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The Book I've Been Avoiding Writing

The Book I've Been Avoiding Writing

A Bad Jew

By Steven Pressfield
Published: April 16, 2014

[This is the first post in a new series about the writing of The Lion's Gate. After today the series will run Mondays and Fridays. "Writing Wednesdays" returns in this space next week.]

I found out I was a Jew when I was thirteen. My Dad told me. I never knew until then. It was kind of a shock.

Two thoughts struck me at once:

1. If my parents have been keeping this knowledge a secret from me and my younger brother all this time, they must really be ashamed of being Jewish.

2. I myself, through thirteen years of regular-kid U.S. life, had acquired a helluva dose of anti-Jewish prejudice. In other words, I was prejudiced against myself.

I remember thinking, “Me Jewish? There must be some mistake.” I peered at my face in the bathroom mirror. Holy cow, I am Jewish! How could I have missed it all these years?

A week of shell shock and denial followed. When I emerged, I made a decision.

I decided I would get with the program.

If I’m a Jew, I’m gonna be a Jew.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan fields questions from the press, 7 June 1967.

I started going to temple. There was none in my hometown so I hitchhiked to the next town. My Mom and Dad refused to drive me.

The weird part was, the real Jews at the temple rejected me. To them I was an outsider. I didn’t belong. I was the new kid from the next town who couldn’t speak Hebrew, had never had a bar mitzvah, didn’t know what Hannukah was and, to boot, had a bad attitude about being Jewish.

After about two months I realized that this new regime wasn’t working. I reverted. I went back to being a regular American.

I know how crazy all this sounds, but, trust me, scenarios like this were not that unusual in the late 50s, the heyday of the Assimilation School of being Jewish in America. Being a Jew was a secret that some parents kept even from their children.

But back to me being a regular American. I still knew I was a Jew. I began casting around for role models. What Jews or Jewish images existed in the culture that I could relate to and be proud of?

Borscht Belt comedians? Molly Goldberg? The Holocaust? I didn’t even want to think about it.

I’m thirteen years old. I want Chuck Yeager. I want Audie Murphy. I want John Wayne.

When I began encountering anti-Semitism in my own life, my confusion deepened further. I just couldn’t get any purchase on the idea of being a Jew.

Then came June 1967.

The Six Day War.

Israel kicks ass on Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

All of sudden the TV was wall-to-wall with images of Jewish fighter pilots, Jewish paratroopers, Jewish tank commanders. And they were major-league studs. My mind was blown. I thought, Now we’re talking! Finally: some Jews I can relate to.
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Posted in The Book I've Been Avoiding Writing

The Book I've Been Avoiding Writing

The Book I've Been Avoiding Writing

Saving Tel Aviv

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 18, 2014

[This is the second post in a new series about the writing of The Lion's Gate. The series will continue Fridays and Mondays. "Writing Wednesdays" returns in its normal slot next week.]

Okay, here I am with the idea to do a book about the Six Day War of 1967. But that’s all I’ve got.

Marine captain Lou Lenart on Okinawa, 1945.

What comes next? How does a writer start a project?

The first thing I did was phone David Mamet.

NOTE TO READERS: Don’t try this at home. I am friendly with Dave. Otherwise I would never have dared impose on him.

“Dave, do you know anyone in Israel who is connected in military circles?”

“Come to my house this Friday for Shabbat dinner. I’ll introduce you to a guy you’re gonna fall in love with.”

So when Friday came, my friend Kate and I took a bottle of wine and went to Dave’s. Standing in the kitchen as we entered, chatting with Dave’s wife Rebecca, was the gentleman in the photo on the right, taken on Okinawa in 1945:

“Steve, I want you to meet Lou Lenart. Steve, you were a Marine. Lou was a Marine. What else needs to be said?”

SECOND NOTE TO READERS: This is when you know the gods are smiling on you.

Lou and I wound up talking for hours, that night and in the succeeding days at his apartment in Santa Monica. Lou had been a USMC captain in World War II. He flew F4U Corsairs in the battle for Okinawa and against the home islands of Japan.

After the war, in 1948, Lou evaded the FBI (which was trying to prevent any American citizen from bringing aid to the infant state of Israel) and fought as a combat pilot in the Jewish state’s War of Independence.

“Lou led the first fighter mission in Israel Air Force history,” Dave said. “He saved Tel Aviv when the Egyptian army was advancing up the coast road, seventeen miles away.”

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Lou said to me. “I will plug you in with anybody you need to talk to.”

Lou got on the phone to Israel. He introduced me to the two key people—Ran Ronen and Danny Grossman, both IAF aviators—without whose contributions The Lion’s Gate could never have been written.

Lou began telling me stories. We sat in his living room and he took me back to May 14, 1948, the date when the state of Israel was born. “That same day, the armies of five Arab nations—Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon—crossed the border intending to drive the Jews into the sea.”

A Czech-built Messerschmitt-109 of the Israel Air Force, 1948.

For two weeks the Israelis fought a desperate holding action against the invaders. But the Arab armies kept advancing. Israel at that time, Lou told me, had no pilots except himself and a few WWII veteran/volunteers from the U.S., Australia, South Africa—with a handful of homegrown Israelis, none of whom had flown in combat.  The Egyptians had fifty brand-new Spitfires, a gift from the British. The Israelis had no fighter planes at all except four Messerschmitt 109s, cobbled together from mismatched surplus parts—and as of May 28 these planes had only arrived in Israel hours earlier, in pieces, from Czechoslovakia.
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What It Takes

What It Takes

The Victim, the Perpetrator and the Rescuer

By Shawn Coyne | Published: April 11, 2014

An Oldie but Goodie for the "On Writing" Shelf

As we all know, there is no story without conflict. There is no beat to a scene, no scene, no sequence, no act and no global story without a dump truck full of conflict.

But diving into our vast personal experiences of conflict is not exactly the first pool of creative energy any of us wants to explore. It’s sludgy and unpretty. It gets our heart beating faster than we’d like and it makes us irritable.

Even boxers don’t rush into a prizefight throwing one roundhouse after another. They need to get a feel for the opponent first. Test out their strengths and weaknesses before they attack with combinations.

So what to do?

Take yourself out of the equation and focus on the imaginary people you’ve invented. Think about how each one of them would play one of these three roles when faced with a direct conflict.

How would he play the victim of someone else or a power out of his personal control?

How would he become the perpetrator, the character that loses his composure and unloads a bucket of bile on another character?

How would he play the rescuer, the character that steps in between these two combative forces and sides with the victim?

For example, say you have to set up a love affair for your global story. And you need to dramatize a married couple’s rift. After running down a long list of possibilities (a having a baby scene, a purchasing a house scene, an applying for a loan scene, a wrapping Christmas presents scene…) you decide to write a domestic dinner scene.

How do you do it without using cheesy conflict behavior—having dishes thrown or spewing on the nose “you’re a terrible husband” dialogue?

Start with a VPR analysis.
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Posted in What It Takes | 12 Comments
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