Amazonia – Where You Matter

11-27-2020

          Writing in second person point of view is seldom attempted and can be confusing. It is often reserved for “How-to” writing, or for recipes. As an example, “For Skunk Stew, you will need one skunk, (freshly dead or frozen) potatoes, carrots and don’t forget your face mask.” You get the idea of 2nd person POV. Below is an attempt to provide a clear, concise, and vastly illuminating illustration of this form of writing.

Amazonia New Employee Orientation—Spring 2026

          Welcome to all you winners. Winners because you have been selected to represent the greatest company in the universe. – Amazonia. You are now a new employee among the elite of the most elite. You work for The Greatest company in the universe.

A summary of Amazonia’s successes during 2025.

          In the past year, Amazonia was able to bankrupt thirty-seven of the countries’ Fortune Five Hundred companies. In our ongoing obsession with growth, Amazonia is proud to humbly say we take full credit for shutting down 156,210 mom and pop businesses in the US of A. Our 2026 goal is to close another 300,000 small community businesses. With your help, we will achieve that lofty goal. Profits soared to a record $327 gazillion dollars. The founder of Amazonia takes pride in knowing his wealth is now 35 times that of the combined wealth of the other 7,800,000,000 people on the planet.

          What about company philanthropy, you ask? During the past year, Amazonia generously donated 00012% of one half day’s profits to the Amazonia Retired Executive Golf Club. Giving back where it’s most needed.

Your benefits as an Amazonian Gold-Star Employee

  1. You can expect to receive a ½% increase in salary after five years of full-time employment, assuming you have no blemishes on your work history. Such infractions include but are not limited to 1. Missed a shift for any reason. 2. Disagreement with a supervisor about anything. 3. Hesitated to come to work during a blizzard, hospitalization, vacation on Unalaska Island or your Mother’s funeral. 4. Failure to salute and praise Amazonia in the presence of any senior staff member. (Please see remaining 219 work infractions in Employees Manual.)
  2. After 10 years of full-time employment, you will be eligible for Amazonia’s Diamond Health Care Policy. Imagine having no worries about hospital costs if your entire immediate and extended family is stricken with malaria, leprosy, or starvation from world famine. Imagine no concerns regarding burial costs if your family is wiped out by a tsunami. (Restrictions apply regarding uncles who have a history of alcohol problems.) What about my income if I suddenly come down with beriberi? No Problem. Amazonia will guarantee 5% of your weekly income for up to two weeks. Amazonia cares about you.

Retirement from Amazonia

          Amazonia has adopted an extremely generous age-old formula for your retirement years. It is called the 155 Golden Years Retirement Program. Here is how it works. After you’ve reached a combined 155 years of age and employment, it immediately begins. You may feel fully confident of a guaranteed monthly income of 6% of your starting salary for the rest of your life. Here is an example. You begin your employment at Amazonia when you are 32 years old. After you reach 93.5 years of age and have completed 61.5 years of Amazonia employment, you’re all set to relax and live out the rest of your life in financial security.

          Now that you’ve been selected by Amazonia, prepare yourself for a bright and fulfilling career.

          We’ve saved our two best benefits for last. Your Amazonia loyalty bonus. Beginning on your 25th. anniversary with Amazonia, the company will add one-half hour to your earned vacation time. This benefit added for each five years in which you have not missed a day of work. Imagine, after only twenty-five years in your wonderful career with Amazonia, you will earn 2.5 hours of additional vacation time. Time you can spend with your middle-aged children, a few more hours of dream vacation time at Motel-6 in Oklahoma City or at The Neptune Society planning for your cremation needs. You will have that extra hour needed to shop at Walmart. Please be advised that shopping at Walmart is a Class-A employment termination offense.

          Your second new bonus opportunity as a new employee is our “Close Down a Family Business” benefit. Upon substantiated proof that you have personally been responsible for the permanent closing or bankruptcy filing for any immediate family member business, you will receive a five dollar Amazonia gift certificate and a framed certificate stating you screwed-over a family member.

Welcome to Amazonia. Remember our motto. “You Matter at Amazonia.” (restrictions apply.)

I hope this piece of literary instruction has been beneficial. Go well. David

“It’s always better to receive than to give. Especially if it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, or your birthday. Hell, it’s always a good day to receive.” An Anonymous Rich Guy

Denni’s Wise Words

“Always be generous. Especially with your dogs. We make the world a much better place.” Denni

Leaving Something Behind

11/13/2020

          In July 2019 I again read Slaughterhouse Five. It was the 50th. Anniversary edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece. Last night Suzanne and I watched a brief documentary about this author. During the program, a Vonnegut friend recalled one of the last conversations he had with the writer. Vonnegut lamented that no one would remember him after he was dead. The friend disagreed and attempted to assure him that his book would be remembered for many more decades and therefore so would he. For me, I can’t imagine Vonnegut not being remembered. His book was monumental and continues to sell over 100,000 copies per year and is taught in high school and college class rooms. According to his friend, Vonnegut was not convinced.

