Tuesday, December 24, 2013


A little holiday giveaway for my readers. Christmas day and Boxing day, you’ll be able to get my newest book, Blood Anjels, along with the first book in the Wizards Trilogy, Wizard Chase, for free (the Kindle versions)  on Amazon.  Oh, heck, since it’s Christmas, let’s make the same offer for the Keeping Private Idaho. That’s December 25 and 26, only on Kindle.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remembered for Writing

A thought occurred to me yesterday as I clicked the submit button on a grant application. I’ve published five novels, one nonfiction book and been the major editor on five other nonfiction books. Those books will provide some entertainment and perhaps a little enlightenment to readers. But, will I be long remembered for them? Probably not.

As a sometimes grant writer (a term commonly used incorrectly, including here) I might get some measure of immortality, I suppose. At least, something that comes from it might outlive me.

But, if I am really remembered at all for my writing it will be by one of the smaller, but more important, readerships I have. If someone a hundred years from now reads my writing and is glad for it, that someone likely be a future relative. My family will remember me as the driving force behind a little family history magazine I have been editing for 27 years, called Presto Press. It’s what I’ll be doing this weekend. Making memories, with the crucial help of other family writers. I’m a novelist, grant writer, blogger, artist, and producer. I’m glad for all that, but the most important thing I do is keep Presto Press going. Now, to it.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Y2K and Climate Change

Authors, particularly science fiction writers, often warn us of impending doom. In an odd little twist, if we believe doomsayers and act accordingly, the doomsayers then sound a lot like Chicken Little.

Remember Y2K?  Airplanes were going to fall out of the sky, the power grid was going to collapse and we wouldn’t be able to see cats on the Internet. That didn’t happen, so the doomsayers were wrong. Right?

In that case, we listened to the doomsayers. Government, businesses, and citizens took steps to assure that computers would be able to get through the dreaded date safely. There were a few glitches, but no one died. Hardly anyone was inconvenienced. As a result, those warning us about Y2K were roundly ridiculed. People forgot that the reason technology did not collapse on a date certain was because those who recognized the problem worked day and night for months to see that disaster was averted.

Enter those warning of myriad disasters associated with climate change. Many in the general public are ridiculing the predictions of scientists. Meanwhile, many governments, businesses, and citizens are quietly taking measures to avert the disaster. We’re already seeing negative effects, so the chances are slim that we’ll come out of this one as cleanly as we did Y2K. But if the measures taken, combined with the positive impacts of new technology, do substantially forestall the worst effects of climate change, you can count on the ignorant to laugh at those who worked so hard to warn us.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sacrificing for Art

When I sacrifice for my art, it means my butt is tired from sitting in a chair and writing. When Matthew McConaughey does it, he drops 47 pounds, putting his health at risk.

I saw Dallas Buyers Club last night and was struck by the lengths McConaughey went to for that role. I was also struck by how little I need to sacrifice for my various pursuits. Yes, I’ve burned myself a lot doing metal sculpture. I’ve probably breathed a little too many solder and glue fumes. And, my butt gets tired when I pound away at the keyboard too long.

Writing isn’t easy. Most art takes a lot of work and dedication. Even so, for most of us, we do it because we can’t not do it. I admire those who give so much of themselves to bring a vision to life.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Last Line

There has been much written about the importance of the first line of a novel. At some point I’ll probably add to that discussion, but today I want to spend a minute or two talking about the last line of a novel.

To me, a perfectly composed ending line is the--pun intended--bookend. I generally start working with some sense of the ending in mind. Midway through the novel it has coalesced in my mind to where I can nearly see it. Then, as happened to me yesterday on the way back from visiting with my dialogue coach, the actual ending comes to me.

It happened that way with Blood Anjels, the book I recently released. I knew the feeling I wanted to leave with the reader almost from the beginning. It wasn’t until the three perfect words came to me that I knew I had it. And, no, I’m not going to tell you those three perfect words. And, if you’re one of those people who reads the ending first, they will be meaningless to you. They are, in fact, words the character has spoken before, but in this context their meaning is multiplied and they hit you in the heart.

As it turns out, there are three perfect words that will end The Crappy Used Diary. In the case of the new novel, they will not have been spoken or written before, but their truth will have been evident for about halfway through the novel. The zinger here will be quite different from the one in Blood Anjels. I think both sentences will leave you with the same chill.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ender's Game

Should readers and moviegoers boycott works of art because they disagree with the political views of a writer? This question has come up most recently in regards to Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. The book is iconic in the science fiction canon. I’ve read it, and its sequels. I admire the writing of Orson Scott Card. Only within the past year or so, with the release of the Ender’s Game movie, have I learned how vehemently homophobic the man is. 

Card has many views I find abhorrent. So, should I no longer credit his work? Of course not. His work stands on its own. However, I will no longer purchase anything he writes, and I certainly won’t see the movie.

I would not take that stand if Card were a run-of-the-mill conservative. I can disagree with someone’s political views and still respect them. However, I can’t support someone who would like to see friends and relatives of mine become outlaws because they were born gay. I cherish those people for who they are. Being gay is integral to that.

The question can get complex, and the link I’ve included here cleverly addresses some of the those complexities. Enjoy.

Meanwhile, I won’t be seeing the movie. No doubt, there are readers out there who won’t read my books because of my views. Good for them.


Monday, November 25, 2013

A Dear Diary

I’m pondering this because the book I’m currently writing is based on diary entries of two (sometimes three) girls. The entries are one hundred years apart, 1914 and 2014.

