Archive for Educators

Shocked, Not Surprised

I was shocked to hear of the passing of Gregg Sutton today. It was sudden, like a punch in the gut. I am reeling, and struggling for breath.

Gregg was an acclaimed musician. He was an accomplished songwriter, having written for the likes of Joe Cocker, Joe Bonomasso, Percy Sledge, Dolly Parton, Al Green, Tom Jones, Billy Ray Cyrus, and many more. He was an expert guitar and bass player, and spent decades in a variety of bands, including Lone Justice, KGB, and the Pets. He toured as the bassist with Bob Dylan in 1984 and served as musical director for comedian Andy Kaufman, a childhood friend.

Dylan touring band – Gregg top right


Our lives intersected in a round-about way. Having been a writer for thirty-plus years, mostly books for kids, I found myself with lines of words in my head. Lines I couldn’t forget. As I worked with these lines, I realized they were lyrics for a song. The song – The Edge of Goodbye – was about endings: a job, a relationship, a life. I had no idea what music would go with these words, but I had a definite thought about who the song was to be for: Eric Burdon.

I had been a longtime Eric-fan, since my high school days when he was frontman for The Animals. I followed his career over the decades as he worked in different bands and evolved as a singer. On two occasions I had the pleasure of interviewing him for local newspapers when he came to town. He was thoughtful, articulate, and kind. As he neared the end of his 50-plus year career, I thought my lyrics would be a perfect fit for him.

Eric B. – center


But, they obviously weren’t. I sent Eric the lyrics, then waited. And waited. And waited. No response. Having written for so many years, with rejection the norm, I was not deterred. I looked at the liner notes on some of his later CDs and noted the names of people who had written songs with him. Gregg Sutton was one of them.

So, I sent the lyrics to Gregg. His response was quick, and positive. I was thrilled, and couldn’t wait until he created the music to go with the lyrics. Over time, we worked together revising the lyrics, and I waited for him to finish the music. I waited and waited. Six months. A year. 

When the music never appeared, I was disappointed but not discouraged. I just connected with another talented musician who loved the lyrics and created an awesome tune to go with them. Gregg and I stayed in touch. 

I was a loyal follower of his weekly Salvation Sunday shows, during which he performed his iconic songs with the help of his talented musician friends. I learned more about him by listening to his CDs, reading his memoir, and communicating regularly through e-mail. I kept sending him lyrics, too.

Several sets of lyrics later, he connected with some. We revised it back and forth, and he added music, simple chords and a catchy beat. While the finished song was a departure from my original, I was grateful and pleased with the finished product. He made a scratch demo and I had it copyrighted in our names. The title is Happiness, and it accurately reflects my feeling about the opportunity to work with Gregg. He talked about recording the song but, well, that’s out of the question now.

Last spring I set out on a road trip from my home in Oregon to visit the site in New Mexico where my latest book took place. I arranged to stop by L.A. to meet up with Gregg, a first-time meeting. He welcomed me into his home, introduced me to his dog Harry, and then we started down the street to a nearby restaurant for dinner. He walked slowly and appeared fragile. I wondered if maybe I should get my car to drive us, but he waved me off.

Gregg and Harry


We ordered dinner but he barely touched his meal. I asked him questions I had stored up, questions about his songwriting process and about his life. The questions seemed to spark him, and he answered with enthusiasm. He told me music was the only work he ever did, except when he was 17 and worked in a car wash, but only for a day. He shared about his personal challenges, and his declining health. He spoke about his most treasured experience in the music business – touring with Bob Dylan, his hero, and playing alongside Mick Taylor, his favorite guitarist. I asked him why he wasn’t a part of future tours. “I asked Bob for a raise,” he told me. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

After we slowly made our way back to the house, I asked Gregg if we could play the song we had done together. I wanted to make a video. He assented. I set up my phone and we did the song, him singing and playing, me following along on guitar. Not being a musician, it was quite a thrill for me.

That thrill dissolved when I got back to my hotel and realized that I had my video on while setting up, then turned it off when we began the song. Dammit! I slept fitfully that night.

