Friday, January 30, 2015

Playing in the mud

A little boy wanted to go outside to play. It had been raining for two days, keeping him cooped up inside. When the sun finally came out, he asked his mommy if he could go play. She responded, “You can, but stay out of the mud. Your aunt is coming over for dinner tonight.”

Delighted that he was finally free to get out of the house, the little boy rushed outside. Not long after, he came across his friends. They were making mud pies—and it looked like a lot of fun. But then he remembered what his mommy had said. He didn’t want to get muddy. After thinking for a moment, he came up with a solution.

The boy sat at the edge of the muddy area and watched. Every once in a while, his friends would ask for help, or tell him it would be okay if he only used his hands—after all, his hands were easy enough to clean before dinner.

Throughout the afternoon, the boy stayed on the edge, never fully going in. At the same time, he reached in with his hands, scooped up the mud, and pushed it around to make it form mud pies. No matter how hard he tried, the mud pies did not turn out quite the way he wanted, and his hands got muddier than he thought they would become.

With the sun starting to set, the little boy heard his mother call him for dinner. He stood, said goodbye to his friends, and rushed home. Instead of going inside, he went to the garden hose to wash off his hands.

The mud from his hands got on the faucet as he turned it on. Still, the clean, clear water came out the end of the hose. Knowing he was already late for dinner, the boy cleaned off his hands the best he could, and then went inside.

When his mother saw him, she gasped. The boy wasn’t sure why until he looked down and noticed that despite his best efforts, small spots of mud had splattered on his clothes.

“You played in the mud, didn’t you?” she asked.

“But I didn’t. Not really. I just sat on the edge and reached in with my hands. And I cleaned them off? See?” He showed her his hands. While they were mostly clean, there was dirt under his fingernails.

The mother then knelt down and looked the little boy in the eye. In a soft tone, she said, “Sweetheart, the best way to stay clean is to keep away from the mud the best you can.”

I’ve been thinking about this parable a lot recently. There is so much in the world which is negative. Every time I pull up the latest news stories, there is account after account of all the bad that is happening in the world.

When I worked in the TV news industry, over the course of the years, I realized that focusing on the negative all the time was impacting me personally. I was becoming a negative person—focusing a lot on all the little things that I thought were wrong, and in the process, losing sight on the important good things in life.

I found that when I got home from work, I would focus on all the little, negative things: the kids left a mess in the basement, dinner was late, there were clothes that needed to be folded on the bed—and so on and so on. Never mind that my wife was actually a superstar and home all day with our four young daughters. I was losing sight of all the wonderful things in my life because I was focusing my attention on the wrong things.

Even though I’ve left the TV world behind, and I’ve worked hard to focus on the positive things in life, I can still get bogged down time and again with some negative aspect which affects my whole mood.

I’ve learned that while my family isn’t perfect, there is a lot to love about them. They make me happy. Sure, there are things that come up which can cause stress, or even make me question certain things, but I found that if I focus too much on these elements, I’m missing out on the bigger, more wonderful blessings I have.

And it makes sense. After all, how long would my marriage last if all I did was look for faults in my wife? (Granted, she’s remarkable and it would really take some effort to find faults. She is human, though, and humans are not perfect.) Even if I could force my wife to change things I thought were “wrong,” unless I changed from focusing on the negative, I would constantly be unhappy.

Yes, sometimes bad things happen; I’ll get some mud on me. But I’ve learned that that happens less often if I stay away from the mud pit.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Words have power

“I love you” are powerful words. So are “once upon a time” and “the end.” If you were to change just one word in those phrases, the meaning can shift dramatically. “I hate you” means something quite different than “I love you.”

The meaning of a singular word can be very powerful. Take for example when I worked in banking. Our leaders would call us each day and we, as managers, would have to “commit” to a certain number of items sold that day—like checking accounts, savings accounts, loans, and so on. Seriously.

I really struggled with this approach because I have always tried to be the type of person who does what he says he will do. The word “commitment” can be defined as “a promise to do or give something.” To me, I can commit to do things which I can control—like washing my hands after using the bathroom. But how could I honestly promise to open a checking account for someone I had yet to meet? I couldn’t. What I could do is promise to talk to everyone about checking account options and invite them to open an account. But could I force them to do it? No. Pressure them? Yes.

At the end of the day, we would have to report on how we did. If I said we didn’t open the amount of checking accounts I “committed” to in the morning, my boss would then phrase it as, “But you committed to opening more! Why didn’t you?”