We in the United States recently lost two giants. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis. Neither in stature were titans, Ginsburg stood 5’1 and Lewis 5’6, and neither were ever inhibited in greatness by their height. The outpouring of respect, gratitude, and love at the time of their deaths has given ample proof of their enduring legacy.

A friend and I recently sat in a coffee shop and spoke long and vociferously about many things we know little about. Both being old, neither of us much care about the reality or sensibility of our meandering minds. We both like to talk. As usual, the topics ranged from writing, politics, (yep still on that one) boredom, sage advice on what the other should do, and friendship. I like CC a great deal, not his real initials, he’d get a bigger head if I named him. His hats are already too small for his over-inflated ego.

Eventually, as it always does, our conversation moved towards more serious issues. Our families, other friends, and the reality that we are old and not going to get any younger. I asked my buddy a question about what he hopes to leave behind when he’s gone. He speaks a lot about worthiness, and I’ve yet to understand what that means to him. Most often it sounds like a need to prove something. To himself, to others, I’m not sure. I would apologize to him should he tell me I have that wrong. We talked about the passing (okay; they didn’t pass; they died) of Lewis and Ginsburg. From what I can tell, they were both satisfied with what they had accomplished and who they were. Simply stated, they were content with their lives.

We discussed the belief that we both write in part in order to leave something tangible after we are gone. A dear friend who died some months back wrote this on the back cover of my book The Unusual Man, “A story can reach across a hundred years and still be as fresh as warm-from-the-oven baked bread.” I would be less than honest if I said I didn’t hope my writing lasts a hundred years. Still, I am accutely aware that I too need to check my ego at the door.

The psychologist Erik Erikson wrote about the 8 stages of life, the last being Ego Integrity vs. Despair. Erickson told us that around the age of 65 until our death, we contemplate our accomplishments and can develop integrity if we see ourselves as having led a successful life. But what is a successful life? Is it Power? Money? Fame? Perhaps it is love, friendship, generosity, kindness, humility, and beauty. We all must come to our own personal answers. One of my college professors, Dr. Tom Cannon, told the class to imagine that we were at a funeral, and that funeral was ours. Four people would speak honestly about us: our spouse (partner), our children, our friend, and our boss. He added, do we know we would like what they said about us if they spoke honestly. Dr. Cannon ended it with this idea: if we wouldn’t want to hear what they said, then we already know what we need to change in our lives.

My maternal grandmother died at 103. I doubt she had $10.00 in the bank when she died. Her house later sold for less than $10,000, (in 1995) and she left behind many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. What was her legacy? Granny Annie was the kindest, most loving, most generous, and most humble human I’ve ever met. In my heart, she was a saint. Actual sainthood is bestowed on few, yet many of us have known saints.

CC and I will continue to meet, and we will probably discuss and re-discuss the same ideas we’ve talked about many times. No doubt we will continue to talk about what we wish for now and what we hope for after we are gone. I hope Suzanne will say I was a good partner, lover, and companion. That she knew I loved her. I hope my sons say that I tried to guide them, to give a small amount of wisdom, and that they knew I loved them. My bosses will hopefully say I was a trustworthy employee who gave a full measure to his work. A man that took his work seriously, but not so much himself. And for my friends, my wish is that they will say they knew I was there for them when needed and that they could count on my friendship.  

          Some say that a person dies three times. When your body dies, when your soul leaves your body and when the last person forgets you. I hope that each of us leave behind a legacy of joy, love, passion, honesty, compassion, happiness, and fond memories. I hope each are fondly remembered for many generations.

Slaughterhouse Five — “So it Goes.”

“I want to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the best of her ability.”     Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”    John Lewis

Louie’s Book Bark!

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. A collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam. Given that it was recently Veteran’s Day, this book is a must read about a dark time in our country. Possibly the best book ever written about the VietnamWar. Not setimental or complaining, just an honest account of war. Louie gives it a five bark rating.

Just What I Needed

11/01/2020

There have been two or three remembered times when I needed something and it found me. Over thirty years ago I was browsing through the public library in Twin Falls. Idaho. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular except a good read. I remember looking on a top shelf and seeing a small book with the title On Love & Happiness by Pierre Teilhard De Chardin. I checked it out because of curiosity, and it has turned out to be one of the most significant books I’ve ever read. I will not tell you about it now, but I can loan you my copy if you like. It is the 3rd copy I’ve purchased, having given away the first two. It was first published in 1966, and it’s difficult to find.