As I have mentioned previously I use a few methods to get the language right. I have a 15-year-old niece I am using as a dialogue coach for the contemporary girls. I also use Urban Dictionary for additional help, and I plan to hang out in coffee shops where that age group hangs out, so I can listen to their conversations. Call it creepy, if you like, but how else can I get it right?

For the 1914 girl I have a family diary from that period. Unfortunately, the journalist was a grandmother when she was writing. It helps me get a sense of the times, but I was still missing the vernacular of a 14-year-old girl in 1914.

I contacted TAG Historical Research and Consulting to see if they might know of any resources. Bingo! Elizabeth directed me to the Idaho State Historical Society Archives and to one diary in particular. The diarist was a teenage girl who lived in Boise at the right time.

I’ve learned much about what a teenager then would care about and the style of writing of one bright and engaging girl. I’m picking up some terrific tips from her. I need to use underlining for emphasis. The ampersand was a common shortcut. Spelling--at least the spelling of this girl--was spot on. They did use contractions. She used exclamation points, sometimes in multiples.

Reading this young girl’s diaries, her musings on ordinary life and something about her dreams, makes me melancholy. I feel a little like a voyeur. At the same time, I feel like I’m letting her live a little more than she did. A few of her thoughts and feelings will fly forward one hundred years, though she herself died at age 17.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Circle

I just finished reading The Circle, by Dave Eggers. It would like to be the new 1984. Things are moving too fast for that. By 2015 it will sound dated, maybe even quaint. His message that we’re allowing our privacy to slip away in the name of connectivity, is obvious, but no less important one. For me, the message is clouded by one extended metaphor that needn’t have been so sloppy.

One of the triumvirate that runs The Circle (think Facebook, Google, Apple and the Moonies merged and ravenous), has a fondness for fish of the deepwater kind. With his billions he builds a one person diving device that can take him to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The deepest spot in the trench--and the ocean--is nearly seven miles below the surface. On it’s maiden voyage, the diving vessel brings back an assortment of never-before-seen creatures.

Here’s where Eggers loses me. He makes no effort to tip his hat toward science. With 25 words he could have superficially described the care they took to keep creatures evolved to survive beneath more than six miles of ocean alive. Instead, he spends a couple of pages describing a transfer between one apparently open tank to another in which the deep sea creatures are dropped into the water in baggies so they could slowly acclimate to the temperature of the new tank.

All the critters had eyes, which would likely be superfluous at the bottom of the ocean. Yet, none of them were affected by the light streaming in from beyond the glass where people were watching.

To make his metaphor work--and I have to stop here and mention that I accidentally typed in “meataphor,” which is actually apt. To make his metaphor work, the shark he has captured is insatiable. It is also transparent, which lets us watch it eat then digest other critters. Plausible enough, but he has to push the metaphor. The process from fully functional turtle to little digested flakes drifting down to the sand from the waste chute of the shark takes about 60 seconds.

Writers have to give us some excuse for our willingness to suspend disbelief. Yes, we can accept that people might fall for the allure of a perfect company that gives them infinitely useful stuff in exchange for every nanoparticle of information about them. But if a writer also asks us to believe that you can just take a deep sea shark and plop it in the equivalent of a goldfish bowl, they risk losing our suspension of disbelief. We know they’re pulling that part out of their--let’s say, shark chute.

I enjoyed most of this cautionary tale. I would have enjoyed it more if the author had spent a little time making us believe the scientific plausibility of its central metaphor.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's just common sense!

Sigh. Writers are supposed to avoid using common phrases. That’s because falling back on them is lazy and lacks creativity. In the case of “It’s just common sense,” which also happens to be a tag line for current Cable One commercials, the phrase is particularly irritating to me, because it is also meaningless.

The phrase assumes there is some vast reservoir of common sense out there we can simply dip into with our little tin cups. I see no evidence of that. The Wisdom of Crowds tells us a random group of people can better guess the number of beans in a jar or the weight of an ox than an expert can. You just average the answers of everyone to get pretty darned close. That’s pooling of knowledge, though, not a measure of something that exists in a single person.

If common sense is really common, why do so many individuals seem to lack it? Ponder that while you read this sentence before I give you the answer. Ready? Because what you mean when you deplore someone’s lack of common sense is that they are acting in a way you would not act or thinking in a way you would not. Common sense is, in fact, YOUR sense, or at least the sense of the advocator of same.

Because there is no commonality of wisdom, some wise people decided that we would have a republic in the United States, not a pure democracy. Setting aside the impracticality of each of us voting on every issue, consider the implications. If the majority ruled, minorities of color, creed, or whim of nature would forever remain second class citizens, if they remained citizens at all.

Instead, we elect people who are intelligent enough to learn more about every issue and come to a considered decision for us. Yes, I just said that, though I am fully aware of the frequent failures of this in practice.

We wouldn’t need elected officials if there were such a thing as common sense, would we? Appealing as that seems at this moment in history, reverting to the biggest stick form of government would not serve us well.

That’s just common sense.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Little Lies

We all become more skeptical as the little lies of childhood are exposed for what they are: the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the dog that went to live on the farm up state. Many of us, though carry--now, let’s call them myths--into adulthood, perhaps to the end of our lives. We understand that flying through the air in a sleigh pulled by ungulates is patently ridiculous, yet see walking on water as proof of a special kind of magic.

Why do we tell the little lies, and why do we believe the big ones? I think the reason is the same. We want to maintain our innocence. We want to believe we can defeat the forces of nature--even death--despite all evidence to the contrary.

This need to keep awful truths from our children and ourselves has a persistence that can last a lifetime.

