Sunday, November 4, 2018

27 Minutes Later

I traded notes with Martha Hoover on a Sunday morning. After the fourth email volley, I told her, “MasterClass should offer you Wolfgang Puck’s first-born in exchange for doing a ‘Martha Hoover Teaches...’ video.”
Photo: IBJ
Yes, I know... Wolfgang is near 70 and he’s probably out of the kid-making business. Plus, his first-born is already grown and is probably shaving by now. Plus, Martha Hoover wouldn’t have time to mess around with any little Pucklettes. She’s busy.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Steven Pressfield Dot Com: An Author's Site with Meat for Writers

Barbara Shoup at the Indiana Writer's Center recently shared Tina Jordan’s New York Times article about the websites of bestselling authors. Publishers usually insist, Jordan says, that their novelists maintain a web presence. So she visited the sites of the current bestselling novelists and reported back on the most interesting thing about each one.
We writers might hope to find a few tools or useful tips from these successful novelists. Many of these sites, however, provide not much more than Q&A responses to overworked questions like “Where do your ideas come from?” or “How do you do research?” I couldn’t find any insights into the hard-hitting questions like “Is it better to write with a pen or a pencil?”
One novelist advises the aspiring writer to “read frequently” and “write daily.” Yep, good advice. Another author site shares an essay on lessons learned from a 20-year career in journalism. It was a good essay, when it was first presented at a talk in 2001. What have you done for me lately, mister?
Other sites offer the novelist’s movie reviews, what’s on their music playlists, or favorite pet photos. One author’s site gives descriptive statistics on the incidence of cuss words in his 16 novels. If you want detailed analytics, you can scroll down for line graphs on the frequency of “damns” or “shits” per 1000 words. Not sure how that’s going to help your writing, but it’s there if you need a baseline.
Sure, we can poke fun at frivolous content. But the point seems to be that the novelist is just trying to meet publishers’ demands without cutting too deeply into their writing time. I get it, I do. Time is precious. Novelist Tim O’Brien can’t even be bothered to put on pants when he’s working.
But as writers, do these sites give us tools or insights we can use?
Let me point you to an author site that contains zero fluff and more tools than Home Depot. Let me tell you about Steven Pressfield, and then I’ll tell you what his web site gives us as writers.
Steven Pressfield
If you’re a moviegoer, you might recognize the film based on Steven Pressfield's first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance. IMDB will tell you it’s a sports drama. But Bagger is actually a war story from Hindu scripture, only masquerading as a golf story.
In The Bhagavad Gita, the warrior-archer Arjuna (Rannulph “R” Junah) loses his nerve in battle. The deity Bhagavan (Bagger Vance) appears disguised as Arjuna’s lowly charioteer (Junah’s caddy), to help him rediscover his path as warrior and hero – his authentic self.
Pressfield followed Bagger Vance with novels of historical fiction, many of them set in early Greece. Titles like Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae and The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great depict the timeless principles of military leadership so authentically that they’re included in the academic curricula at West Point and the US Naval Academy. His novels appear consistently on the "recommended reading lists” of US Marine Commandants, the Defense Intelligence Agency, US European Command, and of individual generals who post such lists. Passages like this one illustrate why:
“You are the commanders, your men will look to you and act as you do. Let no officer keep to himself or his brother officers, but circulate daylong among his men. Let them see you and see you unafraid. Where there is work to do, turn your hand to it first; the men will follow. Some of you, I see, have erected tents. Strike them at once. We will all sleep as I do, in the open. Keep your men busy. If there is no work, make it up, for when soldiers have time to talk, their talk turns to fear. Action, on the other hand, produces the appetite for more action.” 
-- Gates of Fire, the Spartan Leonidas to his officers in preparation for battle at Thermopylae, 480 BC
His other novels feature the female warriors we call the Amazons in 1250 BC, commandos of the Long-Range Desert Group in World War II North Africa, and mercenaries in a near-future thriller where military contractors have replaced national armies.
Pressfield has authored as many nonfiction titles as he has fiction. The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War is a narrative of courage under fire as the State of Israel fought to survive in 1967.
His 2011 The Warrior Ethos draws on stories of leadership and courage from Herodotus and Plutarch and Thucydides and Homer. Pressfield printed 20,000 copies at his own expense and distributed them to any active duty military unit or veterans group that wanted them. His publicist and business partner Callie Oettinger even provided 100 copies to a guy like me, to share with fellow veterans at the company where I worked.
