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John Darling

Author

My Pictorial Journal

I decided to add this section to my website for a few reasons.  First of all, it is a sketch of my publication history in pictures although this is far from all I have had published.  These are just the ones that I have saved over the course of 40 years.  Second, I guess you'd have to say it is a trip down memory lane for me as I look back on what I have done and the people I met while doing it, people like Bill Hammaker, who I dubbed the Professor of Peace, a nom de plume that followed him for the rest of life which ended at the age of 102.  Finally, this is a pictorial "resume" to show the wide variety of stories and articles that I have written in case anyone out there is looking for a writer.  Even if you are not interested in me or writing in any way, I think you will enjoy this look inside the mind of a writer.  So scroll through the entries and contact me if you have any questions.

 

My first publication

I tell people that I have a 40+ year publication history but they don't believe me because of my youthful looks (thank you Just For Men) and my boundless energy (thank you Centrum Plus) so here is the proof of my statement in pictures.  This story, Stigmire, was published in the 1976 edition of the Journal of Mental Health Technology.  I wrote the story for a psychology class I was taking while working as a Psych Tech at the Arizona State Hospital (remember "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest"?).  I got an "A" for the story and since I was dating the hospital's librarian at the time I showed it to her.  She, in turn, showed it to the editor of this publication, who she was also dating, and somehow convinced him to publish it.  Whatever works, I guess...

       

My first "poem" in print

I will admit to anyone that I am a lousy poet and all you have to do is read some of my stuff to come to the same conclusion.  That being said, my second publication was a "poem" of sorts.  I think I was messing around with something I called "Schizophrenic Poetry" at the time because this entry sure sounds crazy now.  

This was published in the New Times Newspaper in Tempe, AZ, so I had to be going to school at Arizona State University; now you know why I was studying Journalism.

I think what I was trying to get at with this poem was that like news stories, a six-pack of beer and a romance always start out interesting, but as you get down to the end of each, they get tedious and boring.  Something like that, anyway.

 

First money earned as an writer

As proud as I am of getting published for the first time, I am much more proud of this, my third publication and that is not just because it earned me my first royalty.  I am proud of it because after getting my Associates Degree in Psychology, I decided to change course and started studying Journalism at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.  During a class about writing articles, we students were told that we could earn some money from the Mesa Tribune if we came up with a good idea for their Sunday magazine which was written entirely by students.  Well, I had the idea to write an article about the new trend in t-shirts, a trend where people wore messages on them and companies started using them as an advertising source.  This was in 1978 when that was just not done.  So, I did the research, wrote the article, and put in in the Trib's basket.  A few weeks later a professor told me he had a $20 check for me.  Until then, I didn't know it had been published.  Believe me, $20 in 1978 to a poor broke college student was like finding the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine.  I could eat for a week.

Besides, I secured this publication on my own (no Librarians needed) and I was the only student in my class to have anything published by the Trib.

 

   

Marriage and writing

I met a beautiful woman in 1979 and somehow talked her into marrying me.  We are still married today, 40 years later.  Anyway, we have always been a couple who looked to the future so we decided to take some night computer classes at Phoenix College.  As it turned out the Evening Division of the Journalism School published a small magazine called The Owl to which I submitted a poem called Cormorants which was published.  This was my first publication as a married man.

    

 

A Fair To Remember

For several years after I got married, I essentially stopped writing.  My new wife and I moved from Phoenix, AZ to Santa Barbara, CA to start our new life and then we moved to Ventura, CA (where we are still) to start our family.  So, life was busy.  When our son was two years old, we took him to his first fair and while there, I discovered that they had writing competitions along with categories for cattle raising and corn farming.  So, the next year I entered several stories in various categories and won Blue Ribbons for most of them.  This, somehow, made the local Ventura paper and so the local Camarillo paper contacted me to see if I would like to submit a story to their Sunday Writer's Bloc section.  I sent them all that had won Blue Ribbons and they chose Hairy Hero to publish in two parts and this got me writing again.  For that, I will always remember this fair.  

Anyway, like a cat with nine-lives, Hairy would rise again but more on that later...

