Just Write

Remembrance Of Dr. Denis Lape: A Falstaff, An Honest Puck, And Constant As The Northern Star

This is what I said yesterday - an extended version, as I trimmed a little bit as I spoke for fear of speaking too long, especially since I could have gone on for hours - at the memorial service of my college professor, adviser, mentor, and friend, Dr. Denis Lape. It seemed much too small for such a great man and one I had known for twenty years, but I hope it captured a little a part of the essence of who he was.

Denis Lape memorial, Antrim Chapel - April 23, 2016 (redacted)

I’m Danny Adams, Roanoke College Class of 1998, English major with a concentration in K-12 education, and presently a college librarian and a freelance author. Denis Lape was both my adviser and my mentor at Roanoke, and then my friend in the years since I graduated.

Jane, I don’t know if this is something that you and Denis planned, or this was something the universe lined up him, but today – this exact day, Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 – is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. I can’t imagine any better day to have a memorial for Denis Lape.

For those of you who were at Denis’ memorial during Alumni Weekend, I hope you liked what I said then, because you’re going to be hearing most of it again. It was the best way I could think to compress twenty years into five minutes.

Also, though it’s been nearly ten years since Denis asked me to call him Denis, he still made such an impact on me from early on that to this day, I still have to think a little bit before I call him Denis instead of Dr. Lape. If I bounce back and forth between the two, that’s why. He told me to call him Denis because he now considered us peers and equals—which I still have trouble believing, that I could be Denis Lape’s peer and equal, but he was never anything but honest with me, so I’ll try to take his word for it.

I started at Roanoke College late, transferring in just a few weeks before I turned twenty-five. I’d wanted to go to Roanoke for a long time, and in the meantime I’d been through quite a lot, so I was determined that nothing and no one was going to stand in my way. I decided to become an English major mainly because I’d been a writer since I was twelve, but knew I could be a much better one, and so I was hoping the major would improve my skills. Upon starting school I was given Dr. Denis Lape as my adviser, and my first class was one of his.

Other students met the news of this with what seemed like awe and trepidation, if not a little fear. “Dr. Lape!” It wasn’t exactly said like a whisper, but it might have been. There were stories about Dr. Lape. Stories and…legends. But I was determined. As much as I’d been through to get to Roanoke, I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a professor.

Then I got back my first paper from Dr. Lape – with a D. I think the class was American history, the paper about Thomas Jefferson or something like that, and I was convinced that it was a good paper. I knew it was! It was, I thought, well-written…concise…and all of my arguments were backed up by well-cited expert opinions. So I marched to his office barely containing my righteous fury, and demanded—well, politely, because this was Dr. Lape, and despite my resolve he was a little intimidating—why he gave me a D. I gave him my reasons, but when I got to the part about the well-cited expert opinions he stopped me short.

“I don’t care what they have to say!” he declared. “They’re not my students! You are my student. I want to know what you think about this. And I want to know why you think it.”

Whoa. He didn’t slam his fist down on his desk, but he might as well have for all the impact this on me. I think I stared at him for a moment, completely dumbfounded. My entire academic career up until that point had discouraged any notion that what I thought was relevant. If it wasn’t backed up by expert opinions, it didn’t matter.

But more than that, even after writing for a dozen years, I had never really developed a voice or a style of my own in my personal writing. I had a lot of literary heroes, people who had led me to writing, and my efforts were aimed at imitating the best of what they had to offer. Because—though I hadn’t realized it until that point—it never truly and deeply occurred to me that my own writing, as my own writing, might be important.

To use a phrase I first heard at Roanoke College from Dr. Deborah Selby, this shifted my paradigm.

And this wasn’t a one-shot occurrence from him, either. This was Denis Lape. He quickly became not just my adviser but also my mentor, but that encouragement was always there: to be a better student, a better writer, a better person. And I did need a lot of reinforcement, especially those first few months. He saw the potential people had and was willing to make a mighty effort to bring that out. Nor did it stop after I graduated, either, but continued in the years afterward when Denis and Jaine invited me into their home.