Pressfield is respected as much for his books on the creative process as he is the military fiction and nonfiction. Titles like Do the Work, Turning Pro, and The Authentic Swing, examine the struggles and pain of creativity and finding your authentic voice. His widely read The War of Art (a play on the title of Sun Tzu's classic) is a navigational aid for understanding Resistance and procrastination and self-doubt, and a map for busting through. Jay McInerney thinks enough of The War of Art to put his endorsement on the cover, and story-structure master Robert McKee wrote the book’s forward.
While other authors might share a FAQ or an essay, Pressfield has been posting his “Writing Wednesdays” column on his site every week for nearly 10 years. In essays with titles like “Lawrence of Arabia’s Motorcycle” or “Give Your Villain a Great Villain Speech” or “The Female Carries the Mystery,” he shares his insights on story structure and battling creative demons and understanding deep archetypes and the hero’s journey. He pulls examples from films we’ve seen and books we’ve read and helps us shine some light on the things that are right in front of us, waiting for us to see them for ourselves.
He’s honest about his own creative battles, and how having a raft of published work does NOT exempt a writer from struggles with the demons of Resistance. In his “Report From the Trenches” series, he’ll share what it was like to send a draft manuscript to his editor Shawn Coyne. He'll be up-front about the gut-twisting despair, the “Kubler-Ross experience,” of getting Shawn's response – 15 single-spaced pages that detailed everything that was NOT working with this manuscript.
Do you sometimes feel lost as a writer? Overwhelmed, fearful, or plagued with the dread of inadequacy? Pressfield doesn’t hold your hand, but he lets you know you’re not alone. In his columns, he addresses “us writers.” He brings you and me into his foxhole and speaks to us as equals. He offers encouragement and insight to any of us willing to “put our asses where our hearts want to be” and “do the work.”
In “Writing Wednesdays,” he'll go so far as to serialize a forthcoming work of non-fiction in its entirety – just because he wants you to have it. I refer to the 2018 title, The Artist's Journey: The Wake of the Hero's Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning.
His readers are likely to purchase a hard copy for their shelves, never mind they’ve been gifted a chapter a week. Me? I’ve bought and given away as many of his books as I’ve got on my shelves.
Then you have his business partners Callie Oettinger and Shawn Coyne, publicist and editor, respectively. Callie and Shawn divvy up Friday’s “What It Takes” column. In posts like “Hemingway Did Not Non-Summit,” Callie encourages us not to just "hold meetings at base camp" and TALK about summiting (stopping with the workshops and writing seminars). She says: “Climb the mountain. Don’t stop at the base. Your words are your oxygen.”
When Shawn takes his turn at “What It Takes,” his columns draw on his 25 years of publishing experience, editing or
Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield, and Shawn Coyne
From The Story Grid Workshop
Used by permission
representing authors like James Lee Burke, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, David Mamet, Robert McKee – and Steven Pressfield.
Shawn’s own site is a treasure chest of resources for writers. You’ll find sheets that break down The Silence of the Lambs and Pride and Prejudice scene-by-scene according to his “Story Grid” methodology. He deconstructs each scene’s word count, the main action, the value shift, and other structural detail. It’s like X-ray vision for the writer who wants to see clearly into what makes a story work.
His site’s Resources tab offers his Editor’s Roundtable podcast: discussions among professional editors on the genre conventions and story structure for films like “Get Out,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Adaptation.” The site offers other podcasts, articles, and a free five-part Story Grid course. You’ll find premium resources and online classes, as well as contract professional editing services.
There’s certainly demand for web sites that help readers get to know their favorite authors: trivia, recipes, or what music the author can’t live without.
Writers can also find author’s sites that give them what they need: tools and insights into archetypes, narrative structure, and what makes a story work.
Steve will tell you that stories exist out there in some near dimension, waiting to be born into this world, with the Muse as a midwife. We can be part of it, those of us willing to put our asses where our hearts want to be, those of us willing to do the work.
Find it all at

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

In the Bob Marshall Wilderness

A year of planning, six days and 46 miles on the Continental Divide Trail, and 16 minutes of memory. 

