Michael Ashley

Be the Hero of Your Own Story

Penny S. Tee Article

I recently attended Publishers and Writers of Orange County, and boy do I love being around other authors and writers! The cornucopia of the talent combined with the depth of knowledge of the speaker Michael Ashley really caught my attention.

Ashley believes “you should be the hero of your own story. Storytelling mastery will shortcut customers’ knowing, liking and trusting you.” For me, that made sense. For my story I could only tell it from my perspective, through my eyes. I was the Chicken Little of our group. I thought that vacations were for lying on the beach and eating ice cream cones—not running for bomb shelters. Besides, bombs were really falling from the sky! I wanted to leave, NOW!

The topics authors choose to explore always fascinate me. Some examples from the group… one who wrote a true life story about working in a prison complete with riots and the Mexican mafia, a recently published, medically-themed comic book (yes you got that right, a medical book written in a fashion you can understand) called “TIPS TO FIGHT DRY EYE THAT WORK!,”  a children’s book series about a boy who bakes, what it was like to work on a Lockheed skunkworks project, witches and magic, reluctant volunteers, how to instructions for writing appreciative letters and my own, about our trip to Israel when we were on a family vacation and found ourselves in the middle of a war resulting in my wanting to work on Peace, well no two are the same.

Our speaker Michael Ashley has a broad education and incredibly successful career and looks like he’s just getting started. He has a B.A. in Philosophy with a Minor in Journalism, and an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. He’s written twenty-one books with clients, four which have been bestsellers. Awesome!

He has lent his creative literary touch to a wide array of interests, including award-winning screenplay treatments, children’s long-form scripts, ghostwritten books and blogs, op-ed and Huffington Post articles, regular media columns and more. At Ink Wordsmiths, Ashley prides himself on imaginative thinking outside the box and turning around quality work with lightning quick speed.

His writing expertise was as varied as the topics of his authors from reading professionally for Creative Artists Agency, being a columnist for “Newsbase Magazine,” writing a screenplay treatment that was turned into a #1 time slot Disney film, “Girl Versus Monster” as well as being a fiction and on-fiction book ghostwriter and writing coach. And some of his books that he co-wrote are equally diverse —“Fiction in a Weekend,” “Evolution by God,” and my personal favorite that I’m going to run, not walk to buy…”The Six-Figure Writer.”

The topics Ashley’s clients chose to write about varied as well. From major league baseball agents with drug-related family angst to a Lebanese entrepreneur who knew how to seize the moment whether it was selling blue jeans in the Middle East, to wine in restaurants as a sommelier or hummus in the grocery store. How one man went from working with Mickey at Disneyland to avoiding the Mafia bust at the Vegas Aladdin Hotel. Then there was the Indian woman who taught how to behave bravely with a mindshift to life’s challenges, a love story for the ages and finally, what really happened to Ricky Nelson?

Ashley’s talk was about author entrepreneurs, which made sense to me. We all have a message we want to tell through great story telling, yet we are still in business, often working for ourselves. He believes the power of storytelling is the key to successful writing. Humans love conflict and train wrecks—look at the success of the Kardashians! He said, “Conflict is the engine for drama, the more you can put in, the better.”

In people’s daily lives they want to avoid conflict, but when being entertained, conflict seems to be a drug that everyone becomes addicted to. In his talk he showed us how to use good story telling techniques to capture people’s hearts and minds with the goal to have them care about you and trust you, because trust leads to money. Amen.

Most of us want a conflict-free life, but Ashley warned us that problems can be a good thing because they make us grow. If we work through our problems we can come out the other side a wiser, stronger person. In literary terms, the tragic upheaval is called “the dark night of the soul.” It’s the moment in a manuscript or movie script where the main character experiences his/her lowest moment and all hope appears to be lost.

Ashley reminded us that as the character, it would suck to be them, but this moment due to its effectiveness for us writers could have angels heralding in the background, because audiences are drawn to conflict.

He said a great way to tell a compelling story was to use Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” So as a teaching tool he described an abbreviated version of it concentrating mainly on “the “Dark Night of the Soul and the “Return with Elixir,” and then we each applied the concepts to our individual stories. Afterward, some of us discussed our results and the members provided valuable feedback.

I was excited to see how my storyline translated into the Heroes Journey, having just completed going through my edits. My book, “Blasted from Complacency: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel” is the story of our family’s vacation in Israel in July 2014 when we found ourselves in the middle of war. I’m still trying to get over the guilt of taking my son to war for his Bar Mitzvah present! But the impact of being human targets made me want to work on Peace (I know I’m not supposed to capitalize Peace, but it’s too important, so I do it anyway).

In the Hero’s Journey you have a hero who is living in an ordinary world. In my world that was me at the beginning of my story, a stay-at-home mom.

I didn’t get married until I was 41. I had lived a successful corporate life equipped with my M.B.A. as an Accounting Manager and consultant for large corporations like Deloite and Touche and the Los Angeles Times (who knew I should have transferred from accounting to journalism). Finally, with extreme gratitude and lots of help from modern-day science, my child was born, when I was 44. We made a family decision for me to stay home with him and I enjoyed every second, well almost — those teenage years have challenged me a bit and raised expenses from buying bottles of Lady Clairol…grey hair begone!

As he got older I tried different things as my time freed up. From 2009-2012 I had a mom’s website called We R’ Moms. I loved being around other moms, I held mom-i-nars (webinars for moms), blogged, even had a carpool app, but not a clue as to how to market. So in 2012 I shut down. Now what?

I felt like a failure. Today, my definition of F.A.I.L.: First Attempt in Learning. Life certainly would have been easier if I had recognized previously that my failures were simply stepping- stones to transformation.

