Friday, July 13, 2012

The Silent Killer

Hi, folks. It's been a while since I blogged. A lot has happened to me in those weeks gone by and I thought it would be a good time to share with you.You see, I'm in a fight for my life.
I have pancreatic cancer, stage two. Found it by way of a 'lucky' break that almost killed me. My bile duct was blocked and I went severely jaundiced. My INR had shot to a point where some people bleed to death internally. I didn't bleed to death. The jaundice didn't kill me. The CT scan showed a dark spot on my pancreas and that almost scared me to death. The silent killer, it's called, because it often goes beyond the point of intervention before being detected. So, it was a lucky accident for me.
What happened next can only be described as a nightmare. A team of doctors and residents descended on my and my wife, all brimming with the details of how they would help me prepare to die. I am a person of faith in my God and when He calls, I'm ready to go. However, I haven't heard Gabriela's trumpet call, or the fat lady singing, for that matter. So, when the cheery oncologist appeared eager to disseminate statistic of gloomy nature, we ordered her out of the room.
I had lost quite a bit of weight due to my inability to eat regularly, and then an extended stay in the hospital where I got mostly broth and clear liquids for over a week. The weight loss had nothing to do with the cancer, it seems. We hobbled me home and sat in a muddle for days, waiting for some guidance on what to do. Because I'd rejected that original team's sage advice, I was on my own.
Well, not quite. My wife Patricia is a fighter, and she was fighting mad. She began to research what other options I might have available. Her search paid off. Right in Kansas City, a few miles from the other (unnamed) hospital, she found Menorah. And a procedure they call Cyber-knife, a non-invasive high tech form of radiation that shows high success rates for treating cancers.
Short story, she called, they invited us to present our previous records, a team met and discussed my case, and they came up with a protocol for dealing with my cancer.We're now several weeks into the chemo-radiation sequence that will reduce the tumor and make it possible to remove surgically. My scheduled date for surgery is in September. It will keep my in hospital for up to two weeks,, and a slow recovery at home. But, if they are successful, I will be cancer-free and able to stay on the planet a bit longer than Team A (I have a name for that letter but I won't use it here) had predicted.
If they are not successful, at least we tried. No worse than lying in a bed, waiting to die, hoping to die. In the meantime, I am continuing to write and publish as though I have another decade ahead of me. It's the only way I know to live, and I'm content in the knowledge that we're doing everything possible to beat this 'death' sentence.
And that's my message today in a nutshell. If you find yourself in the situation I'm in, get that second opinion unless you're happy with the first one. There are options, and sometimes the 'recognized' cancer center leader is not the leader at all except in a political sense. That was the case in Kansas City. They have a wonderful collection of doctors and specialists whose motto is 'we can beat this thing'. God willing and with their help, I'm going to beat this thing. Cheers, all!
Pat Dale

Friday, April 20, 2012

Schoolhouse 2025: Page Two

We had a lively discussion last week and I thank all who participated. There seems to be some divergence of opinion on our schools, and that is to be expected. This week, I’d like to touch on what I think are the necessary ingredients for learning to take place.
As I see it, there are two main elements needed; a person who has knowledge and is willing to impart it, and a person who has a thirst to learn. Place those two under a tree or in a multimillion dollar edifice and learning can take place. Obviously this is an oversimplification but it illustrates a great truth. The teacher and the student are the only irreplaceable elements. Everything else is tiered somewhere lower on the have to have scale.
I’m hoping for a bit of mind stretch here. Consider what other elements you will need to teach any academic subject; perhaps something to write on, something to write with. Equipment comes next. In some areas of study, you must have teaching aids to be successful. Without going into the individual disciplines, let your mind range over what kind of devices it takes for a teacher to impart science facts. Books for reading classes. Perhaps maps for history and geography. Musical instruments for music (yes, music is an academic discipline, incorporating mathematics and auditory science in an art form). This is a sample starter list, and you can fill in specific subject requirements.
Now it’s getting a bit complicated, and we need a place to house all this stuff. A comfortable, well-lit classroom isn’t a bad idea, either. And, ta-da, we have the beginning of controversy over how big a building, how big should classes be, and on down the time-trodden weary road to compromise. Remember two facts of life; one, each generation sees normal as what he/she experiences it early in life; and two, we have all been subjected to countless barrages of social engineering.
Consider the first point if you will. Because man is a generational beast and tends to build a history as he goes, we tend to believe that tradition will protect the great truths we discover along the way. We do, until we’ve become sufficiently careless that we don’t continue to teach those truths, but believe each generation will simply accept them.
I came along nearly eight decades ago, into a world that had a crude radio system, telephones that hung from a wall and required an operator to connect you to someone, a transportation system recently moved from the horse and buggy to self-powered automobiles, small transport airplanes that seemed sleek and modern but were archaic by today’s standards. And the only individual communication device consisted of the Dick Tracy wrist radio that cartoonist Al Capp dreamed up. That was my norm.
My first-born son, Michael, came into a world that was viewing the first successful color television sets, had experienced the first atomic explosions and the ramifications of that technology, transport planes that sported jet engines and held several times the number of people able to fly together in the past, increasingly efficient and comfortable passenger autos, a post-war America awash in commercial success but threatened by warring factions in the two most powerful nations on earth. This is just a little cross-section of life for either of us, but it is clear to see how we could easily grow up expecting different things from life.
Even when Mike was growing up, what was being taught in his schools had changed markedly from what I learned. And what I didn’t learn. Fast forward a generation to his first child, Jessica, and check out the radically different curriculum she learned from, and you begin to understand the importance of what I said above. Unless we insure that certain universal truths are constantly taught, and not constantly revised, each generation will develop its own norm and the ultimate result is what the world has experienced for thousands of generations, chaos. A new civilization is born, matures to domination, achieves great heights, and collapses when it loses its original foundation, leaving the world in a new dark age.
I know that many of you will disagree with me, and that is fine with me. Primarily, I want to evoke a serious discussion of where we are, and how our kids and grandkids are going to cope in their own generations. Till next time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Schoolroom 2025

