free the pen, a blog for writers

September 17, 2011

Are You a WWII Buff?

Filed under: Interviews — freethepen @ 4:08 pm
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           In an ordinary day, performing ordinary tasks, the extraordinary can happen. Picture this: I’m sitting in a chair at my hairdresser’s. I’ve got a black cape wrapped around me. My hair is sticking up in  newly dyed wasps of blob. I look like something from Jupiter. A couple walks in and begins to talk to Ann, my hairdresser. They hand her a postcard and talk about a booksigning they are doing at the coffee shop in the shopping center. I know nothing of this coffee shop because I am still fairly new in this town. But because I am an author and love booksignings, they draw me to them. They are trying to figure out how to get started now that they have books to sell. I hand them one of my book brochures and they hand me their card. We begin speaking about history, WWII, writing and twenty minutes later, deep in conversation, I am learning about a woman names Molly Martin who at twenty-eight in 1942 is emprisoned by the Japanese within the walls of Santo Tomas University. If you haven’t heard of this book, read this interview. You might just be as fascinated as I was with this amazing book, Within the Walls of Santo Tomas.

Here are the five questions I asked the authors: Berry Byron and Cassius Mullen.
1. What inspired you to write Within the Walls of Santo Tomas? You wrote this book together; how did that come about?

The inspiration came from Time/Life books on WW II, the volume on Return to the Philippines where a section discusses Redemption at Santo Tomas. Betty wrote most of the fiction and Cassius provided ideas and wrote military background. The idea appealed to us because we never heard of Santo Tomas.

2. Do you know what Molly Martin, whose encampment is portrayed in Within the Walls of Santo Tomas, did before WWII?

Molly is a fictitious character who is the embodiment of the sixty odd nurses who were interned with the 4000+ civilians. She was the only child of a WW I veteran who ran a feed and seed shop Karnak, TX. Upon the urging of her father, she entered nurses training and then joined the army in the early 1930’s. Shortly after being promoted to captain, she was shipped to the Philippines in early 1941.

3. Were you in the military and did that experience give you a deeper empathy for Molly and the other people held prisoners in Santo Thomas?

Cassius is a West Point graduate who spent some 21 years on active duty. His background enriched the military aspects of the novel. The affinity for the plight of the internees came from the various documents that we researched in the archives of the 1st Cavalry Division Museum at Ft. Hood, TX.

4. Why do you think the story of Molly Martin is important for people to know?

Most Americans have no idea of what happened to Americans and Allies in the Philippines after the surrender of American and Filipino forces in 1942.

5. Could you speak to the experience of writing this book? How did it effect your life?

Once we delved into the historical background regarding Santo Tomas, we found ourselves reading between the lines and building fictitious characters who represented the internees and gave them life and not just some historical footnote. The experience was highly educational and emotional and we wanted to bring it to the attention of a wide audience.

Betty Byron is a graduate of the Miami University of Ohio. Following graduation she married Cassius Mullen and spent the ensuing years traveling throughout the world. She decided to write novels based on her impressions of her years of travel. Her husband is a graduate of West Point and spent 21 years on active duty. The couple combined their ideas to create this historical fiction novel.

Make sure to visit my other blog: and my site where you can purchase all my books:

Until next time keep the pen moving,

Blessings, Jan

September 10, 2011

Interview with Cory Cotton

Filed under: Interviews — freethepen @ 10:16 pm
Upon one of my visits to the local bookstore I started talking to a young man who said he had written a book. I had no idea what an amazing young person he is. Within minutes I was engrossed in his new book Go Big:Make Your Shot Count in the Connected World. Although I have not read Cory’s book yet, his mission to lead people into following their dreams blew my socks off. Please, if you read only one book this year (separate from mine of course) read Go Big.  Here is my amazing interview with this huge-hearted young man.
1. Go Big is a curious title? Could you tell me what your book is about?
Go Big: Make Your Shot Count in the Connected World, is our story (the story of the college-aged YouTube basketball shooting group, Dude Perfect) woven around 5 practical principles designed to take your passions, skills, and dreams to the next level. Over the last two years, we’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen in a very short amount of time. We simply want to share what we’ve learned in the hopes of helping others successfully pursue the passions that uniquely stir them. And all of this, we believe, positions each reader to use that platform for a cause greater than himself/ herself.
2. What do you want your readers to get out of Go Big?
My desire is for each and every reader to develop, if they don’t already have it, a truly Go Big mindset. I want the reader to walk away from this book with a drastically bigger view of both the world, and more specifically, of their potential in it.
3. Your book is quite a creative project? What do you plan on doing with it now that it is published?
About a year and a half ago, I felt God telling me to write this book. I thought that was stupid haha. But after a solid amount of hesitation, I decided to be obedient, and I started what turned out to be a long, difficult, but ultimately worthwhile process of seeing Go Big published (Tyndale House Publishers). As it hits the shelves over the course of this month (September), myself and the rest of the Dude Perfect crew will be focusing our efforts on the publicity side of the project, as well as various speaking engagements (from colleges to churches to conferences – that type of thing). Publicity wise, I’ve got a few interviews scheduled already (A Fox interview in NY on Sept 14, for example), and I’m sure I will spend long days and nights tweeting and sending emails to anyone and everyone I can think of. And, in about a week and a half, we’ll be blasting out the news about the book to our YouTube audience. Truth is, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m extremely anxious to see how Go Big
does. But whether we ever see a best seller’s list or not (that’s our Go Big goal), I rest in the fact that, at the end of the day, I obeyed Jesus with the
call to write a book about all that He’s allowed us to do over the past two years. I feel blessed either way.
4. What other projects are you working on now?
Dude Perfect is a YouTube group, so we’re always working on new video content to keep our brand fresh, relevant, and hopefully, in the media’s eye. Besides that, we recently released an iPhone game self titled “Dude Perfect.” If you’ve ever seen Angry Birds, this has that same feel, but with basketball 🙂 We worked with a development group out in Arizona to make this happen. The game has done well, climbing as high as #15 on the iPhone charts. All that to say, we’re continually working on that project. Also, we just got back from a two week mission trip to Africa (working with orphanages and a clean water project), so we’ll be promoting the various organizations we worked with, in hopes of bringing awareness to the incredible need over there. At the end of the day, we know that it is our responsibility to use whatever size platform we have for a
cause greater than ourself. We’ve seen far too many people swallowed up in their own story, so we want to do everything we can to keep that from being our fate.
5. Do you plan to write other books?
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer, but through this process, I think God has shown me that writing might very well be a part of his
plan for me. So to answer your question, yes, I would absolutely love to write more books in the future. I don’t have a clue what they would be yet though. I’m open for suggestions haha.
6. Anything else you want your readers to know about you and this project?
Interviews, publicity, best seller’s lists… All this stuff, in my opinion, is secondary to the purpose of this book. I wrote this book because God
told me to write it. That may sound weird to some of you, and if it does, I totally get that. It sounded weird to me too. But now that it’s done, I’m
beginning to see why he put it on my heart in the first place. Through this process, I’ve become incredibly passionate about the fact that people should do what they were made to do, and not settle for simply going through the motions of life. Go Big is all about relentlessly pursuing your passions, the thing or things that make your heart beat the way it was designed. I think God made us that way. I think he made us to dream big dreams, and I think he wants us to pursue them like crazy, and then use the resulting platform for things that make him smile (like hugging a kid in Africa, for example). I know I’ve mentioned God a lot, and I don’t really mean to. I never want to tell anyone what to believe, but I will tell others what I believe. That’s how I like others to interact with me about their spiritual beliefs, at least. So to end this interview, I want to thank Jan for the opportunity to share with you about my book. I thank God for giving me the chance to meet awesome people like Jan –
people who, against the odds, are pursuing their dreams.
If you’d like to learn more about Go Big, check out the product details page on the Publisher’s website here: If you still have no idea what Dude Perfect is, learn more at
Thanks for reading, and hopefully Jan will have me back sometime to update
you all on how Go Big is doing. Best of luck to all of your Go Big dreams!
God Bless,  Cory Cotton
I apologize to Cory for not being able to put a picture of his book in this interview. It was sent within the email and I didn’t know how to extract it.
Until next time,
Keep the pen moving,

September 6, 2011

Got a Second for a Smile?

Filed under: writing techniques — freethepen @ 2:40 pm

Maybe you don’t think you have a second because your job, family, friends, facebook, twitter and daily needs to eat and sleep take your entire day. I agree that there are activities we must do. Yet, there are also activities we choose to do like facebook, twitter, texting and the like. How we construct our days can become more of a choice than we sometimes want to realize. For instance, as a single woman I have to do everything from washing the car, to balancing the checkbook to taking out the garbage or doing laundry. I know that managing a life with or without help can be burdensome. That being said, it is important to remember that giving a simple smile, despite all the busyness, can make a world of difference.

