What’s My Motivation?

Think about those smarmy sketches you’ve seen on TV poking fun at actors, who, given direction from the director, ask, “What’s my motivation?” That’s what my post is about today: motivation – specifically, Judah’s.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how Judah (in The Pledge) wanted to avoid a scandal after visiting with a prostitute (who – du du dum – was really his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar trying to entrap him). That’s powerful motivation when it comes lying about your actions to avoid getting caught, but I don’t think this was all that was driving the man.

All stories need conflict and they need development for the character. Otherwise you simply have random events devoid of purpose. There has to be something you’re moving towards; and for Judah, it was redemption. The man who wanted distance from his crazy family eventually returned and earned a place of honor that would last generations. How did he get to that point though? What was the journey or path between Point A and Point B? When you consider that he left his family as a teenager, reunited with them years later (though he kept his distance), was instrumental in the sale of his brother Joseph, betrayed his widowed daughter-in-law and in a span of about 10-15 years buried not only two of his three sons but his wife as well – what motivates a man like that to suddenly recognize the error of his ways and say:

“She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her my son.” Gen 38:26

Really? She deceived then seduced him in order to get pregnant and satisfy a deep-seeded need for revenge.

Still something happened to the man to bring him to that point and quite frankly I’d been struggling with how to convey what that something was. Then I reread the original text. Yes, Judah was afraid of scandal and I do think he held himself above his countrymen, but I think the fear was more that he had sunk so low in his addiction to sex that he was willing to trade his identity for a ‘quick roll in the hay’.

I am reminded of the film Last Knights: Clive Owen’s character, Raiden, a warrior, is forced to kill his master and upon penalty of death to him, his family and his men, he is forbidden from exacting revenge. So he does gets drunk for the next year, hocking everything of value until all he has left is his sword. And when he finally sells it to buy more alcohol, his enemies give up watching him because “what is a warrior without a sword?”

In Judah’s case, what was a powerful and arrogant businessman without his seal and staff with which to conduct business and control the ‘little people’?

When we come to the scene with Tamar, Judah needed sex, but was unprepared for the cost, so he haggled and negotiated and gave up his identity. This was Judah’s rock bottom. Before this, he was arrogant enough to believe he was fine, he could handle his addiction, he wouldn’t get caught with his pants down and he could continue running away from his family and from God. After Tamar confronts him though, Judah realizes he does indeed have a problem and he goes from a man willing to sacrifice everyone (especially the faithful daughter-in-law who was still willing to give him a grandson) to a man willing to sacrifice himself and his “needs”. Now that’s some serious personal growth and character development…which means I have some rewriting to do.

And People Say The Bible is Boring…

As I was writing Part 27 to The Pledge, I noticed something that changes part of the story. Just after Judah’s friend Hirah (who is the ultimate example of an enabler and the worst friend ever, btw) advises him that he couldn’t find the prostitute Judah slept with, the Hebrew patriarch tells him:

“Let her keep the items for herself; otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.” Gen 38:23

I went back to the original text to get a feel for the conversation, but something jumped out that I didn’t notice before: Judah was worried about becoming a laughingstock in his adopted nation. He was afraid of becoming an object of ridicule by the Adullamites. And not just that, he grouped his faithful, enabling friend in that concern (which makes me wonder what else Hirah did for his friend).

I’d always read that passage to mean that he was a man who paid his debts, who, even though the items (staff, cord and seal, all representative of his identity) were important, he knew they were useless to her. But I think the implications are deeper here: here is a man, who grew up worshiping the one, nameless god of the Hebrews, but was now living in the land of the enemy, who worshipped their gods through sex. Perhaps he held himself above them and made it known. But that would be a problem if he had ‘sunk to their level’ and became an addict of the very thing he condemned. And you could argue that we don’t know that for sure, but the writer of Genesis gives us convincing evidence that he did:

He went over to [the prostitute] and said, “Come, let me sleep with you,”… She said, “What will you give me for sleeping with me?” “I will send you a young goat from my flock,” he replied. But she said, “Only if you leave something with me until you send it.” “What should I give you?” he asked. She answered, “Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff in your hand.” So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she got pregnant by him. Gen 38:15-18

Unless you’ve done it before, you don’t look at a prostitute on the side of the road and think, today is a good day to visit one. And going by the ease with which he did it, I would argue that Judah was quite adept at negotiating terms with a prostitute, making this a recurring issue he probably preferred to keep on the DL. Plus, if you go back to earlier verses, you find that the ‘prostitute’ (his widowed daughter-in-law, which brings up more issues that even Sigmund Freud would raise an eyebrow at) knew Judah would stop when he saw her. Hmm…

I think the man had done it so often, visiting prostitutes was second-nature to him. BUT he held himself above his countrymen and was vocal about it (making him a hypocrite), so that when this one ‘prostitute’ went missing with what was in essence his wallet, he was worried about a scandal ensuing.

And a scandal would follow, but it was much worse than Judah feared. Stay tuned. For the time being, I have amended the current post, and will go back and change the story to fit this new development.

