The Hobbit – A Story about Us

“Good-bye then, and really good-bye!” said Gandalf, and he turned his horse and rode down into the West. But he could not resist the temptation to have the last word. Before he had passed quite out of hearing he turned and put his hands to his mouth and called to them. They heard his voice come faintly: “Good-bye! Be good, take care of yourselves— and DON’T LEAVE THE PATH!”[i]

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a story that I never seem to tire of re-reading. Written as a children’s story (300 pages) in 1937, with it’s dragon, dwarves, elves, magic, and—of course—it’s hobbit, the novel stands the test of time today, and I suspect will engage future generations of readers well beyond the 22nd century.

It is not the Peter Jackson’s polarizing interpretation, which will conclude with the final installment of The Hobbit on December 17, 2014. As enjoyable is I thought the series thus far, the tone is certainly different. The high octane and visually stunning movies are no G-Rated experience.

HobbitThe Hobbit is light compared to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR). But this is for good reason as LOTR is a grim story of sacrifice and fortitude to save the world from eternal darkness. Engaging story in it’s own right, LOTR is filled with history and lore, complex characters fighting for their souls and free will—Boromir, Frodo, and Gollum—just to name a few. Whereas the Hobbit is meant to draw children of all ages—from youth to adult. The experiences are both risky and dangerous, yet reassuring as Tolkien acts as a guide along the way.

How did Tolkien craft a story that has such lasting staying power? What lessons can we learn from him to infuse into your and my craft? That is the path we will follow, laid out by Tolkien by way of three technical craft skills from his writer’s toolkit:

  • The Aside: Author conversation with the reader
  • Humor
  • Protagonist identification with the readers

The Aside: Author conversation with the readerBilbo at home

History and lore is the backdrop of the Hobbit, but it’s not on full display as with LOTR. There is some storytelling about the Misty Mountains in Bilbo’s Hobbit hole, and songs are sung by Dwarves and Elves that reflect their respective cultures. Tolkien deliberately excludes the role of lecturer, keeping the story simple with rich world development that hints at the hidden treasure just beneath the surface.

At different points in the story, Tolkien breaks from 3rd person point of view of the characters to himself talking to the reader. At these times, he shares short details that the characters could not know. His intent seems to give the reader a broader context of the world, or a heightened sense of the desperate situations the 14 adventurers were in because they lack the knowledge that Tolkien, the author, shared with the reader.

Gollum: “What iss he, my preciouss?” whispered Gollum (who always spoke to himself through never having anyone else to speak to).[ii]

Later in the Mirkwood forest, the adventurers kept finding lights and song. But when they drew near, all would go dark, and the lights and song would reappear in the distance. About this, Tolkien tells the reader:

“The feasting people were Wood-elves, of course. These are not wicked folk. If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers. Though their magic was strong, even in those days they were wary. They differed from the High Elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise.”[iii]


The Hobbit is on the surface a story about dwarven revenge and reclamation of their identity.  Thorin leads 12 dwarves to return to the Misty Mountain where Smaug the dragon sleeps. Long ago, at the height of dwarven power, Smaug swooped in and single-handedly wiped out the Dwarf and Human kingdoms. He ate most of Thorin’ s people and usurped the Misty Mountains as his home. This story could easily have been a dark tale of vengeance, deadly combat, political intrigue, and—Oh wait…it is all of these without the “darkness.”

Tolkien keeps the story light by taking grim events and inserting humor that keeps off the edginess that comes with monsters and life & death situations. In chapter two, Roast Mutton, the 14 adventurers encounter 3 trolls.

These brutes are dangerous, with more hunger than brains, capture the dwarves and Bilbo, and immediately make dinner preparations. The trolls bicker like siblings, and are sucked into a conversation with a hidden Gandalf (unlike the movie part 2, where it’s Bilbo) about how best to cook dwarves for the best flavor.

“Trolls simply detest the very sight of dwarves (uncooked).”[iv]

In “Riddles in the Dark” (Chapter 5), Gollumn—the tragic loner, sociopath—talks to his bad self about how best to cook Bilbo during a riddle contest. Bilbo wins with a questionable riddle, which Gollum should have appealed if only there were decent instant replay.