In the morning I checked in with him before continuing my journey. He asked me for a favor: to take him to the bank. Of course. And then I wondered if we could possibly redo the song that I screwed up filming the night before. 

And so our song got videoed, with Gregg gently correcting me when I played a wrong chord along the way. We said our goodbyes and I was soon engulfed in the L.A. traffic, with little time to recount my wondrous experience. That would come later, and continues to this day.

Given the condition of Gregg’s health, I was not surprised when he passed. But, the suddenness and the reality of it was a shock.  

Gregg Sutton was multitudes: magnanimous and profane, sarcastic and gentle, critical and caring, dark and light. He was extremely talented, and very supportive of me in my songwriting journey. I will be forever grateful that our lives intersected, if for only a brief moment.


Six Word Memoirs II

Want a fun way to start off the school year? Something short and sweet, easy enough for reluctant writers and challenging for engaged writers. Try Six Word Memoirs.

Legend has it that the famous writer Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words. He wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The power of this story lies in the questions and possible meanings that the words could have. Why are the shoes being sold? What happened to the baby? Why haven’t the shoes been worn?

Years later, in 2006, a magazine publisher revised the challenge for his readers. He asked them to write about their lives in six words. The readers responded, and since then he has published more than a million of their stories.

What about you? What’s your story? I invite you to create your own six-word memoir. Write about your life, what you are doing, thinking, or dreaming. You can use sentences. Or not. Use punctuation to help guide readers to your message.

But remember, only six words. Feel free to share them using the Comments tab.

I’ll start with a couple:

Eat, write, exercise, sleep, dream. Repeat.

I am not what I do.

I’m Cheerios, cheese, and chewing gum.

Your turn…

Use the Comments tab to post them.

Road Trip Update

My 3,000 mile road trip turned into 3,800 miles and took me through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho before returning to my beloved Oregon. The trip was everything I hoped for. Plus more!

In addition to connecting with family and friends, I was able to take some time to focus on the Lobo story. In Santa Fe, NM I got to meet up with David Witt, Director of the Seton Legacy Project, and a great resource for me when writing the graphic novel. He has studied Seton for several decades and wrote a biography: Ernest Thompson Seton – The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist. I had peppered David with questions over several years, clarifying and verifying information I came across. David answered them all, with patience and grace. When we met in Santa Fe, David shared many of Seton’s original artistic creations, and he walked me around the house that Seton built.

David Witt, with one of Seton’s most famous paintings: Sleeping Wolf.


From there, I drove to the northeast corner of the state, where I visited the National Scouting Museum, which interprets Seton’s contributions to the founding of the Boy Scouts as well as houses artifacts from his life (including Lobo’s pelt).

Outside the National Scouting Museum


Seton’s ledger


Traps used by Seton










To top off the experience (literally), I walked the trail atop nearby Capulin volcano. From up there I got a wonderful view of the surrounding area. This was Lobo’s territory, where the story took place. It was amazing to be there, and I couldn’t help but feel the wolf’s presence.

Lobo’s territory


Since returning home, Daniel has sent me his finished artwork and layout for notes. As you’ve seen in his samples along the way, he’s doing a great job! I’m going over the entire thing, wearing my “picky” hat, trying to find anything that needs revision for the final. We’ve had several communications around this, and things are moving along nicely.

The end is nearing…for real!

LOBO Update

Daniel Becker, illustrator of my graphic novel, recently posted this for our Kickstarter backers. He’s doing a fabulous job, and is closing in on the completion. If you missed the Kickstarter and would still like to get a copy for a friend, family member, or yourself, you can order here:

Daniel and I really appreciate your support and interest.


The progress is progressing

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Daniel A. BeckerCreator

April 26, 2023

Hello everyone,

A quick update on the artistic front.  The book is slowly but surely being coloured now.  Being the end of April, this is the point at which I was hoping (and working very hard) to have the WHOLE book completed and in print.  It truly does disappoint me that my own speed and work regiment wasn’t what I thought it was, and couldn’t keep to this already over extended deadline.  Alas…. it is what it is.  I won’t go into any excuses, only that quality takes hard work and time, and somethings you just can’t short cut.

