Hunting Hunters And the Meaning of Life

Joseph Heywood

October 21, 2010, 6895 Words

The Fountains at Bronson Place

Hunting Hunters And the Meaning of Life

Imagine it is evening and the county dispatcher has just announced there is an attempted suicide with a crossbow in progress, and officers need to respond.

My main character Grady Service thinks, Shit, looks down at his rolling GPS map, realizes he is five minutes from the location, mashes the accelerator, and races toward trouble. Conservation officers are fully empowered peace officers. Plus, many of them are federally deputized to enable them to pursue over state boundaries. No cop in the state has more power than a conservation officer. But back to our story.

The house looks vaguely familiar. Picture window, guy inside yelling at someone or something, brandishing a crossbow. No way to determine if there is a bolt in place.

A  county deputy  rolls up, joins him, asks,  “What are we going to do?”

Service says , “I’m going to belly-crawl closer, see if I can get a better view.”

The deputy says, “I’ll go around to the front of the house.”

Service asks, “You got binoculars?”

“Don’t need them, I can see good enough.”

Amateur, Service thinks, gets down on his belly and crawls toward the house, pausing now and then to put his binos on the subject, who is still bouncing around. Suddenly the back door flies opens, the guy comes rushing out to a shed beside the deck, grabs something and charges back into the house. No idea what the hell the man just did, or why.

Service crawls over to a bush, gets up on one knee, cranes to see inside, but the man is no longer near the window. The phone rings inside, and Service can hear the man talking.

Unbelievably, the individual steps outside with the cell phone pressed to his ear, saying, “I can hear you better out here.”

Service makes a split-second assessment:  No crossbow. Seconds later he has the man on his face on the ground, on his back, and handcuffed. The first deputy comes running up and is speechless. A state trooper arrives. It turns out it was him on the phone with the subject. He had busted the man before, and over time developed a weird sort of relationship. This isn’t unusual. Think of a form of Helsinki Syndrome.

The handcuffed subject looks at Service and starts screaming, “That asshole can’t come into my home!”

Service looks at the man, asks,  “Do I know you?”

“You can’t come inside, you piece of shit!”

A deputy comes out of the house. “Grady, you’d better look inside.”

Service goes in. There is a 150-gallon aquarium filled with round Round Gobies, bluegills, and a 3-4 pound snapping turtle. There is no place for the snapper to get out of the water and rest, which means eventually he will sink to the bottom and drown. There is no way to assess how long the turtle has been a captive.

The subject is brought back into the light and his daughter creeps out of her bedroom. She is a twenty-something, the manager of the local MacDonald’s. Service suddenly realizes who he is dealing with. He busted the father and the daughter for running a trot-line at night on a local lake and recovering a couple hundred pounds of illegal fish, which carried a heavy fine and restitution. He had the sense that time that  the girl was a good kid, just wanting to get on with life, but the old man is your basic flaming asshole.

This time the man will get a federal rap for keeping an invasive species — the Gobies —  which can carry a heavy fine and jail time.

Ten days later Service is in the courthouse and the prosecutor calls him into her office and tells him the judge wants to waive the fine on the Goby man, and dump the guy in jail for a long stint.

Typical case. Service had been on his way home when the call came in.

No matter how a conservation officer or cop plans their day, reality always seems to intervene and change it all. Most people are simply not cut out to deal with the vagaries of such work, or the need to make instant assessments and to act decisively on them.

Here a warning: I am a professional confabulationist, one who constructs or brews a mix of reality and fantasy in such a way that the components are nearly impossible to separate. Novelists get paid to lie, which is the sort of work an Irishman can put his shoulder into.

It’s fun to make up stories like the one I just related. But in this case the story is real, not fictional. It happened to an officer in Shiawassee County three weeks ago. I was with him last week in the prosecutor’s office when she told him what was up.

The importance of conservation in Michigan? Safe water and air seem self-evident, but tourism is our state’s number two industry and such tourism is largely about natural resources, boats, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and all that stuff in the “great outdoors.”

