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The Doppel Gang

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” —E. B. White

Have I mentioned I have an evil twin?  No?  I do.  Sort of.  OK, I’m the evil one.  Mike, on the other hand, is actually a pretty good guy.

I met Mike over a decade ago, and we soon discovered we have an awful lot in common.  First off, we share a mutual faith.  Then there’s the fact we both studied journalism at BYU where we each served in our own time as the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.  Later, we both attended law school at the University of Nebraska.  During his time in law school, Mike worked as a law clerk in the office where I’m employed.  We’ve shared some of the same church responsibilities, and the list goes on from there.  We’re exactly the same.  And completely different.  All at the same time.

Unsuprisingly, Mike and I also share a love of the written word.  That’s why I thought of Mike a little over two years ago after reading a book about the fantastic friendship of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and their Oxford writers’ group known as The Inklings.  There was something inspiring to me about their creative collaboration.  I yearned for a similar experience, so I approached Mike.  We’ve been meeting monthly ever since, sharing our projects and offering feedback and encouragement.  Sometimes we just talk about life.  When Mike moved from Nebraska to Arizona, I figured our meetings were over.  Mike told me we’d keep them going online, but I wasn’t convinced.  I guess he was right, and I was wrong.  It wasn’t the first time.

This year, we decided to try something novel.  We’re working together on a fantasy book.  I think I was the one who suggested collaboration.  I’m not sure what got into me.  I’ve never been one for group projects.  I’m too much of a control freak.  Then there’s the issue of our divergent writing styles.  I outline my stories to death.  I don’t write anything until I know exactly where I’m headed.  Conversely, Mike’s what I’ve heard referred to as a “pantser.”  He’s flying by the seat of his pants as the story takes him on a wild and unexpected ride.  Our partnership has forced me to do a little pantsing myself – something way outside my comfort zone.  We’re almost halfway to a full manuscript, and you know what?  So far, it isn’t half bad.  And that’s just the rough draft.

Face it, the fellowship of anything is a bang-up beginning and an even better ending.  That’s why this introvert, descended from a long line of introverts, is grateful for people like Mike and a host of others who’ve come into my life over the years.  I count it no small miracle that in my short time on Planet Earth I’ve been blessed with some truly wonderful, well, friends.


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Truth Needs a Soldier

Truth needs a soldier.

As a teenager, I read every Tom Clancy book I could get my hands on.  Even though those novels are full of bad language and worse writing (I wouldn’t read them or recommend them to anyone now), I kept going back for more.  They were exciting stories about international intrigue and military might.  No doubt that was part of the allure, but another part was simply Jack Ryan – family man and CIA analyst extraordinaire, who always, always, always did the right thing.  I liked that.

Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan in the movies.  I never watched him in “Clear and Present Danger,” but I’ll always remember the poster for that one.  There was Indiana Jones wrapped in an American flag with the following words hanging above the title:  “Truth needs a soldier.”  That tagline pops into my head every now and again, and each time it does I can’t help but look around at the present state of the world and think to myself, ‘Man, does it ever.’

I spend a lot of time with make-believe.  I hang out with people who never really existed.  I visit places I’ll never see in a million years.  That’s because I crave stories.  You might tell me it’s all a big waste of time, but deep down to my core I can’t accept that.  Stories add depth and color to my existence.  Sometimes they even inspire me.

I was reminded of this with the recent news another hero from my youth is set to return.  Jean-Luc Picard:  Explorer, diplomat, consummate chief executive.  He’s a man of principle and decency played by an actor who, it’s been said, possesses the uncanny ability to turn even the worst bits of screenwriting into Shakespeare.  Way back when, Captain Picard managed to convince me every single week that humanity is going to be OK.

I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy during the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years.  I wasn’t ready then.  I came back to those books in my twenties surprised to learn the real hero of that epic isn’t Frodo – it’s Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s loyal gardener and friend.  Frodo doesn’t get to the top of Mount Doom without Sam, and Sam somehow manages that monumental journey unstained by the forces of evil.

I, like nearly every other person my age, read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school.   That’s where I encountered Atticus Finch.  I at once admired his kindness and calm, his courage and conviction.  Now my admiration is magnified through the lenses of fatherhood and jurisprudence.

These are just a few of my imaginary friends.  I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with this:  Truth does need soldiers – today more than ever – and I would learn soldiering by the company I keep.