Did that get your attention? As a longtime educator, I often wondered what will happen to our schools once technology supplies us with viable alternatives to the old three r’s; readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic of the early 20th Century. Well, it’s happened. We’re on the cusp of a revolution in education beyond anything man has known in the past. Today I want to discuss serious issues our children and grand children will face.

At one time cut and dried and tried and true, that famous old 3-R curriculum has ballooned into a mish-mash of social, touchy-feely, gobbledygook most adults couldn’t wade through without a pitchfork. Math has always been an objective field, one that had no gray areas to puzzle over. Now, even math has side issues that call for feeling as well as thinking. Oh, not the real math, but what is being taught in some places. And what do teachers allow in their classes these days? Calculators, well before most kids have a secure grasp on mathematic principles. Is it any wonder we’re slipping in the sciences that are dependent on extremely accurate calculations requiring full understanding? Remember; garbage in, garbage out with calculators. Or with computers.

Reading was a bit more obscure because there were so many choices of reading material. Imagine the quandary of the reading instructor now that there are so many more choices available, even for kids. Especially for kids. Still, a good reading teacher can provide a solid path for kids to follow as they sharpen their reading skills. In picking the stories and books kids should read, the teacher makes some critical decisions that are based in part on her social bias. Can’t be helped; that’s the way humans are.

Got an idea where I’m headed with this? Good. Now let’s look at writing. Once the domain of sticklers for traditional penmanship, I fear that may have gone by the wayside as well. I won a prize in eighth grade for penmanship. It took over fifty years before my handwriting deteriorated to the point one has to look closely to be able to decipher it. If I’d not started all those years ago with a hand so steady it looked like the printed word, my writing would have been just a blur long ago. I understand that many schools have downgraded the need for penmanship because we have the word processor, complete with spell-check, electronic dictionaries, and other built-in writing aids.

So far, it sounds like I’m a dim viewer of things electronic, doesn’t it? Nothing could be further from the truth. I am a dim viewer of lazy teaching. Through my years as a student in elementary, middle grade, high school, college, and post graduate studies, I encountered many fine teachers. Selfless souls who labored mightily to pass along everything they’d learned in an effort to help the next generation move up the learning curve. They worked long hours, in meager surroundings, with measly equipment, and received precious little in monetary reward, all for the belief they’d done their best to help mankind.

From the late fifties into the early nineties, I watched more and more ill-prepared teachers enter the school work force as the older generation dropped by the wayside. Time after time, I saw a group of folks more concerned with their pay, vacations, and benefits, than with the need for a good education for their students.

In my first full year of teaching I made a mistake one day. I had bought a dress shirt that was light blue, like shirts TV anchors wore because the blue looked cleaner than white on a black and white TV screen. My students thought it was cool. My superintendent called me into his office to explain why I could not wear white like the other teachers. And if I’d ever taken my tie off in the classroom, I would have probably been sent home to change. Nowadays, in many schools, the teachers resemble homeless folks, not to demean the homeless. Is it any wonder respect for teachers has vanished in most schools?

Okay, enough of that. I think I’ve at least hinted at an approximation of the state of education in our schools today. Who will ride in on his white charger, wave his white hat, and spur us on to a better day? He’s already here, folks. The same technology that gives us low-cost eReaders and other electronic gear, will soon provide a simple, light-weight, multi-function capability, means of storing a year’s worth of curricula, or more. Bye-bye fifty pound backpacks that are causing physical problems for our students. Hello, a way for the bright student to move at his or her own pace. Bye-bye the classrooms where we all try to get along, because that’s more important than whether we learn anything. Group projects, where the bright student carries the loafers, too.