(It should surprise nobody in this chapel, by the way, that Denis never had a problem with the fact that most of my writing has been science fiction and fantasy.)

I’ve done pretty well at writing since then, and I’m indebted to Denis a great deal for that. He’s always been in the back of my mind as I’ve continued writing. When I finished what became my first published solo-authored novel, he was the first person—after my wife Laurie—to see it. When I published a science fiction sequel to Moby Dick—a book I own primarily thanks to him—again, after Laurie, he was the first person who saw a copy. When I made my first trip to the Globe Theater in London last summer, he and Jaine were the first people I sent a Globe postcard to.

As for the future . . .

I’m reminded of an interview that NPR did a few years ago with the former Poet Laureate, Donald Hall. Hall was in his early eighties, a widower, and confined to a wheelchair, but insisted that he wasn’t miserable at all. He could still wheel his wheelchair up to his table, he said, and write, and as long as he could do that, he would be happy.

That’s what I’m hoping for. If I’m lucky enough to still be writing in my eighties or beyond, if I can still wheel my wheelchair to the table and write, I’ll be happy.

And I’ll still be thanking Dr. Lape then, too.

Thank you, Denis. And thank you, Jaine, for asking me to speak today.
Just Write

The Slow Circle Road

Beyond the vegetable and animal foods we purchase shrink-wrapped from the grocery store, many of us no longer can call our fellow creatures by name. The naming of things is essential to our understanding of them and to our belonging among them, and there are costs to our ignorance. … Maybe it is significant that God set man the task of naming the creatures early on in Genesis as the first and necessary part of assuming our responsibility as stewards. What we have names for, we are more likely to notice and appreciate, less likely to ignore, abuse or consider of no consequence. We know our friends by name, and attend to them better than we do to rank strangers. I wonder if we couldn’t be better caretakers of the planet if we were on a first name basis with more of its inhabitants, and knew more about their families and their kin.

-Fred First, Slow Road Home

I used to know the names of my neighbors. I’m a lot less familiar with them now, even though I own a home on their doorstep.

I mean the wild neighbors like Fred First is talking about in the passage above. In my early twenties especially, I consumed whatever books I could about the natural world around me, always as a prelude to doing my own boots-on-the-ground and hands-on explorations. I hiked on and off trails for miles around the Blue Ridge Mountains. I drew what I found, or sometimes saved samples, particularly leaves and bark to look up later and teach myself what I was looking at. I memorized the different varieties of trees, and even researched their medical uses. I would follow animal tracks, figuring out what animal it was first, then what they were up to when they left the tracks—including, once, a mama bobcat with two cubs who stayed side by side nearby while she chased and took down a deer. I took note of claw marks on trees and stones. A few years later, had I been more confident in myself, I likely could have gotten a job as a park ranger when one was offered to me.

I’ve let myself get distracted since then.

Most of what I learned about my wild neighbors I’ve forgotten. I can tell you if something is an oak or a maple tree, but not specifically what kind anymore, and only by the leaf, almost never by the bark. I can tell you what many birds are on sight, but no longer by their songs. I look at those drawings I made twenty-odd years ago as if they were done by someone else. But I don’t like that at all. I want to learn about my neighbors again, especially since I’m now living on the edge of hundreds of acres of a mountain forest.

Collapse )

  • Current Music
    "Young at Heart" ala Tony Bennett and Shawn Colvin
  • Tags
Just Write


I've been half-joking with the returning students that since this was the first Christmas Break in years that found me not working on a novel, I spent it meandering and not really knowing what to do with myself. That's (a bit of) an exaggeration. But not quite a month after sending Secret Project to the publisher, I have been restless in the writing sort of way since I am In Between in the activity that usually rules my days and mind. Thus my brain has been spinning out the next two possibilities:

(1) Short book that for the most part won't require research. This would be a science fiction young adult novel that I literally dreamed up a few weeks ago - not the ending, of course, since my brain apparently wants me to work for it at least a little bit. The premise is an already-happened alien invasion of Earth, but one where the aliens weren't coming willingly and most would scurry off as fast as their appendages would take them if they were able.

