Category Archives: Uncategorized

For those who struggle but don’t give up

The following is a guest blog post from Paul Curtin, my good friend and fellow author. Paul published O Negative in 2017 and plans to release his second novel this winter.

I’ve been quiet for a while. This wasn’t intentional.

I keep track of my writing on a full-year calendar. Every day I write, I mark an ‘X’ over that day. You can see my year below:

Not great. There are months where I wrote nothing. Weeks. Sputtering starts and then complete stoppage. Never getting momentum.

I’ll probably look back at 2018 as The Lost Year. In years past, I spent the fall and early winter drafting new novels. I spent the spring and summer editing, shaping older works into better condition, maybe asking feedback from beta readers or taking their feedback and editing again. This was my rhythm, and I loved it.

Then I released O Negative.

O Negative‘s production process took a lot out of me. By the time it was ready for release, I wasn’t even excited to be releasing a book anymore. It was kind of a—plop. Then nothing. Sales weren’t as good as I was expecting them to be (even with my modest expectations), but I thought, “It’s okay. I’ll release another book. Get momentum.”

And then I didn’t.

I struggled to do any work, writing next to nothing. Since March 2017, I haven’t produced more than 20,000 new words (a standard book is 80,000). Editing has been even more difficult. My next book (I’ll get to that soon), has been such a difficult slog that I didn’t want to even touch it most days.

If it hasn’t become clear so far (losing interest in things that once brought joy, lack of motivation, etc), I’ve been suffering with depression. Most days, I haven’t had the motivation to do much of anything. I didn’t want to write blogs. Didn’t want to write new material or edit older works. I just wanted to quit.

I think in some ways when writing became a business, I lost a lot of joy in doing it. Now there was pressure to get a new release out, to massage the algorithms for exposure (places like Amazon reward faster releases, for instance), to get momentum. I’ve spent countless nights laying in bed, feeling like I had dropped the ball and that I would never be a successful author. And I would wake in the morning and do nothing about it. I felt powerless.

You might notice that in October and November I’ve been much more active. And that’s because I’m finally getting my next book out. I’ll announce it tomorrow in a separate post, but you can expect its release in December.

The dedication in this new book is: “For those who struggle but don’t give up.” I don’t want to make it seem like I’m out of my funk and that the release of this new book is a triumph of my will. It isn’t. It’s just me putting one foot ahead of the other. I want to say I will post a lot more on this blog or be drafting new novels or editing older works (I hope all this to be true) but I know it will be a difficult. I don’t want to give up.

I’ll keep struggling, trying to put out the best work I can. It may take time, but I think it’ll be worth it.

Learn more about Paul Curtin at https://paulcurtinbooks.com/.

 

Speaking at Shared Hope International’s 2018 JuST Conference

I am honored to be speaking at Shared Hope International’s 2018 JuST Conference as an official board member of She Has A Name.

With more than 1,000 people coming from over 40 states, this is the nation’s leading conference on juvenile sex trafficking. Presentations and workshops focus on skill-building, survivor experiences, cross-discipline collaboration, task force development, case studies and lessons learned.

Here is a brief summary of my presentation, which incorporates research I conducted through my work with both She Has A Name and The Black Lens novel:

Why do men solicit? That’s a complex question, but one we must strive to answer if we’re ever going to reduce the demand for juvenile sex trafficking in the United States. While some women pay for sex, the fact is, most of that demand is coming from men. No national or scientific research exists on the factors that fuel the demand for sex trafficking, but this class will explore some studies that have focused on the connection between issues like pornography and prostitution.

It will also offer 9 reasons why men solicit based on first-hand research I conducted during a John School program in Ohio for men who are mostly first-time offenders with no record of violence. The goal of this class and similar programs is to decrease the demand for paid sex, and hence, reduce the amount of human trafficking and sexual exploitation that occurs.

Learn more about the conference at Shared Hope International’s website and blog post.

