5 Life Lessons from Bruce Willis


One this day in 1955, Bruce Willis entered the world in the normal way, guns blazing. Yippee Ki Yay!

And so, on this day, I’d like to look at a few of the lesser known details of Bruce’s life and share a few things that I think we can learn from him.

young_bruce_willisHe had a stutter as a kid. Do you know how he overcame that stutter? By acting on stage. As he grew more confident through his acting, he lost the stutter. I don’t know about you, but if I had a stutter, the last place you’d find me would be in front of a group of people who were there to hear me speak.

Lesson #1 – Do the hard things.

He was nicknamed Buck Buck by the other kids in school. I’m guessing it was related to the stutter, but Buck Buck is a tough name to take. It certainly wouldn’t give me any reasons to call attention to myself by trying out for the school plays and musicals.

Lesson #2 – Ignore mean people.

BruceWillis_-_ReturnOfBrunoHe had a song hit #2 on the British Top 40. It was from his album, The Return of Bruno, and was a remake of the Drifter’s classic, “Under the Boardwalk.” For those of you who have only ever known Bruce Willis to be an actor in action films, it may surprise you that the man can sing. Well, he can.

Lesson #3 – Surprise people.

Bruce_Willis_-_1987Before playing one on Moonlighting, he worked as a real private eye. Moonlighting, of course, was the television show on which Willis won an Emmy for Best Actor. Why was he a good actor for this role? In addition to his obvious acting abilities, he had experience.

Lesson #4 – Learn from your past experiences.

He has modeled jeans, acted on stage, television, and film, and recorded music albums. Before looking up his extensive career, I never would have thought of Bruce Willis as a renaissance man. He totally is though. And while he may not be recording many albums now or modeling jeans for Levi anymore, he wasn’t afraid to try something new to further his career.

Lesson #5 – Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Happy Birthday Bruce! May you continue to try new things and see success in efforts.

Books as Time Travel


I’m sure that I’m not the only person fascinated by the idea of time travel. After all, who doesn’t love at least one of the Back to the Future movies?

And while I understand that we are all time travelers (albeit in the same direction and at more or less the same pace), I love the idea of being in control of time. I could visit different eras, meet my favorite U.S. President (Chester A. Arthur, president in the late 1800’s), and prevent historical atrocities. It is one of the root ideas of science fiction. The classic what could have been.

But while we may lament that time is still our master instead of the other way around, there are loopholes to this rule. Books, specifically, allow us to travel through time.

I’ve heard it said that writing is closer to thinking than talking. Thus reading books is akin to reading a person’s thoughts. And when a book is written, those thoughts are trapped in the amber of time, waiting patiently for unwary readers to bring them to life, thus enabling a telepathic connection between the writer and the reader over a span of impossible years.

Is it anything less than incredible that we can read the thoughts and words of people who lived thousands of years ago? Those authors and writers are traveling through time, unbound by death, to influence the readers of today. And so I am proud to be a writer. To drop my thoughts into bits of amber and travel to the future.

Have you had any good telepathic time travel sessions lately?

I am a dinosaur decapitator.

We had a great Jot Conference last Friday night!

A full crowd showed up to hear some great speakers, and I was happy to be among them. The conference that my writers group, the Weaklings, put on is just as much for us as it is for other writers in our area. Perhaps more so.

In any event, I’d like to share a bit of what I learned from our first presenter and newest member of the Weaklings, Thomas McClurg.

Saying that Thomas is a film buff is like saying Rip Van Winkle took a catnap. But his passion for watching movies is exceeded by his passion for writing. And in many ways, his experience with films and screenwriting has helped him as a fiction writer.

The overlap between the disciplines of writing for the screen and writing books is obvious. Both invite people to lose themselves in the worlds created for them. Both involve good character development and solid plots. And both are made up of a series of scenes which must further the action or risk losing the watcher/reader.

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

To this last point, Thomas shared the example of picturing a scene as an Apatosaurus. The head is the beginning of the scene, the long neck gives more information while moving slowly toward the large body or meat of the scene. The tail is what happens after the main action occurs. After giving us this illustration, Thomas showed us two scenes from the Star Trek reboot, one of which was this one:

In the scene, we are shown a car speeding through the desert driven by a boy. The boy jumps from the car just before it plummets off a cliff. As the police officer who had been chasing the boy stands over him, he asks his name. The punch line for the scene is the boy’s revelation to be James Tiberius Kirk.

If this scene were an Apatosaurus, its head and tail had been removed, leaving only the body of the dinosaur. We didn’t see young Kirk steal the car, and we didn’t see the police officer take him into custody afterward.

Thomas said that this is a good way of keeping the reader’s attention, especially when the attention spans of readers are shortening by the minute. He asked us to write a full scene, then cut the head and tail off the dinosaur. Leave only the meat.

This is as true to screenwriting as it is to novel-writing (and even more true to flash fiction writing), but some writers forget this and leave readers floundering through pages of description without giving them a plot or a character onto which they may latch.

Thomas had a lot more great things to say. You may be able to watch the whole conference online here if the video works. And if it doesn’t, you probably should have come to the Jot event.

Last Minute Jot Information and LiveStream

Jot Writers Conference

Hello writing friends. I wanted to inform you of a few last minute details regarding Jot.

  • The parking lot may fill up quickly. If so, consider parking in the TCBY parking lot instead of the one by La Cantina, unless you want your car towed. This is the safest parking lot nearby.