“What have I got in my pocket?” he said aloud. [Bilbo] was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset. “Not fair! not fair!” he hissed. “It isn’t fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it’s got in its nassty little pocketses?” Bilbo seeing what had happened and having nothing better to ask stuck to his question, “What have I got in my pocket?” he said louder.[v]

In Chapter 9, “Barrels out of Bond”, the dwarves are locked in the dungeon of the Wood-Elves, where they can expect to live out their remaining years because their leader is too stubborn to compromise with the elven king. Fortunately, Hobbit with magical ring that turns the wearer invisible + elves partying late into the night with wine = dwarves escape in the empty wine casks. Irony?

“Come give us a taste of your sleeping-draught before we fall to! No need to wake the turnkey yonder. He has had his share by the looks of it.” Then they [Wood-Elves] drank once round and became mighty merry all of a sudden.[vi]

Protagonist identification with the readers

While the surface story is about the adventure, the internal story that is the magical glue that makes the novel worth reading again, and again, is Bilbo. Tolkien crafts a character that the reader can identify with. The title character is someone we look at and say “there but for the grace of God could be me.” Don’t believe me? Consider when Gandalf laments (insincerely one might suspect) that he can’t find anyone to go off on an adventure:

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

If some eccentric old dude that you’ve heard was good at producing fireworks events propositioned you to drop everything and go on a trip with no guarantee of returning alive, would you answer differently?

“I should think so— in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” said our Mr. Baggins[vii]

Tolkien creates in Bilbo Baggins someone who lives a normal life, without life and death decisions to make every day. Bilbo thrust himself into a group of dwarves and a wizard for what the possibility of adventure might unfold. He doesn’t know if it’ll be good or bad, but he believes he’ll regret not going for the rest of his life. Bilbo is a civilian among seasoned warriors. He has an unrealistic idea of the travels ahead, but he maintains an endearing personality throughout his experiences on the road. Such as on first seeing Trolls, which Tolkien emphasizes Bilbo’s naiveté with humor:

“But they were trolls. Obviously trolls. Even Bilbo, in spite of his sheltered life, could see that: from the great heavy faces of them, and their size, and the shape of their legs, not to mention their language, which was not drawing-room fashion at all, at all.”[viii]

Bilbo is like us, minus needing size 50 shoes, not that hobbits need shoes. By the end of the story, Thorin, thus far consumed with revenge and regaining the wealth of his home, on his death bed realizes the true value of Bilbo:

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!”[ix]

How do 13 dwarves + 1 hobbit expect to defeat a dragon where two kingdoms failed? Well, it is a children’s story. Tolkien keeps it light through humor that leads us to believe, “Well, they’ll think of something—providing they survive Orcs (think muscle-bound human with a pig’s head) on wargs (gigantic wolves), giant spiders, 3 armies, and… oh… a fire-breathing dragon who eats kingdoms after a good nap.

Next Author: Nathan Hawke of Gallow: The Crimson Shield

[i] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 1994-1997). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 1069-1070). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 2386-2388). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[iv] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 597-598). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[v] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 1165-1169). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[vi] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 2572-2574). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[vii] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 100-102). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[viii] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 547-549). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[ix] Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-11-08). The Hobbit (Kindle Locations 3999-4000). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Chicken Coop and Dale Carnegie Course

Kwang was in middle school just before the Korean War in 1950.  His school was built by Queen Min, second to last queen in the Rhee dynasty in Korea.  She recognized the imminent problem in Korea was the education of the men and women in the middle class.  The school building is a small two-story red brick.  In the summer green Ivy vines crawled to the top and transformed the building to green.  In the small field the clay ground basketball and tennis courts were in the east corner.  Soft rubber balls were used as tennis balls.

After World War II Korea had an extremely urgent situation to get or develop new technology.  The industries had to produce fertilizer, cement, petroleum, chemical products and more.  In 1950 Korean industries had just started to sprout with joint venture companies in America and Europe.  Science and engineering fields were more important, encouraging and demanding subjects in college.  Also, because of the extremely high demand for engineers and scientists in the marketplace, the crème de la crème of the top students went into the areas of scientific fields over literature, history or political science.