I could go on and outline my concept of 21st Century academic education for our children, but I prefer to let you put your own imagination to work. When we can give our kids everything they need without darkening the door of a school, why should we continue to subject them to a breeding ground for bullies, lazy intimidators, and a place where the lowest common denominator is not a math principle, but the modus operandi?

Put your thinking caps on, ladies and gentlemen, and dream of a better future for the world of education. You tell me what you envision as the schoolroom of 2025 will look like.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Creative Anthropology, Anybody?

Oxymoron, right? How do you make anthropology creative? Simple. Be a writer in need of an endangered species for your story. Paranormal writers do it all the time. Create something that does not exist and make it believable.
When I was writing the rough draft of Last Cowboy, I put an environmentalist into the story and had to have something she might find down in Stone County, Missouri. Several of my characters were lake fishermen who needed bait, so I created a miniature frog and called it a gamie. Turned out, I had to go further by giving it a scientific name, and that was where my creativity was tested. I struggled with a couple of names nobody would believe, and then consulted my scientific encyclopedia. The final name? Amphibios Miniare Gamine.
Sounds authentic, right? In a way, it is. But, and this is a huge one, as far as I know, there is no such frog on the planet, much less in Table Rock Lake. They do use all manner of live bait down there, though, and this fit exactly into my storyline.
How many times do we, as creative writers, have to concoct something to fit our stories? I've had a few, but I have to admit this one is my favorite. Just another part of fiction authoring, it is a pursuit that facilitates our work.
And I'm all for facilitating. How about you?
PS. Last Cowboy in Texas is free for a few more hours today, Friday March 30th, on Amazon. At last count, it ranked #35 in fiction humor. Not bad for a funny little story with a funny little frog in it. LOL

Friday, March 9, 2012

Read A Good Book Lately?

This year has been a very productive one for me, and a very busy one. As I approach the release of my eighth novel since last April, I realize how much time I’ve spent doing the creative and non-creative work of writing, editing, and polishing all those books. While getting that done, I’ve also written two more and finished another two. So, it’s been an exciting but exhausting year.

My recent blogs have been about various aspects of the writing life, and I’ll continue to do that from time to time. Today, however, I want to discuss another topic, my title question. During the year’s activities I outlined above, I’ve also been able to read more than fifty books. Mostly full length novels, they take some time to read. Time well spent, I might add.

Along with a handful of noted authors, much of my reading has been given over to my writing peers. What I’ve read from my fellow authors has been encouraging for the most part. Oh, there were a couple of clunkers in the mix, but for the most part well written novels of various genres. While the world of fiction publishing continues to swirl around the controversy over eBook versus print book, writers plug away at their craft in hopes of turning that craft into art. Some have succeeded and I’d like to highlight books of unusual merit on my blog.

Now for the reason I titled this column with a question; I’d like for you, the readers, to offer your suggestion for the best book you’ve read in a given time period. For our first go at this venture, let’s make it a long time frame. So, for our first forum, send me the title and author of the best book you read in calendar year 2011. Listings will be anonymous and your personal data will not be mentioned or used for any purpose whatsoever.

I plan to follow this format on a monthly basis, starting next month. We’ll discuss the best books we’ve read, beginning with January, 2012. That gives us a three month lead time to have read the books and let our minds digest them. Over time, as this thing grows, I’d like to add a follow-up forum on the best books we’ve chosen; sort of an informal review readers can use when choosing their next book. We’re starting small so we’ll include all fiction genres in our list. As we grow, we’ll be able to separate into different categories of fiction.

For what I hope you will consider incentive, I’m offering an ARC of my next novel, Toccata, a St. Louis Blues Mystery, scheduled for release in May. The winner will be chosen by drawing from a hat the name of someone who sends in their favorite title and author. Send your favorite title/author to me at: and I’ll compile the list between now and March 31st.

To summarize, you send your nomination for the best book you read in 2011 to my email address above. I’ll add your name to the others in a hat and at the end of the month, I’ll draw one name for the prize. The first week of April, I’ll publish the list of nominated books for best read of 2011. Other than the random drawing for the prize, nominated books will simply be listed as good reads that our colleagues have recommended.