Maybe you heard this story. A man walking down the street took a second to smile at a teenager. The next day the teenager ran across that man’s path and confronted him. “Remember when you smiled at me yesterday?” he asked the man. The man barely remembered. “I was thinking of killing myself,” the teen said. “But somehow when you smiled at me I felt a little better and then decided not to kill myself.” The man looked stunned; he barely remembered the teen let alone smiling at him. “Thank you,” the teen said and walked away.

We never know what is happening on the inside of people. One day when I owned a clothing store a male customer came in with his wife. I greeted them and the wife barely acknowledged me, although she was polite, and her husband seemed to have an attitude that had the potential to ruin my day. When the couple approached me for a small sale I asked what brought them to town. It was a tourist town and my shop was right in the middle of the hotel area. I smiled and made eye contact with the couple thinking they probably didn’t want to engage in any conversation with me. Then the man spoke. “We came here to bury my son,” he said, “he just committed suicide.” They stood in my shop for almost 30 minutes talking about what they were going through; they then asked me why I sold organic clothing. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I not smiled or looked then in the eye. I wonder if I had just taken their money without acknowledgment of them, if they would have opened up to me. Another reminder not to judge people without information beyond what we see; we never know the road they are traveling on. I don’t know what my attitude would have been if I had been in the same position as that father; maybe it would have been more cranky. This link will take you to a page where you can purchase smile cards. Why smile cards? Why not! Hand them out. You never know who might need a smile. You never know whose life you might change or whose path you might lighten. And if you don’t think it will do anything for you in return, think of this: a smile uses every muscle in your face so you will get exercise in important places. Remember: a smile lightens the heart, yours and the person you are giving it to.

For all you writers reading this who would like to do something in addition to a simple smile, write a positive sentence, print it out on business cards and leave them wherever you go. When you go to lunch leave one on the table for the waiter. When you pass cars, slip them under windshield wipers. When you take a walk, drop them on someone’s doorstep. Who says writing has to be long and difficult. Write one sentence, pass it around. Write one word, pass it around. Write to heal. It works. Write to heal for youself. Write to heal for others. Speechless? Smile.

Until next time, keep the pen moving,


September 2, 2011


Filed under: writing techniques — freethepen @ 7:20 pm
Tags: ,

Years ago I thought it was cheating to use a thesauras. That probably sounds silly, I know, but I thought using a thesauras was tantamount to cheating and I wanted my writing to be original, creative and MINE.

But, in a writing workshop one winter, I sat with 60 writers who spoke about the tools they wouldn’t do without. I was stunned when several of them stated that they couldn’t or wouldn’t sit to write without a thesauras.

Listening to them threw me back on my own crazy thinking. At the time, I believed I had to depend solely on my own wisdown, learn from the bottom up so to speak, and I wouldn’t dream of using a book to supply me with words. After all, didn’t good writers come up with everything on their own?

At this point, I can only laugh at myself looking back on my strange and dysfunctional belief that the only way I was going to become a good writer was to dig deep and do it alone. Alone? Really? Then it dawned on me: I was raised believing that if I needed help I was deficient or weak. Are any of you relating to this? The fact is that with any craft, craftsmen use tools — tools refine the creative process. No wonder I was struggling; I might as well have written with stone and chisel.

Over decades of furiously writing, I have learned that this pattern of thinking created more problems than it was worth, ones that I could have sidestepped if only I had opened and allowed myself to receive the tools of the masters. But there again, another old belief pattern: it is better to give than receive. In my mind receiving help meant I was selfish and there was no way I wanted to be selfish. Everyone knows selfishness is a negative attribute. Don’t we?

I’ve met many writers during the years  who wouldn’t let anyone comment on their work because they wanted to present  their raw and original work. Then when agents wouldn’t accept their manuscripts because they needed more work or had major errors in plot and characterization, the writers went home and wept. In so many ways, writing has healed, opened up and changed my life. It hasn’t been just the written word; it has been the psychological, spiritual, emotional and mental process of it all. Being a writer demands ingratiating self confrontation.

So go ahead, write your story with your own thoughts, then let someone help you find the diamond in the charcoal.  That’s what my thesauras  does for me and subsequently, I too, now depend on that handy dandy little book. It is a joy of a helper and it emboldens me to study and learn new words. It has taught me to reach out for help. Not only that, it gives it.

Until next time,

Keep the pen moving,


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