You might also like:

Kirkus Reviews covers The Black Lens

Kirkus Reviews — a New York magazine that has been reviewing the nation’s top publishers’ books since 1933 — just published a story about The Black Lens novel. Thanks to Boyle & DaltonWriter’s Digest and Book Pipeline for even making this interview with Paris-based writer Rhett Morgan possible in the first place:

While working as a journalist in Central Oregon, Christopher Stollar stumbled on rumors of a sex trafficking ring at a local truck stop. Although his investigation led to nothing concrete, he remained haunted by the grim reality of modern-day slavery in America.

He delved into the subject and, three years later, turned his research into the dark thriller The Black Lens. This self-published debut earned grand prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards and beat out more than 1,900 other books in the Book Pipeline competition. That exposure and Stollar’s dedication (he has pledged to donate 10 percent of all earnings to organizations combating sex trafficking) have led to an option for an indie film from Stollar’s adaptation of the novel. He spoke with us about crafting such a story, trying to use it for good, and using self-publishing to get it in front of readers.

What drew you to write The Black Lens?

I wrote this book because I wanted to tell a compelling story that also sheds light on the dark underworld of human trafficking. The more I learned about modern slavery, the more I wanted to fight it. And as a writer, I knew that words were my best weapon. They would help me give a voice to the victims I interviewed.

Could you tell me a little about your research process?

I conducted over a dozen interviews with survivors, social workers, and police officers, asking them about 50 questions. I also did an eight-hour ride-along with an officer during the day and several ride-alongs at night with social workers who delivered gift bags to victims on the street. I did that because I wanted to ground this book in reality.

What made you decide that a thriller was the best approach to this story?

The crime-thriller genre made the most sense to me because at its core, sex trafficking is a crime that impacts millions of people. I also thought this genre would be a powerful way of introducing the concept to readers as a story on an emotional level rather than writing a nonfiction book that regurgitates hard facts about this crime.

What makes The Black Lens stand out from other thrillers?

I realized that many nonfiction books about trafficking already existed. But good novels were lacking, especially in the thriller genre. The few works of fiction that did address the topic took place mostly overseas or in major U.S. cities like New York—not rural America. So I realized that my book would meet a unique need in the marketplace while also telling a thrilling story that keeps readers turning the pages.

What made self-publishing a good fit for The Black Lens?

I liked the entrepreneurial challenge of both telling a great story and creating a high-quality product that would meet a unique need in the marketplace. I decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the cost of self-publishing the book through Boyle & Dalton. That proved to me there was a strong desire for my story and product, regardless of the form of publishing. And it gave me the confidence I needed to go through the rigorous developmental editing of Columbus Publishing Lab prior to publishing by Boyle & Dalton.

What are your plans for your next project?

I just finished a draft of my second novel, The Girl from Level 10. Those who read The Black Lens will recognize similar themes woven throughout, but this is a very different story. Like Westworld and Ready Player One, my dystopian science-fiction thriller explores the dark side of technology in the near future (in Columbus, Ohio, to be exact).

Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator based in Paris. Read the full article here.

Live from New York — Once Again!

My wife and I just came back to New York once again for the annual Writer’s Digest Conference. This year, I got to be a main speaker and give two talks, one about how to research like a reporter and the other about how to self-publish an e-book. We also had a wonderful time exploring the city together, going to places like:

Here’s a brief summary of the sessions I taught this year:

How to Research Like a Reporter

Too many fiction writers start their stories without any research. And those who do some research barely scratch the surface, sticking to what they can find on Google or watch on TV. This class will teach you the basics of how to research like a reporter from a former journalist who is also an award-winning author. Learn how to interview actual sources and research primary documents that can enrich your stories, whether you’re working on a crime thriller, a cozy mystery or even science fiction that involves new technologies.

