protagonist in order to increase tension?

Because the plot spans two different realms and involves more than one faction, it would be impossible to convey sufficient information through a single character. Events occur that would be meaningless and would confuse rather than enlighten were it not for a change of POV. There are also several sub-plots bubbling under the storyline – these all necessitate the use of more than one point of view. The story sticks with one character until the plot demands a switch. Intimately learning the motivations, aspirations and emotions of several characters enhances a reader’s experience.

At what point should a writer plan to create a series?

When the writer knows that those characters have more to give. Readers like to follow a fictional character’s ‘career’ just as much as that of a celebrity or a family member. Look at Conan Doyle’s’ Sherlock Holmes, or a more modern analogy, Peter James’ Roy Grace, or, to stick with fantasy, Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant. We all like familiarity and reading about our favorite characters is like catching up with old friends.

Thank You, for the opportunity to reveal these facts about King’s Envoy. I’d also like to say how much fun I had answering your challenging and insightful questions. The process made me think about my book from a slightly different angle, and often gave me pause for thought. I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on the novel!

Thank you for your interest, all the best, Cas Peace.

Your knowledge on how to create a believable fantasy set in medieval times is deeply appreciated. For additional questions, you can find Peace at www.caspeace.com.

Joyce Sweeney Rocks the Clock

image of a Goddess sculpture on Capitol Hill

Photo: Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. by J. Wilder Bill

Artwork: Clio by Carlo Franzoni, Clock by Simon Willard

Authoress, Joyce Sweeney, lives the hero’s journey with her writing. She flourishes as an author by winning the first Delacorte Press Prize for Outstanding First Young Adult Novel, the Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards, and the Nevada Young Readers Award. She has a book named a Top Ten Sports Pick by Booklist, four times her books are named Best Books for Young Adults, and four additional times are Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.

Within the writing industry, she is appreciated for co-creating with Jamie Morris, the four act Plot Clock. Like so many great dramatists, her life mimics her art.

At the initial stage of Joyce’s life as a writer, she fulfills the elements of the Plot Clock’s Act I, by dissecting horrific scenarios through young adult novels. She forces teens to embark outside their nests due to dire circumstances that even grown-ups could hardly handle. The pressure to outsmart life’s enemies is coupled with dysfunctional families and self-inflicted obstacles; yet, Sweeney plots her characters’ paths without judgment as to whether the high drama they confront could have been avoided.

J. Wilder:

Joyce sets forth nurturing overtones in her narrative, along with realism in her characters and their conflicts. Do you create dramatic intensity by writing narrative with an unbiased opinion about the characters or by steering the readers to see the world your way?

Joyce:

I think in every work of fiction, every character is an aspect of the author. So even with the antagonists, and this is where the hard work comes, I have to have some sympathy, some understanding and some guilty association with what they feel. Without that, you aren’t building a true world, you are just grinding your own axe. But then layered on top of that, is the point of view. The main character can have much different feelings from me the author, and should. And we can both be wrong! In Players, I have sympathy for Noah, Corey has sympathy for Noah but a different character, Luke, is the one who is right about him.

J. Wilder:

A signature of a Joyce Sweeney novel is the significance of strong friendships. Are functional relationships as crucial for character development as those dysfunctional families authors consistently embellish?

Joyce:

Absolutely. You have to have the dysfunction or you have no conflict, no story. If you’re in a place in the main character’s life where no one is challenging or testing them, you are in the wrong place. But I am a very social creature myself and very aware of relationships and how much help I get on a daily basis from those around me. So my characters always have those support systems as well.

J. Wilder:

During Act II of her writing accomplishments, Joyce develops her skills like a warrior preparing for the final battle through the exercise of teaching others her trade secrets. In what ways did your writing transition as a result of you mentoring others?

Joyce:

I started teaching classes around 1990 and I think one can easily see a jump forward in quality in my own writing around that time…between Tiger Orchard and Shadow. My earliest books are good too, Center Line for instance, because I was in graduate school studying craft. In the middle, you forget, you lapse, you make mistakes. As soon as I was reviewing the principles of craft to my students, I was reviewing them for myself and my work got much tighter.

J. Wilder:

At the end of Act II of her dynamic career, Joyce is dealt a low in life, symbolized by the death of her dearest companions. Her artistic expression of those unlocked emotions most of us avoid digesting shifted her craft to an authentic poetic form. In what way does poetry develop writers’ descriptive signatures of emotions and settings?