When I was eight or nine, Pop brought home an injured mourning dove. It had a broken wing courtesy, we surmised, of a collision with a powerline. I was  put in charge of the bird. I rigged a cage from a metal freezer basket and kept her in it at night. During the day, I would take her out and let her pal around with me, perched on my shoulder, as we explored the edges of the half-acre fish pond we had on our place.

I did not--do not--know how to distinguish a male from a female mourning dove. In my mind, this one was female, so soft and smooth. Searching for a name for her one day, I spotted a duck on the pond who happened to have a tiny, loose feather balanced on its head. To me, it looked like a crown. That lead to me calling the dove Princess.

I do not not how long I had Princess. My fuzzy memory would like to say weeks. The adult in me says it was a matter of days. One of those days she was gone from her cage when I went to get her.
My parents assured me she had escaped, and I was eager to believe it. How she could have worked her way out of a cage that did not even have a door, I could not say. How she got through two doors and up a flight of stairs to the world beyond was a great mystery. She was gone though, so there you have it.

Weeks later I saw her again. My heart thrilled when the mourning dove with the broken wing flapped along the ground in front of me. I chased it, nearly catching it several times. I probably followed it a quarter mile, cooing to the bird and trying not to scare her. Just when I thought she had settled under a sagebrush and waited for me to pick her up, she would stumble and flap and half-fly off again. At last, I lost her in the bushes.
I ran home to tell Mom of my sighting. She was thrilled to think the bird was all right, just as she and Pop had thought she might be.
I was disappointed that I hadn’t caught her, of course. Still, I felt good knowing she was out there.

It was years later that I found out mourning doves are known for their strategy of feigning a broken wing to lead predators away from a nest.

It was years later, still, when I finally got around to asking Mom what had really happened with the bird. Mom was 90; I was 55. She deflected the question.

So, here I am with that small spark of hope in my heart that there is a mourning dove still out there who remembers me fondly, in spite of the best evidence that death claims us all.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sculpting Words

I’ve been asked a couple of times in recent writing workshops how many times I edit or rewrite my work. In those same settings, the subject of nanowrimo has come up. The two subjects are related.

Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month, is an effort to encourage writers to pound out 1600 words, or so, every day, all month long. Writers are told not to worry about editing, just get the words down.

This idea reflects the common practice of writing scads more material than you’ll need, then going back to edit out the garbage.
My sense is that the majority of writers work this way.

I suppose you could liken this to a sculptor chipping away at the stone until only the sculpture is left.

I work from the other direction. My writing, for better or worse, starts with the same blank page as a watercolorist. I build it up layer by layer, correcting minor errors as I go along. When it comes time to look over the whole thing I find a pencil mark or two to erase, or a spot that calls for another brushstroke.

How often do I edit? Constantly. I will write a couple thousand words in a session, then go back at the end of the day and edit lightly. The next day, I’ll read through what I wrote the day before, making minor tweaks as needed, then start the next session. Every three or four days, I’ll go back ten thousand words are so and check everything for flow. Again, I’ll change a word or two and discover places where I left out a word.

When the draft is finished, I’ll go back through the whole thing once more, then set it aside. I let it sit for about six weeks, then go through it again. At that point, it’s usually ready for an editor.

I don’t slash and burn, because I don’t write a lot of burnable material. Call that hubris, if you like. It’s just the way I learned to write. I have a background in two disciplines that force writers to use their words sparingly to convey a message: copywriting for radio and poetry. The two are not equivalent, but each has a finite box. For radio, the box is 30 or 60 seconds. For poetry, it is the form you choose to use, if you are using a form. Even relatively unstructured poetry has its own discipline of metrics and economy.

Mine way is the right way. For me. If writing reams then slashing away the excess works for you, go for it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Google Me

Well, this is an interesting development. I was going to blog today about the trials and tribulations of having a last name that is also a very common English adjective. Then I Googled myself.

Admit it, you’ve done that. Everyone is curious about the digital tracks they’ve left across the cyber landscape. I haven’t done it in at least months, possibly years.

I’ve found it entertaining in the past to first Google William Shakespeare, another writer you may have heard of. You get more than 50,000 results. Most of them are probably in some way related to William Shakespeare.

Now, Google Rick Just. You get more than 407,000 results. Whoa! This Rick Just must be some kind of famous! Except that about 407,000 of those results are for pages where “Rick just emptied the garbage,” or the like.

That was to be the basis of my mini rant. People simply can’t find me, even if they are actually looking for me.

But strange Google magic has happened since last I looked. Seven of the top eight results are for the actual Rick Just who writes this blog. True, the third most relevant result offered is for a bus driver named Rick Just who is featured in a YouTube video. Still, there I am, right where I’m supposed to be.

The top result is my website, followed by my LinkedIn page, followed by the bus driver. Then we’ve got Facebook, a bio, images, my author page on Amazon, and a link to Wizard Chase.

I still can’t shake that Shakespeare dude, though. Result number nine is from the website Rap Genius, quoting lyrics by Rick Ross, which include a reference to the Bard. Back to school, Google, back to school.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cover Up

You can’t judge a book... Balderdash. You can. You do. 

Maybe it’s the cover blurb that sells you, or the title of the book, or the name of the author. Covers are the billboards of reader enticement. They have about two seconds to draw you in before you’re nothing but taillights.

I wonder if that old idiom began back when book covers were roughly the same; when book covers were just the cloth-wrapped boards that protected the pages between them. At one time the only thing that differentiated the Bible from Robinson Crusoe before you opened it up, was the title of the book.

We count on covers. They separate romance novels from cookbooks. Usually. They tell us how fabulously famous the author is, when her name is larger than the title. They help us make the first cut in selecting a book.

