Oh! Happy Day! 
Couldn't resist a comment on this day. It is an historic day, not only because we have inaugurated our first president of color but because of the hope he represents in the face of all our nation's crises. Obama's election buoyed my faith in fellow citizens who have looked beyond the color of a person's skin to the content of his or her character, spirit, and wisdom. With this new leadership, and with the help of all Americans, young and old, I am certain we can meet the challenges that face us.

My faith renewed in our politcal system, I may even do some writing about it. I have a couple book ideas, one about presidents and the other about the White House, that have been hiding in my files for awhile. Maybe it's time to do something about that.

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Back East 
Just returned from a memorable journey to the east coast. It was a work-related conference that drew me, but there was more. Much more. The conference was in New York City, which is a place unto itself. There's nothing like it: its sights, sounds, smells, people. "Skyscraper National Park," as Kurt Vonnegut put it. Forget about the horizon; you won't find it. I didn't see a blade of grass either in the four days I spent there. But the city has a richness, a texture that is so unique that it is a writer's dream. It's all about details, which is what we love to observe: the piles of garbage bags that line the streets, the competing car horns, the streams of people, the music of many languages, the hum that goes on all night, the sidewalks, the asphalt.

Inspiration abounds in that place, and I gratefully received all I could get. Of particular interest was the Museum of Modern Art, where I got to experience works of some of my favorite artists - Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet - and a Broadway play - Wicked - that was entertaining and creative.

How will these experiences translate into my writing? Who knows? What I do know is that they have reinforced my interest in creating, and they have enhanced my life. That's plenty.

On my trip east I was also able to visit the area in New Jersey - Hunterdon County - where I did my early growing up: years 1 to 18. I am fortunate to have some longtime friends from high school, with whom I visited. We had a great time sharing stories, both true and exaggerated, from our past.

Another highlight was visting the house I consider my home as a kid. Thanks to the generous family living there, I was able to walk around inside the house, traveling back in time fifty years to when I lived there. Sure it looks different now, but I was able to find parts of the house - the front door, stairway, trimwork, door hardware - that I remember when I lived there. Family stories bubbled up like a spring and I was floating in memories. I still am...

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Happy New Year! 
Another year is almost in the bag, and it's time to look ahead. It's also time to take a stretch.

My stretch during this holiday break is to work on a screenplay. Yep, you heard right. A story for the screen. What's this, you may ask, have to do with real things, nonfiction, REAL WRITING?
Absolutely nothing!

Call it a break, a hobby, a crazy whim. Whatever. It's a way to switch gears, a way to expand my mind. Think of writing like exercise; if all you do is run, riding a bike or swimming can be a fun alternative for a bit. The challenge is you use different muscles, so you can easily get fatigued.

Same with writing. Writing fiction is a different exercise than nonfiction, my usual pursuit. What's so fun about fiction is that you can make things up as you go. Facts take a backseat. Imagination takes the wheel. But driving for very long is very exhausting (I have to stop by the side of the road often).

I have no expectations about this project, and don't even know if I'll complete it. We'll just have to see. In the meantime, I'm continuing to market my finished works, trying to find them good homes.

Have a happy, healthy New Year! Try stretching yourself; who knows what might result.

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Class Visit 
Had a great visit with a local class of seventh graders recently: Mrs. Smith's class at Prairie Mountain School in Eugene. They were reading my Personal Tour of Monticello book. I talked with them about writing in general, and why people write ("Because we all have something to SAY!") and then we chatted about the book. I took in some of the resources I used in researching the book.

I had forgotten how research-heavy that series of books was. The purpose of that whole series (How It Was) was to take readers on on "tour" through the eyes of the people who lived, worked, and visited the places. To do that well, I wanted to include lots of details (e.g. what was Jefferson's routine during the day, how nails were made step-by-step, what kinds of games TJ's grandchildren played, what they ate for dinner, and on and on). Fortunately, I was able to get lots of research assistance. The staff at Monticello was VERY helpful, and they sent me piles of articles and papers. Colonial Williamsburg sent me a video of how nails were made, and even samples at stages of creation.

My visit was a reminder of how much I enjoyed working on that book and sharing the wonders of that fabulous place (That's what I wanted to say). I was very pleased with how the book turned out, but I would have preferred the traditional exterior shot of Monticello on the cover rather than a shot of the interior. Too bad I didn't have any voice in that decision. Maybe I will when I'm rich and famous! Don't hold your breath, though...

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First Hurdle 
Huzzah! The first draft of Short Cut! is complete!! And, I emphasize the word draft. There is much to do, like removing a lot of unnecessary words, adding more details, and working on the rhythm so it sounds good to hear. Let me know by e-mail (realwriting@comcast.net) if you'd like to see the draft and/or share it with your students, and I'll send it along. The final copy will look much different than this, but every book needs a start and this is it.