Not that long ago the Michigan State Police were losing officers via transfers to the DNR – now called the DNRE. To halt this, Michigan legislators partial to the MSP took conservation officers off the same pension program as Troops, meaning there was no more parity and no more pension for COs. Now they have a 401K program, while the Troops retain their pension plans.

A study on the west coast some years ago showed conservation officers to be eight times more likely to be injured in the course of duty than police in any other setting or specialty. Think about it. A conservation officer works in all weather, on all terrain, on roads and off roads, in trucks, power boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, bicycles, dirt bikes, on snowshoes and cross country skies, in canoes and kayaks, on rivers and lakes, including the Great Lakes, and they work alone, mostly at night dealing with people who are almost always armed and often on booze and drugs. And for all this, these officers have the same retirement program as a food server in the Mason Building in Lansing. I certainly do not mean this as a slam at food servers, but I have to ask what the hell is going on in the state capital.

Excuse me but our natural resources and the environment are neither red, nor blue. They are green and belong to all of us. They are priceless, not a commodity to be dealt away to the highest bidder.

A wise person once advised me to not live my life by somebody else’s shopping list. As a 12-year-old I jumped several freight trains to Oklahoma City from Norman, just to have a look around. When I was thirteen, I ran away from home in New York, and lived in the woods for a week, coming back only when my aunt promised I could drive her Jeep. At eighteen and nineteen, I went west to fight forest fires with the US Forest Service, and at 21 I joined the Air Force for five years, emerging as a captain and Vietnam vet, having served as a navigator on a KC-135.

In 2004 while on patrol with a DNR officer, I fell into a river in the UP’s Stonington Peninsula at zero dark thirty one Easter Sunday morning, shot through a culvert and lost 22 teeth. I was sixty one at the time. I patrolled five more days with broken teeth before coming back to Kalamazoo to get repaired.

Last month my wife and I drove to Marquette to see my old USAF buddies (of 40 years ago) and she was amazed at how outspoken and forthright the former military men were with everyone and about everything. It was very unlike her experience as a career educator. I explained that when lives are on the line in a job, everything is everybody’s business and every decision is owned by everyone until the final decision is made by the commander; then everyone breaks his hump to make the plan work. In political terms, this used to be referred to as the loyal opposition. That’s no longer true. Anyone who disagrees with the party in power is either a traitor or a troublemaker. This is wrongheaded and counterproductive

Numerous studies have shown that multiple inputs – diversity – invariably bring us better decisions, but our leaders never seem to understand this. We seem to be best at tearing down the other fellow, and not the least bit interested in seeing real progress much less solultions. We are becoming a country of haters, kin of Brobdingnagians and Lilliputians arguing over the proper way to break an egg — by the small end or the large end, red or blue, liberal or conservative, black or white, no grays, no blends, absolutes only, friend or foe, nothing between. We have become, in my wife’s description, a country of hyper-steroidal eight-graders, who purport to know everything and know nothing.

Wife Lonnie and I spent more than two months days near Lake Superior this past summer: meaning  no TV, no radio, no newspapers or magazines, no telephone, no Internet, no strangers calling or knocking on the door making the dog bark, and no sirens or emergency vehicles. We had instead, spectacular electrical and wind-storms, time to hunt agates, and we encountered bears and wolves as we explored two-tracks (occasionally getting stuck in sugar sand) in the never-ending search for hard-to-reach brook trout water. We ate well and had copious time to think and read, to draw cartoons, and write poems, and the whole time it was just us and our dog Shanahan  in a 12 by 25 foot  cabin.

For a decade I have been privileged to participate in 20-30 patrols each year with Michigan conservation officers around the state, mainly in the U.P. Earlier this year I worked the Memorial Day weekend in a group patrol with officers in deepest downtown Detroit, which was surreal. Never thought I’d write tickets to fishermen on the Joe Louis promenade, but we did. Such patrols are not without occasional socioeconomic and cultural insights, such as the banks of the Detroit River being lined with black anglers, while white fishermen fished from boats.