All of this is by way of introducing the new cover of what was, in 1996, my first novel, Keeping Private Idaho. The book has been out of print for a while, and I’ve never done an electronic version.
Now, the book is available, again, in trade paperback, and will be available as an ebook in just a few days. What pleases me most about bringing it back is the new cover, created by Ward Hooper.

If you live in the Northwest, you’ve seen Ward’s work everywhere. If you’re not familiar with him, please visit his website or Facebook page.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Three for the price of none

Three for the price of none! Today’s the day I’m offering three of my Kindle books for free on Amazon. The free books are Wizard Chase, the first book in the Wizards Trilogy; Idaho Snapshots, my book of short Idaho history vignettes; and my newest book, Blood Anjels. A word of warning: Blood Anjels may not be appropriate for some young adults. Like my Wizards Trilogy, the main characters are young people coming of age. Unlike in the Trilogy, they confront questions of gender and sexuality. This may upset and shock some conservative parents. One has to remember that the characters in Blood Anjels are not human and while their reproductive strategy has echoes of human sexuality, it is not the same.

Now are you interested?

Download the books today only to your Kindle for free by following the link below.


Friday, November 15, 2013

One Last Edit

I wrote yesterday about what I’ve learned from editors. It’s a long list. I should mention the need for them at various levels.

Most people understand the need for copy editing, sometimes called line editing. You need someone to tell you when you’ve left a word out, typed one twice, or forgotten that important comma.
You need a proofreader to compare earlier versions of a manuscript with corrected versions, to assure all the errors were actually corrected. They will catch typographical errors. Except when they don’t, which is why you need more than one set of eyes looking over your work.

You many want to work with an editor who understands plotting and story flow. Those are different skill sets, and not all editors have them.

Continuity is essential in a book. Do you use the same name for a character consistently? Is it always spelled the same? Is the timeline of the story linear (if it is supposed to be)? Is something missing?

This just skims the surface of what an editor can do. What I wanted to emphasize particularly today is the need for that one last edit.

You may think you’re through with editiors once your draft is perfect. Think again. There is the potential for introducing numerous errors at every step along the way to publication. If you are using  a traditional publishing house most of the final editing will be taken care of for you. You’ll probably receive galleys to go over one last time.

If you are printing a book yourself you need to have an editor look it over once you have loaded the copy into a desktop publishing program and have it looking the way you want it to look. Then, you’ll need to have someone check it over once it has been uploaded to a service such as Create Space.

If you’re using the same files to create a digital version of your book, you’ll need an editor to make sure the transfer from print format to digital worked the way you wanted it to. Many errors--particularly formatting errors--take place in that transfer. Finally, you’ll want someone to look at it once your files meet the specifications of your digital publisher. The process they use to turn your file into, say, a Kindle book, can introduce errors as well.

Meanwhile, don't forget that I'm giving away free Kindle copies of three of my books tomorrow on Amazon. Follow the link below to my author page on Saturday, then click on Blood Anjels, Idaho Snapshots or Wizard Chase.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weakening Words

I sat on a panel of writers at an editing workshop last weekend. That got me thinking about what I’ve learned from editors over the years. Perhaps my most important lesson was to recognize and murder passive voice.

Recently, an editor pounded on me about my use of weakening words. I probably sin the most with the word “though.” Here’s an example from my book Wizard Chase:

I didn't like the plan, much. It was the best plan we had, though. It was the only plan.

That short paragraph is stronger, and one word shorter, without “though.”

I’ve taken to doing a word search for “though” in all my writing. I find that I can get along without it about 95% of the time. I sometimes leave it in when it’s not strictly needed, if it’s in conversation. Otherwise, I’m aggressive with the delete key.

There’s another weakening word that I’m pone to use in my writing. Stand by for irony. The word is “just.”
With apologies to Nike, here’s an example from the same book—the same chapter—where “just” is unnecessary and weakening:

“Let's just do it," said Valven.

The Internet has weakening word lists. Check them out. Do a word search on your own writing. Do you see words such as seemed, well, while? Can you get along without them?

Writing is the quintessential example of less is more.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Giveaway Day

Saturday is Giveaway Day! To celebrate the publication of my latest novel, Blood Anjels, three of my books will be free for Kindle users this Saturday. The free books are Blood Anjels, Wizard Chase and Idaho Snapshots. Just go to Amazon on Saturday, November 16 and search for any or all of the books. You’ll see that their price has been reduced to $0. Add them to your shopping cart, make the zero-dollar purchase, and they’ll be delivered free to your Kindle.

This is our little secret, right? Wrong. Please share this promotion with your friends who have Kindles.

Why? Giving Kindle books away always results in increased sales of my books. That’s because many of those who read the free book are kind enough to write a review, which encourages sales. Also, those who read a free book are more likely to purchase one of my other books.

Thanks for participating.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Readers are often surprised when they learn that fiction requires research. You’re just making up the story, right? How can you get anything wrong?

Let me give you a couple of examples from the novel I’m currently working on, The Crappy Used Diary.

One of the key characters is a 14-year-old girl whose parents are adamantly opposed to her wearing makeup. Their opposition is equally met by her obsession with the stuff. Strategies for obtaining this essential substance help to enrich the plot.

I know little about makeup, and even less about how one might go about a DIY project in which two teenagers attempt to create it. Hello, YouTube. Suffice to say that burnt almond, honey, and olive oil play their roles.

Further, I know only a smattering of teen speak. Urban Dictionary is helpful here. My teenage niece is crucial.

I have no one to teach me the vernacular of a teenage girl in 1914, so I am on the search for diaries of that period.