 

 

 

   

The Poetry Movement

Like a wave rising up from the Pacific Ocean, an Open Mic poetry movement swept over Ventura in the early 1990s.  It seemed like everywhere you turned, there were coffee shops and bakeries setting up stages and microphones so anyone who wanted to could get up and spout poetry.  I tell everyone that I am a lousy poet (true) but even some of my stuff was better than most of the stuff I heard while I attended a few of these events.  Besides, I am an excellent public speaker so I figured that even if people didn't like what I wrote, they'd be wowed by my speaking voice (false).  Anyway, one night I read a dark ditty I wrote called The Sirens Never Sleep which essentially states that no matter what you do in life the sirens will come for you be it a siren on an ambulance, fire truck or a police car.  After the session, a young lady from the Journalism Department of Oxnard College asked me if she could print my "poem".  I said that would be fine and I emailed a copy to the department, the next time I saw her, she handed me these two copies of their latest magazine.  I didn't know until that moment it was called The Irrevocable Void, aka, death.  I can see now why she wanted my poem.  

Anyway, the Sirens rolled again, but more on that later...

        

The Poetry Movement, Redux

Since I am always looking for a way to express myself, I started taking a Television Production class conducted by a local cable channel.  As part of the class, we needed to produce our own show, so given how hot poetry was in those days, I came up with Poetry Forum which I was hoping they would pick up for a regular show.  On it, I would interview poets and leaders of the poetry movement.  Luckily, I got the owner of the City Bakery to come on the first show.  His place was where it was at for Open Mic poetry readings.  Anyway, I created the pictured, crude, flyer for the show but I was wrong in saying "everyone is talking about Poetry Forum", after one show we were done.  

 

This is another fine mess you got me into...

Sometime in 1992, a loud mouth reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press, boasted in print that Santa Barbara was a much more romantic city than Ventura (it isn't) so our local paper, the Ventura County Star, took up the challenge and concocted a "plan" to have local writers create a "chain" romance story where selected authors would write a chapter of a story then pass it up to that point to the next author.  The paper provided no specific guidelines for the story so it was pretty much doomed from the start; the Star didn't seem to have any concept about the HUGE egos of fiction writers (not me of course...). 

Anyway, I submitted some work and was chosen at random to create Chapter 3 of Rigged For Love (yes it did have oil rigs in the rough plot outline...sigh...).  When I got the first two chapters I almost couldn't read them because they were BORING (to me).  So, to spice things up and get the story moving I introduced a new character named Johnny Day (just a coincidence) a pistol-packing rogue EPA agent who had the hots for the lady protagonist in the story whose name was Cassie Ventura (sigh).  When I finished, I passed on the story to the next person.  Well, she did not like the character (and name) of the person I introduced, so when he was mentioned at all, it was as John Day.  The story went downhill after that.  When the project was finished, the paper postponed the publication date twice and I think they were considering pulling the plug but after talking it up and boasting about it, they published it and never looked back.  I got the last laugh, though, Johnny Day ended up in the sack with Cassie Ventura. 

In the second picture below, I cropped out the faces of the other authors to spare them further embarrassment so now I look like a face from a funeral. 

I guess that is fitting.  

  

 

      

Grandmas Favorite Recipes

My grandma was an excellent cook, baker, canner, and all around farm gal who could also shoot rats that tried to invade the hen house (I saw her do this).  She lived on a large hobby type farm in the small town of Burton Township, MI, near Flint, where my grandfather worked as a welder for Chevrolet and Buick for over 35 years.  After my grandpa died in an accident, the farm became too much for her to take care of alone, so she sold it and moved to Arizona with my mom and us kids.  She had so much stuff, that when it arrived in Phoenix, we had to sell some of it off.  While going through everything, I came across a beat-up old box full of handwritten recipes.  When I asked about it, she told me they were recipes she created or ones that her friends passed on to her.  She said that she was not going to be cooking too much anymore and that I could have the recipes if I wanted them.  This started a project that has lasted since that time until this day and lead to this very roundabout publication.  

After I took possession of the recipes, I decided to put them in cookbook form and pass them out to the family;  I titled the book, Grandma's Favorite Recipes.  I told people I knew that I did this and I was often asked for copies of the cookbook.  After handing out so many of them, I decided to try to get the cookbook published, in the meantime, I wrote an article called Nothing Beats Grandma's Cooking which included recipes for a full meal.  Then I sent it off to a magazine whose name I do not recall but it was not Quick 'n Easy Home Cooking so you can imagine my surprise when I received a letter from them saying they would like to print it.  After a few calls, I found out that this magazine bought out the other magazine and while going through the slush pile, they found my article and decided to use it.  

There is more about grandma to come...

