• Bruce Shields

First of all, my friend Zach does collect Legos, though I'm not sure he's a maniac. I do know, however, that I am!

I got my very first Lego set in 1978. It was the Moon Landing set #565.

For those who don't know about the numbering system that Lego uses, they are the numbers on the front of the box under the set's name. This number identifies the set and helps you match up missing pieces.

I went to stay at my grandparent's house for the weekend in the summer of 1978. I was nine years old. My grandfather was notorious for taking my siblings and me out for ice cream, toys, an afternoon at Playland, the local arcade. Yes, I remember when you had to go somewhere and pay money to play a video game.

After picking me up, he asked if I wanted to go to Toys R Us, which is every kid's favorite place, or at least, was. The one in Flint Michigan, where I grew up, is a furniture store now, fun for all.

After looking at the wall of Lego sets that were at least twelve foot high and the full length of an isle, originally costing $14.99 (equivalent to $60 in 2021). Sheesh, that was expensive! I know an unopened Lego #565 set recently sold on eBay for a few hundred dollars. How do I know? Well, as I said, I'm a maniac when it comes to Lego.

I took the set to my grandparent's house and spent the next hour or so building it. I loved it. I even took it all apart that night and made it again the following day.

Since then, I have always had Legos in my house. My children had them, and now my grandchildren have them.

I love most types of Legos. I never really got into the Ninjago sets. Some sets I love more than others. I will buy any Star Wars set I see.

So why am I bringing this up in an author's blog? Well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I write about more than just being an author. I am an author, artist, musician, engineer, leather smith, plus so much more than just writing. So I will report on the blog about a lot of things. Secondly, I find as a creative person Legos allow your creativity to be explored and expressed.

You can build whatever you feel like building.

My youngest children had a phase where they were less interested in Legos, and wanting computers and game systems. After Minecraft was released, I had to laugh. My son told me one day, "Dad, you have to see this cool new game, it's called Minecraft."

When he first told me, I thought he said "Mindcraft", which I thought sounded interesting. When he turned it on, all I could think was Legos for computers.

My grandkids love Legos, and we sit there and play for hours. I love building.

One thing about creativity is that if you are doing something, anything that sparks that part of your mind will pour over into other areas. After a Lego session, I find it much easier to be artistic, creative, write, or whatever I want.

So, I encourage you to be a maniac about something too. You don't have to love Legos as I do, but find something that can be entertaining and require thought, creative thought that will be a mental exercise for your mind!

I picked up a couple of more Lego sets today at the store. I can't wait to add them to the rest of my collection!

Happy building.

  • Bruce Shields

As it were, the hook for catching the attention and curiosity of a potential reader is essential. They say you cannot judge a book by its cover, but I think the phrase was useful long before today’s flashy printing ability.

I mean, let’s get serious. We do precisely that, judge a book by its cover. If it is attractive enough, we then pick it up and read the jacket. I will talk about the jacket in another blog. Today I want to focus on the words.

Trying to find a few words to represent an entire 70,000-word novel is both frustrating and challenging.

My novel series Pandemic Dawn is a prime example. When I began writing Pandemic Dawn, I wanted it to be a short story on another blog site of mine. I never intended for it to become a book. Or even a novel or series with the 5th novel on the way!

However, here we are!

The first challenge when a self-published author is trying to get his book’s attention is to get the perfect cover. But more importantly, an author needs to find the right selection of quotes from the novel to draw a potential reader in enough to buy your book.

I have struggled with this. Let’s face it; it is nearly impossible to find a couple of paragraphs that can represent 30+ chapters with multiple storylines and over 70,000 words.

Over the years, I have learned a few things about things and have changed my book descriptions on my website and Amazon various times. I just did so again, which is why I thought to write this blog topic today.

My first novel in the Pandemic Dawn Series was more straightforward than the other three. The description of the main plot, with mention of the main character.

The other three were far more difficult because you don’t want to give too much away or give spoilers to the previous novels. So I needed to step back, think of each book individually and try to pick what I felt gave the “feel” of that book as a whole.

