Saturday, November 7, 2015


John M. Daniel’s Blog
November 7, 2015

Greetings! This being the first Saturday of the month, it’s time to give you writers a new prompt for the 99-Word Story feature. Here it is: Write a Christmas (or seasonal) story in 99 words, with the following first line: “I promised my parents I would never tell this to anyone.” What you write can be inspired by a memory or fabricated from imagination, or both, but tell it as a story. Further details on this exercise (rules, deadlines, etc.) appear at the end of this blog post. Remember, this monthly feature is not a contest. Follow the rules, and your story will be posted.


News: I'm pleased to say Oak Tree Press, which published my novels Behind the Redwood Door and Hooperman, has listed me as one of the freelance editors they recommend to their authors. Take a  look:


This week’s blog is about memory. My essay illustrates how clearly we remember our past, and how sometimes what we’re sure of is sure wrong.

This week’s featured book is also about memory. Painted Pebbles, by Peter Stangl, is a memoir about the author’s Hungarian childhood during the Nazi occupation, and his youth under Soviet domination, and his hair-raising escape to the West.


You and Your Siblings Had Different Parents

Over the years I spent teaching life-story-writing classes, I stressed the importance of leaving behind a written record of our times, our choices, our changes, and what we have learned from our successes and failures, our good calls and our mistakes. I wish, and my students have agreed with me, that my own parents, grandparents, and ancestors from generations past had left me books and stories full of their memories of their lives and times.
Speaking of mistakes, though, let me tell you about a mistake I made a few months ago. That month’s issue of Black Lamb had an essay by me about my father, a man I never knew, because he died when I was two years and one day old. I told of the many fine things I had learned about my father, from friends and family members who knew him well. I also mentioned that he was occasionally beset by lengthy stretches of melancholy, which my mother called his “Welsh moods.”
I made the mistake of sending a tear-sheet of the article to my older brother, who knew our father well, because my brother was fifteen when our father died. So well does my brother remember our father that he wrote back and corrected me. Apparently our father was not moody, but was always cheerful.
My mistake was not that I got my facts wrong. Maybe I was mistaken about my father’s alleged moodiness, but I was only reporting what I had heard. My mistake was not that I chose to include dark news when I talked about my father; as writers we’re supposed to explore the dark side, just as we’re expected to celebrate the bright. My mistake was to send this essay to my brother. What was I thinking? I should have suspected that he would be disturbed to read that his hero might occasionally have been gloomy.
The lesson I learned from this mistake: choose your audience. And remember, happily, that memory is a creative, inaccurate record. If you have siblings and you write about your parents, the chances are your memories will not match theirs. No two or more siblings remember the same parents.
In the same vein, don’t go to a high school or college reunion expecting to share memories with people who were once you closest friends. Chances are they will remember the moments quite differently, or not at all. Expect them to tell tales about you, with events that never happened, you think…


Recently published by Daniel & Daniel, Publishers

An eye-witness account of watershed moments in modern European history

In 1983 librarian Peter Stangl took his teenaged son and daughter to Budapest, to show them the city and the land where he had grown up. During that visit, he briefly held in his hand a few pebbles his mother had painted when Peter was a boy. This small moment stirred up strong memories that needed to be told.…

“Peter Stangl describes a series of historic events in Hungary which most of us viewed from a distance with fear and awe. It is a book about the indomitability of the human spirit, about family, and about a remarkable father-son relationship which enabled the author to persevere through an extraordinarily difficult period in Hungarian history.”
—Robert J. Birgeneau, Professor of Physics, UC Berkeley

Painted Pebbles is living testimony that it’s not the events in our lives that determine our fate, but the choices we make about how we come to those events. This book will inspire you to dare to imagine that what you dream is actually possible.”
—Carl Hammerschlag M.D., author of The Dancing Healers and The Theft of the Spirit

“Peter Stangl’s memoir of growing up in Nazi-held Budapest and his harrowing escape to America after the 1956 Soviet invasion is told with grace, vivid details, humor, and suspense.”
—Mel  Matsumoto,  Executive Director and CEO, Channing House

 “Peter Stangl took his children back to his family’s apartment in Budapest, now occupied by others. Stangl had grown up there Jewish during the Holocaust. This story of remembrance and discovery is taut, tense, and tragic. It is also uplifting.”
J. Myron Atkin, Prof. Emeritus and former Dean
Graduate School of Education, Stanford University

Peter Stangl was born in Budapest into a Jewish family. As a child he survived WWII, lost his mother in the Holocaust, was hidden from the Nazis, and witnessed Budapest’s liberation by the Soviets. During the 1956 Hungarian uprising he escaped to the U.S. After graduating from Yale, he earned a degree in library science and worked at the Yale Medical Library. In 1971 he became Director of Lane Library at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Now retired, he lives in Palo Alto, California.

To read more about Painted Pebbles, see


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for December’s 99-word story submissions is December 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for December 12.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

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:


Write a Christmas (or seasonal) story in 99 words, with the following first line: “I promised my parents I would never tell this to anyone.” If you follow the rules, your story will appear on this blog December 12.


Thanks for dropping by! See you next week, I hope. Next week I’ll be showcasing 99-word stories submitted during the month of October. Meanwhile, keep writing, reading, and celebrating the Joy of Story!

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