Just Another Sermon?

A two hour movie screenplay is about 120 pages, but a writer may spend several months working on it. Unless it’s a larger church with more than one speaker, a pastor may have to write an outline for a forty-five minute sermon every week. And there is great responsibility involved, because the pastor isn’t just offering an opinion, he’s preaching the Word of God. He doesn’t answer to an editor for his words, he answers to the Lord Jesus Christ.

A pastor visits patients in hospitals, chairs board meetings, leads counselling sessions, officiates at weddings and funerals, attends church functions and, of course, answers countless emails and text messages from members of the congregation. And somewhere in that demanding schedule a pastor has to find time to spend with his own family, and write a sermon before Sunday morning. It’s no wonder that burnout is a constant threat.

Once a pastor finds time to write his sermon, he has to consider the constantly changing makeup of the congregation, as people move from one church to another. I’ve met people who were raised Roman Catholic in Pentecostal churches, and people who were raised Pentecostal in Baptist churches. A pastor also has to think about the level of biblical knowledge in the congregation, because there will new converts, as well as eighty-year-old Christians, who have been reading and studying the bible for over sixty years. The sermon has be understandable by new converts, yet still provide the mature Christians with useful information.

Because many sermons are now available over the internet, a pastor has to accept that members of the public may be offended by what he says. In John 21 Jesus, was referring to leading and instructing Christians while he was speaking to Peter. Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” He didn’t say it would be easy.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Sixty or Six

According to http://www.celebritynetworth.com, author Ben Mezrich has a net worth of approximately eight million dollars. That’s not surprising, when you consider how many of his books have either been adapted for movies or are in development. The same is true for Michael Lewis, who (from the same source) has an estimated net worth of twenty-five millions dollars. They can afford to travel around the world to do extensive research and conduct interviews for their narrative non-fiction books.

I recently listened to Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. She spent months at a time on the road, living among Americans forced by economic hardship to live in vans and camping trailers. She was able to do that, because she’s a professional journalist and was being paid to write about her experiences. And when the book was adapted into a film in 2020, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Perhaps this is why so many part-time writers tend to write fiction. If you work in a warehouse or office to pay the bills, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to leave your job for several months, and pay for airline tickets, car rentals, hotel rooms and meals as you travel to do research and conduct interviews. I’m not suggesting it’s impossible, but it is beyond the reach of many writers.

I know several writers who would list themselves as full-time writers, but that isn’t an accurate description, because their income is a patchwork of various sources. They’re freelance editors, they teach seminars and courses, they coach writers, they create digital covers for eBooks, and they’re writers-in-residence for libraries and universities. Some writers are constantly applying for various government grants, but that isn’t a stable income, because grants only last for a limited time. One playwright I interviewed for a magazine worked as the director of a drama ministry at a large church, taught a course at a bible college and had a small theatre company.

I’ve often fallen into the trap of thinking I’m not a real writer, because I don’t spend the majority of my time writing. But, as I’ve learned over time, that’s the case for most writers. What if you never make a living as a writer, is that a valid reason to stop doing what you have passion for? If that’s the case, then the golf courses would be empty, and no one would be playing hockey, baseball, basketball, or football unless they had pro-sport contracts.

There’s nothing wrong with hoping that someday you’ll write a bestselling novel or an award-winning screenplay, but even if that never happens, you can continue to enjoy the creative process. It doesn’t matter whether you have sixty hours a week or six hours a week to dedicate to your craft; if you love to write, you’re a writer.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Writer-In-Residence

A Writer-In-Residence is a professional author who has a contract for several months or a year with a library, university/college, or writing organization. It’s usually a paid position that allows a writer to concentrate on a project, while at the same time interacting with the public. The public aspect of the Writer-In-Residence position could involve readings, seminars, workshops, and one-on-one consultations.