Strings and cello and fiddle harmonize with the landscape, and carry the emotion of being in the wilderness with friends, fathers and sons, and brothers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Today's Special

These old boys ambled toward their table next to the corner windows in Miss Shelly’s Place. The sign by the two-lane just called it “The Place.” Underneath, the words “Country Cooking” had “Country” highlighted in quotes, as to make clear.

Inside, pies and cakes were lined up on the counter, each under a glass bell. The chalkboard listed today’s


Biscuits and gravy, two eggs, two strips of bacon, all the coffee you want -- $3.99.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Two crosses, one with plastic flowers, are in the grass on the corner across from where this guy just got T-boned. I could see it coming. The courteous people just ahead of me were leaving a gap to let a small yellow Nerds-to-Go van make a left turn.

I looked in my side view and saw a Black Kia coming along in the third lane at what looked like normal speed. Neither one

of these guys could see they were on an intercept, but I could see the whole board. No amount of horn-honking or hand-waving was going to help.

They say that time gets distorted in moments like this. It’s

true. Pieces on the board are in motion, slow-motion. The outcome is inevitable. If Jill had been sitting next to me, she would have said “what’s wrong?” in response to what would have sounded from me like a slow, drawn-out combination of a groan and the word: “Nooooohhhh.

The Kia laid on his brakes but it was a done deal. He hit the little yellow van a solid one. It got the van up on two wheels and spun him once, the van driver now facing me. I watched him as the little truck teetered and started to roll.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Imogene Pass

It was 27 years ago that I saw her see God. Twenty-four years since her mother Anna brought her ashes up here and spread them in this alpine meadow. It was now August and it had been 22 years since I'd been here to visit the bronze marker her mother had set at the foot of this boulder at 11,600 feet.

Before she died at age 21, Michelle took time to write down her wishes. She didn't want to be buried. Her daddy's horses needed the land to graze. She wanted to be cremated. She wanted to rise with her smoke back to her God. She didn't care what they did with her ashes, but she wrote, "A field of wildflowers near Ouray, Colorado is a wonderful memory for me."

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Pursued by a Book

The picture on the magazine page looked like snowy TV static. Beads of sweat formed on my brow as I stared at the pattern. You remember Magic Eye 3D pictures, right? If you focused your eyes past the image on the page, a hidden three-dimensional shape was supposed to reveal itself: a sailboat or palm trees or winged birds in flight.

These 3D pictures were all the rage in the early ‘90s. Newspapers featured them in the Sunday funnies. They showed up as plot elements on TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends. Three different Magic Eye books spent a total of 73 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Even the gentlemen’s magazines were getting in on it.

This may have partially explained the beads of sweat as I sat in my studio apartment, the summer of ’92 at age 31, trying to defocus my eyes on a magazine page with the banner:

“HEY! This page has bodacious 3-D Ta-Tas.”

After 10 or 15 minutes of crossing my eyes and moving the

page back and forth, I couldn’t see anything but what looked like a close-up of beach sand.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The oath of citizenship

A good friend raised his right hand and took an oath and became a naturalized US citizen. Brad was Australian by birth, and he was joined in that courtroom by 70 other people. They were from Russia, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, and Mexico, They came from Great Britain, Guatemala, China, and India. They'd been born in Japan, Peru, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Kenya, Chile, Venezuela, Eritrea, and South Korea. They'd migrated from Iran and Iraq. 