Of course, Kwang’s main interest was science.  For years he was the pet among the science teachers, especially the biology teacher, Mr. Shin, who was very short and nicknamed “curly” because of his curly hair.  He loved Kwang as his own son.  His pants were almost down to his butt and he always wore second hand army boots.  He carried another nicknames as “Ein”, because in appearance he resembled Albert Einstein with his bushy hair, he did not know he wore different colored socks on each foot and was always absent minded.  Mr. Shin seemed almost not enough called “Einstein”.  The students just called him “curly or Ein”.  He did not even know that he had nicknames, or he pretended not to know.  One day Mr. Shin assigned Kwang to take care of the chicken coop that had 25-30 chickens, including two roosters.  This involved daily clean-up, collection of eggs, feeding them and monitoring the physical condition of the chickens.  This job took about two hours on weekdays.

It was a simple coop, with a dirt floor, with a very small space for each chicken.  The three nests were over racks with small “drop” ramps for the eggs to pass through to be collected below.  There was a hatchway door that was hinged at the bottom in order to form a ramp with grip strips and a nine inch perch for each chicken and 24 ft. by 12 ft. dirt ground serving as the “run”.  The entire area was enclosed by a wire fence.

The chicken coop was located on a hill toward the south side 50 yards away from the main campus with a nearby vegetable garden which had green onions, eggplant, Chinese cabbage, corn and cucumber for student’s experiments.

Since in Korea there are classes Monday through Saturday, he took care of the chicken coop every day, except Sunday.  On Sunday it was the janitor, Mr. Kim’s turn to sprinkle the seeds on the ground inside of the coop and pour water into the bowls to the brim.  Of course, he did not forget to collect the fresh eggs that had been laid.

10 – 15 eggs that were collected daily were sold to the market to help biology students take trips to the beach for collection of sea animals and seaweed, or going to the hills to catch different species of butterflies.

After finishing his job, Kwang lay down on the ground with his two hands behind his head and looked down on the vegetable garden and looked up at the sky to imagine his dreams for his future destiny with floating fluffy clouds.  He closed his eyes and wanted to take a nap under the warm sunbeams of early summer.  He saw the activities of the chickens in his mind’s eye.  Two roosters were chasing hens around the edge of the coop and occasionally they lifted their heads and scanned the perimeters of the coop.  The smallest chick was always following number 11 chicken with brown feathers and number 13 chicken with white feathers pushed the dirt away and tried to dig a hole to look for worms.  The first thing Kwang did after he got the job was putting tags with numbers around the chickens’ necks.  Before drawing pictures of all the 27 chickens in his mind, Kwang fell asleep.

One week later he looked up at the sky, as was his habit, and watched the chickens as they chased each other and pecked at their feed of seeds and corn.  Usually two roosters  roamed around the chicken coop or were busy pecking at seeds.  Suddenly one of the roosters ran to a hen and over her back.  Other hens walked away from the scene and looked for hiding places and flocked to the northeast side of the coop.

Kwang watched for a few minutes and suddenly stood up and ran to the coop and without any thought or hesitation, kicked the rooster with all his might and energy.  The rooster lay down, his body shivering, with a squawking noise, and the hen ran away flapping its wings and its feathers were flying in the air.

Kwang found out the rooster’s stomach had burst and it was dead.  He did not have any intention of killing the rooster, only wanted to separate it from the hen.  Why he even attempted to separate them while they were having a good time, why he did it, he did not understand it himself.

Anyway, it was too huge a problem to handle himself.  Kwang went to tell the incident to the biology teacher, but he had already gone home and his office was closed.  He did not have any solution of how to tell the teacher the next morning.  During his forty-five minutes to an hour walk from school to home he tried to get an explanation in order to avoid the possibility of a week long suspension from school.  Usually on the way home he got grilled corn on the street and ate it as a snack.  That day he did not even look at the corn wagon that was equipped with a charcoal stove along with piles of the yellow corn.

“Hey, student, get some corn.  Why don’t you buy today?  You are just passing me by.”  Kwang did not answer, just continued walking with his head down a little, looking at the road.  “Hey, student, if you do not have any money today, you can bring it tomorrow,” the old man continued to talk.  Kwang did not answer, and continued to walk by hearing the noise from the small children around the corn wagon.