A one-on-one consultation with a Writer-In-Residence is an opportunity to have your work reviewed by a professional author, and it’s usually free. You can’t, however, expect a Writer-In-Residence to read an entire novel manuscript, so it’s more likely he or she will consider a chapter of a novel, or a short story. The Writer-In-Residence isn’t a substitute for an editor, but he or she can offer advice and encouragement. A one-one-consultation doesn’t necessarily involve writing that you’ve submitted, it might be a conversation about writing careers with suggestions about where to begin.

I’ve submitted materials to a Writer-In-Residence three times; two times I met with an author in-person, and once it was all completed through e-mail. The last author wasn’t a local writer, but a distinguished writer who was visiting the library for two days. He met writers for twenty minute, one-on-one consultations, but that was before Covid-19 changed the world and just about everything went online.

Does your local library have a Writer-In-Residence? If it does, there will be a section on their website with an introduction to the author, details of what type of writing the Writer-In-Residence will review, and the maximum word count for submissions. Send in a sample of your writing, ask some questions, and let a Writer-In-Residence help you to become a better writer.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Pain Now, Rewards Later

Isn’t it ironic? The harder you work, the closer you come to reaching your dream, the more it hurts when the dream doesn’t come true. The next time you drive past a baseball diamond, consider how many of those players will start when they’re five or six, continue through high school and college, but never play in the Major Leagues. The same is true for all those students who dream of becoming doctors; even if you have scholarships and don’t finish university with a huge debt load, if your application to Medical School is rejected, it’s going to be devastating.

My dream was to become a lawyer, so the year I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Political Science), I submitted applications to thirteen Canadian Law Schools. The summer of 1987 was a long one, because I received thirteen rejection letters.

Here’s a question to consider: Do you think that all of the men and women who write the scripts for Medical Dramas are doctors? It would certainly make sense to have surgeons as consultants, to make sure they get the facts right, but the writers aren’t all graduates of Medical School. Another question: If you had the opportunity to work as a writer on a Medical Drama, wouldn’t it be helpful to have some basic understanding of Biology? Of course! The knowledge you gained following your dream to become a doctor, could be very useful for a writing career.

Just image that one day a great idea for a murder mystery, that takes place in a baseball stadium, comes to mind. If you’ve played baseball, you already have useful knowledge. All those hours spent on the baseball diamond learning the rules of the game, watching how coaches interact with players, and experiencing the fear of letting down your team, will help you develop believable characters.

Being rejected by Law School has inspired me to write a feature-length screenplay and a short story. I haven’t sold the screenplay, but the short story, “An Appointment With Life,” was published. You can find the link in the Published Writing section.

I hope that you’ll find some time to write today. The world becomes a more interesting place, when creative minds are at work.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

The Governments and the Safety Guardians: a 21st Century Parable

There was a crisis, and Governments wanted to prove they were building houses, office towers and bridges faster. A cry went out, “We have to do something!” Governments around the globe said to themselves, “If we don’t do something, it will look like we’re doing nothing, and we’ll lose the next election.” And so, Governments turned to Big Companies for a solution. Big Companies responded by developing something, that would be known as the New Government Approved Process.

Safety Guardians were praised by Governments around the globe for their hard work and dedication. Respected for their training and experience, their role in society was to pay close attention to new processes used for the construction of houses, office towers and bridges. However, tension soon developed as some Safety Guardians became concerned with the New Government Approved Process.

The concerned Safety Guardians claimed that the New Government Approved Process had been developed and approved too quickly, and that there were cracks appearing in the foundations of houses, office towers and bridges being built with the New Government Approved Process. The opinions expressed by the concerned Safety Guardians was embarrassing for Governments, so Governments lashed out at the concerned Safety Guardians, accusing them of spreading disinformation and ruining economies. Governments told the Safety Guardians that if any of them questioned the New Approved Government Process, they’d lose their jobs. Many of the Safety Guardians fell silent.

Journalists heard that the concerned Safety Guardians believed the New Government Approved Process was unsafe. But, Journalists knew that Governments controlled production grants, tax incentives, and broadcast licences. They were scared they’d lose their jobs, if they didn’t support what Governments said about the New Government Approved Process. Some Journalists, who respected the opinions of all Safety Guardians, questioned the New Government Approved Process, and just like concerned Safety Guardians, they were accused of spreading disinformation and destroying economies.

