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. (more…)
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. (more…)
By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 9, 2014
I never talk about a book while I’m working on it. It’s bad luck. The Muse doesn’t like it.
"The Lion's Gate," non-fiction coming May 6
That’s why, although I’ve been working for the past three years on a project that’s been all-consuming for me, I haven’t offered a peep on this blog.
But now the book is done. It’s in production; the first finished copies are coming off the presses now. The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War will be published by Penguin/Sentinel on May 6.
Now that the book is finished, I’m gonna become a blabbermouth. I’m going to write about it here on the blog. We’ll start next week. Posts will appear on Mondays and Fridays (Writing Wednesdays will continue uninterrupted each Wednesday, after the initial kick-off post next week.)
The Lion’s Gate is a non-fiction book about the Six Day War of 1967, the war that re-drew the maps of the Middle East and laid the foundation for most of the turmoil that has been roiling that region—and the world—ever since. But it’s a lot more than that for me. I’ll start talking about that next week.
Beyond the subject matter of the book, I’ll get into detail about the writing process. It’s okay to do this, I believe, as a means of helping my fellow-artists-in-the-trenches, of demonstrating for their benefit that I’m just as nutty as they are, and that my way of working is just as crazy as theirs. (more…)