Though most of us know to expect that anything can happen, we are sometimes surprised by life’s little twists. If you are a retired former Upjohn employee and knew Ley Smith, I am now going to tell you a story you’ve probably not heard before. If you still have contact with Ley, you can ask him and he’ll confirm it.

It was in the early or mid-90s and I got a Friday call from Ley’s secretary. “Can you come down to Ley’s office?”

“Sure, be right there.” Ley was a closet smoker and used to bum smokes from me so I figured he wanted to share a quick ciggie near his office, but when I got there he was on the phone, waved me in, buzzed his electronic door shut and said to someone on the other end of the line, “We had three people who’ve been kidnapped by some kind of guerillas in Colombia. They kept the two women and sent out the man, one of our top scientists, to fetch ransom money. The bad guys don’t know the three have anything to do with Upjohn. They just assume that because they are gringos, they have money. The guy called him dad in a Midwestern state and I just got off the phone with his dad. I want our people back and I don’t care what it costs to get them home safely.”

Then he hung up. “What do we know about this crap in Colombia?”

“Be right back,” I told him and went to my office where for years I had been assembling a sort of Big Book of Terrorist Groups, country by country. It took me five minutes to ascertain that our people had been captured by FARC, who had turned kidnapping into a lucrative revenue stream, and who generally did not kill their captives.

I reported back to him, and he said, “This stays with you, me, and Bob Peterson. He’ll be back from vacation in a week. We will be for now the only three people in the corporation who know about this. I want these families taken care of, and I don’t want this in the newspapers or on TV. I also don’t want the FBI to know. You handle all communications with families until Bob gets back.”

Ironically Peterson was a close friend who lived ten doors away, so one morning a week later, he slid into my office around 7 A.M.  and plopped down,  looking pale.

“You talked to Ley?” I asked.

He nodded. “Holy shit. Is this really happening? Does he mean it about paying anything to get them people back?”

“Yes and yes,” I said.

“Holy shit,” he said again.

After three gut-wrenching weeks of various and strange events we flew all family members on corporate planes to Miami and met the freed captives to fetch them back to Kalamazoo and put them up in a motel with each other and a clinical psychologist to help them deal with the experience and its aftermath.

In the bus at the airport on the way back to our plane, one of the captives leaned over to me, “How were we supposed to know it would be dangerous to go hiking in Colombia?”

I said, “It might help if you look out your lab window once in awhile, or read a damn newspaper. My fourteen year old kids would know what you did was a stupid idea.”

A year after the trio were repatriated, the same guy showed in Bob’s office and said, “You know, the guerillas got our tents and sleeping bags and hiking boots and I’d like to file a claim with company insurance.”

Bob stared at the man. “After all the money we paid to free you, you want to claim insurance for your camping gear? Get the hell out of my office!”

Greek philosopher Heraclitus is best known for his doctrine that change is central to the universe. I think if he lived nowadays he would find much of what he espoused validated. Like that wise person who told me to keep my own list, Heraclitus advised “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will never find it.” I’ve found plenty and look forward to a lot more.

In my mind a book should deliver some degree of the so-called unexpected, as should the effort to gather information to help it be written.

A conservation officer in Iron County, asked me one morning if I would mind driving to a bait-shop undercover and buying bait. The dealer wasn’t licensed and the officer needed evidence that the man was actually selling illegally.

I went and bought several pike minnows and fetched them back to the CO. He asked if I wanted to go with him when he confronted the guy, or stay behind?

“I’ll go.”

We went and a ticket was not written because I turned out the shop wrote a ticket. Afterwards in the truck, he gave me his sneaky little grin. “Would you have gone there if I told you the Chicago police were up here investigating the guy for multiple homicides?”

“Didn’t strike me as a murderer,” I said quietly trying to suppress a gigantic gulp.

When you seek to enter special worlds, there are always un-scored, highly subjective tests:  How you do determines your level of acceptance. If you don’t realize this, you have no business out there.

I had an officer tell me just recently, “I can tell you this because I know it won’t go past you.” And it won’t.

I’ve been a lucky man by all measures and have had an immensely interesting and varied life.

A major character in the Woods cop mystery series is no doubt the U.P. itself.

