Back to School

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In case you aren’t aware, I am the author of Shadow Ballet, a novel I wrote many years ago.  I took three years to complete the manuscript, another two decades to finally see it in print.  After being rejected by what seems like every publisher on the planet I bit the bullet and self published.  Those who have read the novel have been very complimentary, but I, like so many others, have learned that self publishing is a way to spend a lot of money without earning profits.

I continue to work on other stories because I love to write, to tell stories, to express myself through the characters I create.  On the other hand, after so many years of not earning a living by writing, I have begun to learn how to write profitably.

Through the years of my careers, I have found myself being tasked with writing for the people who employed me, often being paid for my efforts, but usually in conjunction with other duties for which I was hired.  Unfortunately, that sort of writing is not what can be counted on the pay the bills, so I set out to investigate what kind of writing would keep the rent paid.

It took a while, there being a thousand ways to choose the wrong road to follow, my diligence has paid dividends and I am now enrolled in a course of study and applying the elbow grease needed to complete the courses of study.  The homework is not easy, but that is a good thing.  If it was easy it would have little true value.  I look forward to being able to spend my days doing what I love: writing.

Oh yeah, my granddaughter has written a book, available at Amazon just like mine.  Check out The Forces That Connect Us by R. Beverly.

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With spring upon the calendar I find myself reflecting on my life and what led me to actually begin work on my lifetime dream of being a writer of fiction.  I find it interesting how many people don’t read fiction because they don’t consider it to be ‘serious’ writing.  Composing fiction, while an exercise in imagination and flights of fancy, requires a great deal of research and personal introspection.

Shadow Ballet, my first novel, is the first in a series of stories based where I grew up, and is a tribute to the department where my father served as a detective.  It is also a tribute to my second wife, a talented artist who lost her battle with cancer and an expression of my journey through the minefields of grief in search of life.  A fictional story based on the facts of a real life, real people, and real emotions.

In my various careers, where my abilities earned me the nickname ‘wordsmith’, I have written thousands of pages of non-fiction.  Carefully crafted to clearly and accurately express details, facts, circumstances, situations, and results, my words were used to win court cases, sell products and services, and as technical texts for others to follow.  Enjoyable as this might have been, it lacked the emotion, the psychology, the empathy, and satisfaction of drawing characters and characteristics from people I have known and placing them in situations to be resolved.

In the serious vein of putting words on a page in a fictional setting is not to sway, convince, or educate in a specific direction.  Fiction is about offering the reader the opportunity to experience emotions and spur the imagination into territory not previously visited, found only in the depths of the reader’s soul.

Storytelling by cop

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Why is there never a cop around when you need one, but always one watching when you wish there wasn’t? Everyone who has served in any capacity as a patrol officer has heard this complaint and has probably developed several one-line responses that are only related to his or her buddies over coffee. Gather a bunch of cops together, and you will hear war stories until you wonder if any of them could possibly be true. Usually the most hair raising and the most hilarious are absolutely factual, told by the survivor of the situation for the purpose of generating a laugh.

Police officers tend to be irreverent, politically incorrect, and loyally devoted to the public they are sworn to protect. Writing about them from the perspective of a retired member of the fraternity means being able to relate to the emotions experienced on the job. Understanding that the criminals who end up in jail are those who weren’t smart enough to keep from getting caught means each shift is a challenge, not a frustration. The stories you tell at reunions are always about the ones who didn’t get away. The stories you never forget are the ones where the bad guy was smarter than you and got away. You have to remember that police work is like fishing: you can’t catch them all.

In writing Shadow Ballet I tried to make the detectives and their department truly professional. Sure, there are jokes in bad taste and what some might see as disrespect, but in the real world this is what goes on. I included those pieces of dialogue because they express the character of the people involved. The story isn’t about being politically correct; it’s an effort to make the people in the story believable. Some of the funniest off color jokes about colored people I ever heard were told by men of dark pigmentation. One of the smartest men I have ever met was a Sergeant when I came out of the academy, and I had the privilege of working with him one shift. Imagine an eight-hour shift with a man of color who never stopped cracking wise about people of his race unless he was poking fun at folks of my paler complexion. I also knew he had my back, just like every other officer I worked with and whom I depended upon for my safety. A patrol car doesn’t have enough space for discord between officers. Your life depends on that absence.

The uninitiated may think of law enforcement as catching the bad guys, high-speed chases, exciting confrontations, and a constant adrenaline rush. The reality is usually a lot more mundane and much more dangerous. Routine activities lead to complacency, and complacency leads to mistakes that can end a career or a life. Balancing civility with sensible caution for unforeseen dangers and split second decision-making is the job a patrol officer does every shift.