Help me make this a favorite site for readers to discover their next great book to read. Thanks in advance for doing a service for all our readers. PD

Friday, March 2, 2012

Another Writer Dilemma: Help

I've just submitted the second in my St. Louis Blues series. Blood Lust will follow up on Toccata, with my protagonists emerging from the aftermath of the Sera incident. The third book, A Fatal Flaw, is on the drawing board. I know where it's going and how it will get there.
Here's my dilemma; I always get the feeling of being adrift aboard a powerless, rudderless, boat in the deep blue sea after a book is finished (other than editing). I'm coming out of a particularly good period of writing, and I'd like nothing more than to extend it as far as possible. For the life of me, I can't make myself sit at the keyboard and create.
It's all I can do today to pen this SOS to my readers. Maybe it's Spring Fever. I know that phenomenon exists; I get it every year, but usually a lot later than this. I mean, for crying out loud, we just made it to March. My grass is a good two weeks from needing its first haircut of the season, and that's when SF generally hits hardest. And I don't mean science fiction.
I guess you can consider this a SF SOS. Before we get irretrievably lost in alphabet soup, I need to make an announcement regarding Toccata. Originally slated for an April release, it is now on schedule for a May 20th debut. I'd planned a series of blogs and other posts to lead up to its release, so that is now in a holding pattern over the runway.
That could be another reason for my hopefully transient case of the doldrums. At any rate, I'll get through this. I always do, though it is fun to have something to complain about. As I said before, my production the past four months has been very good. We've just had the mildest winter I can remember in this part of the country. My family is healthy, and I'm able once again to walk without benefit of a cane (for modest lengths), so this is the closest to a complaint I can muster. PPPM.
I'll let you figure your own way out of that little slice of alphabet rubric. Thanks for dropping by, and leave a comment if you have your own writer dilemmas. Or non-writer ones. Cheers, and happy reading.
Pat Dale

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Writer’s Dilemma

What to keep and what to toss?

Of all the inner battles a writer has to wage, this one gives me the most grief. Early in my career, I felt obligated to toss everything into my opening chapter, including the kitchen sink. Of course, my first editor knew better and counseled me to go for brevity. Actually, a lot of brevity. Taught me the value of the truth that less is more.

Perhaps the main reason I told too much was fear of the dreaded hook. We all know it is vital to hook our readers from the very first sentence, but, gosh how are they going to be hooked if they don’t know the entire history of the main character? Stuff like that. Sorry. That was my feeble attempt at humor. Actually there are all manner of hooks, and the experienced writer loads them into her/his bag of tricks. Hooks are not my subject of choice today but would make a good subject for a future post. Now to get down to it.

Along the way, I had a chance for a few weeks of mentoring by a NYT best-selling author, and she taught me a lot. Interestingly enough, her advice was for me to gather all sorts of peripheral data to flesh out my protagonist before I wrote word one. At her insistence, I went shopping and picked out the kind of pen I’d find on her desk, the style notebook she kept handy, items in her home that she would kill to keep, etc.

I thought at first my mentor was daft. Why did I need to pick the china in her buffet, the clothes in her closet, the time of day she was most vulnerable to a case of the blues. On and on. By the time I’d complied with her instructions, the course was nearly over, and I felt cheated.

But, and this is a dandy, I sifted through all that stuff and, you know what? I suddenly saw my character as human, a person with strengths and weaknesses, passions, hungers, foibles, and aversions, to wit; a real living breathing, suffering, imperfect but lovable person I could write about.

I wrote the book. The final story won’t be written on that book in my lifetime, since I have no way of knowing how it will fare in the competitive world of fiction writing. But I wrote the doggone book and I’m proud of it, one of my best ever.

Now, back to my question. How much of all that periphery did I include? Not very much in terms of straightforward narrative, though understanding what kind of blouse she would wear for a certain occasion, or her favorite song, made her come alive in the pages of my book. So, my advice to fellow authors is, compile a book on your main characters. Don’t be shy, and don’t undershoot. This is your chance for that kitchen sink array.

You’ll ultimately, perhaps with the aid of a good editor, hone it down to the essence of what it is to be alive on God’s green earth. And, no doubt, your editor will give you a sharp paring knife to bring it into shape. I’ve included a partial list below, of the items I catalogued in developing Sera Moreland for my mystery novel, TOCCATA.

Happy reading, all.

Pat Dale

Partial List for Sera Moreland, heroine of Toccata:

Leather-bound stationery cover

Grandma Nadine’s silver piano shaped music box that plays Pavanne for a Dead Princess

Grandma’s French set of porcelain China, Festivite by Raynaud of Limoges that had been left to Sera on Nadine’s passing

Favorite colors for shirts and blouses, and sweaters: aqua, pastel pink, lavender

Business suits: charcoal and medium gray

Likes: all shades of blue

Dislikes: red (other than her Ferrari)

Extravagances: Luxury autos, Aston-Martin DBS and Ferrari, and Bosendorfer piano

Favorite music: French Impressionists, Debussy and Ravel

Lifestyle: Spartan. No house staff.

Sera is comfortable living alone, her only insecurity a repetitive nightmare stemming from an adolescent sexual encounter.