Archive | July, 2018


31 Jul

I see sunshine and beautiful colors

I was talking to someone the other day who suffers from clinical depression.  It was a fascinating talk, for me at least.  The thing is, I have no frame of reference with that particular malady.  I can’t wrap my brain around that kind of darkness of the soul, the almost crippling nature of it, the hopelessness of it.

Yes, I am a recovering alcoholic and yes, there have been days when life seemed cumbersome at best, but I always knew that if I just stopped drinking, if I could find the help to get me started on a clean life, I could turn things around and life would be sunshine and lemonade once more.  I never truly felt like there was no hope for me. I never felt the overwhelming, oppressive weight pressing down on me, leaving me incapable of even getting out of bed on any particular day.

What does that have to do with writing?  It’s just food for the idea gristmill.  At some point I’m sure it will come in handy.  What it mostly is, though, is a realization, on my part, of just how different we all are while at the same time so similar.  We humans are complicated animals for sure.  If you want a lesson in writing tossed in, make sure your characters are complicated as well.

On the flip side, and I laugh when I say this, I can’t wrap my brain around the Pollyannas of the world.  I will never understand the constant good moods of people like that, how they always manage to see a silver lining in the worst of circumstances, and how they are always smiling.  That just doesn’t register with me.  I’m not finding fault in it at all, but when I’m around the Perpetually Happy folks, it always leaves me with a sense that I must be broken, that there is something profoundly wrong with my personality profile.

While someone else sees darkness and muted colors


I guess what I’m trying to point out, in my own circuitous way, is that my muse is always taking notes. She is always observing, and she is always questioning.  I suppose that has given me a valuable tool as a writer.  I do know people who don’t notice things like that at all.  They have very few introspective moments, seeming to be about as deep as a mud puddle with regards to philosophy and sociology and other studies of the human species.  The word shallow comes to mind when I think of them, but perhaps that is a bit too judgmental of me. My humanness is showing again, I’m afraid.  The fact is I simply do not understand them.  It seems odd to me that they wouldn’t notice the things that are so obvious to me, but then I’m sure they find me a bit strange as well.


Out at the farm (Bev’s son’s goat farm where we keep our 100 chickens) there is a new addition, a two-year old guard dog.  Her name is Sasha and she is part St. Bernard and part Anatolian Shepherd.  A big dog for sure, seemingly a gentle giant, but I would hate to tangle with her. I’ve seen her breed in action, on YouTube, taking on a bear.  A BEAR!!!!  And not backing down one bit.

Sasha loves me.  I spend quite a bit of time with her when I’m out at the farm, just rubbing her ears and talking to her.  She puts her massive head in my lap, drools all over me, and more often than not slips into semi-conscious mode . . . but if you pay attention to her eyes, she never really stops scanning the farm looking for predators. She is always on alert.

I pity the next coyote who decides to walk onto the farm in search of a cheap meal.  That coyote is in for a very unpleasant surprise.

And yes, I’ve known people like Sasha.

My muse is a lot like Sasha.  She never takes a vacation. She is always on alert for the next inspiration.

Kinda cool!

Have a great week!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Revisiting the Ten Second Rule

17 Jul

I was asked a rather interesting question the other day.  A friend of mine asked me if all novels must begin with a Big Bang to capture the attention of the readers. She was basically asking about The Ten Second Rule, my name for the fact that you have about ten seconds to convince a potential reader that your book is worth their time, so that opening paragraph better be a doozie!

But does that mean you need to start with a spectacular explosion, killing, or spine-tingling scene?


A Big Bang can simply be spectacular writing, writing so good that a potential reader would be foolish to set your book back on the shelf.  “To Kill A Mockingbird” comes to mind immediately.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

There is no Big Bang with the opening paragraph in that book.  The same is true with “The Grapes of Wrath.”

“To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover. In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try any more. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale pink in the red country and white in the gray country.”

No slam-bang there either.  What we do see, in both examples, is just enough of a hint of impending doom…or impending chaos…to entice us to continue reading.  The tone is brilliantly set in each example.  We are given just enough of an appetizer that we really want to taste the main dish.

They are both brilliant in their simplicity.

So yes, the Ten Second Rule still applies, but that doesn’t mean someone has to die to accomplish it.