If you cannot make it, there are two ways to join us:

See you in a few hours!

The Weaklings

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How to Get the Most Out of Jot

Jot Writers Conference

jotI’ve read it in writing magazines and on blogs and websites of famous writers that going to writer’s conference is one of the best things you can do if you are serious about being a writer. Writing conferences are part education, part encouragement, and part filler of that elusive creative well.

If you’ve been to Jot, I hope you’ve experienced these things.

Writing can be a lonely process. This is not just true for us amateurs but for professionals too. In the book CS Lewis: Eccentric Genius. Reluctant Prophet., Alister McGrath points out that Tolkien (older and well respected in higher education circles of his day) timidly showed CS Lewis one of his poems he had been working on. Lewis approved of it so enthusiastically, he showed him more. In part, because of that encouragement we now have The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Being around other writers…

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Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

Wireless Computer Mouse with Wheel

Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. Research indicates that frequent readers are more likely to be satisfied with life, happier and more successful in their professional lives. Are you a reader?
  2. According to this list of the Most Popular Books in the USA by state, the top book in Michigan is Serena by Ron Rash, which I have neither read nor heard of. As a Michigander, I’m a letdown.
  3. Why is a book’s hook more important than ever?
  4. Editors discuss their first acquisitions. An enlightening glimpse at the publishing industry.
  5. And if you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s how you can apply for an Amtrak Writer’s Residency.


P.S. I hope to see you at Jot tonight!

The Jot Conference Happens Tomorrow Night


If this is the first you’ve heard of Jot, don’t worry. There’s still time to cancel whatever plans you made for tomorrow night. Unless you were planning to attend Jot. Keep those plans.

We’re going to have a great conference. In case you were curious about the content being presented, fellow writer and Jot co-founder, Bob Evenhouse, has been posting interviews on the Jot Blog:

And our keynote speaker is the award-winning author, Tracy Groot. (Read her interview here)

Best of all, the entire thing is free to attend. Don’t miss it!

Paid to Read Books


Picture a world before iPods, radio, or television. Now picture yourself, working in a factory, doing the same mind-numbing task over and over until either your fingers get mangled in a machine or you go insane from the repetition with no podcasts, music, or audio books to entertain you. Now stop picturing that because it is really depressing.

Perhaps most depressing of all is that the world you just pictured was our world and it really happened that way. And that is why there were lectors.

hanniballecterWhereas Hannibal Lecter entertained himself by feeding on brains, historical lectors would feed people’s brains with entertainment. It was their job to read books, newspapers and magazines aloud to the people in factories.

Can you imagine a better job than getting paid to read books to people? That would be heaven. Or it would be if you weren’t also stuck in a time before regular bathing and modern deodorants.


Lunch with a Publisher


Two out of two publishers with whom I have dined have asked me if I like sushi. I don’t. So we went to Chili’s.

I had the recent good fortune to dine with one of the head honchos at Baker Publishing Group. Jack Kuhatschek is an accomplished author and publishing professional who has been on the front lines at InterVarsity Press, Zondervan, and Baker Publishing. His official title is Executive Vice President and Publisher. So how did I get to have lunch with him?

I asked.

On the advice of another employee at the publishing house, I asked Jack if I could borrow some of his time in order to ask some questions about my career path. As I’ve stated before, after ten years of working in a bookstore on the retail side, I’ve discovered that I want to work on the content creation side of books. But publishing is an especially difficult field to break into (especially when you end sentences with prepositions). And when your formal education isn’t related to the written word, it can be even harder. So I needed some advice.

I was a bit nervous about the meeting, because Jack and I had crossed paths only a few times before. The first time we met, he was new to Baker and was visiting the store in order to set up a meeting for some publishing employees. I assisted in the moving of chairs and tables and we made polite small talk. I believe he asked me if I had read any good books lately. I told him as straight-faced as I could that I was illiterate. I don’t know why I did that. I suppose I thought it would be funny, but it proved more awkward than anything because it pretty much killed our polite conversation.

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried because either Jack didn’t remember or he was kind enough not to mention this fact at our lunch.

Jack was more than helpful. Upon sitting down to eat, he asked me what I hoped to gain from our time together. I told him of my hopes and asked if he could illuminate the next step for me. I have a basic understanding of how a book goes from an idea to a finished product in the bookstore, and I told Jack that I’d be interested in something editorial in nature.

“Are you familiar with the different types of editorial jobs?” he asked me.

“Vaguely,” I said.

There are two basic divisions when it comes to editing jobs. There are acquiring editors who are responsible for getting material from authors for a publisher to publish, and there are content editors who are responsible for making that material readable.

“The two types of editors are quite different,” he told me.

Acquisitions editors tend to be more outgoing and personable. They often fall into the extroverted camp of people. Content editors are often quite happy to work quietly and alone. They recharge in solitude. But often, in order to get a job in acquisitions, one must prove their mettle as a content editor first.

Fortunately, I already have a bit of experience with critical reading skills due to my association with the Dove Foundation, where I review books and document instances of questionable content for discerning parents. The next step for me is going to be getting my foot in the door as a freelance content editor.

“That’s all well and good, Josh,” you say, “but how does your lunch with Jack benefit me as a blog reader?”

Good question, reader. Here’s what you can learn from my experience. If you need help, ask for it. Don’t act like you know everything. Be willing to ask questions. And if a person makes polite conversation, for Heaven’s sake, don’t make things awkward by saying that you are illiterate.