A second matter of synchronicity came ten or fifteen years before I found Chardin’s book. I went to a conference in San Antonio, Texas, and heard a presentation by Dr. Amy Freeman Lee. I say it was synchronicity because at the time I had no idea what the word meant. My loose definition now is, the coming together of seemingly unrelated events and when together have meaning. Mr. Webster might disagree with my definition, but I’m sticking with it. On that day, Dr. Lee told us of her friendship with Loren Eiseley. Eiseley was an anthropologist and a brilliant writer. He wrote several wonderful books, but his shorter work entitled The Star Thrower is my favorite. Dr. Eiseley was a man of great curiosity and wrote of this in a way that would make any of us beg to tag along with him on his journeys.

Now we come to today. It is Sunday, November 1, 2020. In two days this country will again go to the polls and elect a President. Given the rancor and immense disagreement this year, I believe it to be the most significant election in my 70+ years. I have my preferences, just as millions of others have theirs. I told Suzanne yesterday that I would not watch another minute of news until Tuesday the 3rd. I can no longer tolerate how it makes me feel. But that is not what I’m writing about now. I’m writing about another moment of synchronicity. Something wonderful.

In doing research for a piece I intend to write, I requested some books from the local library. One of those books was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Dr. Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. He was a professor rather than is still a professor because he died at age 47 from cancer in 2008. He left a wife and three young children when he died. As he stated in his book, giving a last lecture for a professor had become routine in many colleges and universities. For Randy Pausch, it would be his goodbye to the world lecture. Yes, it sounds morbid, but don’t stop reading. Dr. Pausch said it was a lecture about living, not about dying. And the small book is about living. On Good Reads, it has received over 303,000 ratings. A successful book, for sure. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why.

This book must be read. I read it in two days. I could not put it down. In our time of tragic world sadness and death, Dr. Pausch gives example after example of how to live a life. It can be summed up in a quote from the book. “I’m living like I’m dying. But at the same time, I’m very much living like I’m still living.” It may seem a bit sappy to some readers, a bit too sentimental. It was exactly what I needed in these times of such turmoil in our country and the world. Almost everyone I’ve recently spoken to speaks of the anxiety, the depression, the unsettled emotions, and anxiety they feel. The same feelings I have. Read this book.

Go to YouTube and watch Randy Pausch’s last lecture. It has been viewed over 20,000,000 times. Spend an hour and fifteen minutes watching this remarkable man talk about life.

We are all in the process of dying. It started the day we were born. What we choose to do with whatever amount of time we are given is an individual endeavor. When I was fifteen, I was going to live forever.  When I was twenty-one in Vietnam, I didn’t know I would live to be twenty-two. Now I’m much older and daily I hear and read of those I’ve admired, loved, and known at a distance have died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis, Jerry Jeff Walker, and on Saturday, Sean Connery. No one can deny that he was the James Bond. None of us will escape death, but as Randy Pausch said, we can very much live like we are still living. In this time of sadness due to the coronavirus, we can live. During this time of political uncertainty, we can live. I’m damned sure going to do my best to live to the fullest in whatever time I have.

Go Well, David

“Success is loving life and daring to live it.” Mya Angelou.

And from one of my favorite poets

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” Mary Oliver.

Denni’s Wise Words

“If I am going to live as a dog, then I’m going to be the most glamorous diva princess dog I can be. Pick what you want to be and be the best possible.”

Giving Back

10/28/2020

I received a note from an online friend, telling me she was considering starting a small scholarship fund for underprivileged kids. Even as I write that word “underprivileged,’ it seems wrong. I’m not sure what distinguishes a privilege from a right. Regardless of the specific meaning of the words, no one should be denied an equal chance in this world. I think she used the term students of color. She added, she doesn’t have a lot of money, but more than she needs. When we hear on one side how wonderful the stock market is doing and how much money they are making, and on the other side how unemployed and needy families are making decisions between buying food and plying rent, it’s difficult to find some middle ground. And yet, I know it isn’t that hard, we as human beings know no person deserves suffering. I think of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” It also brings to mind the old bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” What an incredible dichotomy of thinking.

I realized this morning, I have for years plagiarized a quote I thought was original thinking. I never believed I was the first to say it but have assumed I held partial ownership. “I want to give back to life more than I have taken from it.” Something I’ve said more and more as I’ve grown older. I came across a line from some insignificant man that died in 1955. His name was Albert Einstein. This is what he unabashedly stole from me before I was born. “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” I will attempt to be magnanimous enough to give him some credit for his thought.

Because I woke up suddenly old a few years back, I tend to talk with and think like older people these days. Not to sound morbid, but getting older and knowing more life is behind me then is in front of me is a fact of life. It brings about more thoughts of what’s this life all about? I find myself asking, as do some of my friends, what do I do with what’s left of my life? My days of dreams of pitching a perfect game for the Yankees have passed. I will not be paid a million a year because of my management talent. I’m not going to sip Scotch at the celebration for my winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Still, I want the rest of my life to have some significance.