Our news media, few that they are in this popcorn-fart-lite Internet age of no thought and little confirmation of sources or facts, continue to pour forth stories of natural disasters – but only those where there is loss of lives, massive property damage, or some sort of unique aspect to the weather or natural event.

Eight days ago, the national media and National Weather Service were clamoring about 70 mph winds being forecast for Maine and the upper east coast. Big wind coupled with lots of people equals news. Big wind and a rural area with a sparse population: Not so newsy. But the dramas are just as real.

Thus, at 10 p.m. on September 10 at Muskallonge State Park, 30 miles north of Newberry, the winds out on Lake Superior roared at 100 mph. According to the national weather service 78 mph wind gusts buffeted the park with such fury that the park manager ordered an immediate evacuation of all 300 campers at 10:30 PM. Two Luce county deputies, two state troopers and a Michigan conservation officer named Mike Hammill showed up quickly and began helping get people safely decamped and moving.  By 0200 the park was empty, seventy trees were down, nobody had been injured and only a few pieces of equipment squashed by falling trees.  Everyone was moved south to town to Newberry High School and the Red Cross stepped in along with local residents to feed and take care of the campers.

Townies brought food and water and opened their homes, pitching in to help strangers, because that’s what Yoopers do, no because it was required, or because they were asked or for pay. They saw a need and stepped up, as they always do, because up there the right thing to do is what matters and how you look or who you are is irrelevant. Unblinking in the face of danger, Yoopers face reality with action. An odd cultural blend of Tea Party, old-line hippy, off-the-grid vets and government dole socialist and union values, the people there are a main reason I set my books Above Da Britch and the UP is a character because the land commands that all live by its rules.

You never heard anything about this events here. Hell, when our local media do the weather, most of their maps don’t even show the Upper Peninsula. Is there a message in that?

Our summer cabin was 300 yards from Lake Superior, which was like living in Grendel’s backyard. We could hear the beast growl or purr or go silent (which was rare). The attitudes of people who live near the lake can range from love to loathing, but all respect the monster’s capability for impartial fury.

In September we went to Marquette to see a friend whose wife is an animal rehabber. She had four fawns she took in back in June for various reasons and was preparing them for release to the wild. Three of the four were still red with spots. The fourth was entirely gray and my friend, a lieutenant in the DNR told us, “It changed over night.” He never knew it happens this way. Neither did we. Everytime I go north, I learn something new and unexpected.

One day on the beach we found three dead yellow rumped warblers, victims of migration exhaustion or bad luck, impossible to tell. Coho fishermen were wading the Two Hearted, where for the record Ernest Hemingway never fished or even saw, and early steelhead were being seen and caught. One branch of the Two Hearted gave up a five brook trout limit in ten minutes on the last day of the season, including a 15-inch dandy. The colony of Caspian terns on Muskallonge Lake was reduced to a single diving bird, the rest fled south to Mexico. Last spring the lake had a flock of white pelicans until some jerk with a personal watercraft chased them and forced them to repair south 80 miles to Gulliver Lake, where they spent the summer.

The autumn woods were alive with hunters after bears with hounds and guns, or whitetail deer with bows and arrows, ducks and geese, partridge and woodcock, and of course fishermen.

A fall some years ago in Menominee County: Two Michigan conservation officers had a tip about bear poachers shooting bears at night in a gravel pit that also served as a dump. They went out before dark and set up.

The violators showed up and shot a bear. The officers jumped out at the shooters, who ran to their truck and took off. One of the officers stood on the two-track waving his flashlight for them to stop. The violators  ran him down, dragging his body under the plow on the front of the vehicle.  The second officer then shot out the  truck’s back window. They stopped. He pulled his partner out of the plow, put him in the backseat, and made them drive to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. The violators got less than seven years for involuntary manslaughter and were free in three. The officer killed in action was named Gerald Welling.

His sister wrote to me a couple of years ago and told me she had known about my books, but had been afraid that reading them would cause all sorts of disturbing memories to re-surface. But she said she had read one and really liked it and thanked me for telling the truth about how conservation officers live and work.  I like getting calls like that.

