Daniel Silva and the Writing Process

30 04 2012

I’ve become a huge fan of novelist Daniel Silva over the past few years.  I’m currently enjoying The Confessor and have a pile of his other works queued up after it.

Silva has written fourteen novels and is about to release his fifteenth, The Fallen Angel, this summer.  All but the first three novels have centered around Israeli-born art restorer and Mossad alumnus, Gabriel Allon.  He is a compelling figure who helped assassinate the Black September terrorists responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games at Munich.  His son was killed and his wife maimed during a terrorist bombing.  Gabriel is a quiet and complex individual skillfully crafted by Silva.

You should read the books if you are at all interested in art, espionage and things European and Middle Eastern.  Themes like art theft, the Holocaust, the Vatican and radical Islam all loom large.  Gabriel Allon is an engaging character who lingers with you long after the book is closed.

I’m fascinated by the habits of writers and I’ve found some interesting details about Daniel Silva that might interest you:

  • When working on a novel—one a year—he begins work early in the morning and stops at 6:30 PM to watch the evening news.
  • He writes seven days a week and has a very hard time taking a day off when in the middle of a project.
  • He does not answer the phone or email when working.
  • His food of choice when writing is McVitie’s digestive biscuits.
  • He writes his novels first on legal pads using Paper Mate Mirado Black Warrior No. 2 pencils.  Pencils and pads don’t get viruses or crash, says Silva.  Later he commits them to digital form on his computer.
  • He writes sitting on the floor with his work sprawled out all over the room.  This, to the chagrin of his wife, MSNBC News correspondent Jamie Gangel, who designed a very nice workdesk that Silva doesn’t use.
  • Attire: Gray sweat pants, cotton socks from England, moccasins and a long-sleeved L.L. Bean shirt.  This does not vary.
  • He does not drink except for an occasional glass of wine at dinner.  He does this in order to stay clearheaded as he writes. “I don’t touch the stuff.”
  • He takes his work to bed with him and goes over what he’s written at day’s end to let the characters develop in his mind and subconscious as he sleeps.
  • The characters in the Gabriel Allon novels—Gabriel, Ari Shamron, Julian Isherwood, Chiara, Pope Paul VII, Monsignor Luigi Donati, etc.—are as real to him as a family member.  This is common with many writers.
  • He generally does not read novels when writing.  When not writing, he prefers the work of the great dead, Graham Greene being one of his favorites.
  • He knew from a child that he wanted to be a novelist.

Writers, what are some of your writing tips and habits?  Tell us.

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“To An Athlete Dying Young”

29 04 2012

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest.  I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.” (Steve Prefontaine)

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

–A. E. Housman

In tribute to running great, Steve Prefontaine (1951-75), who died much too young.

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Iron On Iron

28 04 2012

“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)

I got a call from an old friend yesterday.  It was good to hear his voice.  We walked together some years ago when we both lived in another state.

He’s a solid guy.  Honest as the day.  The type who would lay down in traffic for you and shoot you straight.  He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. He understands right and wrong.  He knows when things are black and white.  He can spot a phony a mile away and will tell him so.  A man of integrity.  A rare thing in this day of political correctness and playing it safe.

We spoke for about three hours.  As we talked, I felt that tug to return once again to values that I’ve let slip and wiggle in recent years.  He challenged me.  He’s the kind of person who would tell me to my face—rather than stab me in the back—that I have ketchup all over my necktie.  He’s a real friend.

Our interaction sharpened me, like the proverb at the top of this post.  A good friend, a true friend, challenges you to be your best.  At times they get in your face.  Not the phony friendship made of plastic love that says, in effect, “You rub my back; I’ll rub yours.”  That is détente.  There is a difference.

Those who love you—and I mean really love you—will care enough about you not to give you a pass.  They won’t say, “Hey, it’s okay” when it’s not.  They won’t rubber stamp things that are hurting you.  They won’t euphemize your failures and transgressions.

But they are real.  Kind of like One who once said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”

Do you have any real friends?

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“Remember Who You Are….”

27 04 2012

This world has always needed leaders.  Men and women aware of both the time and need into which they were born and live.  The grace to lead well is given to some more than others.  Today, in some ways like no other time that has preceded it, the world is looking for leaders.  Individuals who will show the way.  Who will stand up, even while feeling afraid, and give direction, security, competence and solace.

As I have grown older, I find that I am given strength and grace to lead.  I don’t, however, have grace to cower, shrink away, idle away the hours and live for me.  My agenda.  My plans for a content life without taking those who know me into account.  “My World and Welcome to It” is a fine motto for a ‘60’s TV sitcom.  But it ill becomes a leader, who is supposed to embody–to one degree or another–selflessness.  Sacrifice.  It’s not about me.  Nor about you.

I’ve been struck over and over again by the children’s movie The Lion King.  One scene in particular.  Simba, heir to Mufasa and kingship of the Pride Lands, has run away from his home and sphere after the death of his father.  Afraid.  He takes up a worry-less, footloose-and-fancy-free existence.  Hakuna Matata.  No worries.