A baseball coach I had back when I was fourteen or fifteen told me once that the most important pitch of the game was the first pitch.  I guess it was his version of the Ten Second Rule.  He counseled me to make that first pitch purposely wild, either a foot over the head of the batter or a foot behind him, just close enough to get his attention, and just wild enough to plant that seed of doubt in the batter’s mind, so he didn’t spend too much time getting comfortable with that bat in his hand.

Just something for all of you to think about.


That was my Dad’s way of approaching a day.  He was not one for grandiose gestures or statements.  He did not brag or showboat, but if push came to shove, he was a good guy to have backing you up.  He was a perfect example of low-key in tone, and he would have loved the opening paragraphs of Lee and Steinbeck.

Me, I prefer killing someone to begin my novels.

Whatever floats your boat!

Have a great day!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


A Journey Through My Mind

10 Jul

I was writing this week’s “Writers’ Mailbag,” and I mentioned being curious about the saying “dog days of summer,” so I looked it up and discovered it was in reference to the Ancient Greeks and the star Sirius. Evidently Sirius can be seen in the summer in Greece, and the name Sirius means “dog star.”  The sighting of Sirius back in ancient times signaled the arrival of hot, miserable temperatures . . . thus our calling mid-summer the “dog days of summer.”

Which then got me thinking about the old 60’s band Three Dog Night, so off I went to find out the origin of that phrase . . . I was unable to find out exactly WHEN that phrase became an idiom in our language, and there is some dispute whether it originated with the Eskimos or the Aborigines, but its meaning is not disputed.  Back in the old days, before central heating, a really cold night called for desperate measures, and one such measure was to have your family dog sleep with you.  A cold night meant one dog; a very cold night meant two dogs, and an extremely bitter cold night was a three dog night.

And for those curious about such things, the lead singer of Three Dog Night was Chuck Negron, and the band hit stardom in 1967.

Speaking about summer, can you guess which Major League Baseball Team holds the record for most wins in a single season? It’s the Seattle Mariners, perennial losers and the only team in the Major Leagues to never play in a World Series.  In 2001 the Mariners won 116 games.

Oh how the Mighty have fallen!

Life really is fascinating!

Random musings on a Friday morning . . .

My mind then went back to my first dog, Sugar, when I was four. Sugar ran off, and when I was five my parents got me a little rat terrier named Pixie, and Pixie was with me for the next seventeen years, a constant companion during my formative years and yes, she slept with me many nights whether it was cold or not.

And then we jump forward forty-seven years to my next dog, Maggie May, our new puppy, and hopefully Maggie and I will grow old together.

Random thoughts for sure, but I guarantee you that some of those thoughts will eventually be in short stories or a novel down the road.

The mind of a writer . . .


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

4th of July Randomness

3 Jul

The 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . “

Lovely thoughts, eh?  I guess it’s all in your definition of what a man is.  Back when those words were written, a black man was not a man.  An “Indian” was not a man.  A woman was not a man.  A man, back then, was white and a property owner.

But lovely thoughts at least.

What about now?  If Bill Gates has a child (I actually don’t know if he does or not), is his child the equal of a child born into severe poverty in Mississippi?  Is his child the equal of a black child born in the slums of Chicago? Is his child the equal of a Native American child born on the Devils Lake Indian Reservation?

Just random thoughts . . . I certainly have no political agenda here, but a writer’s brain is always tossing these things around.  We are the observers and the chroniclers of our generation, so we need to pay attention, to question, and to surmise.

That’s what we do as writers!

Of course, if you write travel articles, I guess none of that matters, so ignore what I just wrote.


It’s been my custom for quite some  time now to take a mid-morning break from writing . . . nothing major, just ten minutes to go out and feed the quail and chickens in our backyard.  It may not seem like much, but ten minutes is important, and I always return refreshed.

My reward for a day’s work is waiting for me out at the farm each afternoon.  Sometime between one and two each day I go out to feed the hundred or so chickens we have there, and after I do that I always lay down under some trees in the pasture and watch the clouds float by.  I spend about a half hour doing that. It’s my break period for the day, a chance to clear my mind, think of nothing in particular, and re-charge my inner batteries.  I think this is vitally important for people to do, but surprisingly few do it.  It is so easy to say we are too busy, but really that just means we don’t choose to do something beneficial for ourselves.

Well I do and I’m better for it.

Have a great week!