A remarkable teenage girl wrote this in the 1940s. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Her name was Anne Frank. What a wonderful, mature, and profound bit of wisdom to hold at such a young age.

There is an infinite laundry list of things I can give away without reducing my bank account one penny, without emptying my cupboard, or draining my energy: a kind word, a thank you, a smile, being a silly old man with a child, picking up a piece of glass on the desert floor, giving an honest compliment to someone who has tried, a pat on the head of my dogs, listening a little longer, judging a little less, using less water, walking more, driving less. The list is endless.

I will once again commit to myself to do what I can. To take less, to give more. It’s nothing original to me, thanks Albert for expressing it before I was born. Thanks, Kahlil Gibran, for telling me that, “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

One last thought. VOTE!  Vote for the candidates you support, no matter their political party. But you lose your right to complain if you don’t vote.

Go well, David

On a lighter note. “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”    Betty Reese

Louie’s Book Bark!

Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr is a small book of beauty. A couple move to a tiny village in Mexico to reopen a copper mine abandoned by the man’s grandfather. The two Americans, the only foreigners in Ibarra, live among people who both respect and misunderstand them. Gradually, the villagers – at first enigmas to the couple – come to teach them about life and fate. Doerr’s ability to create likeable, and memorable characters is reminiscent of Steinbeck. 

Louie gives it a four-bark endorsement.

Gratitude When Most Needed

10-19-2020

I’m hesitant to write about the year 2020, and its impact upon my psyche. We’ve all had to manage this bizarre and fear producing year. Like most people, there have been periods when I could say I managed “OK.” Other times have been much more difficult. Words I’ve often heard expressed from others have included, “Depressed.” “Bored,” and “Difficulty focusing.” All of which I’ve also experienced.

This past week has been a period of reprieve. Happenstance per chance. (I like how that phrase sounds) Still, it’s been a good week. I had outdoors and socially distant coffee with two dear friends. It was good to BS and prattle on about things we know little about.

Suzanne and I watched a movie I’d never seen. Fly Away Home is a sweet movie staring an adorable younger Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels. The film is loosely based on a real account of teaching and assisting motherless geese to fly south for the winter. Sappy in parts, yes, but in a time lacking sentimentality, it was just what I needed. A second gift in the week also came from the same movie. 10,000 Miles is a hauntingly beautiful song sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter at both the beginning and end of the film. I love music and coming upon new tunes like this one feels like a special gift. While talking music, do yourself another favor, listen to Mark Knopfler play and sing Piper To The End. Both songs are on YouTube and easy to find.

I was still in the grasp of joy, having recently finished reading The Devil’s Highway. If you’re interested, look at last week’s blog concerning more about this incredible book.

Three more good things occurred at the end of the week. All of which added to my happiness. I ran a one-day promotion of my second novel, The Unusual Man, as a free e-book give away. I used The Fussy Librarian as the promotion platform. For Amazon Select books, authors may do free promotional events that essentially pay no royalties to the author. It is a potential way to get a much wider readership. I had hoped to get 25 downloads, that would have felt like a success. I allowed myself to hope for 50, which would have been great. By the end of the day, there were 978 downloads of my book. When I crowed about this to Suzanne, she smiled and said, “Yes, they were free.” She was right, it was a free book, still 978 people downloaded it and now can read my work.

I’ve long ago moved past my brief stint of dreaming of fame, fortune, and adoration for my writing. I now hope anyone who reads my work can simply enjoy it and finds some merit in my writing. I’m going to maintain that view and hope some of those who received my book yesterday will appreciate it.

Later in the morning, Suzanne and I went to the Tucson Botanical Gardens. They were beautiful. Every plant seemed to be in full bloom. Yes, even after 140 days of 100 degree plus days, the gardens were spectacular. The La Calavera Cantina exhibition was on display. Ten-foot-tall figures of Day of the Dead characters towered above visitors. (See the pic at the end of this post) Our visit seemed perfect. We topped off our get away with a lunch stop at Benny’s, my favorite Tucson Mexican Restaurant.  If you live in Tucson, do yourself a favor and eat there. Tell Mercedes, the kindest wait person on earth, that David and Suzanne sent you.

My day ended with watching a MSNBC documentary of the official photographer for President Obama. You don’t have to be a Democrat or fan of Barack Obama to appreciate the humor, grace, kindness, and compassion of the man. If you’re a Republican, allow yourself to open your mind and for an hour and a half, simply appreciate the program.

I rested well Saturday night.

