Saturday, August 20, 2016


John M. Daniel’s Blog
August 20, 2016

Greetings and welcome to all who enjoy reading and/or writing stories, and to those who tell and those who hear stories as well. This weekly blog is called “The Joy of Story,” and that’s a theme dear to my heart. Stories have been a main focus of my life’s work, as a bookseller, an editor, a publisher, a teacher, and a writer of stories, stories both true and fictional. (Sometimes there’s more truth found in fiction than in what pretends to be nonfiction, but who cares? Stories is stories.)

This post is scheduled to appear on the third Saturday of the month (of August 2016), and stay posted for a week thereafter. The third week of each month is a time slot I ordinarily feature a guest to take over the spotlight. I issue a standing notice in every post, inviting published authors to send me a brief essay on what “The Joy of Story” means to them. It’s a chance to express the pleasure you find in writing, or to share your thoughts about what makes a good story work (and play). It’s also a chance to promote a published book. Free publicity! My audience isn’t vast, but a notice goes out to 200+ fellow writers and readers of stories, letting them know where to find your words of fun and wisdom. Who knows? You might find a small, brief spike in your Amazon sales.

Well, you’ll notice I have no guest author this week. Nobody sent me any words of fun and wisdom to post. I’m disappointed, and I may have to get used to having the monthly guest author feature be more sporadic than dependable. I hope this isn’t the case, because I have enjoyed the variety of thoughts and voices brought to my blog by other writers. So, if you are an author who’s had a book published (at any level of the game, from Knopf to CreateSpace), please read the invitation at the end of this post.

Meanwhile I’ll fill the space with a post I wrote some months or maybe years ago. (Hint: recycled blog posts are welcome.)



Back in the early 2000s I contributed acrostic puzzles to Tin House Magazine. An acrostic puzzle, in case you’re unfamiliar with the genre, “consists of two parts. The first part is a set of lettered clues, each of which has numbered blanks representing the letters of the answer. The second part is a long series of numbered blanks and spaces, representing a quotation, into which the answers for the clues fit. The first letters of each correct clue answer, read in order from clue A on down the list, will spell out the author of the quote and the title of the work it is taken from.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.) It’s a giant, complicated anagram puzzle, addicting to the solver, thrilling to the constructor, and a giant, pleasurable waste of time for both.

I made up four literary acrostic puzzles for Tin House, lifting quotations from four books on my shelf of old favorites. On a separate page of the magazine, I gave the solution, and then I added a short essay about the source and the author of the quotation. I had as much fun writing about the solutions as I did constructing the puzzles.

Here they are: all four of them: the quoted passages and my annotations.


From The Thundering Herd, by Zane Grey

Milly gazed back over her shoulder. The Comanches had gained. They were not half a mile away, riding now in wide formation, naked, gaudy, lean, feathered, swift and wild as a gale of wind in the tall prairie grass.
         “Better death among the buffalo!” cried Milly.


Zane Grey (1872-1939) was one of the most prolific and popular writers of his time. His books sold thousands of copies, and he seemed to write thousands of books. (Actually he wrote about 90, of which 60 were westerns.) He is considered one of the architects of the American Western novel genre.
But by 1962, when I had a summer job in a used bookstore in Dallas, nobody was reading Zane Grey anymore. We had a whole shelf of his novels, in hardback, priced at ten cents each, and we never sold a one. At the end of the summer, I splurged and spent a dime (less my employee discount) on The Thundering Herd. I finally got around to reading that book about thirty years later. It was…well, it wasn’t all that bad. The writing was terrible and the politics were atrocious, but it was a ripping good yarn. That’s gotta be worth something. Speaking of worth, I recently saw a copy of The Thundering Herd offered for sale on the Internet, priced at $295.00.

Dang. I should have bought the whole shelf.


From The Trojan Horse, by Christopher Morley

It’s the dressing room where some Trojan warriors are cleaning up after the day’s fighting. Through the fog we see their naked athletic bodies under the spray. They shout to each other as gaily as college boys, or golfers at the club.

