Straight Dope, a Look at the American Drug Culture

This week we are taking a look at LeRon L. Barton’s book, Straight Dope: A 360 degree look at American Drug Culture.

Straight Dope coverStraight Dope is a book that asks the simple question – why are drugs so entrenched in America’s society? Instead of doing the same ol’ rigamarole song and dance and interviewing talking heads and experts, Straight Dope gets to the heart of the matter and talks to the people at ground zero – the drug addicts whose life revolves around getting high; the criminals who profit of the misery of the addicts; the teachers who deal with the children in drug abused homes; the drug counselors that try and balance breaking the addicts cycle of addiction while dealing with the bureaucracy of government politics; the legal marijuana growers’ battle against tobacco companies and how to thrive in the growing industry; and the parents issue of how they will prepare their children to just say no. Inspired by the late great Studs Terkel’s many works, Straight Dope is comprised of raw and uncut hard hitting interviews about the participants’ experiences, thoughts, opinions, and outlook on drug abuse, why or why not drugs should be legal, and how the government is handling the war on drugs. Removing nearly all of the questions, the interviews are more like monologues, allowing the reader to feel as if the subject is just, “talking,” instead of your standard interview. In addition to the real life accounts of people, Straight Dope also has spoken word pieces compiled of biting social commentary, as well as LeRon’s own personal reflections on his experiences with drugs.

How did you start writing?

I have always had a love for writing when I was younger. It was something about the written word and being able to create something out of nothing that always fascinated me. I come a family of artists: My grandfather can draw and paint, my aunt was into fashion design, my mother can draw and write, and my brother was an artist. The arts were encouraged, so I started out drawing and writing comic books, which lead to stories, attending Paseo Academy Fine Arts and honing my skills under the great Stan Banks. After volumes of poetry, stories, essays, and screenplays, I decided to tackle writing a book.

What was your goal in writing this book?

To show a complete view of drugs in America. I wanted to give the reader stories from all angles: The users, sellers, people who lost love ones, counselors, teachers, legal drug sellers, and parent who are raising their children in this age of rampant drug use. There is not one way of looking at drugs in America, but many different ways.

Any advice for a upcoming writer?

Keep at it and never give up. I don’t care if people don’t like your work or if you feel discouraged, never stop. There is always light at the end of the tunnel!

Here is an excerpt from Straight Dope:

Phillip, 24

Latino, calm, street kid

I am a native of Tuscon, AZ. I grew up with two older sisters and my mother. My father left when I was young, so I really don’t know about him. I came out to California on a split decision. I had been visiting here when I was younger, playing soccer and I liked it. Growing up in Tuscon was rough at times, having a mom struggling for a bit here and there, and a little bit of abuse from my father, but again, I was too young to remember that. Other than that, I had a pretty normal childhood. My relationship with my sisters is pretty good, I haven’t really talked with them, but were still pretty close. My mother and I are still good even though we’ve been out of touch.

Being a teenager and partying, I was getting into trouble a lot. In college I was playing soccer and had a back injury, so that’s when I started drinking heavy. Got depressed and was frustrated I suppose, just disappointed. I then started to get arrested, a couple of drunk-in-publics. I wasn’t holding down a job and so I figured at least a change of scenery and moved out to California with a soccer buddy of mine. There I started up messing with drugs again. Back in Tucson, I smoked a little weed, but out here there is better marijuana (laughs).

Coming to SD, we didn’t know anyone so we started camping out, staying where ever we could. Damn. Being in SD, it’s a lot cooler and there is a big cultural difference. More conscience heads, where Tucson was much more mellow, but it could get a little chaotic. In SD, there was just lots of energy.

When you drink, the drunk bone is connected to the drug bone, so once one moves, the other one moves with it. I think that’s what happens with addicts. A lot of times you decide to do something that you normally wouldn’t do, but when you are drunk your guard is down. You think you can try stuff, that’s probably how I got started, being in the streets.

My soccer buddy who I played with started using heroin and cocaine and it really scared me, so I backed away from it. I knew that doing that, it was kinda going over the edge. When I first did the heroin, it was euphoric, puts your body in a trance. Probably the most powerful thing I ever did. After that one time with heroin, I had to step back, have a reality check. I was still drinking, but all the harder I could not see myself being hooked. It’s really intense what it puts your body through. It can kill you eventually and that’s what kept it from escalating.

My soccer buddy that introduced me to heroin, he eventually OD’ed in his mom’s house. When I found out, it really bugged me out. It was pretty upsetting. After that I pretty much washed my hands of it. Losing him was tragic because he had a lot of talent, but got into drugs. I think that after his ACL injury, which was kind of a career ender, he just became depressed. Honestly, I don’t think he wanted to die, I just think he fucked up. Our relationship grew apart the more and more he got into it.

Did you ever try to tell him to stop?

Yeah, in my own ways. He would even say this is dangerous, but he knew the risks involved. Sometimes I just, I don’t know (pauses) what I could have told him to prevent his death. I pray for him still and think about him and his family.

With that happening, what are your views on drugs today?

I never looked at weed as a drug. Honestly, I think drugs should be legal across the board, regulated. People think that it will create more addicts but it won’t. It’ll just put the dopeman out of business. It wouldn’t be cut wit all the bullshit. That’s whats killing people.

If you could say anything to your friend you lost, what would it be?

Be careful with your life, it’s short.

LeRon Barton was encouraged by his mother to write, attended Paseo Academy LeRon BartonFine Arts High-school and was mentored by famed writer Stan Banks. Graduating from high-school in 1996, Barton continued to write and commit petty crime until 1999, when he attended college in San Diego, Ca. He later began writing screen plays and volumes of poetry. In 2010, he created Windowshopz.com, a website that featured writing, music, fashion, travel, and movies. After a turbulent 2012, Barton relocated to The Bay Area and started, “Mainline Publications,” an online publications firm that would release controversial works. The first project, Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into American drug culture, was released in February 2013. Upcoming releases include, It’s Good To Be Alive, a collection of poetry, short-stories, and photography to be released in July 2013 and All We Need Is Love, a book about dating, relationships, heartbreak, and love, to be released in Nov 2013.

Visit Leron’s Author page and Straight Dope can be purchased at Amazon.com

My guest this week is Wilma F. Smith, author of The Esther Vice House, a memoir about her mother.

Synopsis: During the spring of 1929, a terrible accident forever changes the life course of Esther Clark, a young teacher in a rural Indiana schoolhouse. As she races out the door, she is shocked to see six-year-old Willie writhing on the ground, holding his bloody eye. A whirlwind of events carries the unwilling and skeptical Esther through revival meetings by a traveling evangelist and dumps her in despair when the school board unexpectedly fires her. What’s more, her mother shames her into an unlikely marriage that propels her on a cross-country life journey that challenges her faith, explores the hardships of poverty and loneliness, and ultimately provides testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.

Wilma, Tell us the motivation for writing your mother’s story.

I always admired my mother for her tenacity in coping with adversity and sheer poverty. She was determined to raise her three children with an appreciation for beauty, education, and caring for others. Her life was never easy, and she coped with two antagonists—her mother and her husband—while she sought ways to prepare her family for a happier life than she experienced. One day, after I had retired, Mom showed up at my Camano home with a box full of letters, keepsakes and journals. “Maybe someday you’ll write about us,” she said. “There should be some interesting stories in here.”

What made you decide to write it from first person POV?

I had a tough time writing the first chapter, about the boy who lost his eye. I had tried using the omniscient point of view, but it wasn’t working. I found a creative writing group at our RV Park in Tucson, and they were instrumental in helping me find the right “voice”—that of my mother. Once I re-wrote the chapter from her point-of-view, the narrative flowed. I became my mother.

Was that POV easier or more difficult, either by putting yourself into the character’s feelings and reactions or by trying to avoid it?

When I put myself into Mom’s character, I felt I could see clearly where the story was going and what events were important to write about. When I read her journals, I was able to “get inside her head” and recount her narrative as though I were Esther.

Did your mother read any of your manuscript before she passed on? (If so, what was her reaction?)

I am so sorry that she passed away before I wrote her story. I’ll always wonder if she would have approved of the way I presented her.  She probably would tell me I made her look “too good, too smart.” She was a humble woman, often unsure of herself.

What was your process like in researching, writing and publishing this book?

I traveled to Indiana several times over the past years, exploring the towns and countrysides where Esther and Thomas lived. I went to the courthouse and found vital records of their families, and visited a cemetery in a lonely churchyard where Thomas’ family was buried. I walked the streets of Garrett and tried to imagine Esther walking home from the interurban train stop in town. I read through years of Esther’s journals and reflections, and studied accounts of Clark siblings’ reunions that occurred from the 1970s. All five living Clark siblings wrote anecdotes of their growing-up years. And, I referred to my own journals that I have kept since high school days.

I decided to begin Mother’s story with her one-room school tragedy and to end it with her amazing adventures in retirement. What a resolution that was…a triumph over struggles, poverty, and despair.

I can’t say enough good things about the two writing critique groups I’ve experienced in Burlington, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona. Every week I had the opportunity of reading my story to a small group of authors who read critically and made helpful suggestions to make the writing better. Also, I thank my son, Antony Smith, a wonderful writer himself, who took the time to help me improve my writing. My sister, Cyd Li, read each chapter and added her perspective of our growing-up years. My husband, John, encouraged me and wouldn’t let me quit. Finally, I thank you, Heidi, for completing an early edit of my manuscript, which helped me move forward with a measure of confidence.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I submitted my manuscript to a number of agents/publishers during a two-year period, but received only rejections. In 2010 I attended the Whidbey Island “Chat House” for authors. There I was encouraged by two different agents to submit my manuscript. One agent encouraged me to consider self-publishing as an option. When I learned that the publishing process takes at least two years, I decided to go ahead with publishing it myself. I have been very pleased with Gorham Printing in Centralia, Washington. They guided me through the entire process and designed the cover as well.

Was this a good experience for you? What advice would you give authors wanting to self-publish?

Yes, it was a good experience. I researched several other printing options, and am glad I went with Gorham. For authors wanting to self-publish, I would recommend a very helpful reference, Publish Your Nonfiction Book, by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco, a Writer’s Digest Book. Another worthwhile (and voluminous) reference is The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier.

How are you marketing your book?

I am working with local bookstores that take my book on consignment (The Tattered Page in Mount Vernon, The Snowgoose Bookstore in Stanwood, and The Next Chapter in La Conner). I have done readings and sold copies at art exhibits, arts and crafts shows, and book clubs. Our local newspaper, The Stanwood Camano News, published an article about my book. I have a blog (http://wilmawrites4fun.blogspot.com) where I am sharing photos and anecdotes about the people and places in the book. The blog is connected to PayPal for those who wish to purchase The Esther Vice House. Also, anyone interested can send me a check for $13.00 (includes tax and shipping) at 119 Vista Del Mar Street, Camano Island, WA 98282.

Tell us about your background and have you written before?

I spent forty years in the education field—as teacher, principal, superintendent, university professor, and consultant. I have published articles and books—but all of these were in regard to my profession. However, ever since I was in elementary school I wrote plays and short stories for fun. It wasn’t until I retired that I seriously considered writing and publishing a book like The Esther Vice House.

Do you have another project in underway?

Yes! Currently, I am working on the story of my career as a teacher, administrator, and professor. I had the privilege of serving as a principal and superintendent at a time when very few women were chosen for these positions. “What? A woman principal?” Over and over I had to prove that I was capable to fulfill those responsibilities. But mostly, my story is about the wonderful children, young adults, and fellow educators who made life interesting, worthwhile, and full of laughter and tears. I’m titling it All I Ever Wanted Was to Teach First Grade.

That sounds like a wonderful title. Thank you for joining me today, Wilma.

Wilma F. Smith is a retired educator who served as teacher, principal, superintendent of schools, consultant, and senior associate for a national network of schools and colleges. She is a member of the Skagit Valley Writers League in Burlington, Washington, and participates each winter in a creative writing group in Tucson, Arizona. She is married to John E. Smith and lives on Camano Island, Washington.

Escape, A Wyoming Historical Novel

jeanhenrymeadphotoMy guest today is the author of three novels, including Escape, A Wyoming Historical. She’s also the author of seven nonfiction books and numerous award-winning magazine articles.

Escape is the story of a young girl, masquerading as a boy, kidnapped by the Hole-in-the-Wall gang (or Wild Bunch), which includes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Where did you come up with the idea for this book?

I began with the Four-State Governor’s Pact to eliminate outlaws during the mid to late 1890s. With that premise in mind, I decided that some of the outlaws would stop at an outlying sheep ranch in the middle of a ground blizzard, with a posse in pursuit. I then came up with a feisty little southern woman and her orphaned granddaughter who are awaiting the return of the woman’s husband. I’m a seat of the pants novelist who doesn’t outline, so I just give my characters free rein. I had previously researched a centennial history of central Wyoming, so I was well acquainted with the history of the area and the people involved. And the novel is based on actual historical events and people, primarily Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

Is there any basis in the gang’s history for this premise?

Yes, they eventually fled the country because war had been waged on all outlaws, and they did rob the Belle Fourche bank in South Dakota, which is the central theme of my book. The young, kidnapped girl listens to the gang plan the robbery and it was actually bungled by alcoholic horsethief, Tom “Peep” O’Day. Following the robbery the girl and the youngest outlaw take horses to Spearfish, South Dakota, in preparation for the gang’s escape from jail. Also, I include a lot information about Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Harve Logan, the main members of the Wild Bunch as well as a ten-page epilogue which details the outlaw’s actual fates.

You’ve done a good job of developing the characters and dispelling the myth that the Sundance Kid was a fun-loving, benign Robert Redford-type. I imagine you did a lot of research about this infamous gang.

Thank you, Heidi. I did a lot of research and make a couple of trips to the old outlaw hideout, The escapefcaltHole in the Wall, in central Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. There I talked to an old outlaw who had known some of the gang members. He had also talked to Robert Redford back in the 1970s while Redford was researching his book, The Outlaw Trail. I researched in other ways and learned that Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, was from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and a member of the literary society there before he traveled west to Wyoming. He was a surly character, not the happy-go-lucky- guy portrayed in the film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

I enjoyed the character Tom Peep O’Day, a bumbling drunkard outlaw, who provides humor in the midst of serious danger. Was he a real person?

Yes, he was, and my favorite character to write about. He was lovable in a pathetic sort of way and he nearly stole the book from the other characters.

I was thinking Billy might have been based on Billy the Kid. Is there any basis for my idea?

Billy Blackburn is a fictional character and named for my son, Billy. And Jettie Wilson, the grandmother, was patterned after my own maternal grandmother.

Do you have a long-time interest in writing about history?

I became interested in Wyoming history after moving from southern California to Wyoming during the 1970s. There is such rich history in Wyoming, with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails, the Indian hunting grounds and battles with soldiers, the Pony Express and intercontinental telegraph lines. I wrote a number of books about the area.

Has your background in newspaper and magazine writing helped in researching and writing your books?

Absolutely. I researched my centennial history by reading 97-years worth of microfilmed newspapers for Casper Country: Wyoming’s Heartland, and had so many research notes left over that I used them to write Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel.

Have you always aspired to be a writer?

I wrote my first novel in fourth grade with pencil on construction paper and took a chapter a day to school to read to my friends. Fortunately, it was never published. I worked as a reporter for my high school newspaper and served as editor in chief of my college paper while a cub reporter for the local daily newspaper. I was a 28-year-old divorced mother of four daughters at that time and often took my youngest to class with me when I didn’t have a babysitter.

Are your non-fiction books mostly on Western history?

Three of my nonfiction books are interviews, the rest are historical. My first book was a collection of interviews with well-known Wyoming residents, including Dick Cheney, attorney Gerry Spence, Governor Ed Herchler, U.S. Senators Simpson and Wallop, Buffalo Bill’s grandson, sportscaster Kurt Gowdy and a number of others.

I understand you have a new novel coming out soon. What are your other novels about?

A Village Shattered, my senior sleuth novel, is the first of my Logan & Cafferty series, which features two 60-year-old widows living in a California retirement village. Dana Logan is a mystery novel buff and her friend, Sarah Cafferty is a private investigator’s widow. When they discover their club members are being murdered alphabetically and the inexperienced sheriff is botching the investigation, they decide to put their crime solving experience to work, but not before Dana’s beautiful daughter is nearly killed in the process. The second novel in the series, Diary of Murder, will be released next spring. I’m also working on a historical novel about the hanging of Cattle Kate as well as a children’s book, The Mystery of Spider Mountain.

Which do you like writing the most-fiction or non-fiction?

I enjoy both but prefer fiction because it’s so liberating and I don’t have to stick to the facts. I have a vivid imagination that conjures up all kinds of problems for my characters. And that’s what novel writing is all about: problem solving.

What is the most important marketing tool you’ve employed?

The internet. You can reach readers all over the world by promoting your work in your pajamas, if you want. There are many author-reader sites online where you connect with people who like to read, such as Goodreads, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.  Twitter is my favorite place to promote books and my blog sites. Blog touring, or virtual book tours, have also become a great way to promote your work. I’m having my own virtual tour from December 1-15 and have set up a special blog site to advertise the schedule. It’s located at: http://myblogtour.blogspot.com/.  Everyone’s invited to stop by and sign my virtual guestbook at the bottom of the page. Those who leave a comment are eligible to win one of three of my signed copies of A Village Shattered, or if they prefer, my western historical novel, Escape.

I also have a blog titled, “A Western Historical Happening,” at http://awhh.blogspot.com/    My web page is at www.JeanHenryMead.com

Author Interview: Robert H. Mottram

My guest today is Robert H. Mottram, author of In Search of America’s Heartbeat: Twelve Months on the Road, available at http://www.rvacrosstheusa.com. I found this a great reading trip for armchair travelers. Not only an entertaining travelogue, this book weaves in the story of loss and grief as Bob’s father reaches the end of his life’s journey during the same time.

Bob is a retired award-winning journalist who worked as a daily newspaper reporter, feature writer, columnist and editorial writer. He spent nearly eight years with The Associated Press, including tours as a New England and Alaska Correspondent, and news supervisor in The AP’s Seattle bureau.

When you started your trip, did you intend to write a book?

Yes and no. My plan was to travel the USA in a pickup camper, following county highways and back roads. I wanted to find out how Americans really live in places that are off the tourist track, and then to write a book about the experience. That changed early on (see Page 3) when Karen told me, “No way in hell am I going to live for a year in a pickup camper.” The alternative for us was a fifth-wheel trailer, and I figured the book had just gone out the window. It’s difficult to impossible to take a large fifth-wheel on winding, narrow roads, and what do you do with one anyway when you stop to poke around some small town? So I’m thinking, “What am I going to write about now, my favorite Interstate Highway rest stops?” What we discovered after a bit, though, was that the fifth-wheel didn’t detract from our trip a bit. We stuck mostly to the major highways in moving from one campsite to another, but once we unhitched we were free to explore as far off the beaten track as we wanted. And we did. Somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico, as we swung south and east after leaving our home in the Northwest, it dawned on me that this really had become an interesting trip in spite of the fifth-wheel. Fascinating, in fact. Each evening when I returned to our trailer I found that — much to my own surprise — I felt compelled to open our laptop and write about the discoveries of that day. The stories were there, churning around inside me, begging to be set down. Despite having spent more than 40 years in daily journalism, this was the first time I’d ever felt such a strong compulsion to write. The experience speaks, I think, to what a remarkable country we live in; to the quality of the things that Karen and I were finding. I began to email these essays to some of my friends. The recipient group grew as others heard about the stories and asked to be added to the list. Among the recipients were quite a few writers and editors, a number of whom emailed me back and said, “Hey, you’ve got a book here.”

The book offers a bit of history from each place you visited, along with the anecdotal flavor and regional humor of the residents. Did you do research while there or later?

Both. In a holdover from my days as a professional journalist, I carried a small tape recorder in my shirt pocket, and recorded my impressions extensively throughout each day. In the evening I transcribed each day’s recorded notes on my laptop before writing about that day’s experiences. I’d learned years ago that a person records observations and impressions much more extensively with a tape recorder than with pen and paper. And you don’t have to stop driving or walking or whatever to do it. I happen to be a writer who likes to work from lots and lots of notes. They help to spark my memory of events that I’d otherwise forget, and they provide details that my mind is not able to retain — such as the color of a person’s eyes and whether clouds drifted across the sky or the sky was clear and blue. Some of my research involved talking with local people. Some information came from brochures and historical plaques, the contents of which I read into my tape recorder. Some information in the book came from my prior knowledge of history or events, and some came from research that I did — mostly on-line — later, while writing the book.

I love how you intertwine your dad’s story with your travelogue. It’s a poignant, heart-story of love, life and death. How/when did you decide to combine the two?

At first I intended to write only the travelogue, which I did after returning home at the end of the trip. Then I attended a writers’ conference during which 12 or 15 participants including myself were sitting around at one point in a sort of a focus group where we each described the project on which we were working. I talked about my travelogue, which I thought was very interesting. I’ve always been a person who loves the open road, who has to see what’s around the next bend, who can’t leave a country lane unexplored. I would love to read the kind of book I’d written. However, the others in my group didn’t seem as enthused. They were polite, but I could see that my project hadn’t grabbed them by the lapels. Somehow, during the course of our conversation, my dad found his way into it. A few in the group asked me some questions about him, and I found myself talking about my dad’s journey, which went on simultaneous with my own. My journey was one of exploration, with horizons that grew wider and wider as we followed the highways across America. His journey was one of loss, with horizons that shrank almost to nothing as he trod his hopeless path into senile dementia. As I talked with the focus group, I happened to notice that my companions had come alive. Their questions came faster and faster, and the energy level in the room had gone sky-high. “This is really interesting,” one of them finally said to me. “You need to write about your dad.” I went home and thought about it for a couple of weeks. It would be a big step, because my dad’s story was so personal. Would a reader really find it interesting? The focus group had persuaded me that the answer might be yes. But in order to write about something so personal I would have to lay down my sword and my shield and expose some vulnerable areas. Would it be worth the risk? I finally decided that it would. I’d learned years earlier, while writing columns for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, that it was personal things that connected in a primal way with readers; that reached them where they lived and that prompted them to respond. So I took my book apart and rewrote it, weaving the story of my dad’s journey into the story of my own.

There are some great anecdotes, such as the “clothing optional” campground in California and pumping your own diesel in Vermont. Have you kept in touch with many of the people you met?

Unfortunately, no.

What was your favorite place (besides home)?

America is full of my favorite places. The list would be quite long. I’ll mention a few. Arizona surprised both Karen and me. In theory, the desert never had appealed to us from afar. We’d had no particular desire to go there or to spend time there. What we found when we got there is that it’s a fascinating and beautiful place that’s brimming with wildlife. We had a wonderful time there, and plan to return regularly. New Mexico was another surprise. We found its culture really engaging. Of all the places we’ve seen in America, this is one of the most distinctive, particularly its architecture. If you suddenly awoke in some small town in New Mexico it would be hard to believe you were anywhere else. Florida surprised us, perhaps because we hadn’t expected much from it. We went there primarily for the weather; to await the arrival of spring so we could travel north through the Appalachians. What we discovered was that we had a really good time there. The palm trees, the white sand beaches and the blue water were beautiful. The bird life was phenomenal. And the people were great. Our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains was the first for each of us, and it’s hard to describe how interesting — not to mention how beautiful — this area is. It’s a corner of the country we had looked forward to with great anticipation, and it didn’t let us down. The music and the food and the history provide a cultural banquet that you couldn’t consume entirely even if you had a whole lifetime to do it in. Northern New England and northern New York are must-see places for any American. The history there is integral to who we are as a nation, the countryside is tremendously attractive, and the people are salt-of-the-earth.

In Search of America’s Heartbeat is a great title. Do you feel that you found it? Share with us your conclusion.

Glad you like the title. Members of the Skagit Valley Writers League in Burlington, Washington, helped me develop it. I had come up with a couple of very similar proposed titles, one of which was Searching for America’s Heartbeat, and one of the league members — I think it was Serena DuBois — suggested, “How about In Search of . . .” As I say in the book, “We set out to try to find America and, if we found it, to put our hands on its heart and see if we could feel the beat.” And yes, Karen and I believe that we found it. But it wasn’t what we expected. We found that America — the real America — isn’t in one place. It lives in many places. “And in every region of the country, we discovered, the rhythm of its heart is different. But in every region of the country, the beat is clear and strong.”

Did you and your wife, Karen, learn something about each other on this trip?

Yes. One of the things we learned is that, if we have to, we actually can get along together 24/7. This is not to say we didn’t have our disagreements. But before the start of our trip, the question of compatibility loomed large in our minds. We’d always gotten along reasonably well, but on the other hand we’d lived for the immediately prior 30 years in a five-bedroom house. After the kids grew up and took off, we had all that space to rattle around in, and to get away in if one of us needed to be alone. Also, we both worked full-time, in my case usually more than 40 hours a week, and we each had other outside interests that we pursued independently. Could we really get along, even just tolerate each other, living cheek-to-jowl in a small trailer seven days a week? Some couples can’t, we knew. To our happy relief, we discovered that — for the most part — we did just fine. Call it good luck.

Would you do the trip again?