How to Self Publish an E-Book

The old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover doesn’t apply to the world of self publishing e-books. If you decide that this is the path you want to pursue as an author, you must resolve to produce the best product possible — one that contains zero copy errors and a compelling digital cover that grabs the reader’s attention. Learn the five key steps it takes to self publish an e-book that can compete with its traditionally published counterparts. This class is taught by the Grand Prize Winner of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards.

The speaking invitation came after my debut novel won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book AwardsThe Black Lens beat out more than 600 other books in this national contest, which “spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors.” The Grand Prize included books for sale at the conference and an official review from Writer’s Digest:

“Gritty, unforgiving and in some places downright shocking, THE BLACK LENS is nevertheless a stunning read, from the first page to the last … This book rivals — if not surpasses — its commercially published brethren. It may indeed raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation of women in the same manner as UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE did for slavery.”

To read more reviews of The Black Lens, please visit the Reviews page or go to Amazon.

We look forward to coming back next year!

 

Speaking next month in New York at the Writer’s Digest Conference!

My wife and I are coming back to Manhattan this summer! Next month, I’ll be a main speaker at the annual Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. I will be giving two talks, one about the value of research in fiction and the other about self publishing The Black Lens novel. Here’s a brief summary of the sessions:

How to Research Like a Reporter

Too many fiction writers start their stories without any research. And those who do some research barely scratch the surface, sticking to what they can find on Google or watch on TV. This class will teach you the basics of how to research like a reporter from a former journalist who is also an award-winning author. Learn how to interview actual sources and research primary documents that can enrich your stories, whether you’re working on a crime thriller, a cozy mystery or even science fiction that involves new technologies.

How to Self Publish an E-Book

The old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover doesn’t apply to the world of self publishing e-books. If you decide that this is the path you want to pursue as an author, you must resolve to produce the best product possible — one that contains zero copy errors and a compelling digital cover that grabs the reader’s attention. Learn the five key steps it takes to self publish an e-book that can compete with its traditionally published counterparts. This class is taught by the Grand Prize Winner of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards.

The speaking invitation came after my debut novel won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book AwardsThe Black Lens beat out more than 600 other books in this national contest, which “spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors.” The Grand Prize included books for sale at the actual conference and:

In case you haven’t read it yet, here is the official book review of The Black Lens from Writer’s Digest:

“Gritty, unforgiving and in some places downright shocking, THE BLACK LENS is nevertheless a stunning read, from the first page to the last … This book rivals — if not surpasses — its commercially published brethren. It may indeed raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation of women in the same manner as UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE did for slavery.”

To read more reviews of The Black Lens, please visit the Reviews page or go to Amazon.

My new novel: The Girl from Level 10

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve heard comes from my publisher, Brad Pauquette of Boyle & Dalton. He told me that an author’s second novel should be “something similar, but different.”

That’s what I strove to accomplish with The Girl from Level 10. Those who read The Black Lens will recognize similar themes woven throughout, but this is a very different story. Like Westworld and Ready Player One, my dystopian science fiction thriller explores the dark side of technology in the near future (Columbus, Ohio, to be exact).

But The Girl from Level 10 is specifically about an augmented reality competition where people can win a fortune by killing lifelike robots in gladiator-style games. It’s like an adult The Hunger Games with androids.

I applied the same research and reporting skills to The Girl from Level 10 as I did to The Black Lens. For more than a year, I personally interviewed cybersecurity experts, virtual and augmented reality coders, and even manufacturers of artificially intelligent robots for my book.

I wanted to create a new world, but ground it in fact and reality. While I am still editing this novel, I recently submitted the synopsis to Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Critique Service and just received a great review from one of their main editors:

“Thanks for sending us this impressive synopsis for a science fiction novel of the future. Gladitorial games of the future is not a new theme for science fiction, but you have updated the concept and increased the technology by an exponential factor.”

John DeChancie, science fiction author and Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft editor

The publishing process is a long journey, but I’m getting one step closer each day. Thanks for sharing this journey with me!