As soon as he arrived home, he passed the first big squeaky wooden door, and then passed through the second door and then in the middle of the yard.  His mother was pumping water from the ground with a hand pump.  In order to avoid her attention he did not look at her, and went to his room and threw his backpack of books on the floor and lay down on the mattress and covered his head with the sheet.  A few minutes later his mother came in with popcorn for his snack before dinner.  “What is wrong?  Are you sick or do you have a fever?  Or fight with the fat boy?”  His mother asked him non-stop questions.  Kwang did not answer her and kept silent.  Instead of leaving his room, she approached him and put her hand on his forehead.  “Just a little temperature, not bad.”  She continued, “I hope you did not make any trouble with a teacher?”

“Mom, please leave me alone”, he almost yelled at her with an expression that if she did not leave that very minute, he might become violent.  His mother left his room quietly, shaking her head.  She could not understand her son’s behavior.  It had never happened before.  She just viewed Kwang as quiet, diligent and a good student.  The only complaint or concern she had was that he swallowed his food without chewing it.

Her concern about the happenings in her son’s school day did not go away.  It seemed she was just walking blindly through a labyrinth.

The next morning Kwang left home as if nothing had happened yesterday.  After breakfast he said “goodbye” to his mother and went to school a little earlier than his normal time in order to see his biology teacher.

Mr. Shin was busy with paperwork at his desk.  “Good morning, teacher.”  He did not look at Kwang, and Kwang continued,  “Yesterday one of the roosters died in the coop”, Kwang informed the teacher without mumbling or intimidation.  “What?  Let’s go see.”  Mr. Shin stood up abruptly from his desk and held two hands on it.  Because of his zeal to observe the death scene, the teacher only asked Kwang a few questions, instead of millions.  Kwang followed his biology teacher to the coop.  The teacher saw the rooster’s exposed intestines.  “This is a chicken’s disease”, he made a hasty conclusion.  “Very contagious disease.  Let’s order the janitor to take all the other chickens and kill them before all the other chickens get this disease.”  “Hoo, Hoo”, Kwang sighed deeply and the teacher left without asking him any more questions.  The teacher didn’t give Kwang a chance to say a word of explanation.  He was convinced the rooster had died from a highly contagious disease that endangered the whole coop.  For a long time Kwang looked at the coop and the dead rooster.  He saw that baby chick number 7 was still following number 11.  And number 13 was busy drinking water.  The other chickens happily ate their seeds.  He picked up his notebook and recorded “all will be dead” with a big question mark.

After Kwang graduated from engineering school at the University of Iowa and got a job with an oil company in Houston, Texas, in order to improve his self-confidence and assertive speech pattern, he took a Dale Carnegie course in Houston, Texas.

For many years he kept it as a secret and felt guilty that he did not or could not tell the truth to Mr. Shin.  Now he removed this heavy burden from his heart.  Kwang chose to share this story from his past with other students as an impromptu speech.  It was an extremely humorous and interesting story.  He got the highest score among twenty students in the class.  Later he was made an assistant instructor for the course, which was a great honor.

What if?

There are many ways to come up with a story idea. Some of the best stories start with the simple question of what if?

The what if can be reasonable, i.e., what if a boy meets a girl and they fall in love and then break up?

Or the what if can be outlandish, i.e. I like the idea of what killed the dinosaurs. We’ve heard several different reasons, but the most popular one is the idea that an asteroid hit the earth and blocked out the sun long enough to kill off the vegetation and without food the dinosaurs met their doom.

What if that was not the way it happened? What if the dinosaurs had a bloody war and killed each other off? What if the dinosaurs found a powerful drug, which they became addicted to and they died as junkies? What if the dinosaurs found a powerful bomb that had been left on earth by aliens, and they accidently detonated it? The last idea is little more far out than the other two, but as you think about it more there are so many things that could have happened and no one really knows because we were not there.

I know that science says something else, but how many times has science been wrong?

Let’s go with the dinosaurs and the aliens, but lets not stop there. Let’s also add in the drug aspect. So it goes something like this:

Aliens have landed on a planet dominated by dinosaurs. The Aliens appear friendly at first and find a way to communicate with the dinosaurs. What the dinosaurs don’t know is that the aliens are in search of guinea pigs. There is a deadly disease on the planet that the Aliens come from and now they need some other life form to test their drugs on. They secretly begin testing their drugs on the unsuspecting dinosaurs, just a few at first. The results are great, better than the aliens could hope for, but it would be years before the final cure was found.

Over the years the toll on alien life is high, as the dinosaurs wreak havoc when they have the drug and even when they don’t have the drug. When the drug is in their system they turn from a peaceful species of plant eating animals into violent flesh eating animals, but the aliens are so close to a cure they are willing to sacrifice a few of their own in order to accomplish their goal.