For this book, I also need to know what was going on day-to-day in 1914. Several timeline sites on the Internet help me there. I need to keep in mind that news did not travel so fast 100 years ago, so major events would not reach ranchers sometimes for days.

I might get away with some errors in the 1914 entries in the book. Most readers won’t do a lot of fact checking. If I mess up the contemporary chat I’m in big trouble. That’s the language of my readers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Novel is Live

I started blogging about my novel, Blood Anjels, January 25, 2013. Those who have followed the blog from the beginning know about character and plotting decisions I've made along the way and they have helped me decide on cover copy and on the book cover itself.

Today's the day I officially move on to new projects, because today marks the release of the book on Kindle. The printed version will be available later this week.

You can read the first few pages and order the book through this link.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Getting Covered

Blood Anjels is nearly ready to go to press (and to publish as a Kindle book). If you’ve got two minutes, please help me by giving your opinion on two potential covers and on the back cover copy for the book. You’ll get a free Kindle copy as soon as it is published. Please feel free to forward the survey link to anyone else you think might be interested. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30. I’m on the threshold of a new novel, so I’ve decided to participate.

What encourages a novelist to write? Deadlines, a muse, poverty, boredom. NaNoWriMo is an artificial deadline. Nothing happens at the end of the month if you don’t hit 50,000 words. Still, it might offer a bit of motivation, and that’s a good thing.

During this coming month I also expect to publish my new novel Blood Anjels and re-release my first novel Keeping Private Idaho. It will be a busy month.

Care to join me in taking the NaNoWriMo challenge? You can do so by going to http://nanowrimo.org.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Word Play

I play word games. Maybe you do, too. I play Words With Friends (WWF) and Scramble. In the old days their equivalents were Scrabble and Boggle. I frequently lose. I am a writer. What does that say? More about my gaming skills than my skills with words, I hope.

A writer plays with words all the time, seeking exactly the right ones to convey meaning and trimming them until they are just shy of losing that meaning.

I think many of my WWF opponents would balk at writing a short story. It would not seem like word play to them. Writing a novel, to them, might seem an impossible task.
That is not to say they lack a skill with words. They know how to spell them and they have a good vocabulary, or they would rarely beat me in those ongoing games.

Writing requires a different skill set than playing word games. Even so, some people refuse to accept a WWF challenge from me because they think a writer might play well beyond their level of skill. I might. I might not. I play with people who have little formal education beyond high school, and I play with lawyers and PhDs. There is little correlation between education level and WWF skill level in my regular group. Of course there are players who quickly drop out when they find they can’t successfully compete, just as there are more skilled players who get bored because they aren’t challenged by my gaming abilities.

It’s only a game. It isn’t writing. Nevertheless it pleases me to play the modern version of Scrabble because my great aunt played. Agnes Just Reid was a well-known regional writer and almost as well known for her ruthless Scrabble games, played on the kitchen table of her ranch house with the cast iron stove keeping everyone warm. I play on a mobile device and rarely have a lemon pie baking in the background. The inclination, playing with words as vocation and avocation, is the same. I link to think it would please her to know that I write and that I play, and that one of my top tier opponents is one of her great, great grandsons. Word play is a family tradition.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Weakening Words

What does an editor do for a writer? I’m thinking about this because I’ve been asked to serve on a panel on that subject at an upcoming seminar for writers.

It should be obvious that editors find errors. They find where words were left out or doubled. They make sure you have commas in all the right places and that capitols are correctly used. They help you rework awkward sentences. They call you out when something is just a little too cute or when you’ve given in to alliteration one too many times.

Editors are your lifeline for continuity. They point out that Martha was named Margaret, earlier. They notice when a character has just shaved in one scene and still sports a beard in the next.

I most value my editor for endlessly berating me for using
weakening words. I’m good about staying away from that common scourge of writers, passive voice. My personal sins are “just” and “though.” People use those words frequently in conversation. I’m able to slip a few by her if they are cloaked in quotes. Though, she just won’t allow it, otherwise.

Those words are my personal disease. Fortunately, I have a good doctor.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

On Deadline

Do you expect to keep writing after you’re dead? Bear with me here. This is not a religious or philosophical question. It is pure practicality.

Whatever your religious beliefs, whether they include heaven, hell, purgatory, a specific number of virgins, reincarnation, dancing angels, Karma, or blood sacrifice, they probably do not include extra innings to finish that story you have in your head.

You’ll find good advice from experienced writers about how you should spend X hours a day, or write X words, even on holidays and Mondays. That’s all about discipline. It’s a way to get something done.

My advice, today, is about why you should write, not how you go about it. You should write because the story in your head will turn to dust when the lights go out. No one will know it ever existed if it was just a conversation you’ve been having with yourself for the past 20 years. Get it out. Put it on paper. Sleep better at night.

Do not wait until the story is perfect inside your head. You will wait too long. Write it down in all its imperfection, then perfect it. You’ve heard of rewriting, haven’t you? You know you will improve it every time you comb through it and that your editor will improve it some more.

What are you waiting for? Why do you think they call it a deadline?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Old Friend/New Friend

I’ve known Jack Sunday, radio personality on KFGO, Fargo, ND, since his mother sent him to school on his first day in the first grade wearing a big button, white on blue, announcing his first name. In spite of that fashion faux pas, we have remained friends ever since. We can go years without seeing each other and pick up the conversation as if time hasn’t passed at all.

I had met Jack’s son, Curt Rogers, only once, and then briefly. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with him in Denver. To my delight it was as comfortable from the first minute as if it had been Jack himself. There were flashes of his father when he would turn his head just right or in the particular indignation we shared over outrageous politicians. Flashes, yes, but Curt is his own man with his own powerful personality.

