Category Archives: The Writing Life

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.

A MINIMALIST’S LIFESTYLE COSTS US LOTS OF ‘STUFF’

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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.

Continue reading A MINIMALIST’S LIFESTYLE COSTS US LOTS OF ‘STUFF’

YOU TOO CAN LEARN TO FLY WAY UP THERE IN THE SKY

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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

WRITER DISCOVERS FICTION HARD WORLD TO NAVIGATE

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.

YOU CAN WRITE A MEMOIR 15 MINUTES AT A TIME

“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.”

FEEDING A HUNGRY BEAST KEEPS WRITER OCCUPIED

“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 words.new 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.