I started writing in my first journal when I was twelve years old.  The first thing I wrote was: “My Life Plan” — in pencil on lined notebook paper.   I still have that “Life Plan” and oddly enough, I have stuck to all these many years.  I set out both short term and longterm goals for myself.  I have achieved nearly every one of them.  Short term goals give me the feeling that I CAN accomplish something within this lifetime.  Longterm goals give me the feeling that I still have goals to reach and strive for.  Something to live for.

When I was in college I wrote a lot of poetry.  Most it was maudlin or downright self-indulgent.  But in writing those poems I kept my hopes alive and my sanity somewhat intact.  I printed a volume of the poems and titled it: Poems Written on Rainy Days.  Obviously, ‘rainy days’ were the “down” days; the days when I slipped into the depths of despair and wondered if I would ever be able to climb out.

I still have that bound volume of poems around here somewhere.  I hope to find it as I pack up papers, correspondence, dummies, sketches, etc. for the Kerlan Collection.

Only one poem stands out in my memory; one worth remembering:

Two trees stand firm against a bitter wind;

a friendship has grown between them

I was eighteen years old when I wrote that poem.  Those words still resonate with me today more than forty years later.

One Moment


Ollie Dead in Leaves            The bare trees huddled close to the wooden house as if to warm themselves from the cheery glow coming from the kitchen window.

Sitting in the kitchen the man stared out the window, thinking.

A fly softly buzzed against the glass seeking its own freedom from his thoughts.

The man picked up his mug of coffee and sipped it without taking his eyes off the trees standing stark against the steely sky.

It was 3:14 in the morning.

The world was hushed and silent as if waiting for something to change.

Something to alter his reality.

Something to make his reality not be.

On the kitchen table sat a small plant.

A winter primrose.

As if unaware of the shift in reality the primrose bloomed bright with yellow flowers. Cheerful and calming as all primroses are.

The fly grew bored of buzzing against the glass and settled on the leaves of the primrose exploring the surface hopefully.


I am the eternal optimist, the man thought.

Optimism springs eternal.

Or is it hope springs eternal?

How could this moment be his reality?

The eternal question everyone asks at one point or another in his life. How and why. What had he done wrong?

It had to be a trick.

A trick of the machines.

A trick of the light.

A trick of his hearing.

He must have heard wrong. That had to be the answer.

What had Gertrude Stein said before they wheeled her into surgery?

What is the answer?

And when no one answered she said the most oft repeated line of her career: “In that case, what is the question?”

What is the question?

The man had no answers.

No questions either.

Just the silent reality of the warm kitchen.

The man stood and pressed his forehead against the cold glass that kept the outside world at arm’s length.

He put his hand in his pocket and fingered the bone button that he always carried for good luck.

The button had failed to bring him the good luck he needed most a few hours ago.

A lifetime ago.

Twelve hours ago.

The man took the button from his pocket and held it between his thumb and forefinger.

The smooth texture brought back a flood of memories.

A night in an ancient burial mound.

The discovery of his first skeleton lying on its side, undisturbed.     Unaware.

His reality was that he was too aware.

Too discovered.

Outside, the bare trees shuddered in the wind and scratched at the window with their bony branches.

Scritch. Scritch. Scritch.

The sound brought back memories that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

It would be a brief haunting he thought.

But why now?

Why me?

It made no sense.

Reality made no sense.

He had too much to do.

Too many things to finish.

The fly buzzed back to the window. Desperate to get out, not be trapped in this man’s reality.

But, what was his reality?

His reality was one month.

One month to tie up the loose ends of his life.

The man’s gaze settled on the primrose and he smiled.

How could something so humble bring so much joy?

It was the same with the bone button he always carried in his pocket.

It brought him peace of mind and held all the memories of his life.

The button made him remember.

The button made him forget.

The diagnosis made him regret.


One word.

One diagnosis.

One button.

One fly.

One plant.

One last trick.

Outside the kitchen window the bare trees stood still holding their breath.

New Year’s Resolutions


A Corner of StudioThe New Year is here and it’s time to start implementing my New Year’s resolutions.  The most pressing are: Get the studio cleaned and organized and finish the artwork for A Bed for Little Cub by the end of January/early February!

I am donating all my papers, correspondence, studies, dummies, and a number of original pieces of artwork to the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.  The time has come to make certain these papers are in safekeeping and made available to anyone who might want to look at them or use them for research.

It’s going to be a daunting task to get all the papers into storage boxes and write explanatory notes as to what is what before shipping it all off.   I feel good about the decision and am looking forward to empty file cabinets in the Mail Room here at Henwoodie.

