Memory Lane and Writing Ideas

13 Mar

I was trying to explain to a young friend the other day what a party line was; she had no clue what I was talking about when I told her my earliest memory of a telephone was picking it up and listening to the neighbors have a conversation. She thought that was the strangest thing she had ever heard and, looking back, I guess it was pretty strange indeed.

Same neighborhood, everyone knew everyone’s name, they all looked out for each other’s kids . . . I remember having the flu one time, I must have been six or seven, and neighbors stopping by with comic books they had bought for me . . . can you imagine that happening in a neighborhood now?  Heck, I remember our family doctor making house calls after his office hours were over.  Old Doc Larkin, good man, kind man, cared deeply about his patients, pulling up to our house in his Chevy, carrying his black medical bag, just stopping by to make sure little Billy was okay.

Random memories . . . black and white television, rabbit ears, aluminum foil on those ears for better reception . . . but before that the big radios in a cabinet, listening to serials, the whole family gathered around the radio, laughing at Jack Benny . . . yes, I’m that old!

My grandparents had a recorder with a microphone . . . we would all sing songs and it would record on a 78 phonograph . . . great fun!

Trick or Treating with friends, carrying pillow cases, walking for miles, two, three pillow cases of candy.

Riding our bikes all over Tacoma, Washington, no parental warnings other than get our butts back home before dark.

I never knew anyone who owned a gun.  My friends, their fathers, all vets of World War 2, but no guns in any house; no need for them, really, left the windows open at night, doors unlocked, middle of a city of 120,000 people, no fear at all.  That all changed in 1960 when a little girl by the name of Ann Marie Burr disappeared one night . . . evil had visited our neighborhood.  She was never found, snatched from her bedroom, chubby cheeks and a warm smile.

The point of all this:  writers never lack for something to write about.  Plumb the depths of your memory.  Allow your muse to ransack your brain for writing ideas. They are all there waiting for you, the ghosts of the past, friendly like Caspar and malicious like a screaming banshee.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Powerful and Meaningful

6 Mar



They can be so damned powerful, or they can just be a collection of letters unique only in their mundane nature.

Let me share the lyrics from a song titled “Ghosts” by the late, great songwriter Dan Fogelberg.

Sometimes, in the night I feel it
Near as my next breath
and yet, untouchable
Silently the past comes stealing
Like the taste of some forbidden sweet

Along the walls; in shadowed rafters
Moving like a thought through haunted atmospheres
Muted cries and echoed laughter
Banished dreams that never sank in sleep

Lost in love and found in reason
Questions that the mind can find no answers for
Ghostly eyes conspire treason
As they gather just outside the door…

Every ghost that calls upon us
Brings another measure in the mystery
Death is there
To keep us honest
And constantly remind us we are free

Down the ancient corridors
And through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of days
That we left behind


Unbelievable!  I have listened to that song now for thirty-five years and I still get goose-bumps when I hear it because of those powerful words.  The same is true of some books I’ve read.  No matter how many times I read them, they still manage to fill me with awe.


How many speeches have you heard in your lifetime? I would venture to guess I’ve heard hundreds, if not one thousand, but there are only five, six, maybe seven I actually remember, and I remember those because of their unique words, their special phrasing, and yes, the way they deliver a particular message.


I know I risk sounding corny, but I believe writers have a responsibility to deliver a message, or deliver a story, or deliver a poem, in the most powerful way possible.

There is more than enough mundane in this world.

There is more than enough half-assed boring in this world.

What we need more of is meaningful and powerful.

Just a random thought from an old man.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”





And the Message Is . . . ?

27 Feb

childhood homeYou get to be my age, you spend a lot of time thinking about the “good old days.”

Truth be told, I’m not sure they were any better days than today’s days, but I think we always want to think things were “better” at one time or another, right?

I was thinking about the house I grew up in on North 18th Street in Tacoma, Washington.  We moved there when I was five.  I lived there until my mother remarried when I was twenty-four.  Almost twenty years in that home and yes, there are some great memories associated with it and yes, there are some painful memories as well.

I think when I was about eight or nine my dad put a basketball hoop in the back yard.  The hoop was attached to a sheet of plywood, and he attached the whole thing to the back porch.

