April 2024 Story Sparks

I wrote “The End” for my coastal novel, the first book in a three-book series and met my deadline. Hurrah! Of course, it isn’t really the end but rather the beginning of the next phase. Soon I’ll incorporate my editor’s comments, agree to a title, firm up marketing and publication data, work with the map maker and imagine the cover with a team. I’m optimistic that the book will be published in the summer of 2025 and then there’ll truly be an end to the changes to make. Until an eagle-eyed reader finds something we missed to correct in the printing of the next edition.

I wrote that paragraph before reading a NY Times article about perfection and it leaving many young people anxious as they strive for perfection – and often don’t feel like anything they do is enough. Is that more so for creative types? Is perfection what we creatives seek? Maybe. Do we want our work to be without errors? I do and I gnaw at mistakes found after publication so it isn’t just the next generation that’s anxious. But it’s more than that. I suspect we all want our manuscript, painting, composition, house, road, sculpture, field, dinner, family etc., to not need changes to improve our project when we’ve said “It’s finished.”

It helps me keep going to realize that perfection doesn’t mean without mistakes but rather it means complete. Still that word doesn’t feel quite “complete” either.

In writing classes I’ve taught I encouraged people to write like a midwife. Midwives don’t wait until the baby arrives to be joyful – at the ultrasound, at the gender reveal, at the water breaking, all deserve their moment of awe. Being able to find the small moments in life can be complicated. And we often dimmish those efforts. Trying a new recipe. Changing a tire. My dear Jerry, as a former builder of houses and light industrial buildings and a woodworking craftsman, found it increasingly hard to let himself feel happy at various stages of a project. Pain and illnesses interrupted his efforts toward a project’s end as he compared it to what he might have been able to do. Once. So I know it isn’t easy.

Maybe this attitude shift will help. In an interview with musician Paul Simon, this creative man said what he was seeking at the end of writing a composition was satisfaction. I love that! I want a reader to be satisfied – that they used their time well in reading my book; that they found out something they hadn’t known before they started reading; that they were changed in some way – encouraged, inspired, hopeful, connected. It also happens it’s what I want for myself when I write “the end.” I want to feel satisfied that I put aside the negative voices, that I was disciplined enough to finish, and that I have the courage to hear what my editor has to say and be satisfied still, as I incorporate her suggestions.

I hope whatever project you’re in the middle of, that you’ll celebrate small steps, set perfection aside, inhale joy and exhale satisfaction in marching toward “the end.”

The Next Generation

Some of you read my first book, a memoir titled Homestead. If you did, you’ll remember a Christmas Eve day in 1987 when the dirty dozen calves escaped to run with abandon in 30,000 BLM acres; and more importantly, our daughter-in-law – who had been on bedrest on the homestead –- went into early labor. Later that evening a small but healthy baby girl arrived two hours away in Yakima, Washington, following a complicated delivery. (The dirty dozen weren’t rounded up and shipped to market until April of the next year). That baby is now the mother of two (6 and 2.5 year-old girls) who spent five days with us after Easter. Oh my! What a great mom she is to two bright, high-energy girls. I discovered indoor playgrounds (I’d never heard of them. The one we visited offered climbing, rolling, jumping, somersaulting, vaulting, swinging, teetering activities enough to engage these two children for hours.) A day at a water park rivaled that playground for excitement while the Living Desert and Zoo gave us an awe-inspiring afternoon with the girls getting to feed lettuce to giraffes. It was raining at their home, so the sunshine was an added bonus. Rupie enjoyed being chased, found refuge when he wanted behind the couch and easily gave up his kennel where both girls squeezed inside to see what his world could be like. The oldest child emptied Rupie’s toy box finding years of half-chewed Trader Joe dog chicken rolls/bones she made into a rather artful design. So creative these little people are! We stayed up late to watch old movies. Jerry and I slept well.