Projects for the New Year


Cape Cod rocksWords are like stones…you collect them one by one and arrange them to suit your needs and desires.   When placed side by side in just the way you like you begin to see the pattern, the story.Long Point rocks 1

Stones, like words, are sometimes big, sometimes small.  They fit together to tell the story with colour, surprise, and beauty.  Most likely a story will have many more small stones, tiny pebbles, that hold the larger story together.   They provide the background for the bigger stones and allow them to glisten and stand out just enough to keep the story interesting.

The wonderful thing about collecting stones, and writing, is that the more stones (words) you add to the pattern, the story, the more interesting and complex it becomes.   If you study the above photo and really take time to consider each tiny grain, each pebble, each stone, you will begin to see the pattern and how each one adds to the overall beauty of the picture.  Each word, carefully chosen, does the same thing in a story.

The writing life here at Henwoodie is a quiet one.  I spend a great deal of time collecting stones, pieces of bark, fungi, old birds’ nests, acorns, etc.  And as I add each one to my collecting basket I can’t help but think of words.   Ideas, oftentimes just snippets of dialogue or description, seem to come with each item I find.   By the time I get home I simply have to sit down and write all the ideas and words down and figure out later how to weave them into a story or narrative that I’m writing.

I’m a compulsive collector.  I’m a compulsive writer.   I could no more not write than I could fly to moon on the back of sparrow.  Writing is cathartic for me.  Through writing I can see the patterns in my own life.  The words help shape my narrative and it’s easier to see where I’m going both in life and as a writer.

Now that we are in a New Year I focus on writing projects that I want to finish, must finish, in order to get on with my life.

Here, for your delectation, is the list of the writing projects that I have in the works.

Picture Books:

A Bed for Little Cub: finish the final artwork

Little Cub and the Fireflies: finish the final artwork

Gus & The Hatchlings: finish the final artwork

Ruby & Roofus: finish the final artwork (these are goslings numbers eleven and twelve in the Gossie & Friends series)

Pearl: finish the final artwork (this is the thirteenth and last gosling to be added to the gaggle)

Pearl’s Lost Pearls: finish the final artwork

Note: These are the very last of the outstanding picture book contracts that I need/must wrap up within the next six months.   All the writing and editing is finished.  I simply have to sit down in the studio and do the finished illustrations.  Easier said than done.


Wythe’s End: 18 of 27 chapters written; eager to work on the character portrait sketches and the drawings of Wythe’s End

The Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son (5 volumes)

1. The Secret Book of Moolstery (6 chapters and Prologue written)

2. The Secret of the Mool Dykes

3. The Secret of Morag’s Too’er

4. The Secret of the Myvyrrian Map

5. The Secret of the Dragon Eggs

Note:  These five books represent my “magnum opus” as a writer.  I’ve been working on this project ever since my first visit to Scotland and the Orkney Islands and the Outer Hebrides in 1978.   I know the complete saga by heart and simply have to sit down and write it out so that others can enjoy the story.

Nobody Likes an Ugly Child: A collection of short stories about my childhood growing up in southern Virginia.  The stories are humorous, some are dark and tragic, but they make up the pattern of my life

8″ and 12″; books two and three in Gabe Hooton’s edgy coming-of-age trilogy.  The three books comprise one year in the life of the seventeen year old.

And that’s it.  These are the projects that are most pressing in my mind and heart.   It’s going to be a productive year for me as a writer.  I am ready for the challenge!

A New Year!


Christmas Tree 2014 1 Snow is falling hard here at Henwoodie on the third day of the New Year.  The bluejays and squirrels scramble for the peanuts we put out for them.  Song birds and mourning doves flock onto the birdseed, pecking as fast as they can before the snow becomes too deep. The holidays at Henwoodie were filled with friends and family visiting from afar and staying for most of the holidays.  John is now on his way back to Dearborn, Michigan, driving in treacherous conditions.  He calls every half hour to let me know that he is all right and slowly making progress.   Two hours into the trip he witnessed a number of cars and huge trucks spinning out and flipping over.   It will be a tense day of waiting for me until I know that he reaches home safe and sound. This afternoon I will clean and organize the studio after all the frenzy of wrapping gifts and storing everyone’s luggage there.  Tomorrow I will begin painting in earnest to finish the illustrations for the long overdue picture book: A BED FOR LITTLE CUB. Page 23 This is the year that I will finish the remaining outstanding picture book contracts (6) and will concentrate on the larger writing.  I have not allowed myself to write any more chapter for WYTHE’S END until I finish the first three picture books (hopefully they will be finished by the end of March). 2014 was what I call “The Lost Year”.  It was a difficult year and I didn’t get nearly as much work done in the studio as I would have liked.  But, 2015 is a New Year, a fresh start, and lots of revived creative energy! Happy New Year everyone!