Tag Archives: Don Kesterson

Inspired by Greatness: Keep Going!

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” –Nelson Mandela

South African President Nelson Mandela’s death a few weeks ago left his nation—and our world—without its beloved figurehead of ethics and morality. Despite twenty-seven years of imprisonment, Mandela always served as a beacon of encouragement in this sometimes dark world. His words, even after his death, inspire us to harbor a spirit of forgiveness, to remain steadfast, to work hard, to focus on our goals, and to always endure.

As writers, we can embody Mandela’s spirit in our own work by continuing to write and by keeping our goals of manuscript completion and publication in sight, even in the face of rejection.

I have days, like many writers, when I want to throw in the towel and quit. It would be easier to dig ditches, wouldn’t it? At least at the end of the day, you can see what you’ve accomplished. That’s not always the case with writing. Surely we may have more words on the page at the end of a long day of writing, but after a day of editing (which often involves deleting what we’ve written), we may feel like the time we spent prior has been wasted. Of course, this isn’t the case. If we stay the course, one day we can type, “The End.” If we keep honing our craft by writing and by studying good writing and craft, our work will indeed get better. If we keep submitting, one day we will be published.

What happens, then, when we’ve finished a manuscript, we’ve revised it, we’ve had it professionally edited, and we’ve finally had it published? Are we finished? Of course not! We are writers, after all, so we pull up a blank page on our screen, and we write.

Mandela knew that persistence was key to success. He knew that staying the course was the most important thing, even in the face of disappointment. He knew that a positive attitude in even the worst of times and places would see him through. He knew there is much work to be done, and that now is the best time to do it.

Keep writing!

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” –Nelson Mandela

REMEMBERING PEARL HARBOR: A DAY IN INFAMY

December 7, 1941.

The date, to many, seems little more than a number etched in the past; the words Pearl Harbor Day nothing more than tiny font at the bottom of a square on the calendar. But to a dwindling number of American soldiers, it’s a day  marked with a heartrending mixture of joy and tears. Joy in their survival of a horrific attack on American soil, in the Pearl Harbor of Oahu, Hawaii. Tears shed in memory of their 2,403 brothers-in-arms who died during the explosive assault.

The Japanese shot torpedoes and dropped bombs from 353 war planes launched from six of their aircraft carriers surrounding our fleet. Four of our US Navy battleships were sank. All eight sustained severe damage.

This infamous attack on the United States Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was an effort by the Imperial Japanese Navy to keep the US Pacific Fleet from thwarting Japan’s plans to attack the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and, yes, the United States of America. During the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese carried out simultaneous attacks on other US-held territories; the British Empire in Malaya, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and in the Philippines.

Survivors of the bombing at Pearl Harbor are now in their early nineties. Once young men who entered the military in the late 30s and early 40s—some seeking adventure, but most seeking a means to support their families since few jobs were available following the Great Depression—these US Veterans now memorialize their service and honor their dead in small-town celebrations. Few are physically able or can afford to travel to Oahu, Hawaii, site of the Pearl Harbor Museum & Tours, where the largest celebrations are held.

It is our job, then, to remember these men and women. Our job to thank them for their duty in protecting our sovereign nation at the expense of life and limb. It is our job, at least, to remember. In his moving speech (listen to it here), President Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7th, 1941 “A date that will live in infamy.” We haven’t forgotten, President Roosevelt. And on behalf of the US Veterans who served us that ill-fated day, let us never forget.

–Don C. Kesterson

The Past in the Present

I’m an author of fiction. Political thrillers. Historical fiction. It sometimes strikes me as odd to write a scene set in the 1960s in which one of my characters opens a metal can of Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding or spoons Sanka Coffee into a percolator coffee pot, only to finish writing my scene and then pop a K-Cup into my Keurig, or warm a pastry in my microwave. This odd juxtaposition of the past and the present may fill my days, but it cannot fill—or even momentarily appear in—my stories.

It’s crucial for a writer of historical fiction to perform due diligence in research. Given that the World Wide Web is a click away, and Internet search engines put facts at our fingertips, there really is no excuse for sloppy errors of misinformation in our work. (Always verify information found on the internet with at least two sources, as inaccuracies abound on the Web). Your local library is a fantastic source for reference books, and most librarians make wonderful research liaisons.

Accurate portrayal of pop culture icons can anchor a scene in a specific year or era, as can the popular slang and the music of a particular decade. You may also want to include references to the social climate of the year in which your story is set. For example, the novel I’m currently writing is set in early 1960s America, and racism was a hot-button issue of the day. I may include in my story references to Martin Luther King, Jr’s powerful speech, or to the racially motivated murder of Medgar Evers. These events are vivid memories in the minds of many readers who lived through them, and it’s crucial that I depict and refer to them accurately.

Take care when adding historical facts to your story that you do not slip into a history lesson. If a reader wants that, she’ll pick up a textbook, not a novel. Allow your characters to make a brief, natural comment in dialogue about a current event during their time, but don’t force it. Reference the history, but don’t slip into it, because doing that removes the reader from the action at hand.

Your story must move forward. Action is crucial. Active voice is critical. However, with attention to detail, accurate portrayal of historical facts, and authentic references to social, economic and cultural happenings, your readers can move forward while traveling through the past.

Do you have any tips on researching historical details for your fiction? Share with us here, and let’s compare notes.

