How to Win at Life



Longhorn Cavern State Park, Marble Falls TX

There are no great stories that start without adversity. No one wants to hear about the rich man who got richer or the smart woman who got smarter.

We want to hear stories about people who beat odds. Who overcame obstacles.

Sometimes those obstacles are external. Life situations like poverty or bad parents. Racism. Oppression.

Sometimes the obstacles are internal. Like mental health issues. Perceived messages from others, like “You can’t do it” or “you’re not good enough.”

If Scrooge had been a philanthropist from the beginning, there wouldn’t have been a story. The narrator in Fight Club started off feeling powerless, and went on to make something bigger than himself. Abraham Lincoln was poor and mostly self-educated.

I know many successful people who beat themselves up for not being perfect. Of course, they know they’re not supposed to be perfect, will tell you that it’s impossible to be perfect, but then stress out over mistakes.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Maybe because we know we’re capable of being better than the mistakes we make? Maybe because we judge ourselves by our mistakes and worst behavior? Or we’re worried that others are judging us that way?

I’m sure that it’s all more complicated than just one or two reasons. Our brains are magnificent, frustrating, complex entities, capable of creating art and science, and capable of telling us that others have nothing better to do than remember when we say or do something we shouldn’t have.

Here’s the thing: your life is just a story. It’s a series of memories, and moments. You get to pick what you put int that story. You’re the narrator. Are you going to pick on your main character every time they screw up? Or are you going to treat them kindly, putting in only the learning from the mistakes?

Most of us don’t focus on all the times Harry Potter screwed up. He destroyed Voldemort in the end, so what does it matter that he drove a car into the Whomping Willow or that he didn’t learn occlumency? People still read Twilight, despite the fact that Edward was an emo sparkly vampire. (Maybe not the best example. And yes, as much as I make fun of it, I read and enjoyed Twilight. But please don’t tell anyone.) We still like Kevin Smith, even after Gigli.

Mistakes don’t define us. It’s how we deal with mistakes that counts.

F is for Fight Club


Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

Yes, the same Fight Club that became a movie with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.  I saw the movie first, and then had to rush out and buy the book.

I’d read other books with unreliable narrators, but this one was so different than the rest that it really made me pause in admiration for how skillfully done it was.  I love a good plot twist (as opposed to a cheap plot twist) and this was one that made me sit back and wish that I would have written it.

This book, oddly, is also when I became aware that I liked writing about mental health and started incorporating main characters with mental health issues on purpose.

I loved the message of the book, and I loved how it was told.  It taught me that a book didn’t have to be preachy or uplifting to have a positive message.  Fight Club was dark and gritty with characters who weren’t particularly good people.  But just because they weren’t good people doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a lot of positive things to say.

Fight Club is one of those rare books that have not only influenced me and made me think, but is also just an excellent read.

“Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

U is for Unusual

“That proves you are unusual,’ returned the Scarecrow; ‘and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” ― L. Frank Baum, The Land Of Oz

Photo credit: Doree Weller

Photo credit: Doree Weller

I’ve always prided myself on being a little different.  In my senior class yearbook, I was voted “most unique.”  I just never really wanted to fit in.  I never saw what all the excitement about wearing the right clothes or having the right hairstyle was all about.  I liked what I liked, and that made me somehow unusual. I tend to gravitate toward people who are different, just uniquely themselves.  After all, I figured that once I knew one of the cool kids, I kinda knew them all.  And how is that interesting? Back in high school, I deliberately tried to be weird, not necessarily for attention, but just because “unusual” was part of my identity, so I wanted to be as unusual as I could be.

I don’t do that anymore.  Most of the time, in fact, I try to tone it down just a little, mostly so I can blend in at work.  There are always a few who say interesting things, and then the real me jumps out and says the things I’d normally keep to myself.

In stories, I enjoy unusual characters with interesting traits.  In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett is about as unique as it gets, which is, in my opinion, why she’s such a lasting character, and why I, and others, are still reading this book 201 years later!

When Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay came out, there was no other character quite like him.  The serial killer raised by a police officer to be ethical was something that hadn’t been done in quite that way before.  Dexter was such an unusual character that TV got 8 seasons out of his escapades.

And of course, I have to mention that there’s no one else quite like Tyler Durden/ The Narrator from Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk.  The first time I saw the movie, I was pretty blown away, and rushed out to read the book.  I was even more blown away by the book.


From a writing standpoint, unusual and interesting characters, once developed, can take on a life of their own in plot.  The writer has to be willing to sit back and watch what’s going to happen, rather than direct it.  I’ve had that experience.  I wrote half of a novel with an unusual character, and it felt like I was fighting the plot every step of the way.  When I finally stepped back and asked the character some better questions, I realized that the story started in the wrong place, and when I went back to start over, it went much easier.  Unusual characters are fun for readers and fun for writers.

Who’s your favorite unusual character, either in books or on TV?

Giving It a Chance

For absolutely no reason, here's a butterfly.  Museum of Natural History, Photo credit Doree Weller

For absolutely no reason, here’s a butterfly. Museum of Natural History, Photo credit Doree Weller

I recently watched the first two episodes of the Office.  And I HATED it.  Couldn’t even get through an entire episode.  I posted on FB how much I disliked it, and the responses were interesting.  Predictably, many people loved the show; it was popular for a reason.  One person mentioned that they didn’t like it at first, but then watched it again later and started liking it.

The TV Guy always gives shows a chance.  You’ll hear him say it from time to time that he watches the pilot plus a few shows to see if he actually likes it.

I don’t do that.

I avoid things I don’t like.  If I read a book and can’t get into it, I put it back down.  With TV, I’m even less patient.  You can’t capture my attention in the first 10 minutes?  We’re done.

When it comes to entertainment, I have a super short attention span.  If I’m supposed to be entertained, then entertain me!  I love stuff with a message, as long as they don’t forget the primary directive of entertainment.  V for Vendetta is one of my favorite movies.  Entertainment comes first, message is a part of the movie, not the reason for it.  Same with Fight Club (book and movie).  Entertainment first, message second.

I keep that in mind when I’m the one doing the writing.  It’s ironic then, that my first chapters always need the most work.  I can start right up with short stories, but for some reason, with novels, my beginnings drag and I don’t seem to know how to jump right in.

At least I know it’s a problem, right?  And I’m working on it.  I have to keep in mind:

“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…” – Michael Crichton

Chuck Palahniuk Books

imagesThe first time I saw Fight Club, it made me wish I could write something that incredible.  I rushed out and read the book, and it was even better than the movie.  After that, I tried to read Haunted, and I hated it.  It was pure gross-out, and I couldn’t make it through.  I gave up for a few years, and tried Damned, a novel about a young woman who dies playing an erotic asphyxiation game and has to get through Hell. It’s witty and hilarious.  Next, I picked up Invisible Monsters at the library.  While I loved the concept, the book didn’t hold my interest.  I didn’t hate it; I just didn’t care what happened next.  I couldn’t get invested in any of the characters or see why I should care.

As to whether or not I’d recommend it… if you read the back of the book and are interested, it might be worth a try.  Since the story is told out of order, it’s pretty easy to put it down if you don’t like it because it’s not obvious how much time you’ve invested.  I love the concept of a book that tells you to jump to Chapter 81, then 16, and back to 1… but not enough to keep reading.  After all… life’s short.