Joyce:

For me, there was a period that covered a double blow in life. My mother’s Alzheimer’s and subsequent death followed very fast by my friendship with Irene, which ended in her suicide. During this entire dark period, I didn’t have the energy required to process my feelings into fictional stories or put on any kind of dramatic mask. I could just cry out my feelings first person and raw and real. That’s poetry. Poets are courageous beings. They come onstage with no makeup or props. Now that I’m feeling better I see I went back to the safe haven of fiction.

J. Wilder:

In synch with Act III, Joyce brings stories into three-dimensional time and space by directing and producing theatrical works in South Florida. This physical form of storytelling leads to her climatic endeavor to release a multigenerational fantasy saga set in Atlantis. What elements of character development are crucial for creating the complexities of relationships over several generations? 

Joyce:

Well, this is brand new territory for me. Until this Atlantis book came to me, I wasn’t even a fan of generational sagas or long timelines…one reason I loved YA is that it covers one character very intensely through a short timeline. But since I’m still in the middle of this process, I don’t honestly know why I suddenly wanted a bigger cast and a bigger canvas. You link it to theater…I’m not sure. Could be. Theater is a very collaborative art compared to writing, so it may be that my ‘camera angle’ has widened.  Stay tuned!

 

Joyce Sweeney breaks down readership barriers by understanding the reader’s perspective in relating to his world at each stage of life. Regardless of the genre, Joyce Sweeney consistently presents protagonists searching for a way to accomplish seemingly unachievable goals, thus serving readers as a nurturing life coach. Joyce Sweeney can be reached via www.SweeneyWritingCoach.com.

Join the World Peace Diet

image of sign in Tennessee mountains

Photo: Lookout Mountain, Tennessee by J. Wilder Bill

When we heal the earth, We heal ourselves. David Orr

The World Peace Diet is painless to practice. Devised by Will Tuttle, Ph.D., the visionary speaker, educator, author, and musician shares the impact the foods we consume has on not only our physical bodies, but also on our spiritual well-being. Dr. Will Tuttle emphasizes the significance our dietary choices make in influencing worldwide harmony. He provides innovative insights of the philosophical masters and the patterns mankind has followed throughout history and he shares the meaning behind his words in this interview.

J. Wilder:

You provide a full description of Plato’s theories regarding the benefits of people adopting an animal free diet. Why did some of Plato’s knowledge regarding science remain public while his information about adopting a vegan lifestyle vanished from available books? 

Dr. Tuttle:

Actually, in The World Peace Diet, I discuss several ancient Greek & Roman philosophers who all advocated a vegan diet and lifestyle – Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, and Plutarch. Pythagoras is considered the father of vegetarianism and vegan living in our Western world, and until the mid 1800s vegetarians were referred to as Pythagoreans. Pythagoras emphasized the spiritual, social, and health benefits of a plant-based diet, and warned people who if they killed animals for food, they would also kill each other in wars. These important ideas are more vital now than ever, and form the foundation of The World Peace Diet. Plato (like his teacher Socrates) was in many ways a Pythagorean and taught that herding livestock led to conflicts over land and to warfare. Plotinus was a neo-Platonist and strong advocate of compassion to animals, as was Plutarch, a Roman historian.

Their ideas have been covered over simply because they make people in our culture uncomfortable with what is their most basic behavior: eating food. This is unfortunate, of course, because if these teachings were heeded by us today, we would be able to reduce the many diseases caused by eating animal foods, as well as the environmental devastation that is unavoidable in growing vast amounts of grain and legumes and feeding them to animals who are hyper-confined, mutilated, and killed at the rate of 75 million per day in the U.S. alone. People are starving and malnourished, and it’s completely unnecessary, and all this slaughter is similarly unnecessary, and the war and inequity that flows from it as well.

J. Wilder:

In The World Peace Diet, you posit a hidden and powerful core mentality in our culture – what is that?

Dr. Tuttle:

All of us are born into a culture that injects into us from infancy a program that forces us to look with eyes that see certain beings as things – as commodities that exist merely to be killed and eaten. This mentality of reducing beings to things—commoditization of life—is devastating to our inherent intelligence, sensitivity, and compassion. It leads to a mentality of exclusion, elitism, might-makes-right, privilege, and disconnectedness. It is this mentality that is injected into us through our three daily meals, where we are all forced to participate in rituals in which sentient beings are reduced to mere flesh and secretions. We are forced to eat them, thus internalizing this mentality that is totally contrary to our well-being and the well-being of the Earth and of other animals. By far the most intelligent, creative, caring, and aware action that any human being in our culture can engage in is to extricate themselves from this toxic and destructive program, and switch to a plant-based way of eating and living, out of compassion to the whole web of life in which we are all embedded. This is the foundation of joy, peace, abundance, wisdom, health, and happiness for all.