Governments wanted to make sure the New Approved Government Process wouldn’t be questioned by the public. It wasn’t long before citizens were required to carry cards swearing their support for the New Approved Government Process to eat in restaurants, go to theatres, or let their children play in sports.  

In less than two years Governments had silenced the majority of the Safety Guardians, most Journalists were praising the New Government Approved Process, and many citizens carried cards swearing their support for the New Government Approved Process. Governments boasted that the New Government Approved Process would bring an end to the crisis; houses, office towers and bridges were being built faster that ever. The concerned Safety Guardians, however, knew a serious problem remained unsolved…there were still cracks in the foundations of houses, office towers and bridges.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

A Night at the Opera

The first exposure to science fiction that I remember, was Star Trek, the original series. I was supposed to be asleep, but I had slipped out of bed. I stared from the top of the stairs, while my father and an older cousin watched the show on a on a small black and white television below. Some guy with pointy ears, who I’d later learn was Spock, was leaning over and looking into a box. Canadians are supposed to be obsessed with hockey, but when I was young, if I had a choice between watching Hockey Night In Canada, or a science fiction series like Lost in Space, The Starlost or Space 1999, I’d be dreaming of deep-space travel, not winning the Stanley Cup.   

Although I was constantly creating stories in my mind, I didn’t give any serious consideration to writing until I was studying Political Science at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. The Introduction to Political Science class was using The Canadian Polity: A Comparative Introduction, a textbook written by one of my Professors, Dr. Ronald Landes. I thought to myself how impressive it was that his name was on the cover. At about the same time, Rev. Ross Perry, the Pastor of the church my family attended, had a short book published; Prime Ministers of Canada Quiz Book. It would be several years before I start writing, but the seed had been planted.

 Although I hadn’t heard the term yet, when I started writing short stories, they were Space Operas. Space Operas are basically stories that take place in space, without the need for a solid scientific explanation for what happens in the story. You throw a switch, there’s a flash of light, stars are passing by at blinding speed, and you’re somewhere in a distant galaxy. Star Wars is a classic example.

Space Operas offer freedom for the writer. If you’re writing a thriller about a cruise ship taken over by terrorists, you only have so many options. The first limitation is where the rescue takes place;  you might have the terrorists keep the cruise ship at sea, run it aground, or perhaps sail it up a river. In a Space Opera, the ship could travel through an asteroid field, sling-shot around a planet using it’s gravity, visit any planet or space station in the universe, or perhaps, travel through time. All the terrorists have to do is push a button, or throw a switch. If they have computer chips implanted in their brains to interact with the ship’s mainframe, or have telekinetic powers, they can just think about it.   

A novel that doesn’t take place in space has another limitation as well; all the characters are human. They may have different cultural backgrounds and motives, but they all have relatively the same degree of intelligence and physical strength. In the John Wick movies, the main character seems to survive the impossible, but it’s assumed that it’s because of his extensive martial arts training and natural abilities.  In a Space Opera, you can complicate the protagonist’s task, by introducing alien characters with strength, abilities, intellect and weapons an earth-bound hero is unlikely to encounter. You can also spice up your Space Opera buy having your heroine interact with artificial intelligence, either robots, androids, a ship’s operating system or all three. Data from Star Trek the Next Generation is one of the most recognizable android characters.

 It’s amazing when you think about it; you open a book or eBook, and in an instant you can be immersed in a new world. Why is it that we can read novels or watch movies, where events unfold that make no sense in our regular lives, and yet there doesn’t appear to be any conflict in our minds? It’s called “The Suspension of Disbelief” and I first heard it described by writer Fred Stenson while he was promoting his book on the craft of writing, Thing Feigned or Imagined.  It’s basically a contract between the author and the reader; as long as the writer doesn’t violate the rules of the world she’s created, the reader agrees to accept what occurs in that world. If the writer violates any of those rules, there has to be a valid reason. In the Harry Potter series, characters need some type of magical item to fly, like a broom or an enchanted car or motorcycle. Lord Voldemort can fly without the help of a magical item, but his character is known to experiment with magic to create exceptional results. He can fly without a broom, because he’s Lord Voldemort, so no rule has been broken.