For the first novel, Pandemic Dawn Book I, I used the hook I placed on the book’s first page. Someone told me once they pick up a book, and if the first paragraph sounds interesting enough, they will read the book.

But the first paragraph doesn’t reveal the main storyline, so I chose to have multiple blurbs on my book covers and websites.

This way, if the hook on page 1 didn’t get them, perhaps a description of the series plot would—two shots at an angle to draw them in.

So first, I wrote the plot;

“Taylor knew the zombie-filled suburbs wouldn’t be safe, but a group of slaves in need of rescue may be what stops him from finding his missing son.
Taylor has not seen his teenage son since the Cleansing. He knew his travels through the radioactive and virus-infected suburbs he used to call home wouldn’t be simple, but he had to find his son, and nothing would stop him from looking. That is until he met them, a small group of women and children slaves in desperate need of rescue. He knew that he had to save them, somehow. But if his son was still alive, he needed to keep searching.
In a hidden island military base, Dr. Miles Richards works on a cure for the ever-spreading virus. With Dorothy’s aid, a self-aware robot Miles created, they discover far more than mutated viruses hidden deep in the government computer. Who was Dr. Atkins? Moreover, why was all of his research encrypted? Did it have to do with his dead daughter or the multiple variations of a virus that had already killed millions of innocent people? Can Miles find a cure before it is too late?”

It took many, many re-writes to get this. I wanted to give just enough of a couple of storylines without writing too much and filling the jacket with words.

Next, was to add the first few sentences from the book.

“The day no longer mattered. The seasons no longer discernible. The smell of fall leaves, the dew in the early morning, and the aroma of the air after a fresh rain—gone.
Mornings now brought with it the wind and odors of those who had died. No one knew how many were dead, but most knew how many they had lost. No one knew whether the virus itself claimed the most victims or the government’s steps to combat the infectious and mutating disease.
Most of those living did not keep track of the days as humankind once did, marked with calendars and dates—but by the sun’s rising and setting. There were rumors of groups who had made it their sole purpose to collect the histories of this once great and clean world. Recording a new history from the date of the second fall of humankind, they referred to as The Apocalypse.”

The first few paragraphs bring people into the atmosphere of the novel. I love it, and it makes me want to reread the book.

A few other places in the novel where the action was riveting, the dialog was great, but it missed what I was trying to do with as few words as possible—the hook.

For my second novel in the series, Pandemic Dawn Book II: Rise of the State, the focus shifts from various people trying to organize and survive to a well organized military power losing its foundational authority.

However, I wanted the description to connect this novel to the first. I didn’t want to make it sound like a different story, instead, a continuation of the first. If readers enjoyed the first book enough to look at the second, then they had to know it was as good as the first, if not better.

So I chose once again to pull the first few paragraphs from page 1.

“He looked up into the eyes of his enemy once more. The debris and rocks cut into his joints as his elbows and knees buried themselves into the sun-scorched earth. He slid further this time, and the pain was much more intense with every breath, dust-filled his mouth. The sand clicked between his teeth as he clenched them together from the pain. He heard a voice inside himself cry out, “Stand up!” and he immediately obeyed. His enemy stood firm casting a shadow that nearly reached where the boy had lain just moments before.
“Now stay down and shut up, boy, or I’ll gut you like a sewer rat!” The man had reached his limit and meant every word he screamed. Spit flew from his mouth as he swore, his grimacing face revealing the filth that had collected on his stained teeth from years of neglect.”

This description makes me want to reread my book!

Once I got into writing a description for the third novel in the series, Pandemic Dawn Book III: Day of Abomination, it was even more difficult. I didn’t want to reveal the answers to any of the first few novels’ questions. However, I chose a character who shows a little about the previous books. I thought about changing this description but left it because I loved it so much.

“He paused for a moment. Talking aloud to himself was a saddening but now standard practice. Since Scott’s death, Pete had begun doing that to fill the silence that saturated his house. With his mother in the back shed, there were none of her noises to keep him company either. The wind and an occasional creak were all he usually heard, and that certainly wasn’t enough to keep him from feeling as empty inside as the house now was.
Since his mother became infected, Pete was never sure if she would ever get better, and Scott had become his closest friend. He never dreamed that Scott would have turned on him as he did. He would never have dreamed, six months ago, that he would be sitting in an empty house with his best friend buried in the yard and his mother chained in the shed.”

