Mac Swengel's Book "The Plainston Chronicles"

At age 93, Dr. Swengel has published his first book.  It's a fictional narrative, and it is addictive.  He certainly knows how to tell a story.  It must run in the family--Dr. Swengel is my grandpa.  He wrote it decades ago, and with the assistance of my Aunt Marcia (who was also a member of the editorial staff  for "Famous American Freemasons Vol. II) he's finally finished it. 

AMAZON DESCRIPTION:  A book about educational reform could indeed be very pedantic and perhaps boring, but Dr. Swengel's "Plainston Chronicles" reads like an epic novel as his characters tell their stories in either letters written to each other or journal entries or editor's notes. Thus is the reader propelled through the narratives, following the trails and tribulations of the very real characters. "This should be made into a movie!" exclaimed a reader (PhD in Psychology). The book makes one want to immediately start such a school as Dr. Swengel envisions, as such a school addresses the whole child, not just "book larnin'." When children, at an early age, learn to care about and for their fellow students, this caring attitude carries through their life. Such a school is interactive with its community and impacts it in a very positive way. The effects ripple out even beyond the immediate community and could ultimately affect governments and the way nations are run. Hope springs anew that the world could indeed become a better place!

The Indianapolis Scottish Rite Cathedral

The beautiful Indianapolis Scottish Rite Cathedral

I’m lucky to live only about an hour from Indianapolis. Every year, about this time, I go over and visit the largest Masonic building in the United States—the Valley of Indianapolis Scottish Rite Cathedral. There is nothing that can prepare you for the grandeur of this building.  It covers a city block with its massive tower rising 212 feet overhead and featuring a 54-bell clarion. It’s considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the United States.

It's just a stunning building, and it makes for an irresistible backdrop.  It's never hard to find somebody to take your picture during a reunion--you'll always find someebody outside doing the exact same thing.  Looking for somebody to take their picture on the front steps of the building.  Even Barrack Obama couldn't resist the impressive visual the cathedral provides.
As remarkable as the building is on the outside, the inside is all the more impressive. The dimensions are laid out on the Masonic number 33. You’ll find that number repeated everywhere in the building. The Tyler’s room at the entrance is 33 feet by 33 feet and 66 feet tall. The pillars in the ballroom are set 33 feet apart. The building itself is 330 feet wide.

The cathedral is filled with ornate carved wood, antiques, and incredible stained glass windows on a scale unmatched anywhere. I think the thing that I love most, is the amount of stained glass—it’s everywhere. You’ll find it over doorways, and decorating staircase landings, and in little reading nooks and alcoves—stunning examples of the art in its most exemplary form. I think that’s why there is such a unique feeling in the building. It's the lighting due to so much of the sunlight streaming in through those beautiful windows.

Just a few of the amenities inside is a theater that seats 1,200, and has a full-scale pipe organ. In the basement, a dining room big enough to feed all of them. There is also a beautiful ballroom with a dance floor that is cushioned by a system of springs. It’s very comfortable to dance on for hours on end—ask Taylor Swift, she filmed her video for her song “Changes” in the ballroom. There are libraries and meeting rooms, and lodge rooms. Everywhere you turn, you stumble on some small alcove, or interesting feature.

I’ve been there many times now, and each time, I discover something new, and I look forward to going every year. A few years ago, the Valley of Danville (my Valley) was invited over to present the 26th Degree during their reunion. Believe me, the theater may look like an antique on the public side, but is has been fully updated and modernized. It has incredible state-of-the-art sound, lighting, and projection systems.

So go check this place out. You don’t even have to be a Mason. They offer tours! It’s visited by more than 100,000 people every year. If you like it, you can even rent the ballroom out for your family reunion or your wedding reception.

And you be sure and watch Taylor Swift's Video for her song "Change" filmed in the ballroom.

Advice For Writers

Over the past three years or so, I've gotten a lot of questions about how to get into writing, how to get published, etc.  I thought I'd take a little time and give some advice to those of you interested in writing. 

Reasonable Expectation:  Let me clear one thing up right up front, I'm not a writer. I'm an accountant that writes.  I have a real job.  You'd probably be surprised to learn this, but there aren't a lot of writers out there that write for a living.  If you're thinking about writing a book, be realistic about your expectation.  Even if you have a fairly successful book, it's probably not going to generate enough income to pay your bills.  So unless you come up with something that compares to Harry Potter or the DaVinci Code you're best going into it thinking of it as a hobby.

Just Do It:  Believe it or not, the most common question I get is if there are any books I'd recommend on writing.  There are a lot of clever writers out there that write about writing, and a lot of wannabe writers that want to read about writing.  You're not going to learn how to write by reading about writing.  The best way to learn it, is by doing it.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.

Get Input:  Find somebody to read your stuff that you trust--a friend, relative or former teacher that knows their rhetoric inside and out.  Somebody that will point out the fact you don't know how to use a semi-colon properly (that's why I don't use them very often), or you're using the same word over and over again.  You need somebody who is honest and objective, and the writer needs to be thick skinned enough to take the criticism.