 Space Operas also give freedom to the reader; an opportunity to escape from the stress of ordinary life. Consider a Nurse working in an emergency ward during the Covid-19 crisis. She never seems to escape the virus; as she drives to and from the hospital, there are digital signs on the side of the highway reminding everyone to social distance. At the entrance to every store where she shops, there’s a poster ordering shoppers to wear masks and social distance. At the end of a long shift at the hospital, she opens a paperback, or powers up her eBook reader and escapes into a Space Opera. A moment later, she’s walking through a space station. As she reads the author’s description, she looks around, watching aliens of every sort moving through its vast atrium, stars visible through the clear ceiling. Continuing through the station, she arrives at one of the docks where a deep space freighter waits for her to board with the rest of the crew. As the story continues, she finds herself on the bridge, as the freighter leaves the space station and accelerates past stars. How are they travelling at such high speeds? No need to worry! The Captain gives an order, the Navigator pushed a button, and the interstellar, plasma-loop, hyper-something drive will take you anywhere.    

If the author is a skilled writer, before she finishes the first chapter, the reader is prepared to stay with the crew and face whatever challenges come their way. The reader gets to know the crewmembers intimately, not just what rank or duties they have, but where they come from, who they admire, what their fears are, and who they want to hook up with.  

 In order to create a story, the reader has to work with the writer. An author writing a Space Opera can describe an alien character with orange pupils, but each reader will see a unique  shade of orange in her mind. That’s the wonder of the human imagination; as the writer gives a basic description of  a space station, or an alien world, the reader’s mind fills in the details to create images. If a million people read the same novel, a million distinct stories are created in their minds. It’s as if every single person has a movie theatre in his or her head, and they are all watching unique movie adaptations of the same story.

Today there are countless genres, from Magic Realism to Urban Fantasies. As for me, I still like to sit in the captain’s chair on the bridge of a starship and enjoy a Space Opera. Travelling across the universe is no problem; I’ll just push a button, and the reverse anti-matter, hyperkinetic, time-space, whatchamcallit drive will get me there.    

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Take a Trip to….

Have you ever watched a video, as a Travel Guide describes all the major tourist destinations of a city? Do you remember the sickeningly sweet, cheerful voice? That isn’t helpful if you’re writing a novel, it’s much better to get the feel of a city, not the packaged version. Travelling overseas, no matter which end of the globe you’re starting from, is expensive. Although it’s much better to actually be there, you can be your own Travel Agent and arrange a virtual trip using Youtube.

Begin by choosing your destination, using “Flight To” or “Flying To.” With so many people taking videos during their vacations and business trips, you can decide which airport you want to start from and which airport you want to land at. You can watch a video recorded by someone sitting in Economy, or a video from First Class that includes a segment about the airport lounge and the luxurious amenities enjoyed throughout the flight. During the arrival, you can watch the aircraft land from a passenger’s perspective or the pilot’s point-of-view.

Now that you’ve arrived at your destination, how would you like to see the country? You can take a trip by car, bus or motorcycle. If you type, “Driving in….” you can find videos recorded during daylight hours, or at night, over quiet mountain roads, or through city traffic. Cars and buses don’t interest you? Not a problem, just type “Train ride,” or “Subway routes” with the name of the city or country, and you’re on your way.

While virtual trips will never replace a real experience, it is an option that wasn’t available to previous generations of writers. Watching a video recorded by a camera mounted on a vehicle’s dashboard or mirror, is about as close as you can get to sitting in the passenger seat, without spending a fortune to get there.

If you’ve been dreaming of a story set in a distant land, I hope this post will encourage you to write that tale, so we can all enjoy it. It’s your voice, your passion. Write.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

If you want to….

