Category Archives: The Writing Life



To discover happiness, fulfillment and freedom as a minimalist you should live without a lot of “stuff.” You probably should not own a car, a house or a television. It’s best if you don’t have a career, and you should live in several exotic hard-to-pronounce places all over the world.

So, count me in. I’m a minimalist, which was the point of view I was to take in preparing an assignment for a pre-Thanksgiving writing class.

I noted, for example, that I am quite happy with the view from my temporary 13th floor Sky Tower room here in downtown Auckland. I can see dozens of boats in the bay, a highway en route to the North Island and a mountainous terrain to the south and west.

Unfortunately, I am a bit exhausted after traveling 13 hours in a Boeing 777-300.jet liner from Seattle, Washington, to New Zealand.

Tomorrow I plan to tour Wynyard Quarter and to enjoy a delicious meal overlooking the water located on the North Wharf. Next week I’ll view artwork by the Maori people at the Auckland Art Gallery and visit the downtown university.



cessna photo

I’m learning how to fly.

A month ago I realized that I needed to know how to pilot a plane if I were to complete a book of fiction that I am writing.

Matt is teaching Annie how to fly. (You might guess that this is a romance novel. It’s classified as “sweet romance” because it contains no bedroom scenes.)

Problem: Matt knows how to fly. I don’t.

Okay, I flew model airplanes for more than 40 years, which hardly qualifies me to instruct someone to fly the real thing.

Problem: I’m 88 years old. What are the odds that I could pass a medical exam to qualify for a pilot’s license?

Okay, I hobble a bit on my left leg, I wear glasses and my wife occasionally suggests that I acquire a hearing aid.

Problem: The $3 monthly increase in my Social Security payments may not cover the cost of hiring an instructor and of renting a plane. Continue reading YOU TOO CAN LEARN TO FLY WAY UP THERE IN THE SKY


I should have written “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which would have made me rich and famous.

fire and furyUnfortunately, I am writing a book of real fiction that will cost me a couple of Social Security checks to self-publish and should sell about as well as used popsicles.

My friends question why an 88-year-old would be embarking on a fiction-writer’s journey rather than playing bingo at the senior center and working crossword puzzles to slow a rapidly diminishing number of brain cells.

Why, they ask, would someone who spent more than a half-century creating what our self-proclaimed genius president calls “fake news” would attempt to create real fiction?

I met, worked with and wrote about many “characters” during my career as a newspaper journalist but find that the characters I create in fiction often are difficult to deal with. (Don’t cringe because I ended a sentence with a preposition. Remember, I’m writing fiction.)

The protagonist in the book I’m writing disappeared for six months for some inexplicable reason. (Protagonist is a sophisticated word for hero, except the protagonist in the book I’m writing is a heroine.)

Anne is a lot like my mother and maternal grandmother, who operated freely in their worlds a long time before the feminist era.

So, I wasn’t surprised when Annie took a “time out” and did her thing for six months. Now, she’s back, and I’m banging out a thousand words or so a day about her adventures.

I plan to complete the book, “Appleton Annie,” sometime this year. I know that it won’t be a best seller like “Fire and Fury,” but writing fiction keeps me in touch with the real world.


“What I Want That I Can’t Have” is the title of a 15-minute writing exercise in a class that I attended during the week.NEW_MAN SMILING

The exercise reminded me that anyone can write memoir by jotting down remembrances as they come to mind.

My thoughts immediately focused on a recent conversation with my wife of 67 years, and I quickly took pen in hand and wrote the following:

Giant snowflakes flutter across the living room window, fire crackles in the fireplace and an unfamiliar quiet embraces the living room where our four children sit around a Christmas tree.

A week earlier they had put on boots, overcoats and gloves and searched the woods for just the right tree, a 6-foot Douglas fir.

Later they argued about who could put the tinsel and other decorations on the tree. All went relatively well for the melee that counted cadence in their elementary school lives until one of them fell off a ladder and knocked down the tree while attempting to install a star at the top.

Fifty years later my wife and I recounted this and other Christmases and how special it had been to be associated with our children during those hectic but formative years.

As we concluded our reminiscing, my wife commented, “Oh, how I would love to relive those experiences.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but for just one day.”


“A blog is a hungry beast,” a friend wrote shortly after I began posting essays on this blog site two years ago.

I have fed the beast more than 100 Fridays during that time and plan to continue doing so until I run out of COFFEE CUP

My interest in promoting the sale of several books that I wrote late in my career served as the primary incentive for creating this blog site.

I also wanted to showcase photography because that has been an important part of my vocation and now avocation.

So, I hired a professional designer to create this blog site and to teach me how to operate it.

During the past couple of years I have learned several things, including:

  1. Limit each blog entry to no more than 411 words, which matches the Twitter profile and appears to be the outer limit for retaining reader interest these days.
  2. Illustrate the blog with some form of artwork. I dipped into a treasure trove of illustrations once drawn for my use by the late Roy Paul Nelson, a journalism professor with whom I served on the faculty at the University of Oregon. I also use “free” clip art and occasionally use one of my photographs.
  3. Memoir may be the most popular topic that I discuss. Lifestyle issues run a close second. The Oct. 16, 2015, blog about my wife and I considering a move to an apartment drew the largest number of reader responses. I discovered recently that readers are tired of political comment.

Lauren Kessler, a popular Eugene writer, is right about a blog being a hungry beast, especially if you post each Friday.

Keep in mind, however, that I’ve been churning out words for more than 80 years. So, writing is what I do. It’s as natural as eating and sleeping.

Topics tumble through my mind incessantly. Remember, too, that journalists are idea people, and I still consider myself a journalist.

I often think of something to feed the hungry beast just before waking in the morning. A blog forms in my dream world, which prompts me to roll out of bed, walk to the computer and begin writing.

Which reminds me of something Ernest Hemingway is reported to have said: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Hemingway missed an important step in this process, however. You should brew a cup of coffee — or tea — before you begin typing.


Annie casts a line on the North Fork the day before she returns to the University of Oregon as a sophomore on the next leg of her quest to visit and to photograph the world.

The engine of a Piper cub sputters overhead as the plane nearly touches the towering Douglas firs. Moments later Annie hears a crash upriver, which sends her on a quest that will change her life.

I write a thousand words a day fabricating Annie’s adventure until I 51FS4ND305L._AA160_hear from a friend who mentions a book about the process of writing fiction by Robert Olen Butler. I decide that it might be helpful if I were to read “From Where You Dream,” which is based on several lectures and writing exercises that Butler shared with students at Florida State University.

Big mistake. The first dozen pages interrupt my career as a fiction writer, and I’m uncertain whether I’ll live long enough to reverse the field and score with a best-seller.

Butler reminds writers that your first point of contact with the reader is an emotional one “because emotions reside in the senses.” He then explains that emotions are expressed in Continue reading BOOK OF DREAMS UPENDS FICTION-WRITING CAREER


The “last person” assignment was one of the most popular among home-school writing students I taught a dozen or so years ago.

You probably are acquainted with the introductory line that goes like this: I thought I was the last person on earth, and then I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door (complete the sentence and the assignment).th-2

Most students were anxious to write the story because I placed no limits on era, place, character, etc. As you might guess, many of them wrote science fiction stories.

As I reflected on this topic recently, I wondered how I might introduce and develop the story? How would readers of this blog introduce their stories?

So, I invited several people to complete the introductory paragraph to a story they might write. Their submissions follow: Continue reading HOW WOULD YOU BEGIN YOUR ‘LAST PERSON’ STORY?