Curt is, among other things, a writer (see http://whilewalkingduncan.blogspot.com/
). We spent some time talking about my work and his. We talked about the difficulty of getting a vivid idea out of your head and onto the page. 

He has a story that needs to be told and the skills to tell it. I eagerly await its completion.

Meanwhile, I shared a secret with him that everyone else will find out only when Blood Anjels is published, probably within the next few weeks. It is the reason I had this story inside my head.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Permission, Please

I am especially careful when using other people’s words or images, because I’ve had my work snatched without permission before. A few years ago an anthology of Idaho writers was published, in which 13 short vignettes I’d written were used not only without permission, but without attribution. Adding insult to injury, they were credited in the index to another writer. We settled.

I’m thinking of this right now because I’m seeking permission to use a Paul Simon quote as an epigraph in my latest novel. You’ve seen them. These are the pithy little quotes at the beginning of a novel that the novelist wants to include because they bear some relationship to the story. Sometimes they may even be the inspiration for the story.

In my case, I remembered the lyric line after I’d finished the novel. It’s the perfect introduction, so I’m eager to use it. With permission.

I could probably quote it here without fear of repercussion, but I won’t. As I said, I’m careful.

So, my people (me) are now working with Paul Simon’s people (Paul Simon’s people) to obtain that permission. Wish me luck. Buy one of his albums.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beautiful Ruins

Why are we drawn to ruins? As an artist, I seek the derelict car rusting in the overgrown field. The tumbledown shed that was pedestrian when it was a freshly painted, slapped-together project, now holds romance. Even the bones of some animal, bleached and beginning to spall into dust hold a fascination for us that a fleeting glimpse of the same creature seen through the trees when it was quick, would not.

The Sphinx, the Great Wall, Angkor Wat, all have a pull on us in their ruins. What fascinates us about decay?

If I paint a perfect picture of a 1947 Diamond T truck sparkling in the morning sun it will elicit a shrug at best. Pull a wheel off, prop the axle on a block, break out a headlight and give the thing a few dents, then cover it with a variegated coating of rust, and now you have something. Let’s sell prints of that.

Death, I suppose. We are compelled and repelled by it. We must stop at the accident scene. We have to look at the scar. Maybe if we see it a little closer, if we experience the terrible from just a little distance, we can calm our fears. If we get to know it, maybe it won’t hurt us. If we cannot escape that ultimate curtain call, well, at least it won’t surprise us so much when we are ruined.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Return of the Private

In a recent post I wrote about how there was an element of surprise reading something I’d written as recently as six weeks before. I have a little more experience with that, now. I’m re-issuing Keeping Private Idaho after 17 years. I needed to go back through the book to correct something from the first edition, so I read it for the first time since it was published.
I’m glad to say that it still holds up pretty well, though now it’s a period piece, rather than a contemporary novel. There were several things I had completely forgotten about the book in that time, so it really was a lot like a first read.
The correction, by the way, was in the name of the dog featured in the book. The dog was named after the Newfoundland that accompanied Lewis and Clark on their epic Corps of Discovery. For most of the previous 190 years, historians had referenced the dog as Scannon, so that’s what I called his namesake. Just a couple of months after Keeping Private Idaho was published, researchers discovered a creek in Montana that Lewis, who owned the dog, had labeled Seaman creek. Many features were named after Corps of Discovery members, so historians began looking carefully at the journals again. They decided that “Scannon” was actually Seaman. Newfoundlands are water dogs, famous for serving on ships, so Seaman actually made more sense. So, I was done in by imprecise penmanship.
The change led to a little alteration in dialogue. Additionally, I tightened up some scenes, in preparation for the re-release.
The biggest change, though, is in the cover. Here’s the new cover, by Boise artist Ward Hooper. The printed and kindle versions of the book will likely be out in November. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cover Art

Three books are competing for space in my head these days. I’m thinking about a couple of minor tweaks to Blood of Anjels. I’m preparing Keeping Private Idaho for re-release, nearly 20 years after it first came out. And, I’m giving a lot of thought to my next young adult novel, The Crappy Used Diary.

Today I have an exciting announcement about two of those books. Well-known Boise artist Ward Hooper has agreed to do a new cover for Keeping Private Idaho and will also do a cover for Blood of Anjels. Ward is best known for his vintage style posters. That style will work just fine for Keeping Private Idaho. Expect the cover for Blood of Anjels to have a little edgier look.

Check out Ward’s incredible portfolio at http://www.wardhooper.com/. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Continuity of Toes

Continuity, in fiction writing, refers to the consistency of all things in the work. Checking continuity is one of the more important jobs of an editor.
Errors still get through, often enough. I remember reading a Ridley Pearson book a few years ago in which a melted piece from a Monopoly game was clue. The little blob of plastic was green, as I remember it, yet it was referred to as a “hotel.” Then, it should have been red, shouldn’t it have? That’s a miniscule example, but one that can jar a reader out of that carefully crafted world of fiction.
In one of my own books the first edition contains an error in a character name. It was Emralla all along, except for on that one page where the character was suddenly named Blizzard. I didn’t catch it, nor did editors. But a couple of readers noticed. I had changed the name at some point, and thought I had done a global replace, but I had somehow missed one.
In the current book I did the same thing. This time, my editor caught two instances (so far) where the change in character name hadn’t yet taken effect. Good for her.
Just now, before I broke away to do this quick blog entry, I caught a place where the number of toes on my anjels’ feet were incorrect. I had gone back and forth between three toes and four. Which is it? Well, you’ll just have to wait for the book to come out before discovering that. With a little luck, it will be the same number of toes every time I count them!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Killing the Darlings