You see, this violator-versus-officer-thing is a damn deadly game and part of the deal is that some violators are so dangerous that prosecutors have a difficult time getting a jury of to convict these outlaws of serious charges. An officer in one of our northern counties was beaten so badly with a flashlight and pipe he had to retire and shortly thereafter died of a brain tumor adjudged to not be a result of the beating, though most officers remain certain it came from his injuries. The individual who beat the officer was found guilty of nothing more than resisting arrest.

Not fiction. Fact.

Last fall in Oscoda County an officer and I had a complaint of an unlicensed hunter in a camp taking numerous deer. Based on the complaint we hiked through a swamp and some thick woods into the camp where the first thing I noticed were the soles of two rubber boots sticking out of the dirt like a body had been buried head-first. This might have been funny —  but not there. Years before two hunters from Detroit had disappeared from a bar in nearby Mckinley. It took fifteen years for the cold case team to discover the two had been beaten to death with pipes by a local family and their bodies cut up and fed to pigs. The residents of some of the local villages in the area are referred to by cops as cannibals.

Very quickly we found two gigantic bait piles in an area where no bait was allowed, and the gut piles from three deer, but the two men in camp claimed only that one deer had been shot and the person who shot it was headed home to Detroit as we spoke. While the officer talked, I scouted the perimeter, and found an elevated blind with an arrow notched in a bow inside,  and more bloodstains and another pile of poorly hidden entrails.

After questioning, it all came out. The one using the bow was a felon from Florida. He could  not use a firearm. He was also unlicensed to hunt. The camp owner likewise neglected to buy a license. By the time it was over we had written five or six tickets and confiscated three deer, including the one being transported to Detroit, which the hunter meekly gave over to us after a telephone call and drive back to Mio.

Two days before Mio I was patrolling with another partner in Leelanau County; toward day’s end we got a BOL advisory that a despondent man from a Detroit suburb might be coming to Sleeping Bear to commit suicide. His wife told authorities they were separated and her hubby didn’t want to lose his kids. She did not know if he was armed, or exactly where he was going, but he had always told her that if he ever committed suicide, the dunes would be where he did it.

This is apparently not an uncommon occurrence.

We looked for the suspect vehicle that night to no avail. Next morning I met my partner at the State Police post in Traverse City and he said, “They found the car at 4
A.M. The troops have a dog on him. We’re headed there now. The coast guard will send a chopper after the sun comes up. They don’t want to buzz over an armed mental case in the dark.

When we got to the place where the vehicle was parked my partner said, “We’ll find him dead on the first promontory overlooking Lake Michigan. These folks don’t drive this far and not follow through.”

The dog lost the scent,, but the Coast Guard quickly spotted a someone face down on a dune about a mile west of us, and gave us directions. My partner, a state Trooper, and I hiked up the dunes and to the body. The man had knelt down, put a 9 mm. to his temple and pulled the trigger. My partner radioed the chopper and asked if they could airlift the body to the medical examiner in TC. The Coasties fast-roped their swimmer down to us and he looked over the body. “We don’t have our regular litter on board,” he said. “I’ll have to break his legs.”

I said, “If you fellas don’t mind, I’ll just step away while you do that.”
That night we ended up chasing down a drunk who had been convicted six times previously for drunk driving and in fact was out this time without a license and kept mumbling,” I just wanna go home to my girls, OK?” Suicide to start the day, a drunk to close the day, and several tickets to deer hunters during the day for not following the rules, plus we got called to a small town to search for an intruder at the site of a home break-in.

Conservation officers, or woods cops, hear and see it all, just like cops in other venues.

One of my friends, then a sergeant, gets this new officer in his district and one day says, “Hey we got a tip from X.”

They go there and the sarge says, “Go talk to him and start developing a relationship.”

The young officer came back laughing. When the door opened there stood a middle age man in high heels and a cocktail dress, makeup, the whole nine yards.

“Did you get the tip?”

“Yeah,” the officer said. “But that was weird.”