 

Independent producer to turn The Black Lens novel into a film

An independent producer has just secured the rights to turn The Black Lens novel into a full-length feature film.

Matt Starr, the president and CEO of Kokosing River Productions, has teamed up with Director of Photography Dan Parsons to find the right director, actors and investors for a movie version of my debut novel.

This partnership came after the screenplay version of The Black Lens became a quarterfinalist in the Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Competition, thanks to the hard work and adaptation by Jon Anderegg. Anderegg’s script also placed third in the Oregon Independent Film Festival Screenplay Competition. In addition, it received both developmental editing and industry circulation by Script Pipeline executives after my novel beat out more than 1,300 other books to become a semifinalist in the national Book Pipeline movie competition.

About Matt Starr

Matt Starr is President/CEO of Kokosing River Productions (formerly I-CONN Video Production). He has been a producer for over 16 years with film credits in feature films, commercials, documentaries, television programs and short films. His background in psychology and his passion for storytelling permeates throughout his many award-winning documentary, dramatic narrative and corporate media productions.

In 2016, Matt was recognized for his humanitarian work on the documentary The JJ Project and at several film festivals, including the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Film Festival, The Accolades Film Festival and The IndieFEST. Starr is the recipient of several other film festival awards and numerous Telly Awards for corporate, commercial and industrial films. He also served as producer for Looking for the Jackalope, which was recognized in several categories at the Austin Revolution Film Festival including Best Picture and Audience Favorite.

Matt has performed in several musicals and plays as well as in film and television shows, including ABC’s Final Witness. Other film credits include principle roles in Pregnant Pause, Caleb’s Gift, April Dreams, Recoil, As We Walked In The Woods and the documentary Hunting for Hunger. He is represented by Cam Talent in Columbus, Ohio.

About Dan Parsons

Dan Parsons has been working as a cinematographer for over 17 years with more
than 200 shooting credits on feature films, commercials, documentaries and television
shows. Dan’s experience includes all film and digital formats from 16mm and 35mm to
the latest digital formats.

In 2008, he earned an MFA in film production with an emphasis on cinematography
from Chapman University, where he served as the teaching assistant for esteemed educator and ASC cinematographer Bill Dill. Before relocating to Southern California, Dan had established himself as a cinematographer in Austin, Texas, where he shot numerous
independent films and was privileged to work with talented and award-winning directors.

Dan relocated in 2010 to his home state of Ohio, where he spent seven years as a
professor teaching digital media at Zane State College while continuing to work full time
in production. Dan was awarded a “Distinguished Professorship” endowment during his
time at Zane State College, and this experience enabled him to fulfill his other passion for
training filmmakers as visual storytellers.

About Jon Anderegg

Jon Anderegg is the author of The Black Lens screenplay, which became a quarterfinalist in the Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Competition and placed third in the Oregon Independent Film Festival Screenplay Competition. His third script, Ascension of Jerome, was also a finalist in the 2016 Creative World Awards for Action/Adventure. Jon is an Assistant Professor of Communication at George Fox University and a former lecturer at The Ohio State University, teaching classes in journalism, public speaking, communication theory and writing for scientific research. Jon attended film school at Bob Jones University, where he developed a love for script writing.

Learn more about Kokosing River Productions here.

You might also like:

The Black Lens script takes 3rd Place in Oregon Independent Film Festival
The Black Lens script places in national screenplay competition
Great review of The Black Lens screenplay

Guest Post: From Awareness to Action

The following is a guest post by Aaron Daniel Behr. Aaron loves God, literature and rhetoric. His first book, The Husband, a memoir of divorce and mental illness, is now available from Columbus Press on all major markets.