If you want your voice to be heard….Write.

If you want to share your stories with the world….Write.

If you want to help others understand your point of view….Write.

If you want to introduce a unique concept….Write.

If you want to influence the culture you live in….Write.

If you want to make a difference….Write.

Draft2Digital

The first thing you need to know about self-publishing an eBook, is it’s an uphill battle. Announcing your new eBook on social media sites is no guarantee of impressive sales numbers. I’ve read countless posts by authors promoting their books and eBooks, and only remember a few. The problem is that our inboxes are saturated with announcements, with everyone vying for our attention.

The good news is that if you self-publish an eBook with Draft2Digital, the number of markets you can reach in a short period of time is impressive. Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books and Barnes & Noble, are some of the more familiar online stores, but your eBooks can also be found on online bookstores based in Italy, France, Germany, Japan and Australia. The point is your eBook can be found by potential readers in many countries, and you never know where you’ll develop a fan base.

Draft2Digital’s reach into the international library market continues to expand, as they recently added Borrow Box. eBooks published through Draft2Digital were already available to libraries through Overdrive, Cloud Library and Baker & Taylor. You can contact many libraries in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom and tell them your eBook is available to add to their collections.

Although there are many online platforms for self-publishing eBooks, but I suggest you take a look at Draft2Digital first. I’ve had two eBooks published through Draft2Digital, Jack A Lady’s Cat and Hunting Teddy Bears, and I’m very pleased with the results. I heard about Draft2Digital at a writer’s conference three years ago, and I’m glad I did.

Whether you self-publish your writing or submit your work to traditional publishers, please don’t stop. Your stories make the world a more interesting place.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Preparing For The End

A Shock to the System (1990) starring Michael Caine is an adaptation of the novel by Simon Brett, published in 1984. What makes this adaptation particularly interesting, is how the main character has to change for the two different endings to work. At the end of the novel, Graham Marshall is about to be arrested for three murders; a homeless man, his wife, and his new boss. At the end of the movie, he gets away with those three murders and the murder of a company executive. Graham Marshall’s transition is from a completely despicable character, to a likeable scoundrel.

For the first murder, Graham is approached by a homeless man. Graham has just been passed over for a promotion and he’s now answering to a younger man he hates. In the novel he acts out of pure rage, so even though he doesn’t intend to kill the man, he has no justification for his actions. In the movie the homeless man threatens him, so when he pushes him onto the subway tracks, at least he’s acting in self-defence.

The second victim is his wife. In both the novel and the movie it’s a matter of using his wife’s death to pay off the mortgage. What distinguishes the two, is in the novel they have two children, and he’s happy to send them to live with his sister-in-law and be rid of them. The fact he doesn’t love his own children makes the reader despise him. In the movie they have two dogs. He doesn’t keep the dogs, but it doesn’t produce the same emotional reaction.

The third victim is a younger executive that gets promoted instead of Graham. In both the novel and the movie he pretends to be interested romantically with a younger woman in office, then drugs her. His plan is that she’ll think he’s been in her apartment all night, providing him with an alibi. While she’s unconscious, he leaves the apartment and rigs the propane tank in a yacht belonging to his new boss. In both cases you’re disgusted by his behaviour, using someone who admires him in order to commit murder. Graham’s new boss isn’t described positively in the novel, but he’s portrayed as extremely arrogant and condescending on screen. It doesn’t justify Graham’s actions, but it’s easier to understand why Graham hates him enough to want to kill him.

At the end of the novel, you’re glad that Graham Marshall is going to finally face justice. At the end of the movie, when it’s clear he’s just killed an executive because he wants his corner office, you laugh. From a writer’s point of view, it’s interesting to note how subtle changes influence how the audience reacts to a character. And when it comes to portraying a likeable scoundrel, no one is better suited for the role than Michael Caine.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

If you’re curious about whether I can actually apply the advice I offer in this blog, my new eBook Hunting Teddy Bears is now available to purchase. Just visit the “Published Writing” section and click on the link.