Nice, enough to remind you of the previous books and entice you with “what’s next?”

With the fourth novel in the series, Pandemic Dawn Book IV: Before the Sun Sets, I wanted to reveal that the action continues as it did in the first three novels. Though I feel my stories focus more on the relationships between people in difficult times, there is still great action and adventure.

This book description reminds them of that fact.

“Ashleigh screamed, which only enraged the creatures, and they screeched back in full voice. They tore at the gate, scratching and psychotically clawing, trying to get hold of Matthew.
Trying to hold the gate, he dropped the pistol at his feet.
“Ashleigh, get my gun,” she didn’t move, except for shuddering in fear and uncontrollably crying, covering her face with the blanket.
Matthew tried to keep the gate closed and reach for the pistol, but each attempt at shifting his weight caused the door to pull open.
“Ashleigh, get my gun!” he screamed at her. This time she opened her eyes, dropping the blanket, and crawled quickly toward the gun.
Matthew’s feet slid back and forth as he tried to get a firm stance to keep the gate from opening, the loose dirt and straw making it near impossible.
Ashleigh grabbed the gun and handed it to Matthew. He took it and shot without aiming, CRACK, the bullet hit the chest of one of the cursed with no effect.”

Honestly, I want to reread this book as well!

A couple of paragraphs can mean the difference between a book that sells and one that sits on the shelf.

Now, to much shame and embarrassment, but to exemplify my point on this matter, I will also share with you one of the first descriptions I had for my first novel.

“Taylor knew the zombie-filled suburbs wouldn’t be safe, but a group of slaves in need of rescue may be what stops him from finding his missing son.”

This short description I wrote ten or eleven years ago is terrible compared to what I currently use.

So take your time picking the quotes for your website, ads, and book jackets.

Until next time, happy writing!

  • Bruce Shields

On the seventh day, God rested from all His work and blessed it, calling it holy.

As a person with an over-active creative mind, it isn't easy to focus. I imagine OCD is one of the things that naturally come with hyper-creativity.

I think that perhaps creative people may also be workaholics.

At least these are true for me. Being an OCD workaholic hyper-creative person, sometimes I am tempted to push too far, do too much, keep going when I should stop and rest. Knowing when to take a break and when to create is probably one of the more important keys to creating art, whether writing a novel, painting, or really, anything creative.

Over the years, I had caught myself in school, waiting until the last minute to do my projects. Why? For some reason, the pressure of having a limited time to complete something would give me vigor, inspiration, and zeal to complete the task at hand.

Rarely did I finish a project early. More often, I would be putting the final touches on my project in the classroom just before handing it in.

As an adult, I have discovered the perpetual state of being tired and worn out. My wife and I, having raised six children, we are no stranger to working non-stop. My wife happens to be a workaholic as well. So on that front, we do not balance each other out in the least.

One of us pushes hard to overwork, to which the other replies, "good thinking," and joins in the slavery.

Now that the kids have grown, except for our youngest daughter, who still lives at home, I have found myself wanting a little more peace and serenity in my life.

I enjoy a quiet morning looking out the back window at the forest and pond, watching the deer as they cross the yard eating the green grass. I like to drink my coffee and think. I want to think about what I need to accomplish for the week, a story I need to work on, or a project that needs attention.

Through seeking this quiet time, I discovered something I never knew or didn't remember.

A break from work or creating does recharge you.

Take a break from physical work, and you will quickly realize the benefits. Catch your breath, muscles rest, the heart slows down a little, and before you know it, you are ready to go back at it.

However, when it comes to creativity or mental activities, such as calculating or doing bills, we don't always realize what a break can do for us. It's not as evident because it deals with the realm of the psychological mind.

But rest from mental/creative activities are just as good for us as from physical activity.

I remember one afternoon, after a terrible night's rest, I was already on my third or fourth large cup of coffee, and I had bookwork to do for the antique mall my wife and I own.

I made a mistake after mistake, and though I caught the mistakes, they kept happening, and it was getting quite frustrating.