Myron, My Hero

Of all the publications I have had over the years, this one remains, in my eyes, the most prestigious one even though I didn't make a dime off of it.  Myron?  The Hero? is a funny story that I wrote while I was creating a series of hero based stories.  It tells the tale of a nerdy young man who is infatuated with a woman he works with even though she doesn't know that he is alive.  In the story, Myron has to decide to try to stop a killer who only he knows is loose in his neighborhood or cower in his house, afraid for his life.  For the want of attention from this lady, he springs into action and is soon apprehended by the police!  Anyway, the situation gets straightened out and he is released.  We never know if he is noticed by the lady, but he now has hope since the killer was caught due to his actions.  The unique thing about this story is that the only "voice" you hear is that of Myron.  The entire story is told in the conversation he had with the policewoman who arrested him.

I submitted this story to Writer's Journal as part of their annual Fiction Writing Contest and was thrilled when it was chosen to be an Honorable Mention winner to be published in their magazine.    Writer's Journal is for writers, about writers, and published by writers and I am proud to say that I am included in this group.

 

        

 

Christmas 1997

Before I start, let me state that I have no use for Christmas.  I usually refer to it as XMAS since the true meaning of the holiday has been subverted by Madison Avenue and Wall Street and I also do not have any religious affiliations.  So how did I come to write a short article about the season that was published THREE TIMES in the same year?  Easy: I told the truth.

The Letter From Santa (or A Letter From Santa) is the true story of how I told my son the real truth, as I see it, about Santa Claus.  This later evolved into a short story that would be published on Amazon.  More on that later.

How it came to be published in three magazines in the same year is another story.  Two of the publications, Valley Parent and Bay Area Parent are published by the same company (thus the identical covers) so they were aware of the simultaneous submissions but San Diego Family was not.  Once I learned they wanted to use the story, I debated if I should tell them of the other two, already accepted, submissions.  Then I thought, "Why should I ruin the XMAS spirit?", and kept quiet about it since the magazines did not overlap geographically.  

 

   

 

The Return of Grandma's Favorite Recipes

By 1998, my grandma was living in a nursing home and getting around in a wheelchair since she lost the lower part of her right leg to diabetes so you can imagine how happy I was to tell her that the cookbook I created from her recipes had finally been published.  When I showed it to her she just laughed and asked, "Why would anyone want my old recipes?"  To which I responded, "Anyone who likes great food will like it, grandma." to which she laughed some more.  Despite her merriment, I knew she appreciated the publication of her recipes.  A short time later, grandma died but her recipes live on to this day. 

You can find them on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003Y3BPSG      

    

Dream Lovers

If you recall, for my one-time-only television show, Poetry Forum, I interviewed the owner of the City Bakery which was the Mecca of the open mic poetry movement that was a rage in Ventura for a year or two.  Well, I not only read my work aloud there, but I also bought coffee and bagels from them.  It was during one of the mornings when I was having my usual when I looked up for no apparent reason and noticed a very pretty blonde haired lady waiting in line to place her order.  As soon as I saw her, she turned to me and smiled as if she knew me, I felt like I knew her too.  The electricity that passed between our gazes would have incinerated anyone passing in between them as if they were hit by lightning.  Fortunately, everyone survived and like lightning, the moment passed quickly.  Still, I thought we knew each other and that she would soon join me at my table, but that didn't happen.  She paid for her order and left without looking back, though I did perceive a slight hesitation as she headed for the door.  

This got me to thinking: What if I had only seen her in a dream?  What if that is one way that we meet people, we see them as apparitions in the night before they are fleshed out for us in the daylight?  With this in mind, I got up and went home to my wife and child.  A few days later, I wrote Dream Lovers which was published in the Dream International Quarterly.  

However, this did not end the dream.  For a few years, I was a Judge / Contest Coordinator for AOL in one of their writer enclaves.  I don't recall why, but I posted Dream Lovers on the site and received a reply to it that warms me to this day.  A copy of the email is below.  Essentially, it said that my words touched a young lady and her boyfriend because they seemed to be in the same situation as my fictional lovers, only their situation was real.  They had never met in the flesh but through online chat rooms, they fell in love.  So they were real dream lovers that may never meet since they lived in countries that were hostile with each other.  My fervent wish is that they somehow met and shared their love in real life.    

 

  

Christmas 1998

Following the Trifecta publishing of my article, The Letter From Santa, in 1997, I submitted it again in 1998 but this time to only one magazine, Atlanta Parent. They published it, too.  

I have not submitted this article anywhere since then, but I did turn it into a short story which was published by Amazon in a project that they have since abandoned, but more on that later.