And people say the Bible is boring…

Being Mean to Characters

The world is a cruel place, so it should figure that, as authors, the worlds we create in our books should be just as cruel, right? After all, how often do we get to play God, right? How often do we get to exact some well-deserved retribution we can’t get in real-life, right? Or maneuver the chess pieces until we’ve cornered the queen and declared ‘checkmate’!

Or maybe we want to create the opposite, a utopia where no issues or conflicts exist. No one is mean to each other, not especially the author and the character, and everyone lives happily ever after…

I ponder all this as 13171349-_uy200_I finish reading The Hitman Diaries by Danny King; and while I enjoyed the book, there was a point where I considered putting it down – the main character, Ian Bridges, a hitman, was teetering on the edge of ‘too dark’ for me, a monster who kills without remorse and doesn’t fully accept what he actually is.

But as I read on, I discovered more than anything else he was also a geek.

screenshot_2016_09_09t14_55_13-0401

It’s bad enough Ian was good at something that automatically separated/alienated him from the remainder of humanity – but to also be bad in social situations and with women especially was just Mr. King being mean to his character.

Of course if you continue reading to the end (which I highly recommend you do), there was purpose in the cruelty of his actions (the author’s, not the hitman), for Ian’s issues with the world being mean to him were at the very core of his development.

This is the reason we choose to be mean – and have to suffer meanness – to create conflict. It’s a necessary evil that shapes and molds characters and builds the story. In the same way that conflict shapes and molds us in ‘real life’, building the story that is our lives. Our character is created/developed and how we respond to the world around us is contingent upon what we learn or don’t learn during those moments of cruelty.

Otherwise, our stories – in literature and reality – tend to go the way of the preschooler who just has to tell you something important. It starts off innocently enough – they have to tell you about their day, how they played, and ate, and talked to so-and-so, who had so-and-so and said so-and-so. And then they ate again, and they played again and talked and right about the five minute mark, it dawns on you that you have a front-row seat to The Never-Ending Story, Part II. There is no point being made, no conflict to resolve; just events, strung together with commas and semi-colons.

Now I’m not saying there is some cosmic notion in play that necessitates evil so that we will act right or learn a valuable lesson. The ancient Greek and Roman might argue, given their track record with their gods, but all-in-all, I think it’s something we have to deal with. Conflict exists, cause and effect, and we have to deal with the consequences of actions committed before and after us so we can live our lives.

Which leads us then to authors creating actions (being mean) to create conflict (character) and resolution (storytelling; or life, if you will). And it’s not an easy thing playing God …er, creating conflict, let me tell you:

In my serial story The Pledge, Tamar is humiliated, raped and beaten through two marriages before she’s had enough and decides to take control of her life by dealing with the man she views as the ultimate source of her pain.

In my book Speak Tenderly To Her, I had to be mean to Isobel, who traded a good man for one with a heavy hand and a warped sense of love. Even knowing the ending, it was difficult writing the parts in between, told from her perspective – that she’s messed up her life beyond reconciliation and might never get back the man who truly loves her.

I think the hardest one for me to be mean to was Zoe, the main character’s daughter in Stepmothers Anonymous: Abbey and her family are getting ready to celebrate Zoe’s birthday, when an unexpected visitor not only ruins the day, but also brings a wedge between the family forcing them to choose sides in the ultimate battle between good and evil. Being mean to Zoe and having to write her tears was a minor plot point, but it was the hardest thing I’ve written thus far.

In the end though, just like life, it all works together for the greater good, or a greater story. And if we have the power to be mean, we also have the ability to soothe the wounds and write a happy ending, if one is warranted. I personally like happy endings – I am able to  justify and feel better about all the hell I put my characters through.

Happy Labor Day; or Sharing Updates While Ignoring the Kids

Happy Labor Day, a day to celebrate the work of your hands; and with kids out of school and in the house, I opt to sit at Starbucks, not responding when they text me wanting to know where I am. Amazing too, since they usually avoid me when I’m home. Ah, life with teenagers.

In any case, with summer officially, or unofficially, over, seems like it’s time to get back to the real work: writing, marketing and all the wonderful things that come with this career. If you haven’t already gotten a copy of Stay With Me, it’s available at most online bookstores. I categorized it as a romance, but it’s more than that. And if you liked Speak Tenderly To Me, then you’ll like this one. I’ll be doing some giveaways in the weeks to come, so keep an eye out for them. And if you want some free reads, check out my Wattpad page. You can download the app from iTunes apps or Google Play.

I’m about halfway through The Pledge, if you’re following along. I’m about halfway through and am looking forward to finishing it, not just to be done with it, but because I plan to start a new series once this one is complete – Matriarch, the Biblical story of Hagar, a slave who rose to the position of matriarch by submitting herself to the woman who enslaved her. I’ll be looking for other platforms to post on, so stay tuned.

I also have other projects in the works, including my next romance, but those are enough updates for now… the kids are calling. They just don’t take hints very well…

The Pledge

So if you’ve hung around my blog long enough, you know I started a blog series I called The Pledge a couple of years ago, telling the Biblical story of Judah and Tamar. I shelved it at about 85% complete, but have decided to finish it and post it on Wattpad.