The dinosaurs would whip themselves into a frenzy everyday beating on the outside walls of the make shift lab setup by the aliens to do their drug testing. On a typical day the pounding on the walls would go on for hours until the aliens would shoot what look like a giant drone into the sky. Once the drone was high above the planet it would begin to fire rockets toward the planet. On impact huge plumes of smoke would rise from the ground, the smoke filled with the drug the dinosaurs craved. The grayish mist looked like dense fog as it spread for hundreds of miles. The dinosaurs breathed deeply as they bathed in the enslaving gas.

It had taken 50 years, but the aliens had finally found the cure they so desperately sought. A new generation of aliens had been born on earth. Many had taken over the research started by their grandparents.

Over the last ten years reports from their home planet had been bleak. They were not sure if there was enough time to save what was left of their own planet, which was millions of miles away.

The day had come to leave earth and go home to save what was left of their planet. Some of the Aliens felt ambivalent about leaving the planet in the condition that it was in. The dinosaurs had gone from a peaceful species of animals to one that was deranged. The inbreeding alone was causing some dinosaurs to be born with long hind legs and short legs in the front and cranial deformations were also noticeable among some of the young.

In the end all of the Aliens agreed to leave earth, go home and save their own planet and return one day to reverse the damaged they had caused on earth. After all it could take another 50 years to find the cure for the drug addicted dinosaurs.

On the day of departure the Aliens awoke to the familiar pounding of the dinosaurs when they craved the drug. Except this time the pounding was against the ship that would take them home. Something had gone wrong. In anticipation of leaving the Aliens shot off several drones the night before with impact locations far from the ship. Why had the dinosaurs not followed the normal pattern?

The pounding on the ship had become intense. It was much more forceful than it had ever been. If it kept up the ship would be damaged. The Aliens had to make a decision. Should they fire on the dinosaurs or fire more drug releasing drones into the sky in hopes that it would pull the dinosaurs away? In the end they would find out that they would have to do both.

The Aliens released the ships weaponry against the dinosaurs. Because it was a ship design for science expeditions the Aliens wondered if the weapons on board would have much impact. They were encouraged at first, but it only work against the dinosaurs for a short while.

Thousands of dinosaurs had been killed but thousands replaced them. It wasn’t until the ships computers blurted out that the hull of the ship had been compromised that the Aliens decided to shoot off all of the remaining drones.
Mass plumes of grayish smoke dotted the landscape as far as one could see.

It worked. The dinosaurs stopped the attack on the ship and lumbered toward the billowing smoke plumes that seemed to be everywhere.

The ship had been damaged beyond repair. A flight home would be impossible. The Aliens immediately began to make plans of how to survive in caves that they had explored while on the planet the last 50 years.

The Aliens knew that life would not be easy on a planet inhabited with drug infested flesh eating animals, but they also felt that they could wait the dinosaurs out, as a new disease had infected them a disease that caused them to die within months after mating. It would take hundreds of years, but what was the alternative?

As the Aliens began to pack up the things they would take to the caves they wondered what would become of their own planet? What would happen to the wives, husbands and children left on their plant? They also wondered how their species of humans would/could survive on this planet they had named earth?

The End

This just small example of what can be accomplished by using the “what if” approach when trying to come up with ideas to help with a story. The beauty of it is that you can go back into the story and pick out things that you like and write a story just based on that, for example I like the idea of drones on carpet bombing runs dropping drugs instead of explosives. The end result is to control someone or something anyway. So maybe your story is about controlling an entire society via drones.

Whatever your story ends up being just keep writing.

Food for Thought: On Being Read and Reread

Every once in a while, I go to a website where I can listen to people tell stories about their lives.  The tales are entertaining and inspirational and represent, to me, the ancient tradition of oral storytelling that is all but gone today.  Sure, grandma and grandpa may share memories with their grandchildren, but the passing of information from generation to generation does not carry the reverence or importance that ancient peoples worked to establish.

Writing and publishing played a role in changing that perspective.  When important events can be written down and mass produced, there is no reason to commit things to memory.  You don’t even have to do the writing yourself.  Journalists and authors fill libraries, websites, and all manner of e-media with accounts of the major happenings of the world.

