My wife and I purchased a new Volkswagen bus in 1963 for $2,600, loaded it with four children, a few personal items and a dog and traveled from Eugene, Oregon, to Missoula, Montana, where I began my university teaching career.

Each of the children had a seat, which cut down on the bickering, and Whiskers, the dog, was happy to ride in his own space “in back.”

The bus was built for Montana winters because the air-cooled flat- engine mounted in the 63 volks busrear was equipped with a hot plate that could be plugged in and kept the engine warm while the bus was parked.

Unfortunately the heat source was so far from the front of the bus that the driver often had to stop and chip ice off the glass inside as well as outside.

The bus was relatively light weight and could be pushed around in the snow when it became stuck, and it moved effortlessly during our summer exploration traveling Montana’s back roads. On a trip up a one-way, narrow mountain road, I ordered my wife and children to walk behind in the event the bus tumbled into the canyon.

In 1964 we loaded the bus with personal belongings and traveled to New Orleans, where I had a summer grant to study newspaper advertising. During the first day on the road, we Continue reading VOLKS BUS WAS IN NO HURRY YET SERVED FAMILY WELL


A recent trip through downtown Eugene, Oregon, reminded me of an important lesson that I learned more than six decades ago as a newspaper reporter.

New construction is altering the landscape near the former municipal building where I once gathered information while covering the police/fire beat for a daily newspaper.

1157339-Cartoon-Of-A-Reporter-Boy-Taking-Notes-Royalty-Free-Vector-ClipartOne of my first objectives was to become acquainted not only with police and fire officials, but also with secretaries and janitors in that multi-storied building. I also visited with firemen and policemen at night on my own time and became acquainted with men who worked those shifts.

The object, of course, was to become trusted and to establish rapport that would lead to tips when “breaking news” occurred. That process didn’t occur overnight.

I drank a lot of coffee and exchanged dozens of stories with fire fighters, who were then called firemen, before being tipped that “the Hoffman Hotel” was on fire. I arrived in time to witness firefighters help 33 people escape from the four-story building in downtown Eugene during the 3 a.m. fire.

Another time, a state police dispatcher called me late at night saying: “We’re ferrying blood from Portland to Roseburg” and hung up. That tip led to reporting the death and Continue reading THE LITTLE PEOPLE TAUGHT ME AN IMPORTANT LESSON


A fiction writer’s job is to convince the reader to turn the page, I was told by a New York Times best-seller fiction writer last Saturday.

I spent the day learning how to accomplish this challenge by joining a hundred other people who honed their craft during a writing conference sponsored by Wordcrafters of Eugene, a literary group.

th-2Only I came away convinced that I’ll never be a success, excusing my inability to attract fiction readers because of my life-long experience writing the objective report as a newspaper journalist. Fabricating is a no-no.

A year ago after retiring as a freelance newspaper reporter and teacher, I decided to tackle a formidal task: Become a fiction writer. I confess that I saw book sales and dollar signs as part of that objective. Unfortunately, too many siren songs beckoned on the fiction path, and thus far I apparently have failed to pick the right one to embrace. (I like the word, embrace, because it has a sexual ring, which I’m told is an important element in fiction writing.)

I walked into the conference room early Saturday feeling as though I would discover the key to success as a fiction writer. A short time later eight successful fiction writers took turns assigning 30-minute writing exercises.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a laptop computer. So, I wrote by hand. I was surprised when I was among the first to complete an assignment. As a result, I spent a lot of sitting, looking and watching other writers at work. I worried, however, certain that I was missing a secret ingredient for success.

I tackled the first assignment by creating an internal contradiction in a protagonist. I had difficult getting started, however, because I realized that I had just written a 50,000-word novel in which I failed to create an internal contradiction in the protagonist. The day went downhill from there.

Next, one of my favorite fiction writers directed me to fantasize my life by writing about a childhood memory that could be turned into magic. The first childhood memory that popped into my mind was milking cows twice daily, and I didn’t see much magic in that. So, I thought of the night I crossed a wooden bridge near our farm home and thought I heard the headless horseman, which jump-started my career as a runner.

Another of my favorite authors talked about syntax and employing other mechanics of the trade. She then assigned us to write a 200-word sentence. I was rather pleased with my mine, which begins: Andy walks into the office wondering whether he has gathered all of the information needed to write the story about why the city councilors had taken 45 minutes debating the pros and cons before deciding to place the issue on the ballot, knowing that residents would quickly choose sides and begin splitting apart a community (etc.)

On reflection, if I had turned in a story with a 200-word sentence while I was a newspaper journalist, the editor probably would have reassigned me to work on the obit desk or dumped my story in the trash can.

Another instructor urged us to draw on humor by using metaphors, similes and malapropisms, a word I had never heard of and may best be defined by referring to what I drink as “decapitated coffee.”

The keynote speaker ended the day by urging us to create a symphonic conclusion, which I am rather good at doing because I like writing news and feature stories that end with what is called a “kicker.” These are concluding paragraphs that may leave a smile on the reader’s face or a tear in the eye.

So, I wrote a kicker that best reflects what I learned during that one-day fiction writing adventure: “If at first you don’t succeed as a fiction writer, turn the page.”


A newspaper reporter knows how to deal with writer’s block. You gather information and write against a deadline. Sometimes the editor wants the story now, sometimes before you take a coffee break but no later than the deadline.

Therefore, when I became a “real” writer andMan at computer began pounding out 500 to a thousand words a day as an author of non-fiction and fiction books, I was surprised to learn that some of my contemporaries suffer writer’s block.

I did a little research and discovered the symptoms and methods of treating this malingering maladay.

I learned that Ernest Hemingway found the scariest thing about writing was a blank sheet of paper. You solve that problem by sticking a sheet of paper in your typewriter and begin typing.

Paul Rudnick says that “writing is 90 percent procrastination,” leading to doing a zillion things to avoid creating stories.

Other writers admit that they tarry at the writing task because they believe their current work won’t measure up. “That they despair of writing eloquently,” as Anna Quindlen puts it. Continue reading HOW SOME FOLKS DEAL WITH ‘WRITER’S BLOCK’ MALADAY