Read:  The best writers are readers.  Know your genre.  If you want to write suspense fiction, read suspense fiction.  I like to write about history, so I read  a ton of history. 

Set Time Aside:  A lot of wannabe writers make excuses about why they don't write.  They're busy, they have a child, they have a demanding job, etc.  That's not going to change.  If you really want to write, then make the time.  I started writing my first published book a few days after my daughter Katie was born.  It was 2 a.m. and I was up with the baby for about the millionth time that evening.  I decided if I was going to be up all night anyway, I might as well find something constructive to do.  I hadn't written in a long time, but I had an idea, and I started planning out my book between diapers and bottles.  By the time I returned to work six weeks later, I had a book outlined, and about fourteen months later, I had Famous American Freemasons: Volume I done.  Since then, it's been a balancing act. I work full-time, when I come home, I spend time with the family until Katie goes to bed at 8, and then 5-6 nights a week I work the "night shift" between 8 and midnight.  Twenty to twenty-four hours a week, and in four years, I've written four books, and am working on the fifth. 

What makes that shift so productive, is I also spend an hour a day planning what I'm going to write that evening--I walk on my lunch hour, and I plan out the scenes I'm going to write so when my night shift starts, I already know what I'm doing and I can just start pounding it out. 

Have a Comfortable Place to Work:  I wrote my first book at the kitchen table--I have a very patient wife.  When my daughter graduated high school, and went off to college, my wife couldn't move me and my mess into her old room fast enough.  She painted it, bought shelves, and a nice radio--she made sure that room was so comfortable I'd never want to work anywhere else in her house again.  It's nice because I have a lot more room to spread out.  But on weekends, I sometimes take this show on the road though--I like to write on the patio of my local public library.  Starbucks works for me too sometimes.  I've even escaped a time or two and written a chapter at our Secretary's desk at my Masonic lodge--that's usually a very quiet and peaceful place on a Sunday afternoon, and when I'm writing my books about famous American Freemasons, it provides all kinds of inspiration.  Find a good place, or several good places, and write.

Write the Book First:  I get a lot of questions about how to get books published, and finding an editor, and who designs my book covers, etc.  More often than not, they haven't even written the book yet.  Don't put the cart before the horse.  Write the book--I hate to say it, but most of my ideas don't work out.  I think they're brilliant, I put a lot of time and sweat into an idea only to find out it wasn't such a good idea after all.  I have an entire file cabinet full of twenty years worth of ideas that didn't pan out--that's right, I published my first book in 2007, but I wrote my first book in 1986. 

Know When It's Good Enough:  You're never going to write the perfect book.  It's never been done.  The trick is to write a good book . . . do your research, do your best writing, and get a good editor!  But it's never going to be perfect, and most writers have a tough time letting go of it.  I've got a friend that's been writing and re-writing a book for ten years.  He'll never finish it, because he's never content with it.  There's no reason to write if nobody ever reads your books because you can't finish them.  I can't think of one single book I've ever read that I didn't find at least one small mistake in.  Mine are no exception.  When I published Famous American Freemasons, I went over it and over it and over it . . . my editor went over it and over it and over it.  It was published, and I got that copy of the book in the mail, I found a mistake so obvious I can't believe we didn't catch it.  It's on every single even numbered page and it makes me crazy each time I see it. . . the header on every even page says Great American Freemasons not Famous American FreemasonsGreat American Freemasons was the working title of the book--I'd changed it early on in the project.  But do you know how many people have caught it?  Not one.  So don't sweat the small stuff.

The Best Advice I Have:  Know your subject!  If you're writing non-fiction, don't skimp on the research.  Most writers hate researching--I happen to love it.  I enjoy few things more than digging in the musty and dusty records of a library archive department.  That's me though.  Whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction, a bad fact will blast your book faster than anything else.  In my most recent book, I researched guns, old Ford trucks, small town police departments, strip mining practices of the 1930s and 40s, Victorian houses, Vietnam era military snipers, Savannah, Georgia, etc.  One of my first published short stories was first rejected by an editor because of a bad fact (I think I was about nineteen at the time)--I got a note that said ". . . the Colt Peacemaker is a revolver, and revolvers don't leave shell casings behind.  If you're not going to do your homework, don't waste my time."  Five minutes in the library, and I had my facts straight--the next editor that got it published it.  I keep a notebook handy, and when I'm writing, and a question pops up--some little fact I'm not sure about--I write the question down, and keep going.  I'll look it up later so I don't blast my writing session with a distraction.  Most light research these days can be done on the internet--there's no reason to be lazy when you can get the fact straight in two minutes.  It's not like you have to run to the library.

There's no great secret to writing--it's about ideas, research, hard work and dedication.  If you're not willing to make the time and put in the effort, it's probably not for you.  If you are, I encourage you to sit down for an hour or two every day, and work on it.  It's a huge field, and there's a niche for everyone.  It's a great hobby for those of you looking for a creative outlet.  That's why I do it--there's not much creativity involved in accounting.  But the first step is to stop reading about it, and talking about it, and start doing it.