“Listen up: We’ve made lots of solid cases based on this guy’s help. He’s lived here all his life. Everybody in town knows him and likes him and understands his ways. He’s a homeboy and nobody mistreats him. He deserves our respect too.”

One deer season at dark we stopped six four-wheelers, not a single driver with a helmet, two of them riding double on machines that aren’t approved for that, nor even registered with the state; and all of the hunters had loaded rifles after dark. At the end of the column there was a pickup truck, which had driven around a state berm barrier. It was driven by a convicted felon, who had a loaded rifle in his lap and a loaded pistol  under the front seat.

The only thing that bothered my partner in all of that was that I showed had him a road he had never known about and this was his county, not mine. He still talks about this!

Another night we were sitting on a potato field, bored, waiting for night shooters when we heard an officer-needs-help call from a local cop. My partner started the truck and we tore out of the field and gunned our way toward town. “I’ve known her nine years and never heard her voice like that,” he said. When we got to the scene she had a man in his fifties, six-five or so, face down on the driveway, with snot pouring out of his nose and mouth and frothing and crying and her eyes were pumping water too. She had arrived at the domestic, the wife had told her that her hubby was beating on  their daughter and when she stepped to the bedroom door, the man attacked her; she fought him through the house and finally got him on the porch and pepper-sprayed him until he collapsed and she dragged him onto the driveway and cuffed him while she waited for the cavalry to arrive.

One of my CO friends had begun dating a state policewoman and she was doing a ride-along with him in southwest Michigan and they heard shooting at a pond and drove to it and found two guys shooting swans with an illegal street-sweeper shotgun.

My friend ordered the man to put the weapon on the ground but the man slowly turned and pointed the weapon at my friend and said, “Wha..?”

That’s when my friend heard a shotgun slide being racked and his date was pushing the barrel of his squad shotgun against the man’s temple, growling, “Do as he said and put the fucking weapon on the ground now, or I will blow your fucking head off.”

The man gingerly put the weapon on the ground. The couple has been married now nearly twenty years and my friend jokes that he fell in love with her rack. Indeed.

By spending a lot of time with officers I get a better sense of the rhythms of their personal and professional lives and often I stay in their homes, share meals and chores and the whole thing. One time up north the officer and his wife had two kids, a boy and a girl, seven and four, and I was constantly teasing them and laughing with them and one morning as we wolfed down breakfast the four-year-old tapped my arm affectionately, and looked up at her mom and asked, “Can we keep him, Mom?”

That’s about the highest compliment ever paid to me.

Over the years it has slowly occurred to me fall is less a season than a frame of mind somehow affected by our genetic profiles and heritage. Academics tell us true big game hunting did not mature in Homo sapiens until 40 thousand years ago when early man began to take on major species like wooly mammoths and we as a species began to methodically and systematically erase other species in the name of food, thereby fulfilling the encouragement of Yahweh in Genesis to “subdue nature so fear and dread would be upon every beast.”

I guess we can put a checkmark in that box on the To-Do list for mankind.

Having written a book called, The Snowfly, in which I arbitrarily made a character a game warden, I decided to find out what game wardens actually do in Michigan and called the district office in Plainwell, and explained my interest. The newly promoted lieutenant there invited me to the office. He retired last year as a captain, and eight novels later, I’m still riding along with the men and women in green and gray, and learning.

Unlike many in this day and age, I neither self-publish, nor write on government art grants. I prefer to work on my own time and my own dime and I like to work one-book contracts, not multiples. I have an agent. She handles sales and marketing negotiations. She is not my literary advisor. Agents work solely on commission. If they sell your work they get 15 percent. If they sell nothing, they get nothing, same as the author.

There is by one count, 150 so-called academic “writing programs” in the US.  I am not a graduate of such a thing, of which a critic recently wrote, “they seem to seek oversophistication combined with autodidacticism aimed at creating a public image of the hyperliterate author.”

Hell I don’t even know what the critic is trying to say, other than he’s not a great supporter of writing programs.