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Happy Halloween? 
So, I'm dressed in the old geezer outfit: a clear, crinkly mask that makes me look like a dried prune, a ratty bathrobe, white socks pulled up high, and white sneakers. My geezer lady, complete with walker and catheter bag (half-filled) and I are attending a bunco party with about 100 other costumed folks. Strangely, none of them are wearing masks. What's up with that? It doesn't take me long to find out - it's HOT under those things! And, it fogs up. And, it's hard to breathe. And, you can't eat or drink anything without taking it off. I'm wearing my glasses on the outside of the mask and I forget to remove them before taking off the mask (which I do quite frequently because I enjoy breathing), so each time I do this the glasses get launched into the air and I have to scramble to find them on the floor before someone steps on them.

After a short break for some fresh air outside, I shuffle back in and remove my mask (of course I forgot the glasses again!), but this time I can't find them. We cordon off the area, an announcement is made over the loudspeaker(making me the center of attention, which totally defeats the purpose of wearing a mask), and everyone looks on the floor, but to no avail. When the game continues I got a flashlight and continue the search, crawling around on the floor, looking under the tables, searching everywhere. Finally,in defeat, I return to playing, albeit with dimished sight.

My search continues at the next break and, having combed over every square inch of the place, decide to check outside where I had been standing. The glasses are right there on the asphalt, unscathed, where they had landed after taking my mask off.

I am estatic and exhausted, feeling very much like the old geezer I had become over the last few hours. I will be very careful about what I dress up as next time. I'm leaning toward Superman...

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Happy Halloween! 
The final day of October, a cool and rainy day here in Eugene, a day to become someone (or something) else. I shall be an old geezer, not a huge transformation at this point, but one that will provide me an opportunity to explore what is to come. Maybe I'll add a picture if I figure out how to do it.

While I wait anxiously for the hallowed time, I will get back to my work. It's going well, and I'm planning to have the rough manuscript done by the end of November. Then, time to edit and revise, which will take as long as it takes.

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Ahh, Teachers! 
Next week I will have the great and distinct pleasure of working with teachers from the Bethel School District here in Eugene. The focus will be on non-fiction writing. Although I despise the name "non-fiction" I love the genre, and prefer to call it Realia, since it's writing about real things (isn't it crazy to name something in terms of what it's not?#%!).

One of the activities we'll do is write about a teacher who influenced us at some point in our education. I have several teachers who come to mind: Mrs. Domovich, my fourth grade teacher; Mrs. Davis, my sixth grade teacher; and Mr. Glaser, my 11th grade English teacher.

Let me tell you about one of the them. Mrs. Davis was unflappable. No matter what happened she didn't get upset, didn't raise her voice. She didn't have to. There were consequences for everything - from saying "um" and "yeah" to being impolite or not doing your homework. Mrs. Davis was my sixth grade teacher. She was tall and olive-skinned, with long black hair that she kept braided. I thought she was Indian because she reminded me of Tonto, from the Lone Ranger. But she was tougher than Tonto, and the most structured teacher I have ever experienced, at a time when I needed structure the most. My father had abandoned our family that year, we were losing our home, and everything seemed to be falling apart. But when I came to school, there she was: solid and unyielding, never taking a sick day, holding each of us accountable for our actions, never letting us make excuses. She cared, I could tell, but she didn't wrap us like a blanket with it. She just stood there, erect and proud, and guided me through a very difficult year.

I had the chance to see her again, after I became a teacher, and to tell her how important she was to me. It was a good experience, one that I encourage everyone to choose. Who was an important teacher to you? Write about it. Then let that teacher know. You'll be glad you did

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Bad News / Good News 
Sorry to say I didn't make it to the mountains to walk the trail of the Lost Wagon Train over the weekend. Winter has come early to the Cascade Mountains and, with it, the snow. There may still be a chance to get up there this fall, but it's doubtful. I'll probably have to wait until early next summer. That's a lonnng time to wait! In the meantime, I keep working on the book.

On the good news front, I had the pleasure this week of working with some budding illustators at Dorena School outside of Cottage Grove, Oregon. As I read one of my stories, the kids sketched illustrations, then shared with the group. Creativity and enthusiasm filled the room, and I left impressed and inspired.

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Start. Stop. Start. Stop. That's the way things have been going, mainly because I haven't selected a point-of-view and voice for the Lost Wagon Train story. But now I have! After trying several different ways, I'm going ahead with the 11-year-old boy point of view. While it limits the story to the knowledge of the teller, it sounds less expository and allows the reader to become closer to the story. It's more immediate, too, and emotional. The challenge will be the ending, but that's thirty pages away. In the meantime, one page at a time, one paragraph at a time, one sentence at a time, and, well...you know where this is going. It's the truth, though.

I'm headed back to the mountains in a few days to walk along the wagon trail and help mark it for others to explore. I'm sure it will add more fuel to the writing fire.

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