Allow me to set the scene for you:  the basketball hoop attached to the back porch overhang, above the cement patio.  At each corner of that patio was a fruit tree.  I remember we had an apple tree, a plum, a peach, and a pear, and when that basketball hoop was originally hung those trees were maybe five years old and not an obstruction at all.

That changed with each ensuing year.  Each year saw more and more branches stretching skyward, sometimes at odd angles, so eventually it became necessary to either cut off some branches or learn to shoot the basketball around or over them.  I chose the latter.  I learned to shoot at odd angles.  I learned to shoot with a higher arc. And I learned trick shots which came in very handy when friends of mine would come over and we inevitably played competitive games like “Horse.”

I was practically unbeatable at home, the ultimate home court advantage, thanks to those four trees.

Yes, that all happened, but it could also be used as a metaphor for those of us who are writers and/or creative types.  The interesting thing about metaphors is they quite often mean different things to different people.

Think about it!  There’s no need for me to state the obvious to you very smart people.

Have a great week unless you’ve made other plans.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Choose Wisely

20 Feb

No talent there . . . or is there?

Let me take you back to 1957, the summer of my eighth year on this planet.  Our family took a road trip back to Charles City, Iowa, to see my dad’s family, a family he hadn’t seen in nine years since he and my mother had moved out west to Tacoma, Washington.

No freeways back then, just highway driving through small towns, across the Great Plains, over mountains, seeing the backroads of America in a Mercury, exciting stuff for me.

Charles City was magic for me in 1957.  My grandparents had a corn farm, shrunk since losing most of it in the Great Depression, but a farm nonetheless, and it was my first experience on a farm and I loved every minute of it.  Meeting all the relatives, marveling at the small town and how everyone knew everyone else, the majestic oaks and elms and lightning bugs at night, bullfrogs croaking, tractors and chickens and lemonade on the front porch . . . yes, magical indeed.

One of my uncles, Uncle Ike, was fairly famous in town for owning the only Vespa Motor Scooter.  He had it shipped from Europe following World War 2, and he was quite the sight in that farming community, puttering around town on that scooter, weaving in and out of pickup trucks, dodging tractors, a wiry man on a tiny purple scooter, and that wiry man would come to the farm each day and take me for a ride on that scooter, and I thought that was probably the coolest thing I had ever done.

Our rides would always end up at A & W where we would have either a root beer float or an ice cream cone, either one, every single day, Nirvana in Iowa, and I remember each visit to the A & W involving that one tough decision, float or ice cream cone, and Uncle Ike telling me I could only have one, so choose wisely.

It’s funny the things we remember, isn’t it?  Sixty years have passed and I still remember those words “choose wisely.”

And I remembered those words about four months ago when a very rich customer, a real estate entrepreneur in Fort Worth, Texas, asked me to fly down to Fort Worth to work on his next “inspirational business book,” as he put it.  He would pay for the airfare, of course, put me up in a hotel, and pay for my time down there while I interviewed people and discussed the parameters of the book with him.  All told it was probably going to be about a $10,000 windfall for me.

I turned him down.  It really came down to two choices: extra money or staying home with Bev and the animals.

“Choose wisely, Bill!”

I don’t need the money.  I do need Bev and the animals.

It turned out to be an easy choice.

Being in business involves choices and decisions.

Choose wisely!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”



Being Human

13 Feb

No talent there . . . or is there?

“Mom, how come Uncle Mike drinks so much?”

She looked at me for the longest time, probably deciding on how much a twelve-year old needed to know.  Skeletons, it seems, are usually retrieved from the closet one bone at a time.

“It’s because of the war, Bill.  Uncle Mike drinks too much because of the things he saw in World War 2.”

The initials PTSD were not spoken back in 1960.  Words like “shell-shocked” were more common, an ineffectual way to describe someone who has seen more than he was prepared to see . . . more than any human should ever see.