(2) The next giant historical novel, the one about the Mississippi River. Another one that's been in my head for a long time, like the Shenandoah and Arizona novels before it. Research intensive. I would prefer this be a large single novel, but I know how well that worked out (or didn't) for my Shenandoah and Arizona novels plural.

In a small writing note I discovered last night that the painting I would like to use as the cover of the first Arizona novel, should I ever self-publish it - a painting by Frederic Remington - is not only public domain, but at least one museum also offers up a free-use photograph of it. (That would be the sticky part in copyright - the painting may be out of copyright, but not necessarily online pictures of it.) The cover of the second book would likewise be a Remington painting, but I haven't found any free-use photos of it yet.

Semi-related, I have a large collection of pre-World War II postcards of places in Europe and Asia that were destroyed or severely damaged in the war, including Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Nuremberg, Rotterdam, and several places in Normandy. I've toyed with the idea of self-publishing a book of these - a "Here's what these places looked like before they were destroyed" collection, including text about the places in the postcards - but there might be copyright issues there as well. The oldest postcards would be public domain automatically, but the rights to a few might still be owned somewhere. Since some were photographed and published in the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan eras, that could be a thorny but interesting search.

Today was my first workout day of the new year, and actually the first workout I've done since October. I ended up not leaving myself time to do as much as I wanted, but I still knocked out an elliptical mile in 9 minutes and 40 seconds, along with some weight pushing (as opposed to weight lifting, that is). My only New Year's Resolution was to get to the gym at least twice a week, preferably three times; since I was going at least twice every week in the months leading up to my trip to Europe (so I could gallivant around Europe without giving myself a heart attack), I know it can be done if I just put my feet on the ground. Or the elliptical treads, as the case may be.

Now back to awaiting Secret Project edits, though now I will do so either listening to David Bowie or watching The Prestige again.
  • Current Music
    "As The World Falls Down", by David Bowie
  • Tags
Just Write

Where Am I?

Oh, right. I was actually a little nervous logging back into Live Journal for the first time in forever - well, about ten months, with my last entry posted in mid-February - as if I was going to be met by a screaming mob at my threshold. Here I am, poking around, running my fingers along the walls, turning on the lights room by room, as if I'm going through a house I spent part of my childhood in but haven't been back to in years.

My being away wasn't due to not having anything to write about. As it happened, 2015 was a busy year.

I finished my For Fun Fantasy Novel, which eventually was named No Word In Death's Favor (a riff off of Homer), and despite being written for fun and as a multi-layered experiment, I did (probably inevitably) send it off to a publisher some weeks ago. A publisher that still likes large novels in hard copy, which is good since No Word In Death's Favor rounds out somewhere around 150,000 words. The second novel got underway in mid-September, after getting the go-ahead to write it in July; I still call it the Secret Project because I can't talk about it quite yet, but it qualified as another dream project. That one was finished and delivered to the commissioning publisher about three weeks ago. Lest Camelot Fall, though it did well in itself many months, disappeared last spring when its publisher, Musa, called it quits. I'm still debating about self-publishing it, and probably will, though there are a few small rewrites I want to do first. 2015 was devoid of short stories and poetry for the first time in some years; I didn't publish any new pieces of either, but I did have an older poem reprinted in the just-released volume 1 of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

I finished off the last major general item on my bucket list by finally getting to Europe, a trip I've wanted to make since I was a teenager, but one where every plan I'd made to go in past years fell through. This time, at last, was different, and the result was a 17-day whirlwind through the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and England, with a couple of all-too brief layovers in Iceland. Immediately before and after that trip was a total of a week spent in Northern Virginia visiting and catching up with friends that I hadn't seen in several years, an altogether too long of a time to be bereft of their company. I don't know when I'll ever make it back to Europe, but I would like to make it back to NoVA at least once every summer.

I continue buying books, which would be a shock to absolutely no one. It's a novelty having a living space that fits all of my books, which just mischievously encourages me to buy more. If only securing the shelves was that easy.