The Black Lens does what a narrative is supposed to do—it raises awareness by immersing readers in an unfamiliar world. It unflinchingly sheds light on the darkness in our society, the evil hiding in our backyard. Sex trafficking is real. It’s a horror that claims 14,500 to 17,500 new victims a year, and it occurs in every state in the U.S. The average entry age into this modern-day slavery is 13. It is an industry that claims mostly young girls, many of whom have already suffered sexual abuse.

These numbers are staggering, but the problem only continues to grow. Every day we stay silent, every day we neglect meaningful discussions about this epidemic, is another day of opportunity for exploitation. Evil triumphs in our apathy while young men and women suffer. Real change will only come with action, with legislation, with engaged everyday people who commit to using their voices.

The Salvation Army has been amplifying voices into action for hundreds of years. They pioneered undercover investigations into sex trafficking in the 1800s, leading to the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 and harsher penalties for sex traffickers. The Salvation Army has provided shelter, counseling, food and continual support for victims for over 200 years.

Today, they work closely with organizations likely to encounter sex trafficking, including the FBI, ICE and local law enforcement. Through these partnerships they work to identify, rescue and restore victims of sexual exploitation.

One hundred percent of donations to the Salvation Army’s Human Trafficking Prevention Program are used to directly impact the lives of those affected by human trafficking. The Salvation Army lives by a simple motto, “Do the most good,” and it stands by that philosophy in the application of funds and donations.

Many years ago I was asked to take a part-time position as a local Salvation Army case worker, where I saw firsthand the role the Salvation Army takes in the lives of victims. I worked the case of a girl who had been sold into sex slavery at 15. She was forced to work in the industry for three years before she was rescued. The Salvation Army transported her from Florida back to Ohio to be with her family, provided a place for her to stay, counseling and career help. It was my job to facilitate the girl’s financial needs as she began to create a life for herself, and those funds were pulled directly from public contributions to the local Salvation Army branch. Last I checked, she was finishing up her GED. This is a story from a town of 18,000 people. Imagine how many other lives are being impacted across the country.

I’m donating the first $200,000 in royalties from my book The Husband to the Salvation Army to help kids who are bullied and abused, as I was, receive the love and encouragement they need from people who care. The Salvation Army takes action to change lives—from helping victims of sex trafficking across the country to after-school programs for kids in my hometown.

You don’t have to give money or write a book to fight sex trafficking. Seek out organizations in your community that promote action. With hundreds of years of experience, the Salvation Army is a great place to start. Find out how you can help here.

The world does not need more Christian literature

One of my favorite quotes comes from British author C.S. Lewis, who wrote that “the world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”

Aaron Daniel Behr is one of those rare Christian authors who did just that with his first nonfiction book The HusbandReal, raw and brutally honest, The Husband is an unflinching look at one man’s struggle with suicide and mental illness. Aaron dared to explore the depths of depravity while still clinging to hope in the end.

I strove to accomplish the same thing with my debut novel, The Black Lens, a dark literary thriller that exposes the underbelly of sex trafficking in rural America. While my book is fiction, I also wanted to write a hard book about the real world — just like Aaron. In fact, one of the most common questions I get from readers is why I decided to write about such a dark topic.

It’s a great question, and one I’ve reflected on ever since Boyle & Dalton released my debut novel in 2016. So, here are my three main reasons for writing The Black Lens, which won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards:

1. Raise trafficking awareness

I have always wanted to use my story to raise awareness about sex trafficking. While this topic has received more press in the last few years, some people still don’t think trafficking happens much in the United States. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received reports of at least 14,588 sex trafficking cases since 2007. It’s a harsh fact, but that’s why raising awareness is so key. And it’s why I decided to conduct more than three years of research on this issue. I personally interviewed more than a dozen survivors, social workers and police officers right here in Ohio.

That research paid off. During the past two years, several readers have told me they wanted to become more involved in fighting trafficking as a result of reading my debut novel.