Uncle Mike eventually sobered up and lived the last twenty years of his life sober, the father of fifteen kids, a new car salesman in Torrance, California.  He had a great sense of humor, Uncle Mike did, and he was a gentle soul . . . I remember that clearly . . . and I also remember that years and years after that war ended, on occasion, Uncle Mike would hear a car backfire, or hear the loud clang of a garbage can lid, and he would get this blank look on his face, and just like that he was back in the countryside of France in full gear, wondering when a bullet with his name on it would finally relieve him of his fear.

I mention all this because I find human beings fascinating, each and every one of them, complex beings with the capacity to amaze, and as a writer I would be ignoring one of the great resources we all have at our disposal every day . . . our fellow travelers on this planet.

I think about Uncle Mike from time to time.  I wonder how many people asked that same question about me:  “Mom, how come Bill drinks so much?”  And the answer, really, is as complex and as simple as this:  Because I am, because we all are, human!

Have a great week of writing!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Construction, Baseball, and The Point

6 Feb

I learned what few carpentry skills I have by observation.

I literally stopped by a construction site (several as a matter of fact) and watched as a house was built from the ground up.

Foundation . . . framing . . . electrical and plumbing . . . walls and roof . . . finish work . . . finished product.

That’s how it’s done in construction.  You don’t begin with the finish work.   You don’t put a roof on without framing.  You don’t frame without a strong foundation.  You follow the order as it is listed above, and when you are done you have a solid building which will stand for years.

And that, too, is how it is done in the Arts!

A story with a similar message . . .

When I was about ten, I saw an advertisement for a Willie Mays baseball glove.  It was made of the finest leather, great product I’m sure, and the ad promised that you could play like Willie Mays with that glove.  So I waited for my dad to come home from work, and I told him I absolutely had to have a Willie Mays glove because it was going to make me a great baseball player.

No, Dad said, it’s not the glove that makes a great baseball player . . . it’s the player’s dedication and hard-work, plus some God-given talent.  The glove has nothing at all to do with it, he said.  Learn to play the game properly, practice hard, and then keep practicing.  If you do that, he said, it won’t make any difference what glove you have on your hand.  He told me when he was a kid, some pro ballplayers were barnstorming through the Midwest during the Great Depression, and several of them didn’t even have gloves, and they fielded balls like the pros they were.

Here’s the point . . .

Well, I have faith that you are smart enough to figure out the point.


Anyone remember an animated short movie by Harry Nielsen called “The Point” from mid-Eighties?

Anyway, have a great week!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Making Necessary Choices

30 Jan

The rain continues to fall.

Like a cow pissing on a flat rock.

Lovely image that, don’t you think?

You can thank my grandfather for that one.

I love similes.  They are like a secret lover on a lonely night.

I just did another one.  Isn’t this fun?

That was all very random.  Now on to the regularly scheduled program.

I dropped two customers last week from my freelance writing business.  One was consistently slow in paying. The other wanted me to set up a newsletter app for her, learn how to work that app, and then write the newsletter for her.  I explained I’m a writer, not a downloader, and I thanked her for her business.

It’s all about making choices when you are in business for yourself.  I don’t want the hassle of chasing down money owed to me, and I don’t want the headaches associated with learning new applications.  So I eliminated them both from my life.

Pretty simple, really!

I was talking to another gentleman last week about my rates.  He thought my rates were too high. I told him to have a good life.  My time is worth more than he believes it is, so our business relationship lasted all of five minutes.

Pretty simple, really!

Someone else wanted me to read ten of his articles and give him feedback/advice.  I told him no. I’m too busy to do that for free.  He was offended.  Too bad!  Good friends I will probably do that for; people who only know me as a name on the internet no, not a chance.

Pretty simple,really!

I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I thought I would share.

Have a great week!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Writing and Carpentry

23 Jan

I knew nothing about carpentry when I attempted to build my first shed.

It looked like it.

I’ve improved dramatically over the years.

One thing I’ve learned is to make it easy on myself.  Lumber comes in standard lengths.  2x4s come in 8, 10, 12, 14 lengths….and longer….the point being, almost all 2x4s used in building a house or a shed are either eight feet or ten feet in length.  Carpenters plan on this fact . . . the 2x4s are cheaper and they are standard length, meaning no cutting is necessary, and since time is money they are cheaper in that respect as well.