The law is a harsh set of rules that dictate acceptable procedure for cops. Conversely, the bad guys don’t have any rules. It does make the job interesting and makes you appreciate the old curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Hidden Messages in the Stream

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Artists begin with an idea, a message they wish to convey to their audiences. This is true of painters, singers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and authors, each choosing a different medium where his or her unique views and thoughts are revealed. The messages are sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, sometimes obscure, but always dependent upon the viewer, listener, or reader to complete the circuit from sender to receiver.

I set out to express a particular message in Shadow Ballet, but as the characters told me their stories I discovered other important views and ideas to flavor the rather large picture I had chosen to create. By placing myself in each character and listening to each character’s words and thoughts, I became a conduit for what each had to say to the reader. In the manner of an audience member, I set my characters on stage and watched them perform their parts in the story, writing down every subtle nuance I observed, discovering inferences, attitudes, feelings, and emotions in the raw.

In this way more than a single message became embedded in Shadow Ballet. The reader can choose any of them, all of them, or may even find a hidden treasure the author may not have intentionally laid in the story, but one that speaks clearly to the reader. The beauty of art in all its forms is the ability to touch the audience, bring forth memories, inspire thought, ignite emotion, and transport you into a space you might not otherwise venture. Whether the message received is specifically what was sent or not is irrelevant. What is important is that a message is received. Even a response of indifference is still a message received. As the adage goes, you can reach some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t reach all the people all of the time.

At its heart, Shadow Ballet is about second chances, new beginnings, and an optimistic expression of hope in the midst of disaster. Each day offers the opportunity for good things to happen. Look for the worst and you will find it; look for the best and you will find it, even in the worst day. There are messages in the stream of events that make up our lives, and while being aware of them is a challenge, listening to them is the toughest challenge of all.

The shadows of despair and the light of hope dance together for each of us. When life knocks you down, and it will, the challenge is to stand up, dust yourself off, and defiantly declare: “Is that the best you’ve got?”

We don’t learn from what works, only from what doesn’t. These are the messages in the stream we call experience and upon which we work to build each day.

Exposing tragedy to define character through writing

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For me, writing a novel is a journey of exploration, discovery, and enlightenment. Along the way I find myself exposing my personal tragedies, my frailties, and in doing so, discover and define my strengths of character. Sharing these experiences with my readers means I am not making a solitary trek, but one accompanied by friends and family previously undiscovered, a passage of celebration, finding bright lights within the darkest moments.

My inspiration for writing Shadow Ballet springs from my life experience. My characters are composites of friends, family, and acquaintances. Jean Parker, for instance, is based on Gale Silva, to whom Shadow Ballet is dedicated. An incredible artist, she encouraged me to follow my dream of being a writer, to finally incubate the embryonic tale I had carried with me for so long. After losing her to cancer, I found the best way to keep my sanity was by telling this story. Without experiencing the pain and pleasure of days and years this story could not be told. My discovery of the way life seems to obey Newton’s first law of motion (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) provided me the insights I needed to tell this story that formed in my mind when I was a teenager, but that could not be completed until I had lived long enough to understand how to relate the emotions of the characters who populate the space I created for them.

I built my characters based on the men and women I encountered in my checkerboard of careers, using my own experiences in their fictional lives. By plucking characteristics from several different people I created each character, giving them the shape and attitudes I visualized. Some of my father is found in the senior detective; some of my mother, along with my grandmother, shows through one character; and my young business partner joins me in shaping Paul McAfee. There is a marvelous freedom in being able to invent people who behave as you wish, a blessing never found anywhere in real life.

I suppose at the root of my inspiration lies the need to share my personal feelings and beliefs by wrapping them in make believe and inviting my reader inside to enjoy and appreciate the pictures my words paint.

 

Welcome to my new blog!

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Hi, and welcome!  My name is Dan Ragon, author of Shadow Ballet. I’m so happy to have you as a visitor to my blog about my new book.  This project is very special to me, and I hope to share some of that excitement with you here.

I’ll be using this blog to interact with you about Shadow Ballet, expanding on some of the topics in it and posting on some of the ideas related to my book.  This is a great place for you to get to know me, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you, too.

What did you think of Shadow Ballet?  What questions do you have for me?  How do you relate to my book?

I’ll be returning here frequently with new posts and responses to feedback from you.

Until next time, please tell me a little bit about yourself.  Thank you!