See where this is headed? It became an ethical issue—all because of a singular word.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with another word. This one? “Assignment.”

As a college English teacher, I have a goal each semester: To give meaningful assignments which help the students learn and discover. I am not a fan of “busy work.” Because I’m the teacher, I have the authority to give assignments which the students need to fulfill to earn credit for the class.

Some students complain about the work load. My response? “You signed up for this class, and these assignments are part of the class.”

However, just because I have a position of authority does not give me the right to assign whatever I want. I can’t assign students to wash my car, or bring me lunch each day. In the end, each student has the right to choose which assignments to do. The tough part for a student is standing up and saying, “I’m not doing that assignment because I didn’t agree to do that. Just because you are the teacher, and have authority, doesn’t mean you have the right to make any assignments you want.”

To be fair to teachers, many of them have good intentions, but overreach with their authority. I understand that. We’re all human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we can really want to do something good, and still make mistakes.

For example, my students are required to write four major papers over the course of the semester. The hardest of the papers (in my opinion) is the argumentative paper because it requires at least three credible sources and needs to be at least three pages long.

I could, instead, give them the assignment to write a 30 page paper with at least 50 credible sources. After all, more is better, right? But that wouldn’t be effective to freshmen taking their first college English class.

My issue with the word “assignment” comes from one of its definitions: “a specified task or amount of work assigned or undertaken as if assigned by authority.”

In other aspects of my life, I’ve been receiving more “assignments” from those in a position of authority. While I have no doubt that their intentions are good, the challenge comes from the fact that the nature of the context in which these assignments are given can be somewhat at odds with free will.

Let me use a metaphor: I agree to work for a company where I am allowed to work from home. I agree to perform certain tasks within a certain time, yet I have the freedom of completing these tasks when and where I choose. 

Now, let’s say someone in authority somewhere up the chain of command decides something specific needs to be done at a certain time and at a certain place. Because they have authority, they give me an “assignment” to do it as they want it done.

Perhaps the work is something I would be doing anyway, and most likely willingly, because I agreed to work for that company—with the understanding the job let me choose. If that choice is taken away, then part of the fundamental aspect of the job has changed.

Maybe it is human nature, or maybe it is just me, but being forced to do something, even if that something is good, isn’t nearly as rewarding as deciding as an individual to perform an action on their own because it is the right thing to do.

I’m sure in a few years I’ll find another word with which I’ll take an issue. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard of being a writer and an English teacher.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

One author, different audiences

I’ve come to something of a dilemma when it comes to my writing. I’m keenly aware of my intended audience with each work I compose. In doing so, I’ve come to realize that my audience is different for each book. The problem this creates is that not everyone who reads one of my books may enjoy all of them.

Let me explain.

I am of the firm belief that if a writer is bored when they are writing, the work will be boring to read. At different points in my life, what interests me (as a writer) changes. For better or worse, I don’t believe I could churn out book after book that would fit in my Bariwon series. That’s one reason I wrote The Mirror of the Soul between books two and three of that series. At the time, I was more interested in that story than any others.

And then I went down a completely different path and wrote two books in first person. These books (Wall of Faith and Bring Down the Rain) were more simplistic in approach, both in the language used as well as the method in storytelling.

Whereas my other books used third person, and the stories unfolded through various points of view, my last two were more linear in nature—things happened in a specific order as told by one character.

This is perhaps over generalizing, but reading a book with multiple characters and told from more than one point of view requires more from the reader. They actually have to pay attention.

In a recent review of one of my books, the reader wrote, “I could not wrap my mind around what was happening.” Keep in mind that a different review of the same book stated, “This is a great allegorical tale of depth and a critical understanding of the human condition that transcends time and space.”

I could become discouraged and elect to keep my writing more simplistic so that I don’t confuse people who aren’t willing to invest the time or energy in understanding what is going on. This is what I’m struggling with at the moment. One of the books I’m working on uses more complex language and concepts. While I’m writing, a little voice inside my head keeps telling me, “The people who liked Wall of Faith and Bring Down the Rain won’t get this.”

And then I remind myself, “I’m not writing it for them. I’m writing it for the people who enjoy this kind of story.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Content of their character

One of my heroes is Martin Luther King, Jr. Here is a person who saw an injustice, and acted. It wasn’t easy for him or his family, and in the end he lost his life for what he believed in. I think one of the best ways to sum up what he fought for is reflected in this quote from his famous, “I have a dream” speech:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Though much has changed since he spoke those words, we, in America, are not living in that nation—and it isn’t only one group’s fault.

