Monday, October 10, 2011

How Rambo Helped Me Find My Groove

Though my annual trek to Eureka Springs is always filled with learning and laughter, I wondered if I should skip this year's Ozark Writers Conference. We are leaving for Thailand tomorrow and items on my Things-To-Do-Before-I-Leave list keep popping up like dandelions in springtime.

But the keynote speaker was David Morrell, creator of Rambo, as well as dozens of other bestsellers, and I am always drawn to successful authors who are willing to share their experiences and knowledge with fledgling writers. Still, after attending countless conferences and listening to many authors—and with my Things-To-Do-Before-I-Leave list looking like a field of yellow weeds—I wondered if I'd learn anything new.

Fortunately, I decided to attend and keep an open mind. You see, Mr. Morrell and Rambo gave me an "aha moment."

He told us about his history--about his abusive stepfather and his resulting troubled youth. He described his fascination with the 1960's television series, Route 66 and how it led to his interest in writing, which ultimately inspired him to contact co-creator and screenwriter for the series, Stirling Sillliphant. Mr. Silliphant replied, establishing a path that would lead David Morrell to become the writer and man he is today.

So what was my "aha moment?" The theme of Mr. Morrell's discussion was to pay attention to our daydreams. He told us that in those daydreams, we would see the theme that would open up our writing. Mr. Morrell talked about his fear, even despising, of his stepfather, and described some of his daydreams and fantasies that reflected those emotions. As he spoke, I stared out the window and began to daydream about my daydreams, wondering what about their central theme.

Then, it hit me. The "aha moment."

Of course, because of its very nature, I hesitate to say, worried that one will think it silly or dumb, or simply too plain. But it's the truth, and that is a part of what hit me. My daydreams, as well as almost everything I write, has the theme of wanting to be understood, and once understood, accepted. We all need to break out of the cocoon--what others expect us to be--to free ourselves to become who we truly are.

I wrote a haiku as the opening to my short story, "The Butterfly's Song," which won 2nd Place for the Showcase Award at this year's conference.

A caterpillar
Crept along her timid path
Until she grew wings

"The Butterfly's Song" is a short story taken from my novel, Broken Dolls, in which each of my three characters, Sachi, Nobu and Terrence, deal with the back and forth struggle of being understood and accepted. Two will find success in that truth, and one will not.

Sometimes, the shell of my cocoon is so thick and stringy, it chokes my writing. But upon hearing the courage in David Morrell's presentation, I realized if I withhold my truth, whether in my life or my writing, then any misundertanding of who I am is only my fault.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of thanking David Morrell. Funny, before this weekend, I would never have dreamed I'd have any reason to thank Rambo. But I do.

I would love to hear from any other conference attendees who may have had an "aha moment." Or, if you didn't attend the conference, what is the single thread that weaves through your daydreams?


  1. Great post, Jan. Helped me find my "aha moment" too, which pretty much boils down to yours: nearly all my characters are seeking acceptance for who they are. Congratulations on your win! I know you'll have a wonderful time in Thailand. Bon voyage!

  2. Jan, my theme is very similar to yours too, except it's not so much about being accepted for who I am than *allowing* myself to BE who I am. My daydreams have always been of breaking free of constraits I feel others have placed on me. The older I get the more I realize that all along it has been me placing those restraints and assigning them to those who would have no trouble enforcing them.

  3. @mgmillerbooks - thanks for sharing your "aha moment." It's funny, how if we opened up and shared these things more often, we might find we're more alike than we thought. :) I'll bring back lots of stories to share.

  4. @madisonwoods - perfect! You're right. So much of it is allowing myself to be who I am - I guess it kind of goes hand in hand. Isn't it the greatest part (maybe the only part?) of getting older - moving toward this freedom?

  5. Dear Jan,

    The last conference I attended was my first, the 2006 Maui Writer's Conference, and, as it turns out, one of their last, but that's another story.

    What rolls ever my dreams in all its infinite beauty is the sea. The sea. The sea. The sea.



  6. Random observations: Morrell looks a bit like Morrill, Stephen. No wonder you find him congenial. Dandelions (not Dixie!) make a good metaphor for unwelcome tasks that spring up unbidden. Finally, when you unleash "truth," how about a little warning, so I can duck, get out of the way, or roll up into an armadillo-like ball.

  7. I found Mr. Morrell's keynote particularly enlightening as well. When I told my mother about the conference and Morrell's comments about paying attention to your daydreams, she actually asked what a daydream was. I'm never taking those suckers for granted again. I can't imagine a life free of daydreams. Fortunately, they're usually about sex, so that's really going to help my erotica career!!

  8. A young writer at the conference said to me, "I love it here, these are my people." What a good thing for the soul, to find your people.
    Regarding truth, I think that's what the journey is all about, finding your own truth, and for writers, doing it through words. As we age, the outside chatter lessens, and we begin to hear our own voices. Hopefully, we choose to listen.

  9. That part of his speech struck a chord with me as well. I also found it fascinating that he had written for many years before he discovered the underlying theme in his books. Mine always comes back to education- Learning, growing as a person, and using that knowledge to further our journey.
    Daydreams are another thing, though. I'll have to cultivate more of them, since I've always been in the habit of keeping myself focused and nose to the grindstone!

  10. Great blog,Jan.
    I also loved 'Rambo'. Genius is scarce but genius merged with sensitivity and focus is rare indeed. David Morrell combined all three with honesty.
    My 'aha' moment came, however, in the midst of new friends that seem like sisters I've known forever. Maybe we have been together, in one form or another for a good many lifetimes. I wonder how we'll know each other next time around?

  11. I found David Morrell's presentation to be most interesting. Many of my stories revolve around the hero, usually a gentleman or a young boy who is respectful of women and doing everything he can to protect the ones he loves from hardships or physical harm. A role I took on when I became the man of the house at age ten.

    After listening to David's presentation, I now understand why, even in my humor, the male character always tries to do the right thing, even if he suffers for it. Sometimes I wonder if we can ever really let go of what made us what we are.

    Thanks, Jan for a great post. Have a wonderful and safe trip.

  12. Wow, Jack LaBloom, you surprised me by your comment. Yor are one of "the good guys" for sure.
    I too loved Rambo's presentation and I know,(even if he doesn't) that in another live time, he was Rambo which is why he wrote the story so well.
    Daydreams or visions? There is a fine line there.But thank God for both of them as they keep me sane and gives me great writing material.I tend to have strong women in my stories that seek the love of men so secure and confident in who they are that they let their women be who they are.
    Great post!

  13. I attended Root Elementary school. Most of the other student's fathers were doctors, lawyers, or Razorback coaches. My parents raised chickens and milked cows. I remember wearing my shirt on the outside of my overalls. None of the other boys wore overalls and I felt embarrassed and out of place. Some of my characters put up a facade, thinking it will bring them greater acceptance, only to find people will love them as they are--if only given the chance.

  14. @Douglas - I love the sea, too. I think I lived near the sea in another life. You are lucky to be close to her.

  15. @ed_quixote - I have to disagree about Morrell looking like Morrill. :) And yes, I'll give you fair warning to duck.

  16. @LunaZega - I love your mom. Really though, I'm amazed at the number of people - even writers - who have said they don't daydream! And I must admit, "lust" was at the front of my mind when I thought about what you daydream about. :)

  17. @BrendaBlack - You're so right, Brenda. "As we get older the outside chatter lessens." That's the best part about aging, and thank goodness I have "my kind" to do it with. :)

  18. @KarenNelson - I hope now that Morrell has inspired us, you become vibrantly aware of your daydreams. :) STILL looking forward to meeting you!

  19. @PamelaFoster - "Genius is scarce but genius merged with sensitivity and focus is rare indeed." That's exactly what I thought as I listened to David Morrell. And yes, discovering a "sisterhood" was one of the best "ahas" of all.

  20. @JackLaBloom - I see that theme in most of what you write, as well as in your life. It sounds like you have many stories to tell.

  21. @DixieRuth - You ARE a strong woman, and how I'd love to know who you were in your previous lives. :)

  22. @Russell, what a poignant story, and I am so grateful to you for sharing it. I see that theme in much of what you read, and I love that you present something so deep in your heart with humor.