So I now only build structures which utilize those standard lengths. It’s just easier to do so.

The same is true in the construction business.  Ninety-nine out of every one-hundred homes are built using those two standard lengths of 2x4s.  It’s cheaper to do it that way and it is easier.

The one out of one-hundred which does not use standard lengths is considered to be a custom house, and the final sales price on that house is higher and so, too, is the craftsmanship.

There is a lesson about writing in this discussion about carpentry, believe it or not!

If you write novels or articles, do you want your product to be part of that 99 out of 100, or do you want it to be the remaining one which has gone the extra mile of craftsmanship?  Just about anyone with any “game” at all can write a novel.  String 70,000 words together, with some semblance of cohesion, and you have a novel.

But do you have a quality novel?

It’s just something to think about as you go about your writing day.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


16 Jan

Hibernation:  to become inactive or dormant.

That’s not terribly accurate in describing my writing journey so far this winter.  I am quite active with customers. I probably have more work than I want to have, truth be told.  But my creative pursuits regarding novels are in hibernation and it is a fascinating process for me.

I thought I’d share it with you.

I started my newest “Shadow” novel, “The Magician’s Shadow,” about two months ago.  I breezed through the first 22,000 words and then called a halt to the proceedings.  I did not call a halt because of a brain freeze, or the so-called writer’s block, but simply because I was at the point where my muse had to decide on the direction of the story.  It’s always like that when I write a novel.  When I start out I have a general outline of the story in my brain, but the specifics and quite often the ending are unknown.

So I call a halt to the proceedings and allow my muse the freedom to do her thing . . . which she is, thank you very much.  I haven’t written a word in that novel for three weeks now, but as I go about my daily activities, little snippets of the story will come to me.  Yesterday a major future scene came to me while I was out walking the dog.  I wasn’t thinking about the book at all, but there it was, delivered to me on a silver platter, with love from my muse.

And so it shall be. When my muse is finished she’ll let me know, and at that point I’ll continue writing the novel.

I always feel my explanation of the writing process should come with a warning label . . .  don’t try this at home . . . because it really is a random process which is impossible to teach to others.

My best words of advice . . . trust in the process!

In the meantime, I’ve finished another coloring book, which will be published soon, and I continue to pick up new customers for my freelance business.  More money is always appreciated!

So there you go! Don’t sweat it.  Let the story come to you.  In the meantime, be productive.

Thus sayeth the old man!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


9 Jan

Reciprocation . . . five syllables . . . a word which has importance for anyone in this writing business . . . hell, for anyone in life.

Let me tell you a story.

We moved into our new home on 18th Street in Tacoma, Washington when I was five years old. My parents were seven years removed from Charles City, Iowa, a small farming town where seemingly everyone knew everyone else.  There wasn’t much privacy in Charles City, but there also wasn’t much isolation either.  If you needed help, help arrived in that town.  Building a shed was a neighborhood occurrence back then . . . it’s just the way things were.

So when my parents moved us into this new neighborhood, my dad did what he was accustomed to doing: he helped neighbors with their chores.  He would shovel walks for Mr. and Mrs. Conrad next door when it snowed.  He would help load trash onto trailers when a neighbor was cleaning out a garage.  It’s just the way my dad was wired.  He didn’t mind doing it.  Mom was the same.  Someone sick?  She was there at their door with a freshly-cooked meal, offering to run to the store if they needed anything.

So after about a year, dad decided to build a cement retaining wall separating our back yard with the empty lot next door.  It was a big undertaking, one which would easily take him a couple months of hard labor after he got home each day from work.

The Saturday arrived when he was going to start this project.  He got his tools together, ran to the hardware store to pick up things he would need, and came home to a group of ten neighbors who were waiting for him. They had come to help. They all had their tools, they were all dressed in work clothes, and a one-man job became an eleven-man job that morning and every evening until the job was completed eight days later.

That’s just the way things were back then.

And that’s what I’ve noticed, for the most part, in the writing community.  Reciprocation . .. friends helping friend . . . friends sharing the work of others . . . friends commenting on articles and blogs . . . reciprocation, only five syllables but a ton of importance.


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”