But rest assured that the work that is being produced is coming out great.  I have been working straight through weekends the last 3-4 weeks, trying to get the whole book at least FLAT coloured.  What are ‘flats‘ you ask?  Well, its the part of the colouring process where I tediously select all the significant shapes and objects with the lasso tool in Photoshop, then give it a ‘flat’ solid colour.  This allows me to select shapes, objects, characters based on their unique colour and render them later when I put in the final colouring.  It’s not a glamourous job, nor a quick one to be done as it needs to be done correctly or you end up having to do a lot of cleaning up later.

Nonetheless, its also 60%-70% of the whole colouring process.  By getting a lot of the lighting and mood right for the scene, little more needs to be done to the overall image later.  I like to get a whole process (like the line art and lettering) done at a time, so that I stay consistent with that ethereal and flighty artistic ‘groove‘ that underlies the very fabric of the universe.  The result is what you see above and below:

There’s still a lot that will be done to these colours, but in many cases, less is more.  But when the lighting and tone is set up well from the beginning, it makes the final image really SNAP.

Even this is probably a little overcooked, but nonetheless, very pretty.  I’m also trying to emulate Ernest Thompson Seton’s own style of painting, or at least some of the colour tones, mixes, and moods he made with this artwork.  He was indeed a fantastic painter, and had a knack for capturing wintery and autumnal tones and mood very well (he also had a real penchant for painting wolves).

‘Sleeping Wolf’ by Ernest Thompson Seton

My plan for the colouring process is to have the colour pallet slowly change, both with the seasons (Seton arrived in New Mexico in October, and left in February 1894), and with the mood and theme for some of the scenes.  I wont spoil too much more of it for you, dear reader, but if all shapes up the way I’m planning, it should come out really nicely!

‘Fox and Mitten’ by Ernest Thompson Seton

Here’s a few more coloured images to tide you over for a while more.  I hope you’re all staying healthy and happy out there in the wider world.  Thank you ALL again for your incredible patience with this project, I truly believe that you will be rewarded for it (SOOON!!).


Daniel A. Becker~

Three Questions for Sheri Mabry


I’m on a Three Questions roll right now, as I’ve reconnected with another talented and interesting person I’ve come across on my writing journeys. So, here goes:

Sheri Mabry is an author with a writing services business. She also teaches yoga and meditation.

I had the pleasure of working with Sheri over several years. She was my literary agent, but she did a lot more than just market my manuscripts to publishers. She was a trusted partner in developing each of my writing projects. Her story-sense as well as her attention to detail were of great help in improving my work. I am grateful for her assistance and pleased to see she is working with other writers as well as successfully sharing her own work with young readers.

1.  What qualifies you to work as a writing consultant/teacher?

I have a masters in curriculum and instruction and have taught writing to children when I worked in the public school district.  So I understand the elements of writing. I founded a non-profit in the arts where we offered opportunities in the visual, performing and literary arts, so I understand the benefit of such expression.   I have experience as a literary agent, so I am connected to the industry.  I am a published (award winning) author with twelve books published, one to be released within a year, and a few more in the process, which gives me the experiences needed to give honest and true feedback to writers.  But I think what qualifies me the most is that I love working with writers and words. I love the process of writing as well as revising. It is like treasure hunting, uncovering something beautiful and brilliant. Working with new as well as seasoned writers is inspiring, and being able to support their path to publishing is an honor.

2. How do your personal pursuits (yoga, hiking, meditation) inform your writing?

That’s a great question! Yoga is “uniting” and so to me, writing is a form of yoga, bringing elements together to access that creative space and then expressing what you discover. Meditation allows you to find that peaceful space within where you have that access to truth and where story ideas can be discovered. Hiking in nature allows me to unite with my inner nature, and so it all works together to help cultivate the most beautiful conditions to create.

3. What advice do you have for someone who wants to get published?

I have lists of tips and bits of advice for those seeking to be published, but to keep it simple here:  take it seriously, and treat it like a profession. Read, learn, take classes, connect with others.  Ask questions.

Honor your time to write and commit to it.

Find ways to cultivate your creativity every day. Even if it isn’t writing—keep creating.

Have patience.