The world had come to that courtroom. They wanted to be Americans. They'd waited for it. They’d worked for it and they’d earned it.
Stuart Hart is another friend who can trace his lineage back to an ancestor who'd fought in the War of American Independence. He walked to the lectern, turned to the judge and asked permission to don his hat. He faced his fellow citizens and said:

Sunday, November 26, 2017


As I was stitching together pictures and memories into this video, it occurred to me that even the dogs are smiling.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Ownerless beasts

I kept my promise to the boys and quit my office job at the end of December. I grew up on a ranch outside Reliance so can't say how I ever ended up in a cubicle. Carol didn’t like it one bit that I was giving up a steady paycheck and benefits. She liked it even less when I told her what me and the boys had planned. She called me a fool.

Femur and Tommy quit their jobs that very same day. They’d grown up outside of town, like me. Hunting and fishing with their fathers, like I had. Femur had landed in pharma sales in Philly, and thought the alliteration of it was funny. He wasn’t married, so he didn’t have to answer to nobody.

Tommy had been a sheriff’s deputy in Larimer County, just

outside Fort Collins. When he came home that December and told Connie what he’d done, she left him. Went back to her mother’s. She didn’t sign up to be married to a 42-year-old loaf, she said, who up and decides at mid-life he’s going to quit his job and go play cowboy.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Meriwether Lewis and Two Tomahawks

I went to the Antique Arms show in Noblesville to catch up with my friend, gunmaker Marvin Kemper. We share an interest in Indiana's frontier sheriff and gunsmith Colonel John Small (1759-1821). I got lucky to write some magazine stories about Col. Small recently, and Marvin has crafted (or has plans to craft) reproductions of nearly every John Small rifle, pistol, and tomahawk known to exist -- including the "Grouseland Rifle," Indiana's Official State Rifle.

We talked at his table while he paused to chat

with passersby, answering questions about his work and the flintlocks he had on display. After 20 or 30 minutes, a tomahawk on his table caught my eye. I recognized this tomahawk.

"Is that...? Did you build a Lewis tomahawk?"

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Road Ends in Water

The sun cut long shadows across the field as we hunkered down in a tree line. Our breath came in billows. Frost glazed the grass. Mike sat in a shock of thorny brush 30 yards to my right. He began working his coyote calls and I settled against a bare oak and awaited the appearance of a predator.  

This morning was our second run at coyotes in the 12,000 acres around Salamonie Lake in northern Indiana. The Miami Indians called the river O-sah’-mo-nee, or “yellow paint,” for the flowering bloodroot that grew on its banks. The Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Salamonie in 1965. At its low “winter pool” levels, the reservoir is drained, its capacity waiting to take the snow melt and spring rains that would otherwise flood the downstream river towns of Wabash, Peru, and Logansport.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Tubes of meat

We've been coming together every year for going on 16 years. Many of us have moved away from Indiana, off to every corner of the country. But we rendezvous every year to hunt or fish or just to sit around and eat meat and watch "Band of Brothers" for the eleventy-seventh time.

Sure, part of the draw is where we go or what we do. But part of it is listening to the conversations, taunts, schticks, and wisecracks... and trying to get them into a notebook before they drift away with the campfire smoke. We'd hope that outdoor writer and funny guy Bill Heavey, author of titles like If You Didn't Bring Jerky, What Did I Just Eat? would feel at home around our fire.

These are some of the best from over the years.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Dinner

On Christmas Eve in the neighbor's kitchen, nine-year-old Kevin kept a finger through his father’s belt loop as strangers kept introducing themselves.

“Tom, is it?” they would say to the father. “So glad Jenn asked you and your boy to come over,” they would say. They'd
Photo: Craig Sanders, Flickr, Creative Commons
introduce themselves as Jenn’s brother or sister, somebody's mother or aunt. Kevin glanced up to see his father shaking their hands politely. The boy couldn’t keep track of the names. He clung to his father’s belt.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A three-hour tour, a three-hour tour...

Outdoorsman Steve Rinella wrote, “When someone asked us what we liked to do, we said huntin’n’fishin’ as though it was one word.” There’s been more of that in recent years for the group of us who choose to call each other brother. 

We’ve hunted mallard and pintail and teal from blinds on Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. We’ve walked fallow fields in South Dakota
and Kansas for ring-necked pheasant and reclined in laydown
blinds for Canadian goose. We’ve cast for snook and speckled trout and sheepshead in the grass flats off Cayo Costa Island in southwest Florida. It brings a sense of connection to the land, eating what we catch. 