J. Wilder:

According to your studies, people initially consumed fruit, nuts and leaves. What prompted humans to deviate from his healthful diet?

Dr. Tuttle:

No one knows the answer to this question. We don’t even know what happened in history, much less in pre-history! What happened on 9//11? Who killed JFK? What happened just a few days or years ago? We don’t know! What we have are “official stories” that are created for our consumption in order to keep everyone enslaved to a system of domination and ignorance, where we are willing to work in jobs that rob us of our precious time and resources, and imprison us in the ignorance of separateness, willing to fight wars and eat animals and destroy the Earth without comprehending our true purpose on this Earth.

Today, we can see that we are designed for plant-based foods, and whatever reasons people have had in the past for eating animal foods (which I discuss at length in The World Peace Diet), we can easily see that it is terrible for our physical, psychological, cultural, ecological, and spiritual health. Any one of us can prove this in our own lives as well!

So rather than look too much to the past, I think it’s a great idea to be pulled by the future. Let’s envision an abundant, peaceful, creative, and joyful future, and base our behavior on reaching that, rather than trying to figure out how we should be driven by a past that we will never completely know or understand (at least until we go vegan and awaken our latent wisdom)!

J. Wilder: 

Your information regarding how humans transitioned from being peaceful gatherers and gardeners to being aggressive figures who dominate and own living creatures as property provides a clear image of how our diet and its required mentality impacts our emotional stability. In what ways would humankind improve if we resisted eating animal products?

Dr. Tuttle:

By ceasing to eat animal foods, we begin the process of extricating ourselves out of the pervasive program of violence and reductionism that ensnares our culture in ignorance and war. The mentality required to reduced beings to mere objects of property is the essence of the problem, and by rejecting that, we open the door of the prison that we are in. Anyone of us can do this at any time! Going vegan is actually just the first step out of the prison. We are called by our inherent wisdom to shed all the layers of violence, fear, and delusion that cover the light of pure consciousness that we truly are. Going vegan is the first essential step, and it means adopting an attitude of radical inclusion whereby we cultivate respect and kindness for all beings, both human and animal. This is the essence of the inner work that is the foundation of transforming our lives and our world. As I say in The World Peace Diet, we cannot build a tower of love with bricks of cruelty. As we eat and act and relate with kindness and love, we build a body, emotions, and life of harmony and freedom.

J. Wilder:

The quote by Benjamin Franklin captured the experiences of many vegans with regard to attending social gatherings with the commitment to avoid consuming animal foods. Do vegans benefit spiritually by standing firm on their beliefs even when it causes strife within their communities? 

Dr. Tuttle:

It is quite humorous to say that vegans are causing strife within their communities by not going along with the meals and attitudes of exclusion, oppression, and mindless violence that are required by animal foods. As vegans, we are bystanders to the horrific violence perpetrated by people who take out their wallets and pay for animal-sourced foods. We are witnessing and questioning the unnecessary cruelty toward animals, and any “strife” we cause is the precious energy of liberation that will help both the perpetrators and the animals become free from this devastating situation. If we are doing our jobs well, we are causing significant cognitive dissonance by providing examples of people who are not afraid to be kind and to lovingly speak the truth about the interconnectedness of all life. Through this we can transform our world!

J. Wilder:

The observation that consuming dead animals kills the person who swallowed the flesh provides a vegan solution to many medical ailments. In what ways would world economy benefit from the decrease in physical disease and deterioration?

Dr. Tuttle:

If people stopped eating animal foods, our economy would be enormously blessed. The way it’s set up now, there is a small, wealthy elite that is enriching itself at the expense of people, animals, and the Earth. All are abused and becoming more diseased. Switching to a plant-based diet is an action of liberation. We stand up, open our hearts, and proclaim to the world that we love and that we are willing to act on that love. Our physical and psychological health immediately improve, as does our spiritual health. We begin to create healthier communities wherever we are, and we significantly reduce our ecological footprint on the Earth. We begin to create new economies based on spiritual growth and caring, rather than being slaves to a system of oppression and death. As vegan living continues to grow and percolate through our culture, we will see enormous healing energies released that will counteract the insane inequities that are perpetrated by the transnational financial and corporate powers. It all begins on our plates, and extends outward from there.