It is difficult to let go of a phrase you love, but your love for it might be the proof that you should. This comes home to me as I review comments from my editor.
As with many great quotes, the attribution for “You must kill your darlings” is in dispute. Faulkner, maybe, or Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Regardless, the sentiment is the same when it comes to writing: you must sometimes murder your favorite child.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King says, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”    
That’s why a writer is both eager and full of dread when she gets a manuscript back from an editor.
I’m re-reading my latest draft but, for the first time, with notes from my editor. When I spot a comment, all dressed up in a blue box, further down the page, it’s all I can do to keep from scrolling to it. Instead, I carefully read through the lines, accepting or (rarely) rejecting the minor punctuation suggestions she has made, all the time distracted by what might lie in wait.
More often than not, the comment is about a minor change she is suggesting, but occasionally she thinks I should rewrite a sentence or throw away a paragraph all together. The first image that comes to mind when I think of ripping out a paragraph is seeing it there on the floor, connecting tissue and arteries severed, quivering in the throes of death.
But they are only words. I can make more of them. Better, I can say the same thing with fewer words.
So, today (and the next few days) are for darling killing. Your condolences are appreciated.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Brain with a Mind of its Own

My brain won’t leave me alone. In past posts I’ve commented on the power of that magical land between wakefulness and dreams. I travel it a lot and get my best ideas there.
Last night, at something past three, my brain started exploring the landscape there and came back with idea after idea, this time in the arena of art, not writing. Stay tuned for some encaustic mashups that will be brilliant, or something less.
I appreciate these musing moments. I depend on them. But, sleep has its virtues, too. When my brain really gets revved up, it won’t stop. It wants to tackle other problems I didn’t know I had, mostly dealing with shop organization or how to keep the dog from jumping up on strangers. I wrestle it back toward the artistic, hoping that will be more productive, at least, if not sleep-inducing.

And now, it’s fully daylight and I can actually pursue the activities I worked through in my head last night. But I’m too damn sleepy!

Friday, September 20, 2013


...and, we’re live.
If you are reading this on my Tumblr feed, you may have gathered from a scattering of date references in previous posts that this blog was not live. Now it is. My blog appears on Blogspot, Goodreads, Facebook, Amazon and Tumblr. In order to sync all those, I took a few weeks off and replayed the blog from the beginning on Tumblr.
This is a bit like time travel for me, taking a leap forward from the last post. For many of you there won’t be a break in the continuity at all.
So, what has happened in the weeks (or no time at all) since yesterday’s post? For Blood of Anjels, my editor has now finished a couple of reads on the book and has gotten it back to me. I’ll be concentrating on the edits she has suggested and working on continuity issues she found. A second editor has given me some help on the opening sequence of the book. I’ll incorporate some of those suggestions into the final draft, too. Once that’s done, we’ll be nearly ready to publish.
I am looking for an artist to work with, first on the cover of this book and perhaps on the covers of my previous young adult books in the Wizards Trilogy. If I can find the right artist, I may work with them to create graphic novel versions of the trilogy.
Meanwhile, I have a good start on the first draft of The Crappy, Used Diary.
While I was taking a break from blogging, I wrote a short story that I’m pretty happy with and that my wife hates. It’s called Hitch, and its about a pair of best friends who wake up after a night of drinking in Vegas to find that they’re married. Yeah, that seemed like a good idea the night before.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Quick Update

Time for a quick update. Blood of Anjels is still with the editor. I'm continuing to do research for the Crappy Used Diary.

Meanwhile, I have completed a major redesign of my website. Please take a look at it.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The Crappy Used Diary will require some research. I need to know what was happening day-by-day 100 years ago on certain dates. That isn’t particularly difficult now that we have that magical device, the Internet. Understanding how events might impact the life of a 12-year-old girl is a little more challenging.

Perhaps the most challenging thing is to capture the idiom of pre-teens then and now. Again, having the Internet at my disposal will help me better understand the way girls today talk, but what about the girls of a century ago?

For contemporary entries, http://teenagediarycollective.tumblr.com/archive will offer some help.

For entries from the teens (girls and years) from that other century, I will need to locate a diary or two. I’m fortunate to have a family diary from about that time, although the journalist was elderly.

And, as I write this, I realized that the “diary” will only be such for the first three or four entries. After that it will be much more like letters from one girl to another and from one century to another. They will be much like pen pals who slowly learn about each other. Telling about their surface lives will come easily enough for them, but it will take some time to open up about their interior lives, their fears, their dreams.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Repeating History

The Crappy Used Diary is a story about a 12-year-old girl who gets an antique leather diary for her birthday from her father. He has found it while doing restoration work on a house of historic interest to his family. The daughter is bummed. She wanted a new iPod, and all she got was this stupid diary.

A few days after her birthday, she is bored and picks it up to thumb through it. That’s when she notices it is used! There are three or four entries. In spite of her pique she decides to read the entries. She notices that the dates correspond to recent days, but from one hundred years ago. There is already an entry for “today,” but she decides to do just what her dad wanted and make an entry in the diary herself. Her entry is all about how what she really wanted was an iPod and all she got was a crappy used diary.

The girl leaves her pen in the diary and closes it, never intending to write in it again. The next day, she’s looking for her pen and remembers where she’d left it. To her surprise (but probably not yours, at this point) there is another hundred-year-old entry below the one she had written the day before.

Intrigue and complications ensue.

This will give me an opportunity to explore several areas of interest. As I said yesterday, I will be able to write about friendships of adolescent girls. More important, it will allow me to compare and contrast the lives of girls of that age one hundred years apart. And, didn’t someone once say something about repeating history if you ignore it?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Shiny New Vehicle

Authors over the years have used many vehicles to take their characters--and their readers--into other worlds. Think rabbit holes, mirrors, tornadoes and wardrobes.

