Category Archives: Writes

#MeReadBook: JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE

I was a slow reader and struggled as a kid. In 6th grade, I went down to the reading help session in one of the school’s storerooms. A parent volunteer gave me a mimeographed copy of “To Build a Fire” by Jack London to read. I sat down at a folding table placed between walls of textbooks boxes and ran my finger over the first line “Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey…”. Everything in the room disappeared. I found myself in the Yukon looking over the shoulder of the “new-comer” in his struggle for survival. I was transformed. The locked door to the world of books was kicked open and snapped off its hinges. Life would never be the same again.

JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF THE RILEY’S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose has the power to be that type of a transformative book for middle-grade readers, particularly among young readers who might struggle to find their bookish “sweet spot”. Plenty of action and adventure are woven into the history of the Klondike Gold Rush. I enjoyed the ride with Jasper and his older brother, Mel, through the trials and tribulations as they escape from their abusive father with dreams of gold driving them forward. Rose draws the reader in and sends them up treacherous mountain passes, down the icy water of a raging river, and into the gold fields, where danger and deceit lurk at each turn. Jasper’s fantastic story is enough to give each reader their own case of gold fever.

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I received an advanced reader copy from the author for the purpose of an honest review and, honestly, I highly recommend this book!

Check out more about #MeReadBook.

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Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

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A Circle

We once vehemently thought the world was flat. Wrong.

We thought the world revolved around us. Wrong.

We shift as we discover we are wrong. We rewrite the history of our mistakes and move on. Yet, we keep using the same tools to make new mistakes.

As The Who most succinctly wrote in 1971’s We Won’t Get Fooled Again,  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”.

We have our mistakes playing on repeat.

  • Manifest Destiny.
  • Our current United States polarized political climate.
  • Climate change (yes, it is a real, scientific thing.)
  • Cultural disrespect.

We continue to think of ourselves as masters instead of as members. In our psyche, we are the whole part, not part of the whole.

Maybe it’s time to flip our approach. Maybe it’s time to go team first. We all win when we all win. THIS is the way we “Make America Great Again”.

Either way, we need to make a long overdue switch from the flat-world philosophy to a philosophy of the circle.  Social, political, economical, educational, institutional. You name it, we can make it better. And make it better for generations to come. 

Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk spoke to Joseph Epes Brown about the peace and fulfillment within the sacred philosophy of the circle.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Every-thing the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

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1763

We know all about the American Revolution, right? Did not we dashing, young American children learn every important date, battle, and character of our nation’s fight for independence from British tyranny?

Huzzah!

We are such bright children. We know about the Boston Tea Party, Washington crossing the Potomac, and Jefferson and the Founding Father’s passionate Declaration of Independence. I bet most of us can recite the first line of Paul Revere’s Ride (which is probably the only thing besides his name we know of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

Though all these things sit prominently in the psyche of the American-educated child, they are not the things at the core of our struggle for independence in 1776. As is common in history, recorded history is in the eyes of the recorder—the information deemed vital usually results in making one group look like heroes while making another, antagonistic group look like pure evil.

My interest in this subject was prompted recently by the intersection of the PBS Hamilton Documentary, the 2016 Presidential Election, and background research of the Wyandot Indian Tribe of Kansas for a book I’m working on. Through all this information, I’ve discovered a fact that should really not be such a surprise, but it still hit me like a bat to the head.

Our Founding Fathers were imperfect human beings. The people who run our modern country are imperfect human beings. There exists both a good side and a dark side to our national heroes. Take Thomas Jefferson for example. Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” in the Declaration of Independence and then went home to the slaves he owned on his Monticello plantation.

Imperfect human beings.

So what the hell happened in 1763?

The American Revolution started.

Well, maybe not officially but that was the year the bellwether event that instigated the colonies to eventually declare their freedom occurred. On October 7, 1763, triggered by the loss of many strategic forts in the Ohio Valley that year to a loosely bound confederation of Indian tribes led by the Odawa leader, Pontiac, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. After obtaining the land west of the Appalachian Mountains as part of their victory over the French in the French and Indian War, Great Britain attempted to appease and stop further confrontation with the Native tribes of the Ohio Valley, outlawed white settlement in those regions. The white British colonists were furious. King George III, sitting on his throne an ocean away, outlawed their expansion to the prime real estate of the frontier.  

Taxation without representation and freedom from tyranny are just a few examples we were given in history class as directly leading to the Revolution. These, however, seem to take a back seat to the accumulation of wealth emphasis by the colonists. They looked out over all those raw resources available in the new world and wanted them. Things really weren’t much different then than what we see today in America. Economics, especially lassoing as many of this new continent’s economic resources into one’s own possession, played an equal or greater role than the altruistic fight for our freedom from the oppression of King George III.