 

   

The Return of Hairy Hero

After the Camarillo paper that published my story, Hairy Hero, which tells the story of a cat who saves a young child from a horde of rats at the expense of one of his nine-lives, closed its doors I sent the story out to other publications for consideration but it was never accepted by any of them.  The main reason I was given for these rejections was that the magazines did not print talking animal stories.  That was odd since Hairy never speaks nor does the reader ever read his thoughts.  The entire story is told as a narrative.  Anyway, I gave up on trying to get it published in the USA and started submitting it "across the pond" where it caught the attention of the editor of Feline Fables.  She loved it and published it.  

Stage Directions, Act 1

I don't recall the exact name of the school that first used my short 1-act play entitled Stage Directions but I do know that it is in the town of Northfield, MN and surprisingly it is a religious school of some sort.  It could be the St. Dominic School, but again, I am not certain.  The reason for this is because there was a large gap of time between a  student asking me if she could use the play for one of her classes and her sending me confirmation that she did use it.  The reason I said it was surprising that she asked to use it in the first place is that my play seriously questions the existence of God.  An odd topic for a religiously affiliated school.

In the thank you note below, she said that she read it aloud for her Senior Project in the Religion Section of her dissertation.  Apparently, though, everything went very well.

 

   

Stage Directions, Act 2

The first full production of Stage Directions occurred at the Victoria School of Performing Arts in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  If you have seen the movie Fame you know all about this school since various classes of performing arts are all that is in their curriculum.  Needless to say, I was flattered that they wanted to use my small play in their Playworks Festival.  After the show, they sent me this great poster and a program where I am described as being an "American playwright.".  That is thrilling to me, a writer who only has this one play to his credit.  Even better, I was told that my play "won the night" over all the other plays even one written by a guy named David Mamet.

The poster and program are framed and hanging on my office wall.

        

Writing and real work

Like most writers, I have to work at a "real" job to keep a roof over my head and food on the table.  So, when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I am an "administrative professional" which sounds boring and usually stops any further inquiries.  However, it is the truth, that is what I do and I do it extremely well.  Still, I am always looking for a reason to write.  So, when an event was held at Blue Cross of California where I was employed as a Senior Administrative Assistant, I thought it would be a good fit for the company's monthly magazine.  The event celebrated Conejo Valley Days, a local celebration of the heritage in that part of the world.  Included in BC's celebration was a talent contest which I decided to cover as a reporter.  After a little editing, my submission was accepted posted on BC's employee website.

 

       

Fiction 101

We have a terrific entertainment newspaper in Ventura called the Ventura County Reporter (VCR) that covers all aspects of the arts and so every year they sponsor Fiction 101 writing contest.  This is a contest where you have to tell an entire story in exactly 101 words.  Not easy to do but I love to write short-shorts so one year I took up the challenge and was pleased to at least get an Honorable Mention and publication.  My story started with the words, "101 words" and ended with the same, which they thought was pretty clever.

The "101" in the contest name refers to Highway 101 which passes through our town.

 

   

One time, Amazon had a great idea

The great idea was to create a market place called Shorts.  It was a great idea for writers of short fiction and articles, like me, since we could post our work individually instead of grouping them in a book.  It was also a great idea for customers because each item cost forty-nine cents.  So, you could buy a book of 10 short stories of your choice for less than five dollars.  For my part, I published a short-story version of The Letter From Santa, The Book of Elijah, Some Of Grandma's Favorite Recipes, Weekend, and a few others.  

However, like most of the good ideas Amazon has, they ended the program after a year or two.

 

        

The Professor of Peace

I write a lot of letters to the editor.  I have been doing this for over 50 years because, despite the cacophony of "voices" --real or imagined--on social media, I still think that this is the best way to get your opinion heard even though the market for such input is sadly dwindling.  At the beginning of a not too recent "war" that is still ongoing, I wrote numerous letters objecting to the waste of human lives and supplies in another unwinnable war.  Well, I got a lot of phone calls because of them, some threatening, and some like Bill's.  Bill called to support my efforts and told me that he had been promoting peace for a long time, which prompted me to ask his age.  He told me he was 99 years old and he was the "peace advocate" for the Camarillo Democratic Club.  I did the math and figured that Bill had voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt three times and I smelled a story.  So, I asked William "Bill" Hammaker if he'd consent to an interview?  He accepted the offer but after I met him and talked to him, I changed the story.  While it is true that Bill voted for FDR three times, the overarching goal of his long life was to promote peace, something he had been doing for over 80 years, it was something he still worked for daily despite his age.  In my article, which was given a big write up in the local paper, I dubbed him the Professor of Peace, which he loved and which followed him to his grave three years later at the age of 102.  His obituary used this nom de plume while relating his life's work.  

