It has taken me a very long time to learn what I believe is the best technique for writing.  I really wasn’t looking for it, but I’ve been terribly sporadic in my “writing career”–years without doing any creative work at all at times–and complaining that the only writing I was doing was for my teaching jobs.  Curriculum and lesson plans and all the administrivia of the job ate up my creative juices and my time.

That was my excuse.

The technique I’ve learned?  Some. time. every. single. day. WRITE!  Even if I don’t put down a word, I think about what I’m writing or want to write.  I get quite a bit of my inspiration while on the treadmill or driving cross country.

I’ve learned to do research that is relevant to stories I’m telling.  Preparation for fiction by looking into reality helps.  Sarah Orne Jewett told Willa Cather to “write what you know.”  Even when writing about places I’ve lived for years or visited often, a little research helps ground my descriptions.  I’ve discovered that I don’t know as much as I’ve thought about some of my subjects–weather, geography, fashions, language–all sorts of the details that are the color of my fictional worlds.  I look at topographical maps for information about the terrain; I check the time and distance from one place to another (is the character walking, driving, going by train?) and the different routes possible.  I might even look for a video that shows the landscape, or visit a zoo or safari park to get a good look at an animal I’m describing, or a botanical garden literally to smell the roses…or some more exotic flora.  Talking to people who do the jobs I’m trying to describe can provide all kinds of interesting tidbits for description and jargon.

Sensory details are important, too.  I find myself writing the visual description easily, but remembering to include (when relevant) the smells, tastes, touch, and sounds of the environment (or characters) makes it more real.  At times I do a revision, or multiple revisions, just to add one or more sensory descriptions.

One of the hardest things I try to do is tell the story through dialogue.  I was constantly telling my Creative Writing students to “Show.  Don’t tell!”  I rely on several readers to help me keep my dialogue as real as possible.  Dialogue tags are important, too.  A first draft might be one “she said” or “he said” after another, but changing the “said” to some other verb and adding descriptive modifiers (e.g., “haltingly,” “desperately,” “with a sneer”) are the stage directions of narrative.

Narrative means that time is passing.  How long does it take to do a certain task?  What was happening during the year(s) the story is taking place?  Are you sure of the dates?  It’s too easy to look up calendars on the Internet to be sloppy about the details.

All of this puts me more directly into the story I am developing.  In fact, the more I get into a story, the more it tends to tell itself.

The biggest problem in all of this?  Sleep.  My characters are keeping me awake at night.  The story isn’t finished, and they want me to tell it.

This reflection helps, too, just as having someone to talk to about the writing helps.  Trying to explain a character, a plot line, a dilemma to someone else is one way to grow the story and solve problems.

So thanks for “listening” to my writing.

DrDan 04-02-2018

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A Novel Approach

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember (OK, the older I get, the shorter THAT time seems to be!).  When I was in high school, I even earned an award for Creative Writing and an essay contest that won me a trip to Washington, DC.  My college Creative Writing teacher thought I was pretty good.  I wrote quite a bit then.  Then I got married, my first teaching job, my sons were born, two advanced degrees….  I wrote only sporadically.  Usually just short poetry.  Maybe a couple a year.

What was I expecting?  What did I think being a writer entailed?  Oh, sure.  I read all sorts of books from famous writers on the craft and the publishing nightmare.  I suppose I thought “being a writer” was just writing and being published and making a living doing it.  A good living.  Famous even.

Not happening.

When I retired after my wife died, I wrote for many reasons.  It felt good.  It gave me purpose.  I liked being productive and creative.  I tried different things.  I made myself write something every day for a while and produced quite a bit, and short stories and essays as well as poetry.  With the new wave of self-publishing possibilities available with the computer age, I even published a book of the poetry (Dandelions and Other Flowers) I had written over forty years or so.  Haven’t made a dime.  Enjoyed getting it done, though.  And I decided I could honestly call myself a writer.

Writing a long short story (The Wolves of Evanheir) convinced me that I could even write a novel.  I have a great idea (I think), and I started working on it in 2013 or 14.  Then a funny thing happened.  I got married again.  I got happy again.  Both of my sons are married and they have four children between them.  My new wife has three daughters and six grandchildren.  The ten of them range in age from four to twenty-four.  Guess what we’re doing?