My wife suggested I take a nap, which I resisted as a workaholic, but finally agreed. After a 20 minute nap, I awoke rejuvenated, like a new man. It was quite unbelievable how clear my head was and how awake I felt after only 20 minutes.

I quickly finished my bookwork without much effort.

When I write, I "feel" my brain thinking. It can be quite tiring sometimes. My mind runs full speed with thoughts, ideas, and the story, thinking about all the characters, imagining the dialog between them with their different personalities and mannerisms.

Writers call it "writer's block," artists call it "creative block," but whatever you want to call it, your brain has had enough!

It no longer wants to be creative, think, process, work overtime. Who can blame it? You push and push, stretching it to the point of breaking, then demand one more stroke of the brush, one more chapter.

Your brain goes on strike.

All of our children are artistic in their ways, and it is a blessing. At one time or another, they have each had to deal with creative blocks. I tell them the same thing I have to remind myself continually.

You are not a machine. For creativity to truly thrive and have masterful execution, it needs to come from a fresh well, not an empty pool. Besides, even a robot needs to recharge.

In high school, I witnessed many students who either took creative art classes for what they thought would be an easy grade to raise their GPA or were forced by their parents who wanted to live vicariously through their children.

The instructor, who was a very talented artist, would give the assignment. You would see students submit their finished work. Nothing more than their interpretation of the classroom example, not meant to be copied.

These students who copied the example, making a few alterations, either had no desire to be in the class or their talents were elsewhere.

One day, after a weekend of creativity at home where I painted a life-size mural of Miyamoto Musashi on my bedroom wall, I was tapped out. I had nothing left to give.

The teacher gave the assignment, and instead of allowing myself to be creative, I copied the example, made a few alterations, and turn in substandard work because my well was dry.

As a creative person, artist, writer, you need to allow your well to fill again, so you have something from which to draw.

There are many ways to refill yourself, many different techniques you can use to recharge that battery, fill that well, and reset your brain to renewed.

I use these differently; sometimes one is enough, sometimes I use multiple techniques, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't.

Though we are all different, some techniques work for everyone.

  • Get proper sleep (restful, enough, not too much)

  • Eat a good diet (yes, I said it)

  • Drink a lot of water

These work for everyone.

You have to get restful sleep. Waking up multiple times through the night is not relaxing. Anyone who has had a baby can tell you this. The room must be dark, no distractions (lights/phone), and you must keep a routine. Have a set time every night, train your body to respond to "bedtime."

Try to get the proper amount of sleep for your age. Don't get too much sleep. It can have a negative effect on you!

Eat a good diet, vegetables, and foods with good fats (fish) and proteins will help your brain function efficiently. You can't eat garbage all of the time and expect to feel better than garbage.

Don't get me wrong, I love the occasional pizza with everything on it or a quick stop at Burger King, but only on days I have nothing else planned because you will feel tired, weighed down, and not have any energy to accomplish much.

Drink lots of water. Most people are borderline, if not fully dehydrated. They don't drink enough water. Do your research and see what dehydration does to a person. You may recognize a multitude of your daily complaints on that list!

So, these work for everyone, but some things may or may not work for you.

  • A peaceful walk through the woods

  • Reading a book

  • Sitting on the back porch thinking

  • Watching a movie

  • Playing cards or a board game

  • Going to the beach and watching the waves

These things work for me.

Sometimes I'll get a coffee and read a book. Sometimes watching a movie will spark creativity and inspiration. Sometimes spending time with the family and playing games refills me.

Years back, I would build models to relax and refill.

Different things work for other people. It would be best if you gave your brain time to recover from creativity, so it can continue to be a fruitful creative experience.

The last thing any creative person wants is for someone to look at our hard work as see a substandard, non-typical product we forced from the empty well.

It is better not to create than to force something that isn't truly from the best of you.

Take that break, and don't feel guilty about it. Think of it this way, when you draw from the nearly empty well, the water is murky and muddy. If you let the well refill, the soot settles, and the water you draw is pure, fresh, clean, this is your creativity.

So take that break; afterward, go and create something amazing!





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