Mostly, never stop finding inspiration. Stay passionate. Nurture gratitude in this most exquisite way to express. And while you need to take writing seriously, also, be playful; find joy in the process. Finally, know that writing is a powerful way to express, and you have a great responsibility to share your talents and messages with the world. So…never give up.

Anything else you’d like to say?

My contact info is: You can find information on my website about the books I’ve written as well as the complete menu of writing services that I offer. If I can be of support, please schedule time with me. Wishing all of you the best in your writing endeavors. Write your Light!

Three Questions For Author/Illustrator Mark Fearing

Three Questions is an occasional feature on my blog when I want to spotlight interesting people I come across on my writing journeys.

In addition to having worked as an animator and creative director for Sony, Pearson, and Disney, Mark Fearing is a multi-talented author and illustrator of books for kids. He’s got more than twenty books to his credit, including Castle Gesundheit and the Middle School Bites series. His latest project, Welcome to Feral, will be released this fall. It’s a two-book graphic novel about the strange occurrences in the small town of Feral. Freya, a curious middle grader, keeps track of all the strange goings-on in town. And there are many, including deep secrets that attract strange beasties and ghouls to the town!


When I first attempted to write a graphic novel, a writer-friend put me in contact with Mark, who has extensive experience with that genre. Mark has been absolutely reMarkable in the help he has provided me, from basic formatting suggestions and marketing ideas to reading my manuscript and providing detailed notes that were useful in making revisions. I am so grateful for his assistance. 

Here are Three Questions for Mark:

1. You live in Portland. What impact does your location have on your work?

Compared to Southern California, it’s much easier to stay in to work because it rains nine months of the year! It’s a beautiful area. We are close to the city, not out on a sprawling country estate so it’s busy but not busy like Los Angeles. There’s plenty of walking paths so I get out several times a day with my dogs and that is important. Sitting at one’s desk, trying to ‘be creative’ will burn you out. I stay in contact with many of my friends in Los Angeles and I still Zoom into a critique group in LA when I can. Having moved here as an older adult and having a child the issues of good schools and an easy city to navigate and live in became more important so I have not totally integrated into any Portland scene. But I’ve met a lot of great people and I can’t imagine leaving the West Coast.


2. What writers and illustrators have had the most influence on your work?

Oh man…do you want me to write a book? I am enamored by countless authors and illustrators. IT starts with my dad who was an editorial cartoonist for 40 years or so. I can’t easily point to one person or style or genre of work even. I love expressionism, artists like Otto Dix, I love the line-driven illustrators like Ronald Searle, Quentin Blake, cartoonists like Walt Kelly, Sergio Aragones, Wally Woods, Jack Davis. Not to mention dozens of other animators, illustrators and comic artists. I love to see the personality of the artist in their work. As for authors, the list is as long and as varied. From Stephen King to Christopher Buehlman, Ursula K. LeGuin, Philip K. Dick and John Horner Jacobs. Favorite books include Frankenstein, Lord of the Rings, The Stand, Valis. Then you get author/illustrators in the children’s lit market and that list is long too. John Agee, William Steig, Valerie Gorbachev, John Burningham. And that’s just a start. I am interested in work that I could never imagine doing and work that is like what I do – but brings something different to it. I will stop here! 

Quentin Blake illustration


3. At the risk of being inundated with requests, why are you willing to help fellow authors and illustrators?

Many authors and illustrators have been generous with me in my life. I owe so many of my opportunities to people taking the time to help me, introduce me to someone and offer advice that I can’t imagine not doing that. And sharing what we know, what we have experienced, is a natural desire. I also try to understand exactly what the person talking to me is asking. What stage of a career they are in. I have known illustrators (especially) who seem to take delight in being cruel and judgmental with young people who come to them for advice. I think it’s important to understand exactly what they are asking and what they want to do. I mentor high school students and understanding what they want to do with their art is key. Some want to be illustrators/cartoonists. To do original work and fine tune their ‘voice’. That is different than a young person who wants to be a storyboard artist at Walt Disney. If they want to work in a studio, you can discuss exactly what they will need in a portfolio, what skills they will have to demonstrate. That is a different discussion. Start with understanding where the person wants to go and then direct their attention to the issues they may face moving in that direction. Ultimately there aren’t that many of us that are deeply interested in the issues around drawing,

Author Visit +

Yesterday I had a rare opportunity to share the stage with my music collaborator, G.T. Albright. G.T. has been in the music biz for 40+ years. He’s played in bands, recorded, produced, and written songs. We have been working together for about a year-and-a-half, with me writing lyrics and him adding the music. To date, we have collaborated on 24 songs, with many more to come.