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Three times. Once in 3D. And I'm willing to go again if anyone wants to come with me.

Two people I'd been close to for a long time died towards the end of the year. The first was my college mentor, Dr. Denis Lape; strangely (though not so strange if you know my family's history), the day he died I'd spent awhile thinking that I hadn't talked to him in several months and really should get back in touch. Then right before Christmas, my aunt, my mom's sister, Diane Carpenter, passed away. We hadn't lived at all close since I was a little kid, but we'd always been close. Both of those deaths were shocks, and reminded me of the constant need to make certain that people you love should always know how you feel about them.

No new animals came into my fold in 2015, but there are still plenty in control of my house. Eight cats, two dogs. Add in a few thousand books and space gets a little tight, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

As much as I miss my niece and nephews being wee bairns, I do appreciate the fact that they're old enough that I can start getting them cool presents. My niece Alex, for example, was the recipient of a 5-foot tall Bear Titan recurve bow. She's proven herself adept at smaller bows, but ones that were all borrowed, so I thought it was time she have her own, and one somewhat more formidable.

Now, as for 2016...well, we'll see. The Secret Project will be out by summer, and this summer will also see me traveling to Saint Augustine, Florida in June and to Columbus, Ohio in July. Along with, I hope, Northern Virginia. I'm still deciding what book to write next - there are a couple of possibilities - and whether or not to finally take the plunge and self-publish my long-waiting Shenandoah and Arizona historical novels.

Beyond those things, I haven't the foggiest notion of what I'll be up to. But maybe I'll remember to blog about them.
  • Current Music
    "It's A Brazzle-Dazzle Day" from Pete's Dragon
  • Tags
Just Write

Keep Up With The Old Guy

I'll admit it: I'm one of these middle-agers who looks over the younglings in the gym with a bit of envy. I know I'm not the only one, and in my case, it's colored by the fact that aside from occasional walking and hiking when I was a youngling, I had a naturally high metabolism that meant I could stay skinny without trying hard. Nowadays moderate exercise simply means I don't gain weight, rather than losing it.

But until today it never occurred to me to wonder what was going on in the younger folks' heads when I came into the gym. Now I'm thinking of it as "Keep Up With the Old Guy" Syndrome.

I'd noticed flickers of this before but brushed it off, figuring I was imagining things: that sometimes when I was working out and I would periodically speed up on the elliptical or stationary bike, people of the half-my-age variety would speed up on their machines, particularly if I'd been going faster than them to start with. I saw that again today: every quarter mile on the elliptical I would increase my speed, and two people on treadmills a few yards away sped up too. (During the first two speed increases their conversation got more winded. After speed increase #3 they stopped talking altogether.)

I likely would have ignored and brushed this off too. But then after doing the weight workout I went to a cool-down on a stationary bike moments before another youngling got on the one next to me. The first half-mile on the bike I increase my speed at tenth-of-a-mile increments, then bring it back down for the second half. And I noticed yet again that when I sped up, he did too. That caught my attention because it's the first time this happened twice in a row during a workout.

Then, while I was staring straight ahead and listening to the Monkees burbling away in my headphones, I saw - not once, but twice - the guy next to me lean over and look at my speed. When he leaned back he sped up to go faster than I was.

I've got to say I was boggled. All this time being jealous of youth and strength and high metabolisms, and folks half my age or younger are trying to keep up with me? I don't mean out of jealousy - but maybe they felt like the old guy was showing them up.

Which made my day, I'm not too big to admit.

So take heart, those of you of my generation and older who are trying to keep yourselves healthy amid a workout sea of young faces. One way or another, you may be a better example than you realize!

(P.S. If they really were bothered by my workout, my leaving didn't provide any relief. As I was walking out a friend was coming in - a fellow who is a little older than me, in better shape...and an ex-Marine.)
  • Current Music
    "Fly Me To The Moon" ala the Virginia Gentlemen
  • Tags
Just Write

You Must Avoid Balance, Daniel-san

Amid my mostly futile efforts to try combining multiple fairly substantial tasks - like writing, exercising, and house-work - within individual days, I ran across a snarky astrology page that was a revelation. Libra, my sign, is described as "Indecisive. Tries to balance everything".