Story Immersion: When the Heart Becomes Involved

by Don Kesterson

I’ve never been to the Philippines. For many years, I researched the country, their government, the lay of the land and the culture. I immersed myself in studies of the Filipino way of life, of popular music, clothing styles and food choices. I read about their country’s devout religious faith and was impressed. I even searched for recipes of Filipino dishes I could make at home, so I could cook and eat as a native Filipina might. As best as I could from a distance of over eight thousand miles away, I enjoyed the Philippines.

You can understand, then, why my heart sank when I read of the devastation caused there by Typhoon Haiyan. Tacloban wasn’t my hometown, though the tiny island of Leyte was the subject of some of my research. Yet just as an author doesn’t have to live in an area to write about it, anyone with the tiniest grain of compassion in their heart doesn’t have to experience first-hand storm destruction to feel empathy and sympathy for those who have lost homes, jobs and loved ones in such a disaster.

The death toll sits near two thousand. It is expected to top ten thousand. Over two hundred thousand are now homeless. Over 200,000! I can’t wrap my mind around a figure like that.

I think of what I have learned about Leyte when researching the area for my novel. I picture the tropical foliage surrounded by blue water. I visualize the bustling city with high-rises, busy freeways, packed sidewalks. I imagine shoppers strolling the malls and mega-stores and mom-and-pop convenience marts.

I can’t imagine it gone.

The United Nations is sending $25M in aid. The US Government is sending $20M more. We are told it won’t arrive fast enough to save many of the lives of those in immediate need of medicine, clean water and food. And we are told that when it does arrive, it won’t be nearly enough.

The Philippines isn’t my home. My home is—and I pray always will be—on American soil. But for those who call Tacloban, Leyte and the Philippines home, I am touched by your pain.

Would you like to help those affected by this catastrophic disaster? Doctors Without Borders and The International Committee of the Red Cross are accepting contributions by check, credit card or PayPal, earmarked for Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts. Just as you don’t have to live in an area to write about it, you don’t have to be hurt to feel the need to ease the suffering of another. Please do what you can to help someone in need today.

How Much Romance is Too Much Romance?

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 Photo by Graur Codrin

Walking the Tightrope in a Political Thriller

 

When I first started writing my novel The President’s Gold, I had a strong idea of what I wanted to cover in the story: the theft of Chinese war loot by the Japanese (referred to as Yamashita’s gold), and how Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos acquired it and kept it hidden—with US President Truman’s help. I wanted to aid in exposing the role the American government played in the scandal and the fraudulent dealings on which our world banking system is built.

What I didn’t want to do is write a romance novel. And yet, in many ways, I did just that.

Some of the best feedback I have received about my novel comes not only about the exposé of what is arguably the greatest state secret of our lifetime, but about the romantic relationship between my protagonist Franklin Young and his adversary-turned-lover Rosalita Laurel. Women, in particular, love this thread in the story, though I’ve had more than one man confess to having the hots for spicy Rosalita and her sometimes-wicked ways.

But how much romance is too much romance between fictional characters in a story that thrives not on only on action, but also on historic political events? The line is a fine one, indeed.

The Romance Writers of America (RWA) state that two basic elements are involved in a romance: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. The President’s Gold did not have a love story as its central element, nor did it have an optimistic ending for the couple, though Frank and Rosalita’s story certainly does not end with this novel. However, the subplot of the story, which deals with how a man can find love and maintain his ethical beliefs and personal morals while spying on and being manipulated by his government, certainly underscores the risks one will take for true, romantic—perhaps unconditional—love.

Major motion picture movies, from the classic Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart to the more recent Mr. and Mrs. Smith starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, have proven the marketability of romance in politics. But is a romantic thread necessary, or even feasible, in a modern-day political thriller? Only if you want to capture a larger share of the market. In 2012, the romance genre raked in nearly $1.5 billion dollars in sales, according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2013. What’s not to love about that?

What do you think, readers? Do lovers of historical fiction and political fiction enjoy a scoop of romance atop their thriller? If you’re a romance reader, do you appreciate the suspense and thrill of action—even actual history—that buoys a romantic thread and keeps it moving at a fast pace? Share your opinions here, and let’s examine the tightrope that carries us from the ledge of a thriller to one of romance.

Bruce Willis, 3000 Pairs of Boogie Shoes and Presidential Discotheques

I have to admit . . . I was a more than a little surprised to learn that David Byrne (former front man for the Talking Heads) has a new musical about Imelda Marcos and her disco dancing days. The musical is called “Here Lies Love” (reviewed here) and features actress Ruthie Ann Miles portraying the First Lady of the Philippines shaking her groove thang.

Of course, surprise is one of those emotions that comes often to me as I’m researching scenes for historically accurate writing, which is what led to Imelda’s disco scene in my fictional novel The President’s Gold. For example, I was surprised to learn, while researching the layout of the Marcoses’ Malacanang Presidential Palace, that Imelda had a discotheque built atop the palace.

Sure, I knew about her shoe fetish—who hasn’t heard that she owned over 3,000 pairs of designer shoes? But a custom-built disco hall in which to wear your boogie shoes? I mean, can you imagine what we’d say if Michelle Obama spent taxpayer dollars on a mirrored disco ball and private performances by top rock bands, as Imelda did during her tenure as First Lady of the Philippines?

Too bad Imelda no longer hosts private disco parties, because maybe, just maybe, she could invite Bruce Willis and his friends to entertain her with a Boy Dance Party, as seen this past weekend on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

Research—and the surprising results to which it often leads writers—is one of the best parts of writing historically accurate scenes. What have you discovered recently when researching facts for your own stories? And while we’re at it, what do you think about a Presidential Palace with a private discotheque? Isn’t it amazing what stolen war gold can buy! 

 

–Don Kesterson