If you delve too deeply into literature studies you can be subsumed by bizarre observations such as this: “It is believed that Shakespeare was 46 around the time that the King James version of the Bible was written. In Psalms 46, the 46th word from the first word is ‘shake,’ and the 46th word from the last word is spear.’”

Are you kidding me?

I learned to write fiction the old way, by doing. I try to write about real people in real situations with as clear and concise prose as I can construct.

Some say the worst curse in life is a mind so open that nothing sticks. Yet writers often must depend on experience in the form of memory, about which Detroit poet Bob Hicock says, “Tests show within seconds recalls fiction that we create more than remember.” Talk about a conundrum.

To rephrase Hicock, eye-witnessing has flaws, something law enforcement personnel already know.

In some ways and to an extent, I think fly-fishing can be a far better preparation for a writer than academic how-to courses. It is like life, a continuous process of discovery. Just about the time you think you think you’ve got it all figured out, something crops up to push you back to the starting-line (or worse). Nothing keeps an angler more off balance than issues of weight and depth and what better description of key decision in writing could there be?

I should tell you that I get a lot of comments from readers and critics about the names of my characters. Most of the names come from U.P. telephone book and others come from gravestones, or obituaries.

For example, consider the last name L-a-s-u-r-m. What nationality?

This is one I made up from something I once read. Learning and Sex Until Rigor Mortis, — LASURM. You see, writing is serious business, but it’s also fun, which is why I often attribute author photos on book jackets to my characters. For some reason this photo thing really bothers some literalists, but I have fun in the writing and I like for my readers to have fun on their end.

I write every day, without block (or angst). I do not wait for muses to visit. Unlike some authors who purport to suffer great pain in the creative process, I feel nothing but joy and satisfaction. I can create when I am happy and I can create when I am sad or mad and even when I am sick. The state of my mind or my mood don’t matter.  It is the same climbing into an airplane. When it’s time to work, you work, and what’s going on in the rest of your life has to get blocked out.

I write all first drafts longhand in ballpoint pen.

Once a manuscript is started I tend to stay on it 24/7 until it is done. I do not continuously rewrite and polish the first one thousand words in a Sisyphean struggle for the top of the craft mountain. In my view, you need a whole story to polish, not just part of one.

Some would argue that stories are the fuel that propels mankind forward in life.

Maybe so, but I agree with the late Michigan state supreme court justice John Voelker who once wrote: “The artist should be no more celebrated for his writings than a leaky brat for its capacity to make water – neither can help himself. There are simply more brats than writers. Voelker wrote under the pen name of Robert Traver and authored among several works, the best seller, Anatomy of A Murder. He was born and raised in Ishpeming in the central UP and more enamored of trout fishing than writing — or practicing law.

John was the sort of person who looked around and asked himself a lot of questions. I tend to emulate him. Probably all serious artists do this.

Ideas are in the air, like ether, and if you seek a silly world, just look around and ask yourself some questions about what you see. If you’re a writer, you may find a novel growing from such a question.

For example, if the paper on most US debt is held by China, does that make us a de facto communist-controlled nation?

If gravity is so powerful, why can’t it pull a small magnet off a fridge door?

Two things that separate Homo sapiens from lower life forms are prehensile thumbs and double-entry bookkeeping. I keep looking for an evolutionary connection.

I wonder, if guns kill people, do pencils misspell words?

Einstein told us: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

The message is this: There ain’t no algorhythm or magic template for creativity in art or science. You can teach students techniques, but you cannot install creativity with the latest little black box from the siliconatti. You’re either born with imagination or not, and if you don’t exercise it, you risk losing it.

Let me close on a ponderous philosophical note. “I would not live forever because if we were supposed to live forever then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever.”

Thank you to Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss World Contest for this gem.

My favorite bumper sticker advises: Buckle Up: It makes it harder for Aliens to suck you out of your truck.” Now there’s advice we can use!

Finally, do Rice Crispies make noise when you pour milk on them because they are drowning?

That said, let us reprise Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction: Exit left, pursued by bear.

Sorry, you’ll have to imagine the bear.

In my Air Force days we used one word to let the other guy know it was his turn to speak or to ask questions,

That time is now: Over.

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