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Good Gifts

Sara Leavitt showed up at my apartment soon after I returned from a two-year church proselyting mission in the Dominican Republic.  The truth is I was smitten from the start.  She was my roommate’s sister, and I had the temerity to ask her on a date.  From my perspective, that date was a disaster – mostly because I was convinced she was too far out of my league.  More than two years passed before I asked her out again, and suddenly the timing was right.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I consider that same girl is now my wife.

Sara and I were married for four years before we were blessed with a baby.  I understand now that four years is a blink of an eye, but back then the wait was excruciating.  There were occasions when we wondered if it would ever happen at all.  Then, in a whirlwind of hopes and dreams, we were welcoming a perfect baby boy to our family.  Well, now our house is bursting at the seams with five (and a half!) beautiful, healthy, energetic children who keep us on our toes and make life worth living.

Partway through law school, I set my sights on a career as a criminal prosecutor.  I’m in no way a natural-born trial attorney, but I wanted to work at a county attorney’s office – preferably one close to my Nebraska home.  I applied for law clerk and attorney jobs at my present employer in Lincoln, Nebraska, four times before I broke through.  I’ve now been at the county attorney’s office in Lincoln for eleven years.  In those eleven years, I’ve experienced my share of frustrations, but overall I’d call it a rewarding challenge that’s also allowed me to provide a comfortable living for my family.

Why am I telling you this?  Because it came to me in a sudden epiphany during the car ride to work one morning last week that these are just a few examples of how God has blessed me time again with my righteous desires.  The Savior explained it this way in the New Testament:  “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”  The blessings in my life have rarely come in the way I was expecting or in accordance with my own timetable, but they have come.

All of which brings me to my writing ambitions.  (Surely you knew that’s where this was heading.)  There are certainly dark days when I’m convinced I’ll just as soon be struck by lightning as publish, but lately I’ve been praying for two things with respect to my writing:  An advocate and an audience.  Maybe the answer is no on both counts, but as I consider my life to this point I have to wonder if one day the answer might actually be yes.

Paying it Forward

I was thinking about Nancy Diekmann when I asked to see my young friend’s manuscript.

Mrs. Diekmann once prompted me – a shy and tortured fifteen year old – to write a short story for her sophomore English class.  I no longer remember the story, but I assure you it was nothing special.  The magic of the experience was Mrs. Diekmann convinced me otherwise.

Sometime later, she steered me toward a statewide essay contest.  My essay was more or less another short story.  I sent it off.  A few weeks later, I was stunned when the unimaginable happened:  My story won first place, and I received a shiny plaque to prove it.

The next year I produced a superior story for the same contest and entered yet again.  A few weeks later, Mrs. Diekmann approached me.  She wore a somber expression as she placed a new plaque on my desk and congratulated me for my second-place finish.  Then she walked away.  We never discussed it further, but one thing was clear:  She believed I was better than second place.

The crazy thing is because of her I did too.  I still have both of those plaques sitting at the bottom of a tub in our basement.  I pull them out on rare occasions, but what I value far more than the now-tarnished hardware is the incredible journey I’ve been on since.

Before I graduated from high school, I wrote a science fiction novel under Mrs. Diekmann’s tutelage.  Not only was that novel nothing special, I realize in hindsight it was downright awful.  I didn’t have the stamina then for a project of that magnitude.

I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in print journalism – an achievement that continues to enrich every aspect of my life.  I followed that up with law school.  As a young attorney, I used to close the door to my office every day at noon to write for an hour.  I wrote a novel about football.  Nobody wanted it, so I wrote another novel.  A science fiction story.  I consider it the book I didn’t have the stamina, skill, or maturity to write for Mrs. Diekmann all those years ago.  Thanks to her, I do now, and I haven’t stopped writing.

Back to my young friend.  He’s writing too.  Five chapters into his own novel.  I asked to see those chapters, and my friend courageously obliged.  In reading his words, I became acquainted with a writer whose natural ability far exceeds my own.  I told him as much.  His is a fledgling talent worth nurturing, and I find myself wanting to offer words of encouragement in order to fan that storytelling flame.

I’m now pushing 40.  I’ll never be the next J.K. Rowling, and I’ve made peace with that.  But surely someone will be.  My young friend perhaps?  Maybe.  Maybe not, but I have a feeling that’s the sort of question Nancy Diekmann asked herself every single day.