If … what then?

If - what then.jpg

If …

Every story, every book, begins with that word. Or at least every idea for a story, a book.

If a little girl lived in a town where black people didn’t get a fair shake, and her father was a principled attorney and a black man was falsely accused …

If an alien civilization placed beacons on our world millennia ago that could only be found and activated after we reached for the stars …

If a boy and a girl met and fell in love but not only their parents but their entire families hated each other …

If books went out of style and became so despised that fire departments no longer extinguished fires but actually burned illegal libraries …

If a little girl on a small Kansas farm dreamed of having adventures far, far away …

If adventures happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

If … what then?

That is how a story is found. That is how a story is told.

It’s so simple, in the end, this once upon a time.


The power of validation

Destroyer-of-Worlds-CoverInternational Thriller Writers have nominated Joanna Penn for a writing award – Best Ebook Original. Although she’s an internationally known podcaster and author mentor, this is the first time she’s received a nomination for her fiction writing as J.F. Penn.

Her pleasure over this recognition is obvious. She sounds charmingly giddy talking about it during her weekly podcast, The Creative Penn. Continue reading The power of validation

First-quarter report to the readers

Author and Atomic Duck

A few days after the first of the year, I posted “My 5 goals for 2017.” How’s that going for me, three months into this latest 12-month adventure? Continue reading First-quarter report to the readers

You can always go back


There I was, minding my own business, when Truth loomed its beautiful head over everything else.

“It’s OK if you get it wrong. You can always go back and change everything.”

(For the record, it was a line in the book Business for Breakfast by Leah Cutter, and it’s taken out of context but sometimes Truth pops out from the middle of nowhere, doesn’t it?)

This is something to remember when you’re sweating the small stuff and trying to get every detail just right before you let anyone else see your work.

It’s OK if you get it wrong. You can always go back and change everything.

Everyone’s depending on you to get it right? Of course. But it’s OK if you get it wrong on the first try, or the second, or the third.

It’s easy to get paralyzed with indecision – getting it wrong the first time (or even the 60th) is not the end of the world. The key is to keep trying until you get it right. And the more you work at it, the faster you’ll get it right the first time.

Don’t worry about getting it right; just get it. There’s a place in the process where you go back and tweak it.

Some people say “give yourself permission to fail.” The baseball player doesn’t hit a home run the first time, or even most of the time. Some of the greatest home run hitters also led the league in strikeouts. They became great home run hitters by stepping up to the plate and getting the work done.

It’s OK if you get it wrong. You can always go back and change everything.

5 miracle workers on each hand


These fingers have been with me for almost 64 years. They have written poems and songs and news stories and novels by the thousands.

They have strummed guitars and hammered nails, and stroked hair and plucked ticks out of dogs’ necks.

These fingers have been my conduit to a better place.

One day, of course, they will let me down and fail to accomplish the many tasks I require of them. That makes these fingers no less miraculous, and I am in wonder of them.

Consider what your fingers will do for you today, and be awed.

How Gareth Edwards became a Jedi Master


It’s that Star Wars time of year. The first movie not directly part of the Skywalker Saga came out last week, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Red and I haven’t seen it yet – maybe tonight for $5 Tuesdays – but I was intrigued by something director Gareth Edwards was quoted as saying during the publicity run-up:

“I grew up believing in The Force as a kid, and I’m still wondering if it might be true. You shouldn’t get to watch ‘A New Hope’ every day and then grow up to make a Star Wars movie. I’m starting to think it might actually be real.”

Well, of course it’s real.

Obi-Wan Kenobi defined what we’re talking about in the aforementioned A New Hope, which is the “new” name of the 1977 movie called Star Wars for those of us who were old enough to remember when it came out:

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

Of course it does.

Of course all living things create an energy field that binds the galaxy together, and those who can tap this energy are the greatest of creators. Edwards is right: Not every kid who watched the original movie every day grows up to make a Star Wars movie. But he did.

He devoted his life to gaining the skills necessary to direct a Star Wars movie, and that focused hard work and study led him to a place where he was chosen to do so. He set the course of his life in a way certain to make that not just possible, not just probable, but actually so.

Edwards set out to make a Star Wars movie, and he used The Force to make it happen. He became a Jedi Master.

The greatest scene yet recorded in a Star Wars movie is the one where Luke Skywalker’s ship is buried in a swamp, and Yoda the great teacher instructs Luke to use The Force to lift the vessel out of the muck. (Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before; It always bears repeating.)

“All right, I’ll give it a try,” Luke says.

“No!!” Yoda barks. “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Sure enough, Luke tries as hard as he can but can only move the buried ship a little bit. Yoda steps forward, holds out his hands, concentrates and pulls the ship up and onto solid ground.

“I don’t believe it,” Luke mutters.

“That is why you fail,” Yoda says.


A lot of kids grew up loving Star Wars and wanted to try making one of those films. They didn’t. Or maybe they did try, but they didn’t believe in their heart of hearts that it could be done.

Gareth Edwards decided to do it. And he believed that he could.

That’s why when the credits roll, they say “Directed by Gareth Edwards.”

Look around you! See the amazing!


Why am I writing this down? To share my awe.

Every object in this cluttered room is an end product of a person’s vision, of collaborators’ efforts, of painstaking hours and years. Here in this room are centuries of human achievement – and this is a modest-sized room. Multiply by billions and see what we have made, what we have done – what you and I are capable of, should we choose to do so.

A fine cabinet that houses a miraculous device that pulls voices from the air – why did we stop encasing our electronic devices in fine furniture? A handle that pulls water from under the ground to sustain or clean us. A machine that cools or freezes the air to preserve perishable food – a machine that heats the air to preserve perishable living beings.

A tube that fits in my hand and discharges ink evenly so I can share these thoughts and ramblings. Devices and gadgets that allow me to attach related pieces of paper to one another. A well pump or a paper clip – works of genius.

Perhaps that is why I write – why Bradbury writes – why writers write – to share amazement. To wake you up. To shake your soul and say, “Look around you! See the amazing!”

In the palm of your hand is a passport to the universe, a portal to collections of all human knowledge and achievement – all right there for your convenience. Of course now I’m specifically talking about a smartphone, but in a real sense every object made by human hands is such a portal.

Every shoe, every bottle, every souvenir knickknack – all are souvenirs from a moment of time, from centuries of learning and achievement, every cardboard box a solution to a problem – what an amazing pack of creators we are, and how sad that we waste so much time tearing things down.

“I made this!” cries the child. See what she has made. Cherish her creation and her creativity. Celebrate the builder – and understand that we are all builders. We are here to create, to reach across rivers and plains and mountains and oceans, to create a bridge to the stars.

We can do these things. We can find the path to understanding it all. What shall we create today: harmony or dissonance?

Choose the awesome.