In my books, so far, the vehicles have been a lava tube, a backpack and dog urine. Yeah, you’ll have to stand by for that last one. It’s still only about half written.

I bring this up because I’m about to step into a shiny new vehicle of the literary type: A diary.

Blood of Anjels is out to readers in draft form (let me know if you’d like to be a reader), so I’m effectively setting that aside and starting some preliminary work on the next one.

The working title of this book is likely the one I’ll keep: The Crappy Used Diary. It will be a young adult novel with--there I go again--mostly female characters. I’ve written three coming of age novels, two of them about girls. I’m particularly drawn to stories about the friendships between girls. Maybe it is because passionate friendships between females is more socially accepted than passionate friendships between boys. And see, there your mind goes barking off in the wrong direction. When I said passionate your first thought was sexual. Just slap yourself. I mean deep and enduring. Also, poised on the dramatic.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss the options on the vehicle I’ve chosen to take us back and forth between worlds. Yes, it has air conditioning, Internet and electric windows. Except for when it doesn’t have indoor plumbing. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Testing Descriptions

While participating in a writers conference a couple of weeks ago, it became obvious to me that I’m going to need to develop various descriptors for Blood of Anjels. First, I need a consist way of telling people what the book is about. It is a polite and obvious question. A part of me still wants to say, “70,000 words, give or take.” Snarkiness aside, no one is going to read it just on my say so. They do need a few words from me to pique their interest. No one is going to read a book they know nothing about (my editor--poor baby--excepted).

The trick is to find the right few words for a conversation, an elevator pitch or book jacket.

At the conference I heard another writer answer the question, “what’s it about?” He gave a very detailed plot outline. It was a pretty good elevator pitch; something he’d been practicing. It was too long, though for conversation, and not pithy enough for a book jacket.

This is hard. Harder, in many ways, than writing the book. So, I’m going to enlist your help. Please follow the link below to a very short survey. Thanks.http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LNV9ZNZ

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Finis--the First

Now comes the first test. I have finished the first draft of Blood of Angels--69,500 words, but who’s counting? I’ll be sending it off to early readers and my editor in a day or two. Part of me wants to clink goblets, but it is 10:30 am. Celebrations can wait until all the work is done.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Writer, Full Time

After 29 years with the agency, today was my last day at the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. I served for 16 years as their communications manager and about 15 as chief of planning.
Now, my full-time title is writer. Or, it will be after a short vacation. Blood of Anjels is off to editors and readers in two or three weeks. Still hoping for a summer publication date.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Busy times for me the past few days. Much the same for the coming few, as I wrap up obligations at work before becoming a full-time writer.
For the past couple of days I have been transitioning by participating in the Idaho Writers and Readers Rendezvous put on by the Idaho Writers Guild. I was able to enjoy presentations by Michael Collings, Tony Doerr, Aaron Patterson and Joanne Pence, chat with A K Turner, Clay Morgan and Doug Copsey, have lunch with Les Edgerton and John Rember and dinner with CJ Box. I learned a lot from those folks, received much encouragement and topped it off by winning first place in the short fiction competition at the conference.
On the Anjels front, I’ve been doing a little light editing the past few days and I wrote  for permission to use the following as an epigraph for the novel:
“This is the story of how we begin to remember.” Paul Simon, Under African Skies.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dead Air Nightmare

I had a dream last night. I do not dream about the characters from books I’ve written. I don’t dream about magazine layout, arranging vegetables, or working in an auction house, though I’ve had those experiences. I rarely dream about the 29 years I spent working for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Like most people, I sometimes dream about being unprepared for class. Mostly, though, when I have a nightmare, it is about radio.
Working in radio did not create mind monsters that haunt my sleep. It did mark me forever in its unique way, though.
I was a rock and roll(ish) DJ from 1967 through 1976. After that I spent a few years playing country music at night, while I went to school during the day. I got in on the tag end of the days when DJs cued up commercials on reel-to-reel tape—except for those we read live, of course. I was replaced by a computer at one station in 1976, long before most people gave that a thought.
The radio business is full of “personalities,” not all of them on the air. But it is not the often slightly daft people who make me sweat at night. It is the concept of dead air.
During my radio days, at least, those of us who were on air obsessed about something most people don’t even notice. Dead air is any fraction of a second or longer in which that needle that indicates sounds is going out over the airwaves ceases to jump. Today, it’s usually a string of LEDs that indicates the station is still breathing.
It was the greatest sin to let that needle rest. You always had to have music, news, a commercial, or your voice making it bounce. I think we imagined that listeners were out there with their fingers on the dial ready to find another station the minute they detected a second of silence.
And, thus to my dreams. They all start out with me in the control room on a new job. I’m on the air and nothing is going right. I don’t recognize any of the record titles, there is no system in place to give me a clue about what to play next, the commercials are all about five seconds long, and I can’t remember the call letters of the station. The entire dream consists of me trying to find something else to play next. Something to keep that needle jumping. Usually, someone will come into the studio to witness my ineptitude, which just makes it that more difficult to find the next record. Polka!? Why am I playing polka?
Okay, maybe it doesn’t measure up to falling off a cliff or being trapped in a barrel full of spiders (or snakes, your choice). Nevertheless, the dead air nightmare is my most persistent dream, visiting me several times a year though the last time I cued up a record or tape was nearly 30 years ago.
I wonder if big time radio announcers have those dreams. I guess I could ask Jack Sunday. He could ask Charlie Tuna.