But for Timmy and me, a susceptibility to seasickness may mean that any deep-sea tuna, grouper, or swordfish on our plates may have to come from the menu at McCormick and Schmick’s. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Grouseland Rifle: A Longrifle by John Small

Appearing in the November 2016 issue of the National Rifle Association magazine American Rifleman:

"In its own odyssey, an historic American long-rifle from the bench of Revolutionary War gunsmith John Small (1759-1821), long separated from the town where it was built, would be delivered to its home by modern-day versions of those
Greek mariners. As Odysseus was returned home to Ithaca, so was John Small, in a way, carried home to Vincennes, Ind. 

"This long gun, built by Indiana’s first sheriff John Small around 1803, would become known in 2004 as the “Grouseland Rifle” when it returned to Vincennes to reside in the museum at Gov. William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland home. In 2012 when the Grouseland Rifle was adopted as the official rifle of the State of Indiana, it would come to symbolize an entire state’s regard for its frontier heritage."

Story continues on  

John Small's Grouseland Rifle: An Official State Rifle and its Reproduction

In Muzzleloader magazine (September/October 2016):

"INDIANA GUN MAKER MARVIN KEMPER laid John Small’s 200-year-old long rifle on the dining room table in William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland home in Vincennes. It was summer of 2015, and Kemper looked out the windows to sunlight mottling the leaves in a stand of walnut trees.

"Governor Harrison had met Shawnee chief Tecumseh among those trees in 1810, and listened to Tecumseh’s protests over acquisition of tribal lands by the Americans. Colonel John Small had been adjutant general to Harrison’s territorial militia from 1801 to 1812, and would have dined at the table in this room, eating roasted prairie chicken and discussing military operations with the governor.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through here, Kemper reflected, and were guests at Harrison’s table.

"History transpired in this place. Small, Harrison, Tecumseh, and Lewis and Clark might have all been looking over Marvin Kemper’s shoulder as he began his process of bringing new life to John Small’s 'Grouseland Rifle' at this table."

Story continues in Muzzleloader magazine, available for order at Muzzleloader Magazine web site.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Grouseland Rifle: Tied to the Land

From the pages of Muzzle Blasts, the magazine of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, a story I was privileged to tell:

"An historic American long rifle from the bench of an 18th-century gunsmith is seeing a rebirth in the heart of the Old Northwest Territory. The “Grouseland Rifle” was crafted in the early 1800s by Revolutionary War veteran and gunsmith John Small (1759-1821), and was designated the Official Rifle of the State of Indiana in 2012. 

"As part of Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial, the Grouseland Foundation commissioned a reproduction tied as deeply to the land and the history of the Old Northwest as is the original Grouseland Rifle and its maker, John Small of Vincennes. This faithful reproduction will be available at auction in August/September 2016."

The story continues in Muzzle Blasts:   Link to story on

Mitakuye Oyasin

When I was 21 and serving as a Marine Embassy Guard in Yaounde, Cameroon, I found a third cousin in that city. Marie and I met. Our great-great-grandfathers were brothers.

The Llangeryw Yew in North Wales,
estimated to be 4000 years old.
Last year while doing Sons of the American Revolution research, I discovered that a new friend, Kevin, and I had 8x great-grandfathers who were neighbors and served in the same militia unit -- 400 years ago in Hartford, Connecticut.

While doing book research on an 18th-century Knox County sheriff and gunsmith, I learned that a branch of my mother's family had lived on the farm next to his.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bank Heist

I don't picture myself ever landing in federal prison for bank robbery, but Jack did.

In our early 20s, Jack and I were a lot alike. We were both US Marine guards at the American Embassy in Nassau. We both liked whiskey and coke with a squeeze of lime. We flirted with the same kind of girls on Cable Beach. 

We shot pool at 
Settler’s Pub on Bay Street. We ran together on five-milers. 

But ten years later, I was wearing a cap and gown at a college graduation and Jack was wearing khakis at a federal prison in New Jersey.