Now a new week has begun. We continue to face the same issues that have existed since this year’s beginning. The pandemic rages and grows larger, the contentious election will occur in less than three weeks. We remain a divided country. We all ask the unanswerable question, when will we get back to “normal?” Perhaps this IS the new normal.

I will try to hold on and take comfort from the events of last week. A wish I hope for all others. May good things and happiness descend on everyone.

WARNING – A Snarky Part – read at your on risk.

Attribution refers to words that let the reader know who has spoken a line of dialogue in a story. So far, so good.

I started reading a book of short stories by a famous writer. The following is taken directly from that book.

“That’s an awfully big shot,” Nick said.

“Not for us, Welmedge,’ Bill said.

          “What’ll we drink to?” Nick asked, holding up his glass.

          “Let’s drink to fishing,” Bill said.

“All right,” Nick said. “Gentlemen, I give you fishing.”

“All fishing,” Bill said. “Everywhere.”

“Fishing,” Nick said. “That’s what we drink to.”

“It’s better than baseball,” Bill said.

“There isn’t any comparison,” said Nick. “How did we ever get talking about baseball?”

They drank all that was in their glasses.

“Now let’s drink to Chesterson.”

“And Walpole,” Nick interposed.

Nick poured out the liquor. Bill poured out the water. They looked at each other. They felt very fine.

“Gentlemen,” Bill said, “I give you Chesterson and Walpole.”

“Exactly gentlemen,” Nick said.

They drank. Bill filled up the glasses. They sat down in the big chairs in front of the fire.

“You were very wise, Welmedge,” Bill said.

“What do you mean?” asked Nick.

“To bust off that Marge business,” Bill said.

“I guess so,” said Nick.

I will never win the Nobel Prize for Literature. I am certainly no literary or writing expert, but to me, this use of attribution does not read like Nobel prize winning writing. Please someone, tell me what I am missing in this?

“End of snarky part,” I said.

Take care and go well, David

“Preach With Your Life, Not With Your Mouth.” Taken from Across The Wire by Luis Alberto Urrea

The Immense Power of a Book

10/14/2020

Some books stay in our hearts and minds for years. I will always count The Little Prince as a favorite. Of Mice and Men and Sweet Thursday will always be near the top of my list. It is 5:42 a.m., as I write this post, and I have just finished reading one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea is as The Atlantic said, “The single most compelling, lucid, and lyrical contemporary account of the absurdity of U S border policy.” The book was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, and I can’t imagine any other book being better.

It is not a book for the faint of heart. It is an honest, brutal, and beautifully written account of a 2001 crossing of the Sonoran Desert by thirty men who attempted to enter the U S. Fourteen of the men died in the attempt. Urrea does not take sides, he gives his readers a firsthand view of the tragedy from the perspective of the men who crossed, the coyotes that lead (or at least attempted to lead) them, and the border officials that work every day to not only stop the crossings but are also there to save those in peril.

I don’t have the words to describe how vividly the author takes you on that deadly journey in May 2001. You will feel the scorching desert sun baking your skin into leather, the desperation of the men as they begged God, their mothers, and their fellow travelers to save them. You will know greed, hope, love, desperation, and death when you read this book. But still you must read it.

The book is as relevant, or perhaps more so today than it was in 2005. There are accounts of the savagery of greedy men who would risk all, including murder, to make money. You will read of a man who worked for Coca-Cola in Mexico (a company valued at eighty-four billion dollars worldwide in 2020) for $8.00 a day. He supplemented his income by picking coffee beans for $4.00 a day. But you will also read of the beautiful image of Mexican and American kids playing volleyball across the border, using the barrier for nets.

As a writer, I attempt to tell stories that move the reader in some direction. Laughter, hope, sadness, compassion, anger, so many ways to be moved. Urrea has done this in spades. I felt countless emotions as I read his book, and then I felt those emotions again and again. He has done what I believe all serious writers strive for, he has moved his readers forward. I’m not sure what I will do with the impact this book has made upon me, but I know it will remain. I am reminded of one line he used. (not his exact words) They were the words of a man who had crossed the US–Mexico border without authority. “If I’m a wetback because I crossed a river to get here, what does that make you for crossing an ocean to get here?”

Do yourself a favor, read this book.

” Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama XIV

Denni’s Wise Words

“Nothing beats a soft pat on the head and chewing an old bone. Not a new Porsche, a giant house or a bank balance of a million dollars.”

What a Character

10-01-2020

Forest Gump told us, “Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Maybe you prefer, “All this happened, more or less,” by Kurt Vonnegut. If you’re a reader or a movie watcher, you probably have a favorite character. What about Atticus Finch, Holden Caulfield, or maybe your taste turns to characters like Harry Potter. We can’t forget villains like Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader, those we may not like but still intrigue us.

