Monday, May 30, 2011


I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
With hair cut square and eyes alert
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.

I heard the sound of taps one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That taps had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn't free.

Copywrite 1981 by CDR Kelly Strong, USCG (Ret)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Micro-Tension and The Good Wife

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Good Wife.

For those of you that don’t watch it, Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) is an attorney whose husband, Peter (played by Chris Noth), has cheated on her. Peter was the Cook County State’s Attorney and his infidelity was a big deal in the media. Since the series began, Alicia has stayed faithful and committed to her marriage. With Alicia’s help, Peter is reelected to the State's Attorney office. Right after Peter’s reelection, another of Peter’s infidelities came to light. Fed up and hurt, she kicked him out of their home that same night.

You can’t have a show titled The Good Wife if you don’t have some sort of temptation that might keep her from being good, right? Enter Will Gardner (played by Josh Charles), who is a partner in the law firm where Alicia works, and an old boyfriend of Alicia’s from law school. The old attraction is still there, simmering beneath all of Will and Alicia’s interactions.

Alicia’s choice to stay married to Peter not only impacts their children, but also the future of his political career and that of the advisors and politicians that support him. In turn, their interest in Peter’s success affects Alicia’s position in the law firm. As stated in the show last night, with her by his side, Peter is a Kennedy. Without her, he’s just another john who’s slept with a hooker.

One reason I love this show is because I’ve found myself rooting for Alicia and Peter at times, and then rooting for Will and Alicia at others. No clear lines. No clear motives. No clear good or bad people.

The season finale was last night. If you haven’t seen it and want to, don’t keep reading. If you have seen it, stay with me. If you don’t watch the show, you should.

At the end of the episode, Will and Alicia decide to take their attraction to the next level and rent a room at a hotel. Due to a convention in town, the only suite available for the night is the Presidential Suite, which costs $7,800.

Will they take it?

Will decides it’s worth it and pays for the room.

Next, Will and Alicia approach the elevators, and the elevator is full. They are forced to wait for the next one available.

Will one of them change their minds now?

An elevator opens up, and a little girl and her mother exit the elevator. Will enters the elevator and looks down to press the button for the floor to the Presidential Suite, and the majority of the buttons are lit up (the little girl had busy hands).

The elevator stops at all the floors. The doors open. The doors shut. Will and Alicia look straight ahead, and then glance covertly at the other. No direct eye contact.

Will one of them have second thoughts and back out?

The doors open. We see Will’s straight face. The doors shut.

The doors open. We see Alicia’s straight face. The doors shut.

What are they thinking? Will they still go through with it? Now are they having doubts?

“Will, maybe…” she says. He reaches for her hand. They kiss.

The doors open. The doors shut.

Finally, finally, they arrive at the top floor where the Presidential Suite is located. Will enters the key card into the slot and the lock flashes red.

Will he have to go all the way back down to the front desk to get the card to work? Will it give them time to change their minds and back out of such a risky temptation?

After all, Alicia’s still married (albeit separated), and Will’s still her boss.

He inserts the key card again. Again it flashes red.

She takes the card from him. Turns it over and enters the key card into the slot. It flashes green. Together they enter the suite, and the door shuts behind them. The viewer is still left wondering - will they or won’t they?

This, my friends, is what Donald Maass calls micro-tension. Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment, line-by-line, simmering-beneath-the-surface tension that keeps a reader or viewer in a constant state of apprehension about what will happen in the next few seconds of the story.

Micro-tension is what keeps people riveted on the edge of their seats. It’s what kept me riveted in mine as the elevator doors opened and closed, floor after floor, as I wondered what the characters were thinking and what they would do next.

This link has a video of the last five minutes of the season finale, including the micro-tension and the elevator.

Did you like this use of micro-tension at the end of The Good Wife? Can you think of another show or book that had memorable micro-tension in it, and you sat, gripping the pages or the edge of your seat, anxiously awaiting what came next?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Note to Self: SLOW DOWN

I've had a strange few days. 

On Saturday I watched my nephew graduate from college.  I sat in the auditorium and tried to put myself in the shoes of the parents watching their kids walk across the stage.  I imagined that the emotions ranged from "Thank God!" to "When did my baby get to be so grown up?"

On Sunday I received word that a family member may not live through the week.  He's a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, retired successful businessman, avid outdoorsman, has great dimples and a deep voice I loved to listen to when I was little. 

Both events have impressed upon me how fast time flies, and how I really don't stop and appreciate it enough.  As I've commented before on my blog, I'm usually too obsessed with my to-do list.  I suck at living in the moment.

Which is rather short-sighted of me, considering the only guarantee I have in life is right now.  With a full-time day job, a writing gig, and my family, the demands on my time aren't going to go away.  So my new mantra:  slow down and enjoy right now.

"Doing is never enough if you neglect being." - Eckhart Tolle

Monday, May 2, 2011

How Do You Define Yourself?

My day job in Human Resources requires me to classify positions for employees in the organization where I work.  It's a tough job because it impacts employee titles and salaries.  Conversations can become heavy with tears of joy or angry rants, depending on the outcome of the classification.  Personally, I believe this is because - duh - it involves money, but also because most people define themselves by their job.

What's one of the first questions you ask someone you meet?  It's usually "Where do you work?" or "What do you do for a living?"

Most people will tell you that they are a title - mom, wife, engineer, teacher, marketing rep, father, etc - but these are reflections of our external world, a condition of existence within a larger perspective.

My other job as a writer requires me to create characters by focusing on the internal.  When defining a character, I think more about personality traits and personal goals.  Cassie, my main character in Entangled, is curious, empathetic, and a little dissatisfied with her current life.  She's also loyal and funny.  These traits define her more than the fact that she is a teacher, a Texan, and a divorcee, because they determine her actions. 

Character is action.  We are what we do. 

So if someone were to look at you and say "Tell me about yourself," what would you say?  How do you define yourself to a stranger?  How do you define yourself when you look in the mirror?  How do your titles, your actions, and your thoughts and feelings impact the way you perceive your reflection?