During recent events, I’ve been dismayed time and time again when news reports open with “a person with a certain colored skin did this to a person with different colored skin.” To me, that’s in direct conflict to what Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted. By including race as part of the act, I believe this actually propagates racism.

To be clear, I think there is a difference between being proud of one’s culture and showing honor to one’s ancestors, and racism.

Here’s a definition of racism that helps prove this point (notice the part I put in italics): “Racism: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

I’ve had the chance to meet and work with people from all sorts of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs, including those who are similar to my own. Without question, many of the people I’ve met were awesome. They were good people who acted nicely towards others. And then, there were those who were jerks. Interestingly enough, I’ve never found the jerks to be isolated to a certain race or belief system.

Yet there are those who identify themselves as members of a certain race who feel like they are being treated unjustly, and often for good reason.

However, what would Martin Luther King, Jr. say to those who react to perceived injustice with violence and hatred? What does it say about a person’s character when they burn down businesses because they feel their race has been slighted? What does it say about a person who doesn’t promote an individual because of the color of their skin?

What does it say about you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Angels from their Realms of Story

I’m delighted to announce that my short story “Winter Wonderland” has been included in an anthology of Christmas stories, just in time for the season!

This is the third in a series of anthologies where there are 25 stories—one for each day in December leading up to Christmas.

What makes this really cool is that each story is based on a Christmas Carol. I’ve been fortune enough to participate in each of the three releases.

This year, I chose the song “Winter Wonderland” and had a lot of fun with it.

What makes this anthology really special is that the proceeds go to charity!

The book is available in both print and ebook formats. Clickhere for more information.

And Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The students said what?

Earlier this autumn, I was invited to speak at a middle school in Raleigh as a visiting author. These types of visits are a lot of fun, and inspirational. I find that I’m more motivated to work on my own books after helping students get excited about writing.

I recently received a package in the mail which was filled full of thank you letters from the students. It was a sweet gesture from the teacher, and the students.

Each of the letters thanked me for coming to the school, and then shared at least one thing they liked about the presentation. The letters were very sweet and flattering. Of course, when dealing with middle school students, you can never be sure what they will write.

Here are some of the parts that stood out to me from the letters:

“Thank you for telling us how to make a story and how to make people read it.”

“Your advice helped me a lot when I was revising my paper. (I think I made it 50% better.)”

“I used to hate reading and writing, but you helped me see reading and writing is fun.”

“That was my first time meeting an author. You are the best and funniest author I have ever met. Well, it is more like the only author I have ever met.”

“Can you put me in your next book? Make me a bad person though.”

“You gave me the inspiration to write a book. It will be about a girl named Elizabeth and how she started in middle school.”

“My dream is to become a famous writer. Maybe we can even write a book together.”

“My favorite part … I didn’t have any because I loved all of it.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bring Down the Rain blog tour

I’m delighted to announce that my latest book, Bring Down the Rain, is part of a blog tour!

What is this book about? Here’s a short description:

“Starting at a new high school is hard, especially as a senior. At age 17, Derek moves with his family from North Carolina to Utah. Derek learns about the unwritten laws of dating in Utah, and that his mom and dad have a history at his new school—a history that threatens his future.

Set in 1986, Bring Down The Rain is a story of loss, grief, redemption, hope, and making life altering choices.”

Here are some of the reviews that have already come in:

“A very refreshing read with the plot being centered around a subject that is clearly important to this writer.  Readers will appreciate the diversity in the experiences of each character while difficult decisions are presented in how to deal with them.  Derek and Tiffany not only support each other but are able to impart wisdom and insight while demonstrating key ideas like sacrifice and integrity to work through choices that many will be able to relate to.

Morgan has successfully completed another moving, compelling and satisfying novel by advocating on topics that don’t come across as overly persuading or lecturing. Bring Down the Rain is an unforgettable and extraordinary book that is highly recommended for readers of all ages.  If this is your first by Morgan, you will not be let down or disheartened when finished.  A clever and witty story that will leave you wishing for more!” –The Book

“Morgan writes with an easygoing manner that is obviously influenced by his keen sense of time gained from being a television director. Couple that trait with a natural gift for communication of difficult moral issues, blend with a fine sense of comedy, and a (probable) firsthand experience at dealing with the atmosphere and philosophy of Utah and the result is a well written, entertaining, and uplifting book.” –Grady Harp, top 100 reviewer for

As part of the blog tour, I’m giving away two copies of my first book, The Hidden Sun. To enter, simply follow the directions below. And good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway