A Writer's Journal

A Writer's Journal


This past year a Facebook friend posted her ten favorite books and invited me and others to share ours as part of a continuing chain. I quickly jotted down my definitive list, but then, fearing it might appear pretentious (Plato? Really?), failed to post it. (I have since lived with the guilt that the entire chain probably collapsed because of me.)

As a way of atonement—and safe in the knowledge that probably no one will read this—I post them here instead.

 Books are like people one meets along the path of life: Most make little impact; some are memorable; a few touch us deeply.

And some transform us. We are changed in the encounter. They become markers on our spiritual paths, part of our soul’s DNA.

This is not intended as a recommended reading list. Such "favorite books" lists are highly individual and idiosyncratic. These books are postcards from my life's journey.


The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

The first time that the distant Past spoke to me in its own voice--and where I found a soul mate from the sixth century.


Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I first read it in middle school, and then again several years later in high school, and was amazed that it was the same book: this boys’ tale of adventure and survival had become a dark meditation on human nature.


Phaedo (On the Soul) by Plato

Simply the book that taught me how to die. I would later build Socrates’ attitude toward death into The Legacy of Emily Hargraves and Tales of Tokyo. And then it took center stage in As If Death Summoned.


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevski

My vote for the Great Russian Novel, it’s the story of four brothers: the gentle monk Alyosha, the disillusioned intellectual Ivan, the drinking and whoring sensualist Dmitri, and the bitter nihilist Smerdyakov. A college literature professor proposed that each brother was seeking God in his own way--and my narrow understanding of the spiritual quest was shattered forever.

(Yes, yes, I know: some will quibble that Smerdyakov wasn't literally one of the sons of Fyodor Karamazov.)


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The other heavy contender for the title of Great Russian Novel, it took me four attempts over many years to get into this leviathan. But once I broke through the dull opening soiree scene, I couldn’t put it down. 


The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis

This is the book that made the character of Jesus come alive for me—portrayed by Kazantzakis as an emotionally disturbed young man, driven mad by the Divine, until he comes to understand and accept the purpose of his terrible spiritual destiny. His final temptation on the cross still causes shivers within me.


The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I find characters in most historical novels to be modern selves dressed in period costumes. Eco showed what it was like to see the world through the medieval mind. At the core of the book is a dialogue between Brother William (Reason) and the Inquisitor (Faith), which taught me that an entertaining mystery could also be a book of ideas.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

A man, accompanied by his twelve year-old son, takes a motorcycle trip across the country in search of his past while wrestling with the big questions of life. Genre-bending (or blending), it was personal memoir, mystery, and philosophical reverie. The Hero's Quest on wheels.


Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Hesse's simple tale of the Buddha taught me the narrative power and beauty of allegory.


The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

My favorite book from late childhood, and probably the first real page-turner I ever read. I was fascinated less by the story of the count’s terrible revenge, than the education and transformation of Edmund Dantes while imprisoned on the Chateau d’If.




[First posted: January 15, 2015]


This week I was invited to read to Bev Becerra's HeadStart class at the Broadway School in Longview. I wondered: Should I read excerpts from Tales of Tokyo? Or maybe The Legacy of Emily Hargraves?--everyone loves a ghost story.

In the end, I settled on Princess Priscilla, written by a good friend of mine from my Australia years, Stacey Apeitos.

Wise choice. A feisty princess, a hungry dragon, and 1,000 pancakes--Hard combination to beat.

They were riveted to the rug.






[First posted: November 9, 2013]



Longview artist and friend Mark Dykstra has created two cover designs for my utopian novel, The Island.

(Mark also did the traditional Japanese artwork for the cover of Tales of Tokyo, which was designed by Korina Groff, another friend and artist.)

Sending out the brief description below, I invited friends to vote for the book cover they thought is most effective in grabbing people’s attention--the seaplane or the cabin.

The story in brief:

In the early 1900s, a wealthy German industrialist establishes a utopian community on an isolated island off British Columbia. One hundred years later, Adam Gardner and two companions discover this society when their seaplane crashes in the Queen Charlotte Sound. Adam becomes fascinated by this people who live in apparent harmony with each other and with nature. However, hanging over the island is an old Haida prophecy of how the community will end, and Adam comes to suspect that he may be bearing the seeds of its destruction.



By my count, the seaplane got 13 votes and the cabin got...um, 13 votes. Well, that's helpful.

Norma Davey (seaplane) is in marketing and attuned to what sells; but Lori Steed (cabin) works in a bookstore and so probably has a good feel for book covers; added to that, my niece-in-law Robyn Clevenger Rose (cabin) is always right (it's been mathematically proven), plus, in addition to always being right, she's an Aries--or is that being redundant?

Angela Fowler likes the seaplane, without the plane (hm, hard to call, but I think I get the point.)

Michael Miller proposed that Mark combine the two--seaplane on a lake with the cabin on the shore. Clearly, we need Michael back in Washington DC.

Cynthia Moyer (Cabin) perhaps captured the difference between the two covers--the seaplane suggests "adventure" while the cabin suggests "mystery."

Nancy Leonard, Penny Wilson Lightfoot and Diane McCoy Searing are all excited to read the novel--which of course was the correct answer. Unfortunately, Diane, the book is not yet available. I am finishing up the 2nd draft and will start sending it out to agents. Until then, you might check out my website for the 3 books that are available:


My thanks to all of you who participated (even the undecideds, Francine.) While no clear choice emerged, I appreciated your input and ideas!





[First posted: October 25, 2013]




I am on one of my visits home from Australia. My sister-in-law has asked me to watch over the children—hers and the children she cares for. No problem. Working on a story, I watch over them from downstairs as they play upstairs.

I don’t really need to be upstairs since my 7-year old niece Renee provides me regular updates on how bad the other children are behaving. Especially Ryan, her younger brother. Ryan is being very bad. I thank Renee for the report and ask her to keep me informed if the situation upstairs deteriorates any further.

She leaves. I see my niece having a promising career with the NSA.

Within ten minutes she's returned. Apparently, Ryan is achieving new heights of badness.

Renee loves bunny rabbits. Ryan loves to give her drawings of bunny rabbits with daggers stuck in them, bunny rabbits decapitated, bunny rabbits hanging from a noose. Based on everything Renee has told me, it seems my youngest nephew is growing up to be a sociopath.

She hands me his latest drawing. I offer that maybe it’s not a bunny rabbit being roasted over coals. To me, it looks more like a hippopotamus--with a cotton tail. (Clearly, Ryan is not going to be an artist.)

Renee wants me to punish him—severely—or even better, give him up for adoption before her mother gets home. I explain the complexities involved and that we probably can’t do it within the next 30 minutes. She thinks it’s worth a shot.

I really want to return to my writing and I suggest she not come downstairs again unless there’s blood. If there’s blood, then come and get me.

I can see that I'm a disappointment to my niece and have probably lost my Most Favored Uncle status, but God never intended me to be a disciplinarian.

At the time, I was working on The Legacy of Emily Hargraves, and I would use Renee and Ryan’s relationship—less like typical sibling rivalry than a policy of Mutually Assured Destruction—as a model for that between Emily and her younger brother, Earle, a natural born imp who delights in getting at his sister whenever and in whatever way possible.






[First posted: October 21, 2015]



Over the past year, working on the second draft of my utopian novel, The Island, I've tried on at least five different endings. None really fit; none felt true.

And then this weekend, while raking leaves on my hillside, the ending popped into my mind, like a gift from the subconscious.

Unlike the others, this one fit immediately and perfectly, as if it had always been the only possible ending and I just now realized it--one of those “Ah-ha!” experiences where creativity is more discovery than invention.







 [First posted: October 21, 2013]




Preparing to send off the manuscript for Emily Hargraves to the publisher, I was encouraged to give it one final read-through. Good idea: I found a typo that neither I nor Spell-check had caught.

Mildred Whytecliff is a minor but important character in the story, a 76-year old nosy neighbor who has lived next door to the Hargraves most of her life. She is introduced to the reader at the beginning of Chapter 7:

Mildred Whytecliff was peering out her kitchen window.

Except I'd left off the “r” in peering—which gave Mildred’s character a whole new slant I never intended.









 [First posted: October 1, 2013]




This morning, sitting at my desk, I watch the hummingbirds outside my study window.









They take turns, perching on the skeletal remains of a foxglove,
peering in at me.











I'd like to think that they're interested in my writing--

What's my new novel about?

Will it feature a hummingbird hero?

Would I consider it?--







 but I suspect they're really just wanting to stick close
to the feeder.








[First posted: August 5, 2013]







Me: How was your weekend?

Co-worker: Fine. We went camping.
What did you do?

Me: I spent the weekend in Tokyo.

Co-worker:  ???










 [First posted: July 24, 2013]