But…I started writing again last fall.  Seriously.  Seriously writing.  This winter and spring it’s intensified.  The story keeps pulling at me.  The characters keep shouting that they’re not finished and want out!  The ideas keep coming…because I keep writing.

It’s always been the best advice I’ve ever heard or read, and it’s the best advice I ever gave to my own students when they said they couldn’t think of anything to write.  “Write!”  It doesn’t matter what.  Just write.

So I’m writing about writing on this page.  I spent about four hours on the novel this afternoon.  I need to leave it alone to percolate for a while.  I’ll be back at it tomorrow, probably.  No.  It really isn’t a “novel approach.”  It’s almost cliche.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write.  You don’t even have to publish anything.  Writers write because they really don’t have a choice not to do so.  Even if they’re the only ones who read what they’ve written, they have to write.

Call yourself a writer?  Only if you’re writing.

Sometime this year you may get a chance to read my novel.  I first have to see where it’s going from here…and write it down.

Good luck.

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We have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Olympic games this year. I have always marveled at any athletic competition and how people push themselves to test their limits and discover what the human body is capable of doing. I’ve done some of that myself.

I knew from a young age that I was never going to be a “star” athlete, but my mindset has always been that my toughest competition is myself, so I’ve constantly tried to push myself to achieve a new Personal Best—PB. The coverage of the Games, ever since they were first televised, has been focused on the most popular sports and athletes. Streaming media has made it possible to watch even some of the least known, but Prime Time continues to focus on the big names and the sports most people wish to watch. So…we see a few dozen athletes out of the thousands participating.

The interviews of those achieving the medal stand, however, at least the ones I’ve heard, have been stories of athletes striving for gold, but for the most part just wanting to achieve that PB. The comments I’ve appreciated most have been those that say they are honored to be participating, they have been impressed by their teammates’ achievements, they have made great friends from other countries and have cheered them on to their own Personal Best attempts.

Eighteen days of glorying in human athletic achievement and potential and peace. Sure the “agony of defeat” has played out, but those consoling the athletes who have given their all and not “won” a medal have been competitors from other countries as well as teammates.

We all have our ups and downs. The older I’ve become—itself an achievement, a daily Personal Best!—the more often I have to adjust my expectations. I used to run ten miles a day. Now I can’t run at all but walk as much as possible. Once I could ski all day long and party into the night. Now I get in a few hours and look for the liniment. But I strive for my Personal Best in whatever I’m doing, whether it’s an athletic endeavor, a new hobby (still working on the guitar), taking care of my family, dealing with all of the people in my life.

I do love a PB&J—Peanut Butter and Jelly. What I love even more is a Personal Best because every one brings me Joy.

I hope you get lots of PB&J in your life, too.

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“The State of Our Union”

Here is my perspective today…

Almost three years ago we decided to ally our separate states and form a more perfect union. We took up arms against our discord, grief, anguish, and sorrow and vowed to one another to govern our lives with peace and love and mutual support.

In this short time our individual natures have grown and flourished. We have solved health care issues. Our economy is safe and secure. Dependents have also found stability and happiness and their futures and ours look bright.

Affiliated friends of our union seem to approve of their continued association and we share mutual admiration and support for one another. The harmony within our borders shines a beneficial light on life in general.

We do not anticipate aggression from any quarter. We endeavor to improve our physical health in order to enjoy the benefits of life and society and stave off attacks of illness. Through wise administration and oversight, our economic wellbeing satisfies all our needs and allows for not only those necessities but pleasant luxuries, as well.

Our “open arms” policy allows the free immigration of new friends and acquaintances who continue to benefit our state. We learn from them, grow from knowing them, and have even received life-affirming and physical improvement from our association with some of them. There are no walls between us.

A secure infrastructure and sound fiscal policies allow us to plan for a future of continued peace and love and exciting adventures. We hope to reach out and explore new territories, to reach beyond what we have known and experiment in the arts, science, technology, and travel, and grow in our relationships with our dependents and all those allied with us.

