Monday, August 14, 2017

Recycled Plastic Water Bottles

Recently started to attend a church where attendees dress up slightly more than I had been used to dressing for services. Once I gave up wearing suits to churches in the south I relished the idea of casual dress for church. But change was in the air.

I decided I needed a new pair of dress trousers. I purchased a pair of navy blue slacks which I thought would match the shirts in my closet. The only problem with them is that they were several inches too long. It was a minor detail given the label description – machine washable, no iron, permanent crease, wrinkle free, virtually indestructible!

Then I read the fine print – fabric was made from recycled plastic water bottles.

What? I now have all kinds of mental images of dressing up in a water bottle getup, sloshing about with waterproof pants in the pouring rain and making crinkle sounds like I’m an empty water bottle being crushed in a closed fist.

But I then thought about where the discarded bottles had come from. What had they experienced on their journey to become a pair of trousers. Were they thrown to the side of the road, flung out of car window like trash? Were they crushed flat no longer resembling its former self?

But I also saw a greater message of a born-again life. Regardless of where we might have come from, placing our trust in our Savior can transform us into new creations. Like a pair of new trousers.
Robert Parlante
August 2017

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Write Like a Movie

I never made the movie connection while writing my series of novels. One reader said my first novel, A Letter from Miss Wingate, read like she was watching a Hallmark movie. Interesting, I first thought. I never started writing the books with that intent in mind. With subsequent novels in the Patch Town series, I received similar feedback indicating the chapter endings propelled the reader forward. Readers used some well-known phrases to describe their reaction like “I couldn’t put the book down” or “the book was a real page turner.”

Every writer would appreciate that feedback despite its frequent usage in book reviews. My wife loves Hallmark movies, and by default, I have seen my share of them whether I like them or not.

Here are my three general observations from the myriad of TV Hallmark movies I have watched. I have tried to apply the principles to all my books.

1)  During the first twenty movie minutes, there are typically no commercial breaks. The primary goal is to get the viewer hooked and committed to stay with the programming to the end. From the writer’s perspective, the object of the first chapter is clear: hook in the reader and introduce the principal characters directly or indirectly by planting a seed of information about a character that could be fleshed out in a later chapter. As well, begin to develop the conflicts of the plot and sub-plots.

When viewing a Hallmark movie, you get the general premise of the main storyline(s) and the central conflict(s) within the twenty-minute commercial-free opening. Applying these observations to writing a novel, one must introduce characters and their relationship to each other, and the beginning of the storyline. Hook readers, provide some background, and do all this within the first few pages of the book.

There are more lessons to be learned by no commercial interruptions at this stage. Every word is precious and cannot be spent on extensive backstories that do not always propel the reader forward if too much is introduced too early
Here’s the opening paragraph, chapter one, from “A Letter from Miss Wingate” to illustrate the points I’ve made.

The unopened letter stood in the middle of the kitchen island where Martin Gilmore had tossed it aside as an unexpected reminder of his past. Since its arrival, the letter felt like a throbbing thorn in his finger. Instead of being a reason to show mercy toward Miss Wingate, as his wife Sarah would likely have encouraged, it was more a reminder of what might have been had he never encountered Elizabeth Wingate.

Here is another example, the opening paragraph, chapter one, about a run-away wife from my book “Finding Emmeline.”
Anxiety rippled through Elsa Delgado’s heart with a damp chill as she tightly held her daughter Ava’s hand. The mother’s body heaved with each anxious breath as she nudged the eight-year-old child back away from the weighty rain drops dripping off the overhead stone archway. No matter how many times Elsa was a courier for the counterfeit documents, the task never got easier over the last eight years on the run from her abusive husband.

2)  The second observation while watching a Hallmark movie is what happens when the storyline is interrupted for a commercial break. A plot twist, new revelations or a cliffhanger usually proceeds a movie break to commercial. Think of the end of chapters as a commercial break, and always include a cliffhanger, major or minor.

Here is the end of chapter one for my book “The Reflection in the Mirror” as Martin deals with a run-away teen.

Martin hunched his shoulders, his equivalent of “whatever”. He was already tired from too many Simon battles.
“Are you regretting your decision to deal with Simon?” Linda whispered.

A ham sandwich war! A stolen protein bar! What’s next?
Martin prayed silently that all would go well on Monday when he registered Simon for school.