Trying to balance everything might be a good description of my problem here. Or rather, trying to balance everything in a single day. It struck me - particularly as I close in on the end of the For Fun Fantasy Novel, finally - that the analysis at the end of the day really should be qualitative rather than quantitative. I don't mean that stuff doesn't get done, but I need a better metric than 24 hour cycles. I may get 5000 words a week done whether or not I write every day, but if I spend a day devoted to writing, rather than a half-hour here and there because I'm trying to do other things too, and those 5000 words are better when I can devote more time in one sitting to them, then what sense does it make to do everything in pieces?

Likewise, for work on the house. One of my upcoming projects is to rip up a small section of carpet and put down tile, for instance. It makes less sense to do this in several chunks than doing it over one or two days, and like those 5000 words, the quality of the job would probably be better. I can concentrate on tile without thinking "But I haven't written today...", or writing without thinking "There's still a lot of bare floor..."

So I just have to somehow un-corkscrew myself from Libra-ness. I might have had an easier time learning to balance, but we'll see. Maybe it's just a matter of getting out of the habit of going to bed thinking "What have I done today?" and replacing it with "What have I done this week?"

The exception to this, though, is exercise. Some things I can put off, but I put off exercise at my peril. Three times a week would be enough, or has been in the past, as long as it's consistent. This is something I need to keep up regardless of what else is going on the rest of the day, for my own long term (much, much longer than a week) sake.

Another bit of time unfortunately just opened up for my next few weeks, too: Amazon has cancelled its Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest this year. I've been a judge for that contest since its inception in 2008, and figured that being annual and being Amazon, I could solidly expect to do it again this year too. Nope. I heard from my Publishers Weekly editor, rosefox, yesterday that it was being scrubbed, with the official notice arriving today. Ah well. I thought it was a great thing and I hate to see it disappear. Some of the manuscripts I read were real stinkers - one year all of them were - but there were others I thought absolutely brilliant, and I'll miss those. RIP, ABNA.

* * *

Anyway, as I said above, I'm closing in on the end of No Word in Death's Favor. I might even wrap it up in another two chapters and perhaps a small epilogue. Then I'll connect the dots from chapter to chapter so it flows better, and then eventually decide whether or not I think it's any good.

I went into it not thinking about publishing as the major goal but experimenting with things I hadn't tried before, or not tried much. Publishing or not will enter my mind more thoroughly once it's finished. I'll try not to let the fact that I spent ten months on it influence my decision; aside from the fact that much of that time was spent not writing while I worked on New House, the extra time was also built in from the start because of all the experimenting (and, yeah, playing around in the name of experimenting).

Then again, I might really like it. We'll see.

And after that...maybe a Secret Project. I call it that because it's probably something I'm not supposed to be writing. But offhand I can't recall any time such a prohibition stopped me.

Collapse )

Just Write

I Can't Move My Arms

That's not a reference to A Christmas Story (though I was tempted to take a picture of myself bundled under three or four coats), but rather that I finally got back to the gym today for the first time since before I moved (that is, before last April).

I'd been telling myself that I'd get back for...well, never mind that. But it was particularly intense over the past couple of weeks, except I let my time-gobbling duo of writing and doing house-related things (125,000 words on No Word in Death's Favor as of this past Saturday, by the way) gobble time that could otherwise have gone to working out. But today I was determined to get there, since I was starting to feel my resolve slipping again.

And more to the point, I have an active summer planned, which will include a maniacal amount of sightseeing involving an equally maniacal amount of walking, plus hiking with some treading up to the tops of giant rocks. I anticipate having a great deal of fun this summer, so naturally I do not want to cut it short in midstream with a heart attack.