It is an accomplished writer who can draw us into a story by the power of memorable characters. In the best writing, we may not love or admire a character, but a competent writer will make us remember a well-developed one. They build  notable characters layer by layer. No human is only one dimensional, nor are they only two. We are a complicated species with a myriad of thoughts, feelings, motivations and failures. It’s what makes us human.

Can you imagine if Herman Melville had told his readers Captain Ahab was a fisherman and said no more about him. As a reader, I want to know why the character gets out of bed in the morning. Why did he cheat his business partner and what made Emily join the army and volunteer to go to Iraq. Why does the protagonist always wear red? Don’t tell me the antagonist is a mean dude, show me the enjoyment he feels when he breaks the arm of his competitor. Make me feel something. Have me see something. Make me like, love, or hate a character. I want to believe in them. Don’t tell me the kid born in a Detroit ghetto speaks like a Harvard professor or the gazillionaire suddenly starts hating money. Make me cry or make me laugh out loud when I read your work.

I’m not sure anyone has an innate ability to create memorable characters. I damn sure don’t, it’s always a struggle to build a character from scratch. They often look and sound like a billboard image of the used car salesman trying to talk me into buying a rusted  1986 Yugo. I believe a writer has to know his or her characters intimately. He’s talked to her, he’s shared his fears, and she’s shared hers. He’s watched them reveal their most raw emotions. Mostly, a writer has to be honest. Not clever, not verbose (like that word) and not perfect, simply a believable human. The best advice I’ve received as a novice writer was being told I make characters “too good.” Not too good in the sense of being well written, but too good in the sense that they have no flaws. I listened to that advice.

“Show, don’t tell,” is a common refrain when talking about writing. Don’t tell me the sky was blue, the clouds were white, the sun was shining. Make my eyes squint when I look up, make me see an elephant in the cloud, make me gasp at the beauty of the sky. It’s damn hard, but it’s worth it.

I wish everyone the best in developing unforgettable characters or in finding them in their reading. I need all the friends I can get, finding Boo Radley, Ishmael, and Yossarian has added to my list of friends. I’ve grown to know them, to like them and to better understand them. Honest and lasting friends.

If you have a favorite literary character or movie character, send me a note and let me know why they are your favorite.

“You must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader.”  

                                                                                                       Nancy Kress

Denni’s Wise Words

“Be a friend to everyone, even if your big brother tries to steal your treat.”

Validation – Reason Enough

9-23-2020

          “Why do you write?” A question I’m sometimes asked, more often a question I ask others. The answers vary: “Fame and fortune.” (usually tongue in cheek.) “I have to write.” “It’s fun, a hobby, gives me something to do.” All valid reasons.

I have my reasons too. It allows me to create something tangible, it helps keep my mind focused on something other than bad news. In my more vain moments, I feel some pride when I see my books in print. Writing has allowed me to meet and become friends with some remarkable writers. I can live comfortably off my royalties. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. Were I to calculate what I’ve earned from my writing, I can without doubt say I’ve spent far more money on printer ink cartridges and paper than I’ve made selling books.

In my graduate education as a social worker, I read and learned about the work of psychologist B F Skinner. His research regarding operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement for behavior) was monumental. Within his work, two terms were coined: continuous reinforcement and intermittent reinforcement. Simply stated, either positive or negative reinforcement is provided every time a behavior occurs, or it is given randomly. The interesting thing is behaviors become more consistent when the reinforcement is intermittent. This seems to be counter intuitive. So why am I saying this while talking about writing?

People, all people, seek positive reinforcement. We want to get what we want. That desire becomes a driving force. As writers, it’s good we respond better to intermittent rewards. I’ll let you in on a secret, not everyone is going to like what you write. Shocking, I know. Most folks will say something like, “that was interesting,” or “I liked how you didn’t use the word “like” so many times,” and the best, “since it’s a hobby, its good you enjoy your real job.” Ouch!

I’ll just say it. My most painful review for my first book, Running In, Walking Out, said, “The title should have been Stumbling In, Falling Out. Okay, in my defense it had come after I’d previously said something which hinted that I had week-old grapes with a higher IQ than that of the reviewer. I later apologized and told him his IQ was in fact a few points higher than a grape.

But there are also those moments when a few kind words make a writer feel like Superman, or perhaps Superwoman. They can be few and far between, but when they come, just like a Skinner box, we writers keep pecking that button, hoping one more compliment will fall out of the chute.  Recently one fell into my feeding cup and I’ve devoured its sustenance for the past week. A reader whom I’ve not met, read my second book, The Unusual Man, and said some nice things about it. A bonus was she mentioned it to a friend, who also bought a copy. Both events were nice. She then ordered my first book, and I told her I thought it was a good story, but also felt it was not as well written as the second book.