But what if you want to add your viewpoint to the public record, or just have a good story to tell?  You can share your observation and reaction in a short tweet.  If you want to express more than that, you can write something longer in a blog.  You can even self-publish a 500 page treatise with any number of e-book distributors.  The thing is, once it’s out there, is anyone going to read what you have to say?  Will anyone even find your story to read it?  Will it be good enough for people to recommend to others and come back and read more things written by you?

If it’s important to you for your writing to be read and reread by other people, there are three things that will help you build your audience:

  1. Learn and practice your craft – If your writing is unpolished and you don’t take steps to improve, it’s unlikely that anyone but your closest family and friends will stick with you.
  2. Decide how you want to get your story out in the world – Are you after the traditional brick-and-mortar path to a book deal?  Or, do you want to enter the world of electronic publishing?  Maybe social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogging is where you want to express yourself.  There are many options in today’s world and it takes some exploration to find what is right for you.
  3. Build an audience – Draw attention to your work through traditional marketing and social networking – today’s e-media enhancement to ‘word of mouth.’

My goal from this blog is to share ‘Food for Thought’ in these three areas.  I want to foster a conversation that is as fun and helpful to you as it is for me.  You see, I enjoy the discussion that comes from putting my words out for people to read.  Whether it’s giving and receiving feedback with my fellow Deadwood Writers, or an exchange of comments between me and my Facebook friends, this is fun for me.

If you think about it for yourself, I suspect you’ll realize these interchanges are fun for you as well, because writing alone in a vacuum is a very lonely place to be.  Come join me in the conversation and let’s enjoy the journey to being read and reread together.

What makes a story suspenseful?

Reality makes fiction writing suspenseful. That may sound like an oxymoron, but fiction also includes science fiction and fantasy, both of which skirt reality, and in so doing also skirt suspense.

For example, ever met Superman? Me neither. His character is suspenseful though, and great fun to read or watch.  But I know it is fantasy, it can’t really happen and I don’t feel any compassion for sidekicks Lois and Jimmy because, well, he’s Superman! I am strictly a tourist on a bus. But take a character clayed from mortal man and make him the hero instead. Now successful rescue becomes only one of several outcomes. Suddenly the bad outcomes take on new tension and you can feel this time it really will not end well. Like your favorite uncle, the hero is a little flawed. When everything is at stake, it’s their blemishes that must be cleansed first before they can save Lois and Jimmy, or their house from falling into foreclosure.

At the end of each story, the characters walk off arm-in-arm into the sunset, but which hero stands taller now? It is much more gratifying to take ordinary people, thrown them into extraordinary circumstances and then watch them try to wiggle out of it.

From Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, it is the common man facing unsurmountable odds that holds our interest and keeps us turning the page. If Stowe’s Uncle Tom had been treated like a white man, would we still choke up when he dies? If Stein’s Danny wasn’t a suffering, single-parent would we still root for him to get custody of his daughter over his rich ex-in-laws?

Ian Flemming’s James Bond Series is nothing short of suspenseful, but it is suspense hung 15 minutes into the future. Fun stuff. We’re blown away by all his gadgets, but are we really sitting on the edge of our seat when the sharks smell blood? No, we’re waiting for him to pull the Shark-B-Gone out of his perfectly pressed suit. At no time do we feel for 007 because we know he’s always got something up his sleeve. Fifty years on, he’s still good fun to read and watch — and very collectable I might add — but it’s the author’s techno-candy that keeps us coming back, not the car chases, sharks and men with razor teeth.

A word about why.

I want to write this blog for two reasons. I hope to be able to pass along some of the wisdom I’ve learned over the past twenty-odd years to those just coming into this sport. In the beginning, I had three wonderful mentors who took hours-at-a-time out of their busy schedules to help me, without ever asking for compensation. It’s time for me to start to pay that forward.

I also hope to advance my own publishing success by finding enough folks who think my writing is entertaining and want to buy it and recommend it to others. I am on the lookout for a good agent and publisher, too, someone who can help me turn modest sales into moderate or more.

Next Month.

Can you envision a future where reading — and by that extension writing — is strictly digital? A time when all printed books are antiquarian? A day when everything ever written by every man will live long and prosper in cyberspace? We’re facing that future. Next month, we’ll take a look at what this means to the suspenseful writer.