We became good friends and I still miss him to this day. 

Stage Direction, Act 3

I received another request from a student asking me for permission to use my lone play, Stage Directions, in a school production.  I agreed to send him a copy, of course, and was delighted to discover that the name of the school is Realms Of Inquiry.  It is a private school located in Murray, UT.  It is a school designed to encourage each student's unique talent and not box them in by demanding they study a set curriculum.  It sounded so nice, I wanted to enroll.

The Right Note

My story, The Right Note, was a first for me in areas:

  1. The publisher, New Love Stories Magazine, liked the story so much, he asked me to add more words to it.
  2. It was my first publication in a magazine based in New York City
  3. It paid me super pro-rates and is still the single biggest paycheck I received for one story 

I often write stories based on personal experiences, like Dream Lovers, and this is one of them.  It is a tender love story about two middle-aged, successful people who fall in love after meeting in a grocery store.  He recognized her from an orchestral performance the night before where she played the cello.  Well, that happened to me, more or less, I did see a performance, which my son was involved in, the night before and I did see a lady in the supermarket the next morning who looked like one of the cello players, but instead me walking up to her, I let the male lead in my story do it. 

The first line in the tale is, "You play the cello, don't you?"

Sadly, New Love Stories Magazine is now defunct so all publishing rights reverted back to me.  So now, The Right Note, is the lead story in my collection of love stories called, Anticipating Sunrise https://www.amazon.com/dp/1093289503

   

Stage Directions, Act 4

No doubt about it, of all the uses/productions of my play, Stage Directions, this is the most prestigious of them all.  This iteration of it was produced by the Soho Theater in London, England.  I saw the call for one-act plays on Submittable and figured, why not send it?  To this day, I am not sure if the only wanted plays from English playwrights though it seemed that way after they accepted the work  Anyway, I didn't ask since I was so honored to have my work in such a great theater and I did not want it rejected because of the fact that I am a "Yank".  

  

Peter the Paper Clip

About 20 years ago, someone dared me to write a story about a paper clip.  He was sure I could not do it.  About a week after the dare, I walked into his office and dropped a copy of Peter The Paper Clip on his desk.  He was astounded and he loved the story; this started a long journey for Peter who bounced around from one editor to another all who liked the story of a sad little paper clip who wanted to be more but none would publish it.  This is the one story that I have written that has been loved by everyone regardless of age, sex, race or any other factor.  Still, it went unpublished until I saw a call for an anthology looking for stories told by inanimate objects.  I felt that now Peter would have a home and I was right.   

Peter The Paper Clip is on page 123 of the book As Told By Things, which you can get here:  https://www.amazon.com/As-Told-Things-D-Bell-ebook/dp/B07CSM49G3  I have been paid for my story so I won't make any more money from it no matter how many copies are sold but I think you would love the story, everyone else does.

Here are a few excerpts from the book's reviews:

  • " Peter the Paper Clip by John Darling was a clever tale"
  • "...a good laugh! Elevated by Tom Jolly, The Pea and the Princess by Jasre' Ellis, Peter the Paper Clip.... all great tales!"

    

Buddy

Writing can be a lonely profession.  You go into a room, close the door, and stare at a blank screen or piece of paper while hoping that inspiration will strike you.  Well, for a few years, I was not so lonely because I had Buddy by my side.  I used to volunteer for a local shelter and one day I came across this cute little Chihuahua, all 7 pounds of him, looking so sad and lonely in his big cement kennel, that I just had to go in and cheer him up.  I had some treats with me, too and he loved treats.  Even though everyone loved him, we were having trouble getting Buddy adopted because he was 12 years old and was missing some teeth so, after a few months of trying and failing to find him a home, I adopted him because there was no way I was going to let him die alone and cold in the kennel.  

For the rest of his life, he was my constant companion.  I called him my little shadow because where I went, he went and everywhere that I took him he was dearly loved.  He had a rough life until the shelter removed him from his neglectful owner's home and put him up for adoption.  With me, he always had the best, the best food, the best doctors, the best beds (all five of them), and most of all the best love an animal could ever hope for so when he died a few months ago, it was very painful to me and all his friends even though we knew he only had a few more years to live when I took him home.  Instead of dying in the kennel, though, he died in his sleep under his favorite blanket with his stuffed lamb by his side.  

As I have said before, I am not much of a poet, but occasionally I will write something that moves people and My Empty Lap which I wrote to honor my little boy has moved many to tears.  The editor of a local paper, who knew Buddy well, asked if he could publish the poem and, of course, I consented.