Perhaps I was subconsciously laying down a soft mattress for my impending fall. A few days after the second purchase, I received an email from the reader. It was the note from her that stoked my writing fire and created the grin which is now a permanent fixture. She said she had finished Running In, Walking Out, and she “loved it more and more as the story moved on.”  Very nice words, which I appreciated. Then she wrote what has made my smile and my heart sing. Her words –“Again, it’s how you cradle your characters in love and respect that moves me.” Those fourteen words made my day, my week, and probably the next six months. One intermittent reward and I’m back at the keyboard trying even harder to produce something to elicit my next feeding. It may come in a week, six months, or six years. It may never come. As B F Skinner knew, it is positive reward that will keep me trying.

For all who write, paint, play a musical instrument, cook, sing, or take photographs, be patient, I hope you get a healthy meal of encouragement on just enough of an intermittent basis to keep you trying. I wish you the very best in your efforts and persistence.

“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.” Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy, a personal hero of mine.

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”       Hal Borland.

A personal note. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my blog. Also, I would love to have guest blogs. If you would like to write a piece, please contact me. kramer1234@comcast.net

Louie’s Book Bark!

Bird by Bird written by Anne Lamont. A wonderful book about the joys and pitfalls of writing. Lamont has a style that makes you cry from laughter as she speaks about the pitfalls of writing. Encouraging, she doesn’t sugar-coat the efforts needed to become an accomplished writer. In this book, she gives hope to novice writers while urging them to not expect to be the next J. K. Rowling. As a bonus to a fun read, Lamont gives useful advice and tips.

Louie gives this book a four woof endorsement.

Finding Passion

9-17-2020

          The Dumas Demons won the 3A State high school football championship in 1961 and 1962. It must have been a city ordinance requiring every business in that small Texas panhandle town to have at least one eight by ten framed photo of both teams displayed at all times. If you were a football player during one of those two years, you were royalty. I became a student in that high school a few years later; I didn’t play football.

          One could gain some status of a far less lofty ranking by being the son or daughter of a wealthy rancher or farmer. Those students were identified by the new Mustang or Camaro they drove. The lowest of the accepted castes were those smart kids known as nerds. I fell within the bounds of the Untouchables. I didn’t play sports; my dad didn’t own the BAR_S ranch, and I wasn’t smart. I was an untouchable, a nothing.

          During the third or fourth week of my freshman year, I met Tommy, and we started creating a dream. Tommy surpassed me in many areas. He was much taller. His family was poorer than mine and he might have had three or four fewer watts in his lightbulb. But we were friends, and we shared a dream. We were going to start a band.

          Jimmy, who we gave the nick name “Jock,” came along to add a third member to the unnamed future rock legends. Jock was three or four years older than Tommy and me. He’d dropped out of school long before graduation and knew how to play a half dozen chords on his thirty-dollar Sears guitar. Tim, our token popular kid, said he could sing and suddenly we were a band. The Avengers became the first rock band in Dumas, Texas history.

          We practiced as though we were training for the Olympics. Five, six nights a week, three, four hours each practice. Tim sang Louie Louie, I played Wipe Out on my three-piece gold-sparkle Ludwig drum kit, Tommy (who had quickly out-distanced Jock’s guitar ability) played lead and Jock played rhythm guitar. You may have noticed there was no bass player. Bill would come along a year later.

Equipped with one Gibson amp, two cheap guitars, a bullet mic, and my drums, we were booked to play our first gig at the YMCA. It was a hit. All thirteen songs we knew, we played at least three times each that night. We were on the road to the Dick Clark Show. A year later, far better equipped with a new drum kit, Tommy’s new Fender Strat, a real PA system and enough songs for three long sets, we rocked the YMCA.

For some unremembered reason, we changed the band’s name to The Echoes. After recording a record which sold at least twelve copies, we backed the Last Kiss one hit wonder J. Frank Wilson at a dance. We waited and I’m embarrassed to say, Ed Sullivan never called.         

          What began was the growth of passion. We’d found something which inspired us to work harder than we’d ever worked before. Yet we were not working harder because someone was making us, we were doing it because of the desire which had grown within us. One member of our band kept his passion for decades. In 2015, my boyhood friend and bandmate Tommy Shannon, along with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Chris Layton, were inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame.

          I left our band some months before I graduated from high school. I’ve played music off and on for many years since. It’s been fun but has never equaled the passion I felt when I was sixteen. For the next forty years I repeated many times, never having felt the same passion for anything.

          During my second year of university study, I started playing tennis. First it was with friends, then at a tennis club and eventually tournament play. It was fun, and I became a decent tennis player. I played more than a hundred tournaments over the next thirty years. I won a few tournaments, and I lost many more. It became more than a casual hobby, but never reached the level of passion.