But the call of leadership niggles at him.  His father appears to him in a dream and says, “Simba, remember who you are!”  Simba is afraid.  His dad is dead.  His uncle Scar, who killed Mufasa and is now ruling the deteriorating Pride Lands, intimidates him.

With the help of Rafiki, the sage mandrill, Simba gets his mojo back.  He is a leader and has royal blood in him.  He cannot escape the role of destiny except at the peril of those counting on him.

So he returns to the Pride Lands.  There he overthrows the illegitimate ruler, corrupt Uncle Scar.  And assumes his rightful throne upon Pride Rock.

People are counting on you.  And you have what it takes to bring order, peace, direction and security to those who are watching you.  And looking to you.  Remember who you are….

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The Miracle of the Human Person

26 04 2012

Every human being who is now, will be or ever has been is a miracle.  The co-workers, family members and friends with whom you trafficked today are, every one of them, wonders beyond belief.  We are all—regardless of color, creed or cult—made in the image of God.  There is no such thing as an ordinary person.

C.S. Lewis, writing in his essay “The Weight of Glory” says this, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Our society, especially here in the West, is enamored of celebrity.  I don’t quite know how to account for it.  Perhaps it is, in some weird way, a seeking after God, power embodied in fame.  The Kardashian sisters are lovely women but they are no more a miracle than your boss, the clerk at the store down the street or your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart greeter.

Ask yourself this one question:  “How do I treat those who have absolutely nothing by which I can, knowingly, be benefited?”

Tomorrow, when you stop by the gas station on the way to work, remember you are looking into the eyes of creatures made a little lower than the angels, indeed a little lower than God (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7).

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Hard Work——->Success

25 04 2012

Jim Rohn is one of my favorite self-development teachers.  I’ve been mentored by him over the past year through his writings and recorded seminars.  I have never met him.  He died in 2009 after a full life.

Today, I heard him dispense this nugget, worthy of wrapping one’s head around:

“Make rest a necessity, not an objective.”

Now that’s a new and powerful way of highlighting the importance of working hard.

Rest is something we earn.  This sounds foreign to American ears.  We are used to the “standard” of a 40 hour work week.  But the 40 hour work week is distinctly Western and of recent vintage.

I’ve heard it said that if you’re only working 40 hours a week, it’s not likely you’re going to get ahead.  Certainly not as far ahead as your dreams, goals and ambitions.

Even God worked 6 days out of 7 when He created the cosmos.  He wasn’t done on Friday afternoon at 5:00.

I have family members who are doctors, attorneys, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, Federal officials and much more.  They’ve all gotten where they’re at the old-fashioned way:  They worked their tails off.  Nobody handed any of them anything.

Here are just a few benefits that will return to you with greater effort and longer hours, as you create a life:

  • You will certainly grow in your chosen fields of vocation and avocation.
  • Your sense of accomplishment will increase as you tackle and master more skills and meet goals.
  • You will run far ahead of the pack simply because many, if not most, are content to put their expected time in, satisfied with “working their 40 hours.”
  • Your earning potential will undoubtedly increase, especially if the extra effort is focused and you strive for greater levels of excellence at all to which you put your hands to.

This isn’t a paean of praise to workaholism.  Far from it.  But in a culture that lives for the weekend, for partying, for good times and leisure, one tends to get an unrealistic picture of what it takes to win at life and rise to the top of your potential.  It’s simply a matter of adjusting your perspective to accord with reality.

So my advice is this:  See work and labor not as a curse, but as a blessing.  Look for lots of increases in many different ways as you work harder toward fulfilling your destiny.

And, when you have striven and exerted and are tired, then rest.

You’ve earned it.

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George Orwell, Freedom and Leadership

24 04 2012

“High sentiments always win in the end. The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears, and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.” (George Orwell)

One of the most intriguing books I’ve ever read came as an English assignment in the late 1970’s.  Animal Farm by George Orwell—the pen name of Eric Blair—is a parable of the mechanics of totalitarianism.  He wrote this in 1945.  Four years later, he penned his terrifyingly prescient novel of the future, 1984, in which he showed the ways in which the state would hijack our freedoms and privacy in the interest of “the common good.”

I doubt he had any idea just how prophetic these writings were.  Big Brother is now watching us. Infotech has facilitated this but it is simply the infrastructure.  Laziness and apathy have done far more.  We have to stop the clamor for bread and circuses. We have to speak up and do our homework.

Orwell wrote at the time of the spread of Communism in Eastern Europe, the end of World War II and the early years of the Cold War.  He saw that Communism and other toxic ideologies are antithetical to the dignity of the human person.  In his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” he reminded us that insincerity is the enemy of sensible language.  If you have ever read Marx or any of the reprehensible euphemisms currently in vogue, designed as they are to cloak evil, you understand.

Freedom is precious.  We cannot afford to become surrogates to a state hostile to the values that made this nation great.  To couch evil in language most do not understand is to give it a pass.

Remember this the first Tuesday in November of this year

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