Saturday, October 3, 2015

John M. Daniel’s Blog
October 3, 2015

Greetings! Welcome to my blog, which I call The Joy of Story. If you’ve been a follower of this blog in the past, you’re probably aware that I took a sabbatical for a year and a half and let the blog wait in the wings. Now I’m back, and I hope once again to make this blog a weekly habit, with a new post every Saturday (except for weeks when I’m traveling or otherwise too occupied to write a coherent post, which won’t be often.)

Don’t worry. The following introduction will not appear every week.

The format of this blog: Each Saturday I will post a small bit of creative writing by me. It will be a brief, entertaining essay on the subject of writing, or an essay originally written for the magazine Black Lamb, or a 99-word story, or a book review. I plan to have each of these features appear every month.

On the third Saturday of each month we will have a post by a guest writer. This is a chance to read what other writers think about writing. This is also a chance for the guest writer to plug a book of her or his own, although the primary subject of each post must have something to do with the theme of this blog, The Joy of Story. If you’re interested in being a guest writer on my blog, get in touch with me by email at

The second Saturday of the month will feature 99-word stories contributed by writers who read and enjoy this blog and want to be “published.” Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:


Use the following sentence as either the first or the last sentence of the story:
“The old woman walked out of the bar with a smile on her face.”
Deadline: November 1, 2015.
If you follow the rules, your story will appear on this blog November 14.


Now, on with the blog.

by John M. Daniel

NOTE: This essay was first published in Black Lamb.

The oldest art form in human culture is the story. I am the veteran of several arguments on this topic with would-be anthropologists who claim the title for dance, music, cave paintings, and double-entry bookkeeping. But I stick to my guns: the story got there first.
I date the beginning of human culture by the beginning of human spoken communication. I’m talking about speech that transcends snarls of anger, grunts of lust, and screams of fear. I say human culture began with sentences at least as complex as “You going to eat the rest of that haunch of ibex, or what?” Conversation.
Knowing human beings as I do, I’m willing to bet my wallet that as soon as our ancestors learned to communicate with each other by speech, they started developing skills to entertain, impress, and hoodwink each other. Since truth wasn’t always up to the task (it isn’t today, so why should it have been for cave folk?), the act of embellishment was discovered, and fiction was born.
Of course story doesn’t have to be fiction. But isn’t it, usually? Ask most memoirists today, and they’ll agree that a certain amount of “editing” is involved.
So return with me now to the Primal Circle, a bunch of human beings (with some Neanderthal DNA in the mix, although polite cave folk don’t talk about how it got there) gathered together around a campfire after a hard day of hunting.
They talk:

         “Good gnus, Murray,” says the Boss, an ancient woman in her fortieth year. “How’d you manage to kill two in the same day?”
         Murray swallowed his bite of barbecued gnu, wiped his beard, took a swig of banana beer, belched, and began to spin his yarn. “Well, see, I was walking down by the Muchmuck River, talking to my friend Cedric, the African Grey parrot who knows stuff, and he told me that on the other side of the Muchmuck was a plain called the Banana Savanna, where I would find some gnus. I guess I was busy listening to Cedric, and not watching where I was going, and I tripped over a log and fell right into what passes for water in the Muchmuck river. I stood up, sputtering and listening to my parrot so-called friend laughing at me, when the log sprouted stubby arms and legs, swished an armored tail, opened a grin full of razor-sharp stalactites and stalagmites, and slithered into the water. Well, I took off with the current, going like gangbusters, but I could hear the splash of that croc getting closer and closer to my feet. If it hadn’t have been for Cedric dive-bombing the river-lizard, why—”
         “Aw baloney,” said Hugo, a burly fellow who looked like a cross between Burt Reynolds and a Rottweiler. “Not how it happened at all.”
         “Shut up, Hugo,” said several cave folk, using different combinations of words, some of which we don’t have anymore, and others I don’t dare repeat.
         “But we all crossed Muchmuck River on that log,” Hugo insisted. “There wasn’t any crocodile. And what’s more—”
         The Boss spoke. “Let Murray tell it.”
         “Why?” Hugo demanded. “I was the one who brought back the gnus, not Murray.”
         “Murray tells it better,” the Boss said.
Ever since Murray recounted the hunts each evening to his fellow cave folk, the subtleties of storytelling have been honed and practiced and have entertained and enlightened listeners and readers. Many of the rules and tools of fiction were discovered and developed by the earliest of storytellers. And one aspect of the art form remains to this day: whoever tells the best story gets the most attention.


This is another weekly feature I forgot to mention above. It pays the bills.

He’s a high-rolling Texan with blue-collar roots. She’s a Dallas former debutante and swimming champion. They love each other, as long as he’s saving her life. Can this marriage be saved?
D. Ray and Cissy Ramsey have come to Mexico to save their marriage. It wasn’t their first mistake. It won’t be their last. But it will be their most dangerous....
Set in the Yucatan Peninsula, Swimming in the Deep End is a fast-paced, witty novel of romantic intrigue that takes the reader on a tour of ancient and modern Mayaland, from the glamorous resort hotels of Cancun to the bustling capital of Merida, to the ruins of Cobá, Uxmal, Chitzen Itza, and Palenque to the remote beaches and cenotes of southern Quintana Roo, to the dazzling pools and treacherous waterfalls of Agua Azul.

Swimming in the Deep End is available as an ebook only. To read more about this riveting romantic suspense story, visit


To learn more about John M. Daniel and his books, visit


  1. Good to see you back, John. And I agree--story had to come first. I love painting and those other creative activities, but you can't do them seated around the campfire eating your gnu.

  2. I'm so glad to see you back, John. I've always enjoyed your posts on The Joy of Story.
    "Swimming in the Deep End" sounds fantastic. One for my TBR list!

  3. Missed you and this blog. Can't wipe the smile off my face. That essay is hilarious, and on point! Loved every morsel. Ordering the newest novel forthwith!

  4. Thanks so much, John, Pat, Madelyn! Glad to be back, and so nice to hear from you.

  5. Great to hear from a fellow writer again. Your blog sounds like lots of fun. subscribing now. Also interested in doing a guest post some day in the near future. Blessings.

  6. Glad you're back on the blog trail. And I'm going to go look for Swimming today.

    Jim Callan

  7. Nice blog, John. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Elaine, Jim, Kathleen, thanks for stopping by. I hope you make a habit of it!

  9. That story is the perfect illustration of why we write fiction. Happy you're back.