The future is bright. We awake each day anticipating joy, depending on one another’s love and support, and embracing whatever life brings us because we meet every challenge, face every obstacle, and celebrate every success in our state of perfect union.

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“Once There Was a Zoo—A Fable”

Once there was a zoo. People like zoos. They like to watch the animals and reptiles and fish and birds and get to know about the animals that inhabit our world.

This particular zoo, however, was special. It had only two animals: a grey old pachyderm and a jackass.

It was a novelty. People came to see these two unlikely sharers of the same compound. They would watch as the zookeepers fed the elephant and the donkey and clean up after them. Piles and piles of food went in; piles and piles…went out. The noise could be deafening. The donkey hee-hawed night and day. The elephant’s bugling could be heard for miles. It was a cacophony; an odiferous din.

The elephant and the donkey usually just stood there and consumed everything they were given, and then passed it along to their handlers when they were finished with it. Those watching seemed only to watch.   After observing several years of this give and take in the paddock, however, they got tired of the same old…excrement and effluvia. The crowds dwindled.

Actually, those onlookers had decided they were not merely tired of watching and waiting for something to happen; they gathered together and decided that unless the jackass and pachyderm could make themselves useful—or at least entertaining—at various sites, on one special day, new beasts should be procured to replace them. The populace wanted more than waste and trumpeting and braying.

In the meantime, the zookeepers were put on notice. They needed to become more useful and efficient and ethical, or they would be fired and then prosecuted for their corrupt behavior. It was no secret that they had been feeding the elephant and donkey food of poor quality, lacking in proper nutrients and healthful supplements. They had convinced the two creatures of their own importance, and that it was not necessary that they perform any service to the populace. In fact, they had trained the jackass and the pachyderm that their offal was not only expected but appreciated.

Nothing changed. The day came. At polls across the country the people came in the thousands. The counting began. The next day the trumpeting and the braying were louder than ever. The difference was that both sounds seemed sorrowful, and as the day wore on, the noise faded. Eventually those harsh, discordant notes were replaced by the new animals the people had chosen.

The cooing of doves is quite soothing.





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“March On!”

Today was the “Second Annual” Women’s March. I’ve seen photos of HUUUGGE crowds all across the country. Some news outlets are describing these as protests of President Trump and the current administration and their policies. I am quite aware that they are actually simply demonstrations of a movement similar to the suffrage marches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Britain and the United States. Even those were not merely focused on gaining the right to vote, although that was the immediate aim. Those early demonstrations and these current ones are, I believe (and have seen commentary to support my opinion), gatherings of women—and men—to show the world and other women that women have their own voices, that they are a powerful force to be reckoned with, that they are finally going to take their places in society and no longer wait patiently for a seat at the table. Damn. It’s about time!

I have never understood why the “other half” (probably the better half) of humanity has been denied so much. Psychologists and biologists and anthropologists and apologists have for centuries been explaining why women are—and according to many of them should be—second class citizens, or even non-citizens. I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s my belief in the Romantic notion of “Might for Right” and not “Might Is Right.” Just because most men are more physically powerful than women and can physically suppress them does not give them the right (and not just in their relationship with women) to put them down. I hate bullies. I got in so many fights as a kid because some bully was picking on someone weaker. Got my ass kicked most of the time since they tend to have groups to support their cowardice.

Why, though, has “civilization” denied half the population? I’m not even going into race or religion or any of the other groups that have been discriminated against. Just think of the female side of it. How many times has the woman with the key to world peace been silenced? Or the woman with the cure for cancer? Or the woman with the clue that unlocks anti-gravity or faster-than-light travel?

It has been my privilege to know hundreds of incredibly intelligent and talented women, and I have been even more fortunate to have fallen in love with and be loved by two of the most amazing women I have ever been lucky enough to meet. Just those two have given the world five children—two men and three women—who are unbelievable parents, artists, socially conscientious and powerful advocates, proponents of peace and love, and examples of the promise of the future.

I taught for more than forty years at the high school and college levels. I have known female students who were then and are now more important and powerful and significant to the world than I can ever hope to be. Despite that, they are hindered at every turn by corporate “glass ceilings” and societal mores and historical barriers that prevent them from achieving all that might be possible, or at least possible as easily or as soon as their male peers might achieve similar goals. Some of those students have chosen life paths that they didn’t really want, or did not choose career paths in which they might have become “all they could be” merely because those paths were not open to them.