3)  The last element to consider while viewing a Hallmark movie is the final moments of the presentation. The love relationship you rooted for now faces imminent collapse. Everything looks doomed, and what you thought would be the ending is now jeopardized. But in the last moment, everything is resolved to your liking. The romance works through its differences. The whodunit is solved in the nick of time. Now apply that concept to your book ending,

Here is part of the closing for my book “Up from the Ashes.” There was an earlier proposal misstep, and now Martin tries to make it right! Ruthie is Martin’s daughter, and Kati is Linda’s daughter.

Martin stood before Linda for a moment before he bent down on one knee. Linda’s eyes were instantly moist with tears.
“Linda, my life began to change that day the Lord ushered you up my driveway and into my life. I have fallen in love with you and would like you to be my wife.
“I promise to do everything in my power to make my love for you a growing part of our life together. Every day, I will try to strengthen our love and our marriage to the best of my ability. I will stand by you no matter what we encounter in life, and I will keep myself for you alone.”
Tears were streaming down Linda’s face. Her right hand reached across to Kati, who was fighting back tears.
Ruthie came into the room, carrying a dozen red roses. She handed the flowers to Martin, who then placed the bouquet in Linda’s arms.
“Linda Petersen, will you marry me?”
[You must read the book for her answer!]

Writing a novel should never be formulaic. These suggestions are given as a general guideline to stimulate your creativity and seek new ways to express your inner story.

Robert Parlante
August 2017
Posted August 1 2017 by Marlena Smith's writers blog

Monday, July 10, 2017

Choosing Friends

I spent most of my career working for a pharmaceutical company. One observation I made relates to the recruitment of subordinates. People tend to do one of two things when hiring someone who will report to them. They recruit someone likely to be a “yes-person”. Or, they hire a less qualified person fearing the recruit would be smarter than the boss and take over his or her management role.

The second scenario is the opposite where one hires a person as qualified or more qualified and not a “yes-person”. People who recruit the best and smartest associates end up with more successful lives because smart people challenge and draw out the best in each of us

Proverbs 27:17 speaks to the similar point: Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

A piece of light-weight wood like balsa cannot sharpen a metal knife. If one persisted in that effort, the knife would eventually get dull through normal use and not be effective since it cannot be sharpened by weak wood. There is a life principle in this Proverbs verse outside of recruiting workers.

Select friends who are honest, challenge you to be better and encourage you to persevere when facing difficulties … in other words, select friends who sharpen you to be the best you can be. It doesn’t mean you cannot associate with those who do not meet the standard. Just don’t expect the same results in the natural. Pray for him or her. Let the Lord to do his work.

You can also apply the principle to your spiritual walk, as well. If you hang with strong believers, you will reap the benefits of that friendship. If you walk with the unrighteous … well, we all know the answer to that!

Robert Parlante
July 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

FaceTime in Person

Just got back from visiting family in New Jersey. Had a great time, traveling with two of our grand-kids from North Carolina, meeting up with a grandson doing an internship in Manhattan, and visiting with three grand-kids who live in New Jersey. I typically keep in touch with them with an occasional text or Facebook post, but it is not the same as being face-to-face, in person. They are all growing older, have their own life views, and they freely express their opinions. I couldn’t be more proud of my nine grand-kids and my one grandson-in-law.

Speaking of getting older. It is hard keeping up with young adults. They have energy and can handle electronics with abundant skill and know-how. I wish some of that knowledge and energy would rub off on me by osmosis. While I was gearing up for a good night sleep because my energy level was approaching a new low, they are going bowling at midnight! The first night home following our trip I almost slept 10 hours straight!

Despite their crazy activities, I am proud of all our grandkids and grandson-in-law. Apple’s FaceTime is fine, but it is more productive to be face-to-face with your children and grandkids.
Robert Parlante
June 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jersey and Lucy

Our second-to-youngest grandson had a great idea while watching dogs, Jersey and Lucy, playing roughhouse in the family room__ “How about you and I take a trip to Tokyo, Japan this summer?” he had asked.

“Tokyo? Are you kidding. One of my neighbors just broke her leg while touring Russia. Another friend required emergency surgery in Germany while he was cruising the Rhine River. I’ve reached a stage in life where I’m happy to just tour the USA and Canada!”

“I’m not as energetic as I used to be!” I added as my primary defense. I much prefer sitting at my lap top pounding out another chapter to my books in progress.

The grandson was quick to point out Jersey and Lucy still running about the family room snapping playfully at each other. Jersey, at eleven-years-old, is the matriarch of the family dog clan: Jersey, Remy, Shilah, Lucy, Luna and Daisy. Lucy is younger, never stops moving, and her tail never stops wagging.