J. Wilder:

Some people express a lack of care about cows, chickens, fish, pigs, and other animals, and starving people. Should those who are concerned respond?

Dr. Tuttle:

We have to remember that anger, whether it’s expressed or repressed, tends to be toxic not only to ourselves but to others and to our relationships. Anger causes acidification and contraction, physiologically, and can lead to a variety of physical and psychological complications. It is exclusionary, (though not as exclusionary as indifference) and veganism is the path of expansion and inclusion.

For me, a wonderful way to understand and deal with the anger that tends to arise in these types of situations is to contemplate and remember the Taoist teaching of Chuang-tzu, who offered a metaphorical teaching about a boat. If you’re laying down in a boat on a lake, quietly resting, and suddenly another boat just whams into you without any warning, you’d probably get immediately irritated and angry and leap up, ready to yell at the thoughtless pilot of this other boat. Yet, if upon doing so, you suddenly see that the other boat is actually empty, and it just drifted into your boat, propelled by the winds of karma, you immediately see how foolish it is to be angry in this situation, and all anger dissipates. You even burst out laughing.

This is the same with us. The people we get angry with are empty boats. There is a karmic wind propelling them, and their words and actions, and it is essentially the programming of our culture. Why yell at or be angry with someone who is propelled by the cultural program? Is it wise to yell at and be angry with a program? With the wind? They are asleep – sleep walking and sleep talking. In many ways, it’s pretend sleep walking and sleep talking. We get frustrated and angry because they are causing harm to others and we want them to wake up. Our task is to discover what works best to do this.

Creating communities that encourage awakening is an important part of this – the essential ingredient in cultural and personal transformation is relationship and communication and interaction with others. Building vegan community, both where we are and in cyberspace, is essential to the awakening of our world. Everything we do to channel our energy of caring from anger to constructive community building is a healing gift that blesses us and everyone in our world.

 

Dr. Tuttle, thank you for sharing your insights, and for your tireless advocacy to bring about world peace. For additional information about The World Peace Diet, visit www.worldpeacediet.com.

Wacky Wheeler Hooks

image of painting of manatee by J. Wilder Bill

Photo & Artwork: Manatee by J. Wilder Bill

Picture book authoress, Lisa Wheeler, hooks youngsters and their adult readers with snappy poems and ironic plots. With two-dozen published books and international sales, she delivers energetic hip-hop with jazzy beats.

Energy bursts from her prose. She spreads happiness in millions of lives by the use of her words. But, where does her creativity come from?

Sniffing began Lisa Wheeler’s writing career. She smelled her way into a passion for the old fashion paper-kind at her school library. As early as fourth grade, her natural shimmy received recognition by earning first place in a Halloween themed writing contest, but it wasn’t until after Lisa married and raised three children that she decided to build her talent into a career.

Success embraces Lisa. Consistently, she devises imaginative storylines with endearing characters. But, what about Lisa makes her unique?

Lisa’s most notable physical features are her exceptionally long thumbs, which makes sense. After all, thumbs separate man from beasts – reasoning intelligence from animal instincts. And it takes abundant brainpower to control her extra-lengthy phalanxes.

For writers who don’t have the ability to lengthen their thumbs, Lisa shares her insights.

J. Wilder: By including the scent of books with your reading, you boost a passive activity into a physical experience. Do you apply all your senses (feeling, hearing, touching, seeing, smelling, tasting) to devise engaging characters?

Lisa: I am a kinesthetic learner. So I get my best ideas when I am moving. The act of walking, driving, biking, or even swimming sets all my gears in motion and ideas come to life. In a sense (no pun intended, this time) perhaps that can be construed as touching—not sure—but motion is very sensory.

My ideas sometimes come to me with a voice. I hear a character speaking in my mind and I know I have to tell their story. So perhaps that is hearing?

Sometimes my ideas come from a word or a line that enters into my head. If it is an exceptionally delicious line or word, I run with it. Tasting?

I truly cannot take credit for creating terrific characters as I think the characters come to me fully formed. I just have to introduce them.

J. Wilder: You imagine an endless range of topics. A Hispanic family shares “I love you.” An African American family dances a jig. A cow becomes a sailor and a cricket refuses to perform chores. What inspires your creativity? Did you think about puns and irony before you began writing?

Lisa: I don’t really think about puns before I start writing. Since my humor tends toward ‘punny’, my brain takes me there when I am in the midst of a story.

And like many writers, everything inspires me. I rarely have written directly from real life, even though things from real life inspire my work. For instance, a noisy cricket that lived in the bush outside my bedroom window became Old Cricket. When my niece spit a piece of gum out of a moving car window I made note of it and that later became Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum. I believe that everyone can look at the same situation or object or animal and walk away with a different story. It’s all in how we are wired.

J. Wilder: Despite your varying themes, all the stories connect with children. What are the core elements?

Lisa:  Hmmm. . . I never think about these things before I write, so I had to give this some thought.

When I look at my body of work, I see themes repeat themselves. Love and friendship are at the heart of many of my books and I think that my universal message is “Let’s get along.” You see that message of community in many of my books, including Sixteen Cows, Ugly Pie, Porcupining, and even Boogie Knights. We are all reaching out to each other. I don’t write sentimental books, but once you strip away all the silliness and wordplay, I think that my message is one that we all can relate to.

J. Wilder: You invent original rhyming patterns with snappy page-turners in several books such as Mammoths on the Move, and Jazz Baby. Do you have any tips on how a “tune-deaf” writer can develop her inner ear? Listening to music? Reading quality poems? Modify a classic?

Lisa: I never understand why non-rhymers desire to write in rhyme. It is much harder to sell! But since you asked, I’ll try and give some tips.

First of all, study Mother Goose. The rhymes there are very simple and some of them have perfect meter—like Mary Had A Little Lamb.

Second, a pre-school teacher taught me something interesting. When my daughter was in her class, she would have them recite rhymes. As the kids sat in a circle, she would walk around and pat out the rhythms gently on their shoulder. She said that feeling the beats physically as one is reciting rhyme, helps develop that ‘ear’ for rhythm.

Also, I joined a poetry group in my community. We met twice a month and read poetry aloud. The head of the group was a retired English teacher and a stickler for meter. She drilled it into us, giving lessons as we went along. I came away from that group with a much better ear for rhyme. More education is also a key ingredient. And if one does all of the above and still can’t make their meter work, then I suggest you write in prose.

J. Wilder: Your stories place readers in the action. How can writers draw the child into the story? Do you make sure to include the Where, What, When and Why?

Lisa: I make sure to include active verbs, interesting characters, and picture book elements such as wordplay, repetition, onomatopoeia. I make sure the stories have lots of forward motion—no staling—and a tight word count. I often add elements of surprise to delight the young reader. But most of all, I make sure to tell a really good story.

J. Wilder: Your knowledge about rhyming, tempo, and creativity earns you well-deserved praises. What are your top three suggestions for how writers can attain publication?

Lisa:

  1. Read, read, read. Read children’s books in the genre you want to write. Study them. Dissect them. Ask yourself whether they were satisfying. Why or why not. I feel that for every book we write we should read 100. If the last children’s book you read was written more than 10 years ago—get to a book store and see what is being published now.
  1. Write, write, write. You will write and fail. You will write and get rejections. You will write stories no one will ever read but you. That is the point. Not every story hits it out of the ballpark. But I had many ‘practice’ stories before I wrote the one that finally sold. As a matter-of-fact, I received 225 rejections before I sold my first book. Guess what? I still get more rejections than acceptances. But unless you are writing consistently, you can’t get better or stronger. Those unsold stories are not failures. They are the steps to writing the one that makes it out of the slush pile.
  1. Join, join, join. Join SCBWI and get involved. Join a critique group. Be sure that your group is made up of writers who are writing in the same genre as you. I recommend that picture book writers form a group in and unto themselves. Same for mid-grade novelists and non-fiction writers, etc. The reason I recommend this is that in all my failed critique groups, the dynamic was based on what the majority of members were writing. So if there are 2 picture book writers in a group of YA novelists, I have seen unhappiness result. Plus, if you are all writing the same genre, you learn from reading each other’s work. I am sure there are exceptions to this bit of advice, but in my experience, it always ended badly when genres were too widespread in one group.

J. Wilder: Thank you for your priceless insights. Your compositions brighten homes, provide bonding time for families and fill holidays with love. You spread happiness and elevate moods by devising peppy lyrics.

For any writers interested in learning more about Lisa Wheeler, her website is  www.lisawheelerbooks.com.

SaveSave

SaveSave