Yesterday, we met with two 5th grade classes at Oakridge Elementary School in Oakridge, Oregon. The kids prepared by studying the lyrics to two of our songs. I spoke about the lyrics and then G.T. played the songs. He spoke about his process for developing the music, and he shared two different versions to one of the songs. It was a thrill to witness the responses of the students: they grooved to the rhythms, gushed with praise, and had lots of questions. Some had even developed their own music to the lyrics are were not shy to share them. Amazing!

Great job teachers, Emily Howard and David Gordon, and kids too. You made our day. We hope we made yours!

What’s In A Title?

You might notice that the title for our Lobo book as been revised. Originally, it was “Lobo: The Wolf That Changed the Man Who Changed America.” Quite a mouthful, huh? Quite lengthy, but them it really summed up what the story was about.

The trouble was, we got feedback from some folks who are planning a major motion picture on the project. They reminded us that a while back, there was a BBC broadcast on the topic with a similar name. That means that people who search our project will be linked to that broadcast rather than the movie they will be making.

Good point. So, we brainstormed several possibilities and came up with “Lobo: The Hunted and the Hunter.” Much more succinct and it still provides a taste of the story, and even adds a little mystery.

We even like it better than the original. Collaboration is good. So is mutual support. The movie makers are on board with us and will help spread the word about our project. As we will do for them.


In my book Friends of the Wolf I make a case for preserving and protecting wolves. I use reasoning and evidence to help make my case. I include an opposing viewpoint, and address it. My goal in writing this was to get readers to accept my viewpoint, not necessarily to agree or to do anything about it (although I did include practical suggestions for what they can do if they do agree).

Writing that uses reasoning and evidence for the purpose of having readers accept a viewpoint is known as Argument writing. I call it Make A Case writing. Persuasive writing is a close cousin, but it uses more opinion and emotion and its goal is to have readers actively agree with the viewpoint or to do something.

What is a view that you have for which you could make a case? Here are some examples:

We should not have to wear masks in school.

Everyone should be vaccinated. 

Football is dangerous and should not be played in high school.

I should be able to stay up later at night. 

We should be able to chew gum in class.

Math is the best subject.

Dogs (or cats or rabbits or ???) make the best pets.

I invite you to click on the Comments tab above and write a statement for which you could make a case. Extra points *** for those who actually make their cases here. It’s a great way to get your writing out for others to see. Remember, reasoning and evidence.

I will be reading a responding to all. Have fun!





Graphic Novel Journey (continued)

Once Daniel was comfortable with his sketches of the two main characters, he worked a lot on getting the setting right. The setting is a very important part of this story. Being from New Mexico, where the story takes place, allowed Daniel to draw on his memories and first-hand knowledge.

While my manuscript had the story broken down into pages and individual panels, with descriptions, captions, and dialog, Daniel made useful suggestions as he worked through the story. Based on his suggestions, I made revisions to make the story clearer and flow better. It’s very helpful for writers to get help from others. You don’t have to take all the suggestions, or even any, but it’s a good practice to get feedback. I welcome it.

Once the manuscript was revised, Daniel began working on six finished pages for publishers and agents to review. Those completed pages went through many versions. Here’s a sampling:

Pretty cool, huh? I love to see how my words become visual, complete with color. Here’s a few more of his finished pages:








We sent the manuscript as well as the completed art to several publishers of graphic novels. We’ve heard back from one, with a contract offer. We also have an interested agent taking a look, with the possibility of representing us as we move forward.

This may seem like it takes such a long time for things to happen (I’ve been on this four years!) because it does. Patience is a friend.

Will post updates.