If you are familiar with the story at all, you may find my take on it refreshing and new: Judah, God’s chosen and the progenitor and heir of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham’s fortunes, was not the honorable man he’s often portrayed as, while Tamar was hardly acting out of a righteous desire to see God’s will done (hell had nothing on this woman’s fury).

Like us, they were human; and in the countless of millennia that humans have walked this earth, human nature is one thing that has not changed. This is part of the reason I enjoy writing Biblical fiction – people are often confused or ‘bored’ by the stories in the book, but if you can get past those thoughts, you’ll find real, relatable stories that can encourage and inspire.

Which brings me to what makes my stories different than some of the others out there. As I writer, I do believe in employing literary license to fill in the places that need it, but that’s it. I take what’s available (in the Bible, in Jewish writings, etc.) and combine it to create a story that’s as faithful to the “real” story as much as possible. So if you’re looking for a good story to read, head on over to Wattpad and give The Pledge a try. I’ll be updating the site a few times a weekly until it’s done. And if you like it, please share it with others.

The Pledge (31)

Even when I’m not writing, my brain is, and while I’d like to say The Pledge is complete, this is a truth that is mostly in my head. I’m busier than ever, but it’s a good kind of busy. I have added another writing project to the queue and will be working on that one simultaneously, until then, I am posting another installment of The Pledge that I have managed to move from my head to my computer. Enjoy. 

If you want to read the story from the beginning, you can click here.

* * *

The Pledge

While Alit chats with her friends, Judah prepares to leave. He had caught only snippets of Alit’s conversation, but it is enough to know he doesn’t want to be with them. He notes how her spirit is seemingly lifted in Tamar’s departure. In fact, the whole tone of the household had changed, as if they had returned to normal.

Without a word to his driver, he mounts the wagon and sits back as they head to the fields where his sheep graze. The ride would be a long one, so Judah decides to focus on his affairs.  He had been lax in including Shelah on anything, but he couldn’t do that any longer. As primogenitor and sole heir, Shelah would have to be knowledgeable about the business; and he would have to develop a backbone to match his father’s, otherwise the boy would be taken advantage of. And after all these years of amassing his wealth, Judah was not going to let it dwindle away. Deciding it best to bring the boy with him the following week, Judah reviews his ledgers and makes plans for the shearing of the sheep. There would be a festival and plenty of celebration.

With the business side of things taken care of, Judah relaxes and lets his thoughts linger on the women who would be at the festival, ready to serve his needs. This is enough to take his mind from the present and before he knows it, they have arrived at the fields.

Leaning on his staff, Judah steps down from the carriage and looks around. His servants are tending the livestock, but there are others there too, his brothers watching over his father’s sheep. Jacob had moved his camp to Hebron, where he resided with his father Isaac, who had lost his sight, but was still strong for a centenarian. The lands around Hebron were adequate for grazing, but with the addition of Jacob’s flocks to Isaac’s, it was necessary to find other grounds that could sustain them all. And when his brothers were in the area, it was almost requisite for the brothers to visit. And as of lately, it was a welcome distraction.

“Brother!” Reuben greets him with a hug and a kiss.

Judah reciprocates the gesture and they join the others beneath a nearby tree. It is midday and the sun is hot. Most of the sheep are resting in whatever shade they can find, no different than their shepherds.

“How is our father?” Judah inquires. It had been some time since Judah had seen his brothers last and though there were travelers who could relay news of the house of Isaac, Judah always waited to hear it from the mouth of his brothers.

But none offer any news. Usually the vocal one, Simeon sits in silence, looking down at his hands. Levi stands behind him, looking down at Simeon. The sons of the concubines say nothing, avoiding eye contact as well. Only Reuben responds.

“Even after all these years, he still mourns for his son, Joseph.”

No guilt had ever struck Judah for his part in Joseph’s sale, but today is different. In the past he could remove himself from the situation, but not this time.

“It’s like he waits to die,” Asher adds, the sorrow in his voice unmistakable.

Judah listens, but finds his heart weighing heavier than before.

“Would he mourn our passing like that?” Zebulon wonders out loud.

They all know the answer to that, but none respond, each lost in his own thoughts. Judah, for his part, finds himself thinking about his boys, Er and Onan. The sons of his loins, both dead. Watchful and Strong, both dead; leaving only Shelah. His name meant resignation, to send, send away, let go, but Alit’s people defined it as ‘request’ – it was her resignation that named the boy, after all, his absence, his preferences, this favoritism, despite his pledge, that made this situation what it was. He had become the father he had left behind, allowing Alit to fill her life with the boys and their needs; and Shelah to play the role of savior, while he sat back and watched.

But this is a truth Judah doesn’t like dwell on. He can’t change the past, any more than he can go back and ‘unsell’ Joseph to the Midinites. What was done was done and like him, Jacob would have to learn to live with that. He brought it on himself and for that, Judah would not apologize.