Category Archives: Author notes

The Road to Writing (Part II)

1976

Began teaching Language Arts. In and of itself, teaching writing does not strictly require that the teacher be a writer. However, it does, at least to some degree, require that the teacher have some working knowledge of the CRAFT of writing–that is, the nuts and bolts of what makes some writing better than other writing. So, I began to develop this knowledge ABOUT craft, but had not yet developed a sufficient interest in writing to the degree that I actually began APPLYING what I learned to my own writing. This was probably a good thing, in that the basic kind of writing I taught to high school students bears little resemblance to the kind of fiction writer I would eventually become. I hope my fiction doesn’t sound like it was written by a grammatically obsessed high school English teacher. I see nothing wrong with “ain’t.”

1981

The first “real” short story I wrote got published in Oregon English, a journal published by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English. It was called “Fear Walks a War-Worn Road,” about a paranoid U.S. soldier in Vietnam and his encounter with an old, kindly Vietnamese woman, a hootch maid. I used an Apple II-e computer. I think I got paid $50.00. I vividly remember how EXCITING it felt to sit down and write that story … the mental transport, the evoking, the struggle to find the right words and phrasing. I got hooked, not only from the adrenaline rush I felt from writing, but also the catharsis of processing my feelings about the year I spent in Vietnam as a U.S. soldier. For my latest Vietnam short story, go to STORIES on my webpage.

(Part III … later)

Road to Writing (Part I)

Outskirts Press published my first novel last week. Only, actually Trout Kill is not the first novel I wrote. That honor belongs to Perimeters, a Vietnam novel I wrote way back in the mid-’80’s. It is unpublished. Funny, the course my writing career has taken. The road I’ve followed goes roughly like this:

1964-68

In high school I was an undistinguished student, earning mostly C’s on English compositions, although I did enjoy reading, PE, Modern Problems and Advanced Girls. In Senior English at Sutherlin High, The Lord of the Flies was my favorite. Thank you, Mr. Anderson! I’ll always remember those class discussions about man’s “heart of darkness”–our Ids.

1971

Decided to become a teacher one monsoon night while I was on guard duty in Vietnam. At that time, I was leaning toward the social sciences, history and the like. That night it was raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock. (In Draft #1 of Trout Run, the second novel in the Trout Trilogy, I use that simile.)

1973

Got turned on to fiction writing when a college prof remarked that my narrative composition “… reminded him of Hemingway.” I’d written a story about tracking a wounded deer through the woods. At the time, I scarcely knew who Hemingway was. This “spark” led me toward majoring in language arts, as well as the social sciences. Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, for introducing me to Hemingway.

(Part II later …)

About the Cover …

The cover design is based upon some of the central images in Trout Kill: the tree rings of a Douglas fir, sword ferns and a child’s doll. My wife Debra, who has a strong background in the arts, helped me conceptualize the design, and John Turley, a former art teacher at Canby High School, did the layout.

In the story, “god dot” is mentioned several times. It refers to the centermost circle of growth in the heartwood of a tree and, metaphorically, might suggest the human heart. In the design, you can see the god dot is cracked through. How might that be symbolic? The ferns, of course, along with the tree rings, are suggestive of the Northwest, where the story is set. Eddy, the central character, is a former logger, as was his father and grandfather. The doll is first depicted in the Prologue, then appears several times throughout the story, and it figures in the last scene. What might the doll symbolize, and how might it serve to tie the storyline together?

Serendipity, too, played a role in the design: This past summer I was helping my friend Tom to repair a porch in Long Beach, Washington, and we needed a few materials. When we walked in the door of Oman & Sons Building Supply, the first thing I noticed was a huge cross section of a Doug fir standing by the entryway. I took several pictures and sent them to John, and what you see on the cover is based upon one of those photos.

For me, one of my main joys in producing the novel was figuring out the cover design and working with Deb and John to get it just right. Thanks again, Deb and John!