1776 was just the culmination of 13 years of frustration in the New World. 13 long years of watching the ripe apple just sit there on the western frontier inhabited by the “uncivilized” Native tribes.  

History. It’s much more fascinating when we step behind the curtain and get a look at the mechanisms behind the singular event.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

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Think the 2016 Election is Bad?

Had enough of the 2016 Presidential Election? Do you think this is the craziest, most chaotic presidential election ever? In our lifetime, 2016 is definitely over-the-top insanity with our major-party-mediocrity-candidate choices. Heavy on the hate, venom, and accusations and very light on the issues but when compared to the Election of 1876, 2016 seems fairly mild.

There are similarities. A country in the wake of a tragic event drifting to polar opposites instead of joining forces for a common good. A country inching closer to being unable to sit in the same room and work to solve even the simplest of problems.

Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for the Republicans. Samuel Tilden of New York for the Democrats. New school Republicans, fresh off their victory in the Civil War and emancipation of black slaves, vs. the old school Democrats base of the South, stinging not only from the loss of the War but from the economic hit sustained by the loss of their “free” labor force. Reconstruction in the South was a grueling process, marred by slowed progress and a lack of will for white Southerners to accept a societal change.

The election was ugly. Media was ugly. The newspapers of the time were not the “impartial” media we are used to in today’s society. The were biased and the facts were handled lightly and often created. Editorials, character attacks, and articles by Republican-leaning papers villainized Tilden. Democratic papers painted a picture of Hayes as the devil himself. Almost all these accusations had zero basis in any kind of fact or truth. It was mud-slinging that makes our ad campaigns seem mild in comparison.

The election day itself was marred by controversy. The Republicans used questionable tactics in winning three Southern states, with allegations of voter fraud being leveled by Democrats. The Democrats used fraud also, mixed with violence and intimidation practices designed to keep many black, former slave males from voting. Both sides cheated, but neither side prevailed.

Yes, you read that right. Neither side won. Or, more accurately, neither side could be declared a winner by electoral vote. Tilden won the popular vote, but Hayes kept even in electoral votes, mainly because of those possibly ill-gained electoral votes from those three Southern states. The nation was stuck.

And nobody could figure out who the next president was.

After many attempts to arrive at a conclusion failed, the powers that be formed a commission of five US Senators, five House of Representatives, and five US Supreme Court Justices to study and decide the issue. They thought the commission was neutral with 7 appointed Republicans, 7 Democrats, and one independent member. After much deliberation and study and recounting, the commissioner voted 8-7 in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes to be the 19th President of the United States.

Case solved, right?

Wrong.

Turns out the independent member of the commission was not so independent. He was a Republican and the 8 Hayes voters were all Republicans and the 7 Tilden voters were all Democrats. Partisanship at its finest.

Finally, in the week before the end of the Ulysses S. Grant’s term and the inauguration tentatively schedule in mere days, a deal was struck at the 11th hour. The Democrats would accept the results of the commission and allow Hayes to be inaugurated as president. In return, the Republicans would basically scrap the idea of Reconstruction in the South. A compromise was agreed upon.

The price of the compromise is controversial. Putting the brakes on the Reconstruction process stymied social progress and opened the door for Jim Crow policies and further entrenched racial segregation in the South. Perhaps the history of the fight for civil rights in America would have had a different face without the stopping of a Reconstruction process. Perhaps things would have turned out pretty much the same. Who knows?

So as bad as Trump/Clinton gets. As bad as two bad choices appear to be in 2016, remind yourself that our country will survive. We will move forward with all our pocks and issues and problems to continue as the best place on Earth to live.

I don’t care who you vote for. Just vote. It does matter. I will always believe that, at a minimum, voting gives one a right to complain afterward.

No voting, no crying…understand?

Remember the Election of 1876 gave us a president named Hayes. Even with the extra “e”, that’s not an all-bad thing.

Happy voting!

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“Are you proud?”

I was doing my best to be a badass. It was working pretty good. Well, it was working well enough to keep second graders in line at their fine arts visit to the university. It was the class of second graders that my eldest daughter teaches. I walked across campus on a brisk, cloudy morning to help corral and keep the kids in line. A job right up my alley? Perhaps.

