Category Archives: The Writing Life


            After moving into a retirement home a year ago, it soon became apparent that everyone here has a story to tell.

            My wife and I have heard these stories mostly told during a meal by more than a hundred people, many of them pushing 90 and a few shuffling past the century mark.

            Last summer I interviewed and wrote a story about a woman who still jogged up and down the hall here at the retirement home prior to celebrating her 102nd birthday in June.

            Unfortunately, many of these stories will soon disappear because no one has taken the time nor has made an effort to record them in some form.

            This led me to suggest that the five members of our retirement home writing group consider creating memoirs, maybe even self-publishing them.

            Previously we were being assigned a topic and writing several hundred words that we shared during our weekly meetings. Good exercises but after a year of this I wondered whether we should tackle something more meaningful.

            “Let’s each write a memoir,” I suggested.

            The response was positive.

            So, I suggested that each of us return to class next week with a list of a dozen or so moments or events that have impacted our life. This is another way of describing how the epiphany can be used to organize a memoir.

            In the weeks that follow, each of us can write and share a chapter about our life.

            Some of us have written memoirs based on various aspects of our lives. In my case, I wrote and self-published a memoir based on my three decades of teaching. “Confessions of a Professor” is still available via Amazon books.

            Although I have written about other aspects of my life, I decided to write a memoir based on my life from birth through high school.

            I was four or so years late in arriving on a Kansas wheat farm, decided to become a writer before I began first grade, made a life-changing decision at age 10, became a printer’s devil in junior high, learned to fly with eagles while leaning to type and skipped my senior year of high school.

            I figure that grist will more than keep me busy for a dozen or so weeks as I meet with retirement home writers during the summer.

            I discovered something else about writing during the past year in this retirement home: Many people have not written nor recorded information needed to create an obituary. (I’ve been asked to help write several.)

            You don’t have to write a memoir to accomplish this task, but for goodness sake — or for the sake of your survivors — record the names of your parents, where and when you were born, the date of important events in your life and the names of survivors. Then share that information with a family member before shuffling off this mortal coil, walking into the sunset, or whatever.


Appleton annie

            The engine of a light airplane sputters overhead and stops as Annie Johnston, 20, casts a fishing line on the North Fork a day before she begins her junior year at the University of Oregon.

            The life of this red-headed, freckled, strong-willed woman will change in ways she never suspects as she jogs upriver in search of the plane and discovers a man who was taking a joy ride the day before his wedding.

                                                            * * *

            When I began writing this book of fiction on Feb. 15, 2015, I had little intention of completing it.

            Several years earlier I wrote two books of fiction about a newspaper family in the mythical city of Appleton in the northern Cascades. “Appleton Annie” was intended to be the third and final book in that series.

            Dust began to gather on the manuscript.

            In January 2018 I was invited to join four other writers who meet twice monthly and critique manuscripts of books of fiction we are writing. That is when I dusted off the “Appleton Annie” manuscript and resumed writing.

            The critiquing and instruction I received during these twice-monthly meetings has taught me much about the art of fiction writing. Note that “Appleton Annie” is written in present tense. It would have been more acceptable in past tense.

            My next book, “A Retiring Love,” which is set in a retirement home, is being written in past tense. I also no longer attribute every statement as though I were writing a news story.

            You can save some money by purchasing “Appleton Annie” in Kindle format.

            In any event, I believe that you will enjoy becoming acquainted with Annie as much as I have.

A writing assignment: want to be an animal?

            Even though the Lord created the critters, and even though they were somehow saved by marching two by two onto a boat built in the desert, I have no wish to follow in their footsteps.

            My first task as a farm boy was to take a pail filled with the most vile smelling fermented food scraps up the hill to slop the hogs.

            Of course, you had to wade through equally foul smelling byproducts of animal waste in the barnyard en route to the pig pen.

            Milking cows by hand did nothing to enhance my wish to be an animal who spent the day eating grass and cluttering up the field and then mess up a perfectly clean milking station in the barn. And not once did those critters volunteer to clean up their yucky mess.

            Horses were prized workers who pulled a plow and dragged me across fields during the day, but I found no redeeming urge to become a four-legged beast of burden dressed in leather and lathered in sweat.

            Sheep are cute, but dirty. Real dirty, especially after being dumped in a tank of vile-smelling stuff called “sheep dip,” which is concocted to kill lice and other creepies and crawlies. And I’m too embarrassed to describe the surgical process of castrating male lambs.

            Frankly, I wasn’t much impressed with the exhibits I observed prowling around zoos during my lifetime. Why would anyone want to be more of a monkey than most human forms, especially if you spend all your time scratching fleas behind bars?

            I thought I might like to be a rabbit when I was a toddler. You know those cute, cuddly stories about Peter Rabbit and how he grew. What they didn’t tell you was how Peter chewed on lettuce I planted in our garden. At that point, rabbits became fair game for target practice with my trusty .22 rifle.

            I suspect you could discover some redeeming quality in an animal, one that would catch my attention. A T-bone steak for example. Except when I begin to smell the meat sizzling on a grill, I remember how we always butchered a prize steer during the fall. You shot the beast between the eyes, bled the carcass and hung it from a tree limb, cut the hide away, stripped out the guts and began cutting steaks, roasts, ribs, etc. amid a cloud of buzzing flies.

            As the poet might say:

            You may choose to be a dog, a cat, a rabbit or a rat.

            As for me, I really don’t care to be an animal like that.



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.”