At any rate, the hardest thing for me about working out is not the exercise itself, but making myself not compare where I am now to my 2009 peak of one hour workouts four days a week, when I dropped several inches off my waist, could run a couple of miles without breaking a sweat, and lift the highest settings on the campus gym's weight machines one-handed. That was after several months of intense exercise, and honestly I'm not sure if I could reach that level of intensity again. But what I would like to do is get rid of as much of the gut as possible, build back some arm muscle...and of course, not die of a heart attack (on vacation or any time in the next few decades thereafter, preferably).

I broke down today's workout into my old standard non-intensive plan:

I started with the elliptical, doing a mile in about 10:30 - no record-breaking there, but breaking the no-workout streak was all I cared about. I did another half mile in almost exactly five minutes, then a cool down.

Then the weight machines, and the titular loss of movement in my arms. While I was smart enough to not try the same weights I was doing even when last I worked out, I was naive enough to think I could do the same quantity. After seven ten-sets of pull-downs (with the machines set to 7 out of 12 on five of those, and 8/12 on two), I knew I was done with lifting for the day - especially when an 8/12 machine pulled me back into my seat on the last tug.

Then a mile on a stationary bike going 55-100 RPM, with a third-of-a-mile cool down.

This is the point where I pointedly tell myself not to remember that my original workouts would've added jogging three laps around the gym, a number of push-ups, an extra one-half mile to one mile on the elliptical, and at least twice as much weight-lifting. Right now I'm just pleased that I got to the gym at all, so I'll go with that.

What I need to figure out now is why I have so much trouble keeping up this exercise habit, while in 2009 I was kind of obsessive about working out and stopped only after (1) a doctor told me to quit exercising for a month after my nearly-lethal spider bite, and (2) my car died. I suspect if I can figure this puzzle out I'll at least get back to something close to fighting shape.

Or walking miles a day shape. Either way I'll be happy.
  • Current Music
    "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by the Monkees
  • Tags
Just Write

2014: Annales Photographia

I started writing a "Year In Summary" post for 2014, but after a couple or three paragraphs I decided I'd rather just post some of my favorite pictures from the year. This isn't all of them - they only cover up to October - so I'll likely post more when I get the chance.

One of the first pictures, if not the first, I took of the New House, three months before the sale went through. (January)

Collapse )

  • Current Music
    "The Last Goodbye" by Billy Boyd
  • Tags
Just Write

Link Stew, Sponsored By The Brand New 2015

Visiting A Park Could Save Your Life. Well, yeah. And woods too, I imagine.

Talk like an Egyptian: If we want to safeguard our languages, stories and ideas against extinction, we had better study Egyptology. This is actually the sort of thing that's always in the back of my mind when it comes to collecting and preserving my own library. I also really got deep into this idea, as it were, a few years ago when I read Gregory Benford's non-fiction book Deep Time.

Why Creative People Seem To Have The Messiest Minds. Based on how messy mine can be...second only to my room.

This Brilliant 11-Year-Old Revolutionized Flood Prevention. Peyton Robertson invented the possibly genius and potentially life-saving sandbag that doesn't require sand.

Top Ten Ancient Egyptian Discoveries of 2014. I always especially love "old news".

First Buffalo Roam East Of The Mississippi Since 1830. There were even buffalo here in southwestern Virginia until the last one was shot in the late 1790s. Alas, a program trying to reintroduce them in certain areas some years back never came to fruition.

Byron Ballard keeps Appalachian folk magic practices alive. And it turns out that she happens to be the friend of a friend.

Oh My God, There’s A Cat In Russia That Wears A Bow Tie And Works As A Librarian. Because cats.

Morris the rescue cat has become a horse whisker-er since meeting Champy. Because cats and horses.

Christmas Tree Massacre! Big cats and a different sort of catnip.

In France, Vestiges Of The War's Bloody End. World War One, that is. Meanwhile, French town tries to save first world war soldier’s room for posterity. A century-old time capsule.

NASA Astronaut: Why We Need To Visit The Moon, Not Mars. I particularly like Hoffman's point that the Moon, being closer but extraterrestrial, would make the perfect practice ground for a Mars expedition.
  • Current Music
    "Candle on the Water" ala Kristin Chenoweth