But the best feedback came from one recent reviewer on Amazon. She said reading The Black Lens opened her eyes to this underground world and actually helped her prevent a potential trafficking situation:

“Since reading this, I have become more aware of the issues and the prevalence of human sex trafficking and have recently witnessed an (incident) at Disneyland Shopping District of someone preying on a young teen sitting alone waiting for her parents to finish shopping. I stepped in and made sure she was not alone and not targeted by the man asking her inappropriate questions and inviting her to help him with his bags to his car.”

The reviewer continues:

“I enjoyed the story line and the characters but what I appreciated the most was the movement to bring the sinister world of sex trafficking into our awareness so that more can be done to protect our youth and change our own story line as a culture (that) does not allow the opportunity for these crimes to become a reality for future at risk youth.”

As an author, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

2. Take sin seriously

When you consider recent Christian novels or books, most of them don’t take sin seriously. They focus so much on the truth of grace that they hide from the truth of evil.

And yet if you spend any time reading the Old Testament, you discover that it’s filled with descriptions of evil. You’ve got rape, incest — even torture. None of these authors glorified those crimes or described them in graphic detail, but they also didn’t shy away from them either. Why? Because they were trying to contrast the depth of man’s evil with the depth of God’s grace.

One of my favorite Christian authors is Flannery O’Connor, who became famous for her dark, brutal and violent short stories. She once wrote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” That’s great advice for every Christian writer. We need to contrast both good and evil if we want to have any chance at engaging the world with our words — especially with such dark topics like sex trafficking or suicide and mental illness.

We need more authors like Aaron.

3. Engage the arts

As created beings, Christians have so much to contribute to the arts — especially in the area of writing. For centuries, believers were at the forefront of art and culture.

The Catholic Church sponsored some of the most famous artists of all times, such as Michelangelo. But for decades, Christians have retreated from the arts. I don’t know all the reasons, but Swiss author Francis Schaeffer once wrote: “I am afraid that as evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth. C.S. Lewis wrote that, “Art … has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Literature is a form of art, so it too has no inherent survival value. But literature can give value to survival in unique and powerful ways. Think of the impact behind books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or To Kill a Mockingbird. Those stories affected so many people’s views of race and slavery in ways that no other medium could.

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Esther, because it reads like a work of modern fiction. You’ve got a strong female heroine, romantic suspense and even a murder plot. But most interestingly, the book doesn’t mention God once. Yet for those who have eyes to see, every sentence in the story points to God and gives value to the idea of surviving suffering.

That was the same goal for The Black Lens and The Husband. One is fiction, and the other is autobiographical, but both stories were written for those who have eyes to see.

Learn more about The Husband at http://aarondanielbehr.com.

Speaking at Shared Hope International’s anti-trafficking summit!

I just got invited to speak at one of the largest anti-trafficking conferences in the country.

Shared Hope International accepted my speaker application for the 2018 JuST Faith Summit from June 20-22 in St. Paul, Minn. This three-day conferences provides attendees with practical knowledge and effective action steps to address trafficking in their own communities.

Here is a brief summary of my presentation, which incorporates research I conducted through my work with both She Has A Name and The Black Lens novel:

Why do men solicit? That’s a complex question, but one we must strive to answer if we’re ever going to reduce the demand for juvenile sex trafficking in the United States. While some women pay for sex, the fact is, most of that demand is coming from men. No national or scientific research exists on the factors that fuel the demand for sex trafficking, but this class will explore some studies that have focused on the connection between issues like pornography and prostitution.

It will also offer 9 reasons why men solicit based on first-hand research I conducted during a John School program in Ohio for men who are mostly first-time offenders with no record of violence. The goal of this class and similar programs is to decrease the demand for paid sex, and hence, reduce the amount of human trafficking and sexual exploitation that occurs.

Learn more about the conference at Shared Hope International’s website.

You might also like:

9 reasons men solicit prostitutes
Why we must never end the fight against sex trafficking
5 reasons men solicit prostitutes — and why I’m trying to help them