Christopher Morley’s 1937 novel about the Trojan war focuses on the bittersweet love story of Troilus and Cressida, in which a naive young soldier falls for a sophisticated divorcée, learns the joys of physical love, gets his heart broken, and dies in battle. It’s a sad story, but thanks to Morley it’s also warm and wise, gently erotic, and fabulously funny. It’s peppered with hilarious anachronisms, like taxicabs, tuxedos, martinis, and a sports announcer who broadcasts the daily battles over the radio. These “modern” touches seem a bit outdated now, but then that’s just another literary layer resting on the legendary town of Troy.

Morley’s novel tells us more about America in the 1930s than it does about ancient Troy, but then Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Chaucer’s Triolus and Creseyde are more about Elizabethan and Medieval England, respectively, than about Troy. For that matter, the Trojan war was relatively “ancient” history by the time Homer wrote The Iliad.

So it’s a tale for all times, and whichever version you read, you’ll be reminded that there’s nothing ancient about war, nor was there ever anything new about love.


From My Lady Nicotine, by J. M. Barrie

I gave up my most delightful solace, as I regarded it, for no other reason than that the lady who was willing to fling herself away on me said that I must choose between it and her. This deferred our marriage for six months.

J. M. Barrie (1860-1937) is best known as the creator of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. In the late 1880s, he wrote a series of newspaper stories about a group of London bachelors, young bohemian chaps who had nothing in common except their devotion to a particular smoking mixture. These stories were gathered together in 1890 and published as a book, My Lady Nicotine, which is considered the finest literary tribute to pipe-smoking. It is even more a hilarious satire of late Victorian society, and it is also a fine celebration of bachelorhood. Like Peter Pan, the nameless narrator and his goofy friends (who could have taught Bertie Wooster a thing or two) have no intention whatsoever of ever growing up.


From Good Bye, Ava, by Richard Bissell

In Clyde’s houseboat why you can set up there with a cold bottle of beer and look at the river and let the rest of the world go bye-bye, believe me. Some day were are going to try that but it takes quite a while for the rest of the world to go by, at least half an hour.

Richard Bissell (1913-1977), like Mark Twain before him, was a Midwestern humorist who also held a pilot’s license for tonnage on the Upper Mississippi River. Like Twain, Bissell traveled the globe, pen in hand. His literary career and success took him to the East Coast, where he joined and skewered the New York literary establishment.

But Bissell never gave up his home on the Mississippi, a houseboat in Dubuque, and his best books are all about the Midwest: A Stretch on the River; 7-1/2¢ (which became the smash it musical, The Pajama Game); High Water; Good Bye, Ava; and his memoir, My Stretch on the River, Or Why I Am Not Mark Twain.

 Elmore Leonard once said that he learned most of what he knew about writing from reading Richard Bissell. I feel the same way, and I dedicated my first published novel to Bissell. In recent years his books have been out of print, and thanks to collectors like me he’s even hard to find in second-hand bookstores; but he’s worth the search. He is the best Midwestern humorist in American literature—and that includes that other tugboat pilot.


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for September’s 99-word story submissions is September 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for September 10, and will stay posted for a week.

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:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence: The Princess looked again into the mirror and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”


Calling all published authors—

I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at


Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.


  1. Your book post brought back some pleasant reading memories, John.
    I cut my reading teeth on Grey, Burroughs, Jack London and others of that ilk. Did you know Grey began his writing career here in Pennsylvania? The house is now a museum and I've visited it.
    As for Christopher Morley, my favorites of his many books are Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. Another native Pennsylvanian, he was also a founder of one of my favorite old magazines, The Saturday Review of Literature, and the Baker Street Irregulars. A fun read, this.

    1. Thank you, John. Glad you enjoyed these brief reviews. Yes, I knew Zane Grey started out in Pennsylvania. Didn't know about Morley. Richard Bissell also put in time in PA, as a tugboat pilot on the Monongahela River. He wrote a book about that.

  2. Enjoyed the reviews, John. So you were in Dallas in 1962. So was I. Sorry we didn't meet way back
    then. My mother's father had a huge collection of Zane Grey books. Don't know what happened to them, but most likely they were thrown away after he died. Nice post, John.

    1. Thanks, Jim. I lived in Dallas from 1950 till I graduated from college in 1964. Actually, we lived in Farmers Branch, on the outskirts of town. It was a distance from DAllas back then. All my friends lived in Big D.