We’ll probably never be in a position to do a trip like that again. This one came at just the right time in our lives. We both had retired (on the same day) from our jobs in Tacoma, Washington, and had sold our long-time home, according to plan. Although we had purchased a retirement home in Anacortes, Washington, several years before, it was occupied by renters until we wanted to move into it. So, we were free from the constraints of work, the sale of our home in Tacoma permitted us to pay off the house in Anacortes, leaving us debt-free, and the renters in our Anacortes house helped support us on the road. We had no overhead, except for costs associated with living in and traveling in the trailer. What we found was that we were able to live in the trailer and travel America for less than it had cost us to live in Tacoma and pay utilities and taxes for a large house. I can tell you this, though. Had we not had the house in Anacortes awaiting us, we wouldn’t have quit our journey as we did at the end of the first year. Both of us would have liked to keep going. For how long, I don’t know. It was only the home and the new life awaiting us in Anacortes that enticed us off the road.

You recently retired after 40 years in journalism. When did you realize you wanted to become a writer? Was it always journalism?

People had told me since I was a kid that I seemed to have a talent for writing. English was one of my favorite subjects in high school and junior high. I sold my first free-lance magazine article when I was 15. Most people discover some talent for one thing or another, whether it’s writing, cooking, carpentry or karaoke. It’s wise to go with your strengths. My goal, since about my middle to late teens, was to become an outdoor writer, either for magazines or newspapers. Along the way, however, after journalism school at South Dakota State University, my career got sidetracked. I spent nearly eight years with The Associated Press as an editor, a newsman and a correspondent, and additional years with newspapers, during which I covered a variety of things such as politics, crime, courts, the military and so forth. I didn’t succeed in attaining an outdoor writer’s position until the age of 39, and by then wondered if I still really wanted it. I decided to try it, and spent the last 24 years of my career in that position — the happiest 24 years of my life.

What is your writing schedule like?

It depends. When I worked for The News Tribune I would work at home on those days when I did the bulk of my writing, thanks to telecommuting, often starting at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning and writing for 12 or more hours before stopping for dinner. With The Associated Press, I was constantly on deadline — some newspaper or broadcast station somewhere in the world was on its deadline every minute of the day, we figured, and that meant we were, too — and while writing under deadline pressure could tie your stomach in knots, it was terrific training both for writing and for learning how to concentrate.

If you were not a writer, what would you be?

I’d probably be a game warden or a wildlife biologist.

You’ve had one book published, Saltwater Salmon Angling, which will be re-released in the near future. Are you planning to write another book? Any fiction on your horizon?

Don’t know yet about another book, but probably not any fiction. I love to read it, but don’t think I have the imagination necessary to produce it.

Do you have some advice for young writers going into journalism?

Yeah, remember that you’re writing for one person at a time. You’re not speaking to a crowd. You’re conversing with a single individual, the guy who at this moment is holding your story in his hands, and it’s a very intimate relationship. Very much one-on-one. If you’re determined to go into journalism, you’ll find that it’s an interesting life, but newspapers are a struggling industry these days, and it’s not clear whether they’ll survive as an institution. If they do, nobody knows in exactly what form they’ll be. No matter what brand of journalism a person enters, however, he or she will find it a high-stress endeavor. It can be exciting, but it produces a lot of casualties in terms of failed marriages, alcoholism and other problems. A lot of people try it for awhile and then move on to something else.

Thank you for joining me today and giving us insight to creating a book like this. My best to you in your future writing endeavors.

Published in: on July 25, 2008 at 5:22 am  Comments (5)  
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Welcome to My Writing World

Hi, I’m a longtime writer, a journalist and a pre-published novelist. I love everything about books and writing. So much, in fact, that I want to share what knowledge and experience I have gleaned through the years. So, in addition to writing for myself, I edit manuscripts for others and I teach classes in Memoir and Beginning Fiction Writing.

I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, have a wonderful and supportive husband and two pesky cats. I belong to the Skagit Valley Writers League, Women Writing the West and Northwest Independent Editors Guild.

My purpose here is to share whatever knowledge or experience I’ve gleaned throughout my years of writing and reading. I want to talk about the writing process, discuss techniques, interview other authors, and kick around ideas.

So, come on in and sit a spell. Let’s have a cuppa together and chat.

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my ‘read’ shelf:
 my read shelf

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 3:16 am  Comments (11)  
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