What left me marveling is our granddaughter’s energy level to keep up with her kiddos, keep their dad informed (he stayed home to work), connect with her grandfather and the ease with which she honored her children’s individuality while shaping them to be kind and compassionate little beings. I kept imagining them as adults, graduating from high school, learning a trade or entering college, living full and loving lives and being a blessing to many. I hope I live long enough to see some of that! Better start exercising….

Lessons From Lent

During Lent, those forty days before Easter in the Christian calendar, I was part of a zoom Prayer, Poetry and Peace meditation. We met for 30 minutes at 8:00am. Our pastor at Bend First Presbyterian offered an opening meditation, then a poem he read three times. We discussed how that poem met us – or not. Silence was acceptable. We then offered our prayer requests and ended with a blessing. It was quite a lovely way to start the day and for Jerry and me, a way to keep in touch with our Oregon church family. It ended on Good Friday when we made our own poem by selecting a line from a favorite poem. My words were “Heavenly spots.” I can’t remember which poem it was from but it was the idea of finding small moments throughout the day that spoke to us as heavenly moments. To pray for a stranger in the crosswalk. Send an encouraging smile to the young mother in the grocery line managing a fussy child. To notice the orange blossom scent, and be grateful. You get it. What that prayer, poetry and peace practice telegraphed for me is that there are examples – heavenly spots- everywhere. Poet Mary Oliver might have said it best in her “Instructions for Living a Life.” – well after Lent – Pay attention. Be Astonished. Tell About it.” Discover and share those heavenly spots.


I’m doing very few events this year partly because it’s difficult for Jerry to come with me and I don’t like to leave him for very long. Mark your calendar for Eastern Oregon though, on June 5th in Prairie City. More to follow if not here on my facebook page or my website jkbooks.com.

Word Whisperings

The Giver of Stars

by Jojo Moyes

Penguin Random House, 2019

This was either the perfect book to read after the long haul of writing my own book – or the worst because it was so enjoyable, so beautifully written, so page-turning, that I kept saying as I burned the midnight oil – “Gosh, I wish I could write like this!” Much has been written about this bestseller – it’s a Resse’s Book Club Pick – but a quote from it might just say everything: “Time flew, and each ended the night full and happy, with the rare glow that comes from knowing your very being has been understood by somebody else, and that there just might be someone out there who will only ever see the best in you.”

Five women in the 1930s Kentucky undertake to deliver library books on horses and mules. One is a British woman finding herself in a less-than desirable marriage in a tiny coal-mining town. Another is setting her face into the gale of small-town judgment. Another bears the aftereffects of polio and chaffs or disappears at the teasing of her leg iron. Each has their challenge – and a mount they come to cherish. I laughed out loud and I cried. I don’t usually cry much in reading a book but oh, boy, I did in this one. Tender moments beautifully expressed and the story is all about stories. Books. Words and how they touch us, heal us, warm us and get us through. Even guys would love this story as most of the Appalachian men are good men. The whole book is well-crafted. You’ll think you’re reading or listening to a classic. And you are.

Changing Note

Music is a great joy in my life and its healing notes never fail to help me find satisfaction, gratitude, warmth. My brother, a fine musician and vocalist, and his wife came from Minnesota for a California visit. One of the things we did was go to a pawn shop so he could buy a guitar that he left so he’d have it to play the next time he comes. A hopeful sign of my sibling wanting to return. He did the same when we lived in Bend. When we moved, that guitar went to the neighbor boys, and he did a couple of lessons with them over the phone. For several years back in MN he taught guitar to juveniles incarcerated in a local facility. Ultimately, we’ll pass this one on too. With music on my mind, I leave you with this glorious gospel number on YouTube that the NY Times popped up to share. It’s Donald Vials on the piano and Billy Preston on the organ and just regular folk singing joyously to each other. A community of care. Their faces display total satisfaction at the end.

I hope you enjoy it and allow yourself to feel this heavenly spot to end this Story Sparks.

Until next time – Warmly,

P.S. I often get requests from those wishing a book list of my titles. Incidentally, Wikipedia has some errors. Visit my Bibliography webpage for the real scoop.