Today women marched to show the nation and the world that they’re not going to be silent any longer. They’re not going to be held down. The #MeToo movement and some of the horrific abuse scandals that are being revealed lately are also paths women are marching today. Their voices are strong individually, but together they are loud enough to drown out the thousands of years of “No!” I remember Helen Reddy—I can hear the roar.

What really pleases me is that the women are not marching alone. They are accompanied by their young daughters—and their sons—and many of their husbands and boyfriends and men they don’t even know.

March on. Please. March on.



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Beside a Mountain Stream

I always seem to be more myself in the mountains. It doesn’t matter what the season might be. The deep snows of winter afford me my favorite pastime and I look for every chance I get to ski. Spring is a short time, as is Autumn. One is full of the most beautiful flowers (and mud). The other is a stunning palette of gold and green and red (and mud). Summer, short as it is, presents the Rockies in all of their purple majesty, and hiking through the valleys and up the steep slopes to dizzying vistas is always exhilarating.

Whatever the season may be, there is always something new to see—wildlife and wildflowers and trees and clouds and lakes and streams. I do love mountain streams. The Snake River runs nearby our second home here. We wander along its banks or sit beside it and listen to its conversation with the mountain.

A nice walking path follows the Snake for a few miles and we walk it quite often. We meet many fellow walkers, and joggers, and bicyclists and sometimes they stop to chat. Always part of the conversation is “Where is your home?” Hardly anyone is actually a native. We call ourselves “part-time locals.” Quite often we’re asked for directions or recommendations.

We find ourselves stopping all along the river just to sit and watch it move along its course. Some places have deep pools; a quick bend might create a shallow eddy; a tumble of boulders offers a noisy cascade. Now and then we will catch a glimpse of a quick brown flash or even get a few moments to watch a trout lazily sweep its tail in the current before darting away. Among the human footprints we might find the tracks of a fox or moose or even a bear.

The seasonal changes along the stream are like costumes at a masquerade. We have photographed and tried to identify hundreds of mountain flowers and watched them change from early spring to fall. The trees offer the same challenges although there aren’t nearly as many different types. The birds are always fun. Crows are ubiquitous. Mountain Jays offer a note more shrill to join the cawing. A real prize is sighting a mountain blue bird flitting among the aspen and firs. In the Midwest we laugh at the squirrels and their antics. Here the chickarees are as much fun.

I can sit for hours beside a mountain stream and listen to its music, watch it swirl and tumble over and around the rocks, enjoy the flowers and trees that grow along its banks, wonder in amazement at the animals that come to it. I think about the snowpack higher up the mountain that is the source of the waters and the centuries that have passed with its constant rushing to carve the path that carries it away. In the short time I have been here I have seen it change over and over with the seasons. It is a rushing torrent sweeping away everything in its way from early May to late June; a burbling freshet in August and September that I can walk across in most places; and in mid-winter it plays hide-and-seek under the ice and snow, peeking out in pools where the sunlight gives it an opening or slipping down growing icicles in the steep drops.

But always it is the river. Beside it, I am me.

At the mountaintop, even before the river begins, I stand and look out over the world and enjoy what I see no matter how it changes. It is a limited perspective, of course. I only see what I can see, but I also see what I choose to see, and I can come down from the mountaintop and see the river and the forests and the flowers and the animals much closer and more closely. I know the closer I get to the village the more likely it is that I will see the detritus of human existence.

I have waded in the waters, pushed against the current, and I have yelled with delight while crashing otter-like over a Class IV rapid. I have struggled through the chest-deep snows and swooped down the mountainside like a stooping eagle.

You figure out the metaphors. I do live in this world and I am conscious of the tragedies and the triumphs on all levels because I choose to be a thinking person. I choose to be myself.

One of my favorite descriptions comes from a woman who is one of this country’s great writers and least heard voices. When I first read these words, my breath caught. Here they are quite out of context, I suppose, except that I love the independence they express. Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “… I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.”


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