After shutting down We R’ Moms I asked myself, now what? I read books, took classes from spiritual teachers and learned to meditate. I’ve always been an attentive student ever since my teachers as a young one paid attention to me. Teachers to me are heroes. My parents did the best they could, but let’s just say as Maya Angleou would, “If they knew better, they would do better.” They had their hands full with my older schizophrenic brother, the Jewish boy who fell short of his own capabilities. They’re all dead now, May they rest in Peace.

I had just taken my first class with Jean Houston a world-renown teacher (I’ve had six now). She’s known as the “Mother of Human Potential,” who presidents of countries come to for advice.

The class was called “Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,” and in Israel, I believe I did.

In the Hero’s Journey the person encounters conflicts and challenges. I think bombs exploding in the air above us and cowering in bomb shelters covers this. We still saw incredible places, but had to run to bomb shelters six times. For Israelis, this is nothing new, just another day at the office but for this middle-class Jewish mom, let’s just say I’m glad I brought lots of panties to change into.

The only time they altered our itinerary was when we were supposed to go to the Air Force Museum. If the alarms went off when we were out there looking at the planes (like the week before, oops), there would be no place for us to run and hide, just under the wings of the planes which really wouldn’t be too effective.

When I was there, I had been reading the Diary of Anne Frank and felt the need to also document the craziness that was happening and I was sending out emails to family and friends at home which worked out fortuitous when writing my book…no need to rely on memory, it was all documented. Note to writers record, write, take notes, it doesn’t matter what you call it, do it.

One of my friends receiving my emails wrote back, “You’ve got to write a book!” At the time I didn’t think twice about it, I was worried about staying alive and convincing my husband that it was time to be sipping wine and chomping on baguettes in Paris (our next stop after Israel).

In the Hero’s Journey, the person has to rise to the occasion either alone or with the help of an ally or mentor. On our trip, I’d say my partner was Iron Dome (Israel’s anti-missile defense system) that blew up the Palestinian missiles in the sky, preventing them from landing and harming Israelis. It became my new B.F.F. (Best Friend Forever). During the time period we were there, Israelis weren’t dying nor were they injured because of Iron Dome, a fact that when compared to the number of Palestinians that died and were injured has caused a propaganda nightmare ever since.

When I returned home from our trip I was reeling from what we had experienced, the truth I learned about the conflict and confused by what I heard on the news. Israel was portrayed as a maniacal bully whose only goal was to kill Palestinians and I knew that this wasn’t the reality I had seen. The old news expression, if it bleeds it leads seemed to hold true.

Israel was defending itself and forewarned the Palestinians before they blew up the tunnels from where the Palestinians were sending rockets into Israel — yet the Palestinian leaders told their people to stay and die as martyrs. Horrific — their people being treated like human commodities seeming to mean more to them dead than alive!

The rest of the world, including the U.S. demanded that Israel use restraint. I wondered what the U.S. would do if Mexico was launching bombs at San Diego daily. Restraint my a__! Yet Israel does, because they must…but to a point, and then they take their gloves off. However I also did wonder why were the Palestinians shooting rockets? But that story would be for another day, not then.

In the hero’s journey there is a “Call to Adventure.” Well we certainly had that in both our trip and later as my friend’s suggestion to write a book, gnawed at me.

And then the “Refusal of the Call.” For me that was both on our trip and when deciding whether I should write my book.

I wanted to refuse the call. I wanted to leave and head for safer pastures. But my family and friends weren’t cooperating. They believed the tour guide mantra, “We’ll never take you into harm’s way,”… whoops. Still, I don’t think they’d give us our money back.

As far as writing a book, what did I know about that? But I felt strongly that the story had to be told — Israel the country I loved, our homeland was being blamed and defamed and why? In today’s world everyone wants short answers, never looking beyond the two line texts for meaning.

Thankfully, leaving Israel aligned with our itinerary and everyone on the trip by the time we left had had enough and wanted to leave.

As far as writing the book, I set out to learn how to do the best job I could. For the craft of writing I took classes, read, studied and I attended a memoir class held by an award winning teacher and author, Maralys Wills. Not only did she read my manuscript but the others in the class, many who were also published authors provided written feedback.

For publishing the book, I hired publishing experts whose combined experience was more than 100 years in the field so I felt like my heartfelt story was in good hands.

I attended writers’ conferences and fell in love with other writers — so much so that I started Writers4Writers, an online writers’ support group.

I learned authors needed audiences, so I started PennySTee.com. Here I once again had a website! Eckhart Tolle talks about people being caught on the hamster wheel of repeated patterns and advises you should choose to get it right and shorten your unpleasant path. I’m still learning and am hoping to get it right this time.

I learned that speaking was how authors got the word out for both their message and their book, so I joined Toastmasters to get speech presentation practice and received coaching from James Malinchak, one of the best speaking and marketing coaches who is recognized as one of the most requested, in-demand business and motivational keynote speakers and business marketing consultants in the world.

Finally to me, my triumph and elixir is how my life has changed. Today the transformative impact of our adventure, scared for our lives from Palestinian missiles soaring our direction, is apparent.

I’ve written my book that will be released in January, I blog about what I learned — the conflict and Peace and I’m a speaker for the Jewish National Fund. I even have my own online writers’ support group, Writers4Writers. No one would recognize my life today with what it was before we left on our trip and I believe I’ve found my life’s purpose.

I’m hoping to be the next over-night success that took five years+ in the making — really a life-time. The missiles made me want to work on Peace. Yet while writing my book, I realized I had been working on Peace all of my life, but it had been internal.

I felt like I had won the brass ring when Michael Ashley and the rest of the attendees at Publishers and Writers of Orange County agreed that my story fit the bill as matching the “Hero’s Journey.” Who knows? Mr. Ashley said there might even be an opportunity for a movie…I’ll let you know what happens.

As always, I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…

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