For you folks with no experience in the art of elementary school field trip duty, let me tell you a 30 minutes cello + piano concert is an amazing cultural opportunity for these kids, but…it is not the easiest thing to get an auditorium full of 8 & 9-year-olds to behave and listen to a 30-minute cello + piano recital. Not an easy thing at all.

The kids were awesome! They paid attention and listened; really listened to the music. I only had to pull out the Coach Hays death glare a couple of times and even had a productive discussion with the supposed “naughtiest” kid in the class who I had the pleasure to sit next to.

After the show, the class waited for their bus to arrive on the sidewalk outside the venue. Classic elementary school style of single file line order. My daughter leads the line and my job is to bring up the rear and not to lose any kids. The precision spacing and order of the line begins to break down as soon as we quit walking and start waiting. Kids start nervously moving around and telling “interesting” stories about their cat, their little brother, or their mother’s current boyfriend. Herding goats is actually easier to keeping these kids in alignment, but we survived.

A group of girls drifts back to the end of the line and the spokesperson of the group slides over until she is standing directly in front of me. She looks up with an angelic, second-grader face and asks, “Are Ms. Hays’s dad?”

“Yes.” I begin to wonder where this is going as the throng of girls collectively inch closer.

“Mr. Hays, are you proud of her?”

BANG!

I was stopped in my tracks. My badass failed me. My cold heart melted.

Yes. I am extremely proud of my kids. One teacher and, in a week, two college graduates. I am beyond proud the way they’ve started their lives outside the nest.

“Yes, I am.” was my simple answer. Three words that easily could have blown up into a thousand words (and possibly with colorful language not appropriate for second-grade ears). The little girl’s face lit up and her smile almost made me break down in tears. The bus soon came and I said goodbye to all my second-grade friends.

As I walked across campus a proud dad, I hoped each of the little girls, and the rest of the kids in the class, had someone in their life to be proud of them. I wished the people in these kid’s lives appreciated their potential and will help them grow into something they can take great pride in.

It’s a great feeling having kids turning into adults, especially when they are turning into much better adults than their “badass” old man.

It feels kind of like…

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Every single day.

 

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Everybody Has A Story To Tell

Everybody has a story to tell.

Truth.

We all just need to tell our story.

In a few weeks, the month-long focus on writing these stories will begin. National Novel Writing Month will run again through the 30 days of November. Better known as NaNoWriMo, this program is an awesome opportunity to write with a support team spread out across this great planet.

We are made to tell stories. It’s coded in the marrow of our being. It has been passed down from generation to generation since the very first time primitive man told the story of the bear “which got away” or told his children about the time he outran a cheetah while crossing the savannah on a Friday night in his youth.

We are story-telling machines.

So, tell your story.

Please.

Write your story. Record your story. Just tell your story.

Get it down. Put it some place other than just inside your head.

Don’t worry if it’s good or bad. Quality does not matter—it can be cleaned up later. It can be shined up IF it is down somewhere it can be worked on if you want to.

Don’t worry about it being “good”.  Good is subjective. Besides, you don’t ever have to show your writing to anyone else if you don’t want to.

The power is in your hands.

The power of your story.

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We are fortunate to have a local group of supporters for the 2015 NaNoWriMo. We have a local group based out of Manhattan, Kansas. Find out more about NaNoWriMo here. Sign up and take a shot at it.

(In fact, for the first time the Manhattan NaNoWriMo group is having some events at the Clay Center Carnegie Library. Check out the groups Facebook page to stay informed. I plan on attending events when I can and I hope you will too. It is always cool to meet writers of any age, shape, size or skill level. If you like telling stories or would like to learn more about telling stories, please join up or even send me a message.)

Telling your story can be a scary thing. Like coming up to bat with the game on the line or shooting a free throw to win the game, writing becomes easier with people in your dugout or on your bench who believe you can do it. From the Pulitzer Prize winner to the scrambling middle-grade guy writing quirky books he would like to have read when he was young, it is a scary thing to throw your story into the world. Having people to cheer you on, help shine up your work, and/or keep you going when you feel like quitting, is invaluable. The community of writers is awesome. They are out there if you need them.

Write your story.

Don’t worry about “winning”. Worry about writing. Get the words down. Place them somewhere one word at a time, or, as the great Anne LaMott says, write, “bird by bird”. Get it done and get it down. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for four years and have never hit the 50,000-word monthly goal. But, what I have done is set a 30,000+ word foundation for what eventually became three middle-grade novels. Not bad for an old football coach, huh?

I hope to see you write your story.

You know you have a good one rolling around inside your head.

Let it out.

Put it down on paper.

Just write!

#WriteCC15!

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