“Jersey and Lucy remind me of you and me,” the grandson said. “Look how Lucy energizes Jersey who was slowing down and content to just sit quietly and watch the world go by.”

The grandson had a point. Jersey had more energy recently. Her renewal reminded me of another observation that applies to senior adults. So many older adults gravitate to senior housing developments where most people are about the same age. I see the value of that living arrangement especially when the person is alone or deals with chronic issues. But I also see value watching younger families taking evening strolls past our home with infants in strollers and youngsters in tow. As the people stop and chat, both young and old derive benefit from the encounter.

I suspect that people live longer, are happier, and healthier when we live in a community with people of different ages and backgrounds.

When we get older we need a Lucy in our lives to strengthen our way forward.

Robert Parlante
June 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It's Okay Not To Like Everything!

Recently heard a sermon by our pastor as part of a series on the biblical concepts of Zion. I was blessed by the series, but I was also struck by a passing comment he had made. He said there appears to be two basic variations of the Christian church today at opposite poles from each other__ the “Rock Concert” and the “Lecture Hall”. Most churches gravitate toward one of these two poles. As well, there are many fine churches somewhere in the middle.

How does one define a rock concert church or a lecture hall church? I can only define these from my personal experience having looked for a new church home at various points of my life, in different states, or visited other churches for a variety of other reasons and special events.

In the rock concert church, at its worse, the music tends to be raucous and overwhelming the service. Does loud and clappy make church worship more meaningful? I know of one church that decided to cancel its sermon during the worship time because churchgoers had gotten into the rock-style music. They did not want to break the moment. That church no longer exists, and I can only speculate why.

Lecture hall churches tend to be exactly what its namesake implies. Think of school with large crowd of students listening to a lecturer drone on about some topic. It’s usually the time I need a caffeine-powered drink to keep me awake. Music in this type of church is not typically emphasized or may be minimized.

While it’s easy to criticize either church/worship style there are positives as well. In the best definition of a lecture hall church where the Word of God is being preached, the Holy Spirit can use that Word to penetrate any human barrier and minister to any need. There are many testimonies of people being called to serve after hearing a dry and minimal sermon.

There is a place for engaging music, too. There are many contemporary musicians, Hillsong being one of them, that attract younger people. If modern music legitimately draws a person to the cross of salvation, we should be expressing our thanksgiving to the Lord. There is plenty of room at the foot of the cross for all kinds of music. And yes, it’s okay not to like everything.

Where do you come down on these two opposite styles?
Robert Parlante
June 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Class, Let's Go For A Walk

For the first three years of my education I attended a three-room school house in a coal mining town located in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania. Room 0ne was for grades 1 to 5. Room Two was grades 6 to 8. Room Three was high school. Miss Colcovage was the teacher of the five grades in room one, with five rows of desks representing each of the five grades.

The education was quite progressive. Each row was a grade, but if you were a capable reader you might be placed in another row for the portion of teaching for that subject. When Miss Colcovage was teaching one row, the other four rows of students worked independent and were self-directed. (One of reasons I can study/read/write in a noisy environment was being educated in a noisy environment. I’m just used to all the ambient noise.)

One of my fondest memory of Miss Colcovage was when she would decide to take the entire five classes on a nature walk through the woodland area. This usually happened on a warm sunny day. When we got back to the classroom after traipsing through the woods we would have to write our reaction to the nature walk. One could never see this decision to take a walk in the legalistic school environment of today. Permission slips, parent helpers, safety issues are just a few the things to consider today. And they should be. We live in a different world.

Well nothing ever happened. No poison ivy encounters. No law suits were filed. The minimum 180 days of school was not a factor in the decision-making. And I loved every minute going on a nature walk because it sparked ideas about unknown places, new people groups and horizons not confined to my small coal mining town. It takes a special teacher to cast that vision in a child.

On warm sunny days, I can still hear Miss Colcovage say, “Class, let’s go for a walk!”

We need more of this spontaneity in our lives. There are risks to our exuberance. We live in a world of laws and regulations. I started writing back in those early days. That spontaneity led to a desire to be a writer/novelist because the walks made me see another layer of life beyond the obvious.

But dreams don’t become fulfilled that easily. Life happens. The clock keeps ticking. Responsibility is thrust upon us.

Miss Colcovage’s mantra was: don’t give up. The embers of desire to write never went out. With a little fanning the embers turned back to flames. Books were written. Road traveled. Goals met decades later. Because of a sweet teacher who said, “Class, let’s go for a walk!”
Robert Parlante
May 2017