          I also had a rewarding career as a social worker, therapist, and administrator. My work was meaningful, and I enjoyed it. I’m grateful for an opportunity to help people. It was a fulfilling career which I took seriously, yet it was never a passion.

          Six years ago, after my retirement, I began writing and joined a wonderful group of talented and supportive writers. I studied, I wrote a lot of poor stories and eventually published my first book. It is, a good story, poorly written. Two years later, I published my second novel. It is also a good story and written better than my first one. If I were to give it an honest rating, I’d say it is a C+ book on bad days and maybe a B- on my good days. I am my own worst critic. But I am also the most honest.

          Something else has happened. Now, when I sit on those days when words don’t come easily or on the days when they do, I am happy. I would dare say I have again found PASSION. I like to write. And like the time when I was trying to learn to do a faster single-stroke roll, or hit a better backhand, I’m working hard to be a better writer. It’s fun. I understand there’s a difference between knowing how to write well and writing well. I also believe anyone with an average IQ can become an accomplished writer. It takes an effort equal to learning any other skill.

          I have no illusions of writing as the giants of literature wrote. Maybe they had a special gift, but I believe what they all shared was a desire to be good and then better than good. A desire and a willingness to put in the work. To show up for life.

I’m enjoying and feeling grateful to have a sense of passion about something. It is like the feeling I had when I was sixteen and trying to figure out how to play the short, accented roll in Walk Don’t Run. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll again sit down behind a gold-sparkle Ludwig kit and attempt to learn the five-four time signature of Take Five. Maybe not, I’ll stick to writing.

“If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it.” Wanda Skyes

Go Well, David

Denni’s Wise Words

“When faced with the choice of being a princess or a dog, always be a princess.”

Go well, David

Don’t count your stories before they are published

9-8-2020

          Sometime last year, I don’t remember the exact date; I wrote a short story that I planned to submit to a magazine, hoping for publication. It seemed a good story. I’d done my research. My story was quirky, which I thought made it interesting. A quick once over before shipping it, and I was ready for my future literary glory. As expected, it took a few months before I received the inevitable, “Thank you for your submission, unfortunately we are unable to use your story at this time. Please continue to submit your writing and best of luck to you.”  Signed, “The guy who rejected your story.”

          That’s okay I thought, mine is a long and distinguished career of rejection. My first coming during fifth grade, her name was Galen. Patting myself on the back several times, I attempted to stroke my ego. “It’s their loss, not mine.” “Their literary taste dates back to the age of Neanderthals.” I told myself, I’ll wait awhile and find a magazine that deserves my talent.

          After several months of delaying, I decided it was the perfect time to bring the reading world to its knees with my writing proclivity. Best to read over the story a bit I thought, add some luster to the well-aged tale. I read with the intent of correcting, improving two or three words. One can never be too perfect.

          The self-assured smile faded quickly. The incessant use of the word – that -became all I could see. A typical sentence might read–He picked up the ball that was lying on the grass so that he could throw it to his friend that was standing there.

          And that was not all that I found disturbing. Oh no, after fifteen minutes of editing, I had the need of a third red pen. The story looked like the battlefield at Little Bighorn. I changed, I rewrote, I moved paragraphs, and I drank two beers. Then the real impact of my efforts hit me. My imagination led me to the poor schmuck who had read my story many months before. I could all but hear him howling as he gathered his fellow workers around. One saying, “Tell him to buy a larger box of crayons, some additional color might help.” Another added, “I wonder if he lists toilet training as formal education?”

          So here I sit today, confessing that I sent in a half-baked piece of writing and smugly waited for the adoration to come pouring in. I’ve since gone over a second edit and possibly by the fourth or fifth, it might end up being a decently written story. On dark nights, my lingering embarrassment still rears its ugly head. I call out in the night, I’m sorry!

          Don’t mistake my vanity. My writing is far from what I want (and plan) it to be. As they say on the tweets I read, “What’s your current WIP. (Work In Progress) My answer,”it’s me.” I want to be a better writer, and I’m willing to do the work to accomplish that. Rejection is a common occurrence for writers and I’ve tried to accept that. During my tennis years, while playing a tennis tournament, I would think, I can win this. That’s a different view than I will win this. More realistic, more humble. But effort, confidence, and a willingness to accept rejection moves us down the path we wish to travel. I recently read what I consider a wise quote about writing. “The goal of writing is progress, not perfection.” I can live with that. Better is not perfection, but it is better than not caring or not trying.

          To all those writing friends of mine, and for those I don’t yet know, I’m wishing you progress. I’m wishing you better if that’s what you want. If not, then I know a magazine that might get a kick out of reading your short story.

From Denni’s Wise Words

“Uncover your old, buried bones, sometimes they end up tasting better than the new ones.”