No News is Good News

In 1960, Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy tossed around the idea of a “new army” in his campaign. He mentioned this new army would be made up of civilians who would volunteer their time and skills to help underdeveloped nations. On March 1, 1961 Kennedy established the Peace Corps as a trail program and later that year it was made permanent.

PeaceCorpsLogoToday, the Peace Corps is still active and sending volunteers to various countries around the globe promoting world peace and global friendship.

We live in a world where we have instant access to information via the internet. We connect with people around the world via social media. Just about everything has become global and there is an APP for everything. Bob mentioned Road ID, a map to locate someone who is working out and might have gotten into an accident. There is an app to locate your phone, or someone else’s phone. I stalk my children all the time this way. I have an App for my new car where I can start my car remotely. It’s great when its freezing and snowing up here and I want a nice warm car after working out and then have to walk across the parking lot. There is even this pretty cool game app for kids from the JFK Library Foundation called JFK CHALLENGE where they look at the Apollo 11 mission and/or become a Peace Corp Volunteer (PCV) and help build hospitals or other things the Peace Corps does.

What I can’t find an app for is locating my own Peace Corp Volunteer.

Two days ago, I dropped my daughter off at a hotel in Downtown Philadelphia where she begins her new adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer somewhere in Madagascar. I have no idea where. Neither does she. Just somewhere in Madagascar.


The Peace Corps sent us information about the program and what we can expect as a loved one of a PCV and they pretty much tell us that NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS, especially the first three months during training. Not only will the PCV’s be busy learning a new language, culture, and being prepped for their placement somewhere in Madagascar, the internet connection is not as accessible there and it is important (probably more so today then 20 years ago) for the PCV to learn not to rely heavily on technology. She barely remembers a world without cell phones much less a world without WiFi.

We’ve been told that we will be notified when our PCV lands in Madagascar and we will be informed if there is a problem, otherwise, don’t expect texts, emails, phone calls. The Peace Corps sent the PCV a letter telling them to make sure they prep their loved ones with the idea that NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS. As I write this, she’s only about half hour in the air on her way to the land of Lemurs and I’m already counting down the hours to when I should hear something. NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS.

Every time I read this or hear this, I think back to when I was about 12 and the public announcement came on TV every night at around 11pm. It’s eleven o’clock, do you know where you children are? Of course, technology has changed that because there is an App to know where you child is and yep, we’ve used it. Though kind of useless when your kid puts his iPhone on the side of the boat and then puts the boat in gear and takes off and the phone plummets to the bottom of the lake.

My daughter is a world traveler. She’s been all over the world and has lived in Australia and in Spain. But while there, we had instant access to each other via Facetime, Skype, and text messages that are basically FREE. Heck, when she first found out her placement for the Peace Corps, I was sitting in a car at the Newark Airport with Bob heading to a conference in New Jersey and she called me on Facetime from Spain to tell me. And, when she traveled to visit other countries in Europe while living in Spain, I could use Find My iPhone to find her, so there was that.

I did get a text from her that she was on the plane. A direct flight from NYC to South Africa and then another flight from there to Madagascar, but that could be the last I hear from her for a while. NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS. I think this was the mantra my parents grew up with, but technology has changed things for many of us. A few people have looked at me and said, they might not have internet? As if that is like the air we breathe and its just there. Of course, when I mention she could be living without power, much less running water. Ever take a bucket bath for months on end? We take so much for granted and we also tend to rely heavily on technology, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m an early adapter of most technology, but there is a whole world of people that might have to travel a few miles to a café for internet, and while we have pretty good cell phone coverage and very few dropped calls these days, in other places, it might be miles and miles of dead zones.

It is great to be connected globally. However, Kelsey, my PCV is connecting to an entirely different culture in a way that technology can’t really do. In person. Face to Face. Living the way the Madagascar people live. She will be teaching in whatever town or village she goes to as she’s an Education Volunteer. But more than that, she will be learning about the people of Madagascar. Their culture. Their way of life and bringing a piece of that back here.

The Peace Corp is a 27-month commitment. That’s a long time. And its all volunteer. She won’t get paid for this commitment. At least not in a monetary way. But there are other forms of payment, and I suspect she will get that in spades.

She does have a blog started, though no idea how often she will be able to update it. She will have days off to go into the nearest larger town or city and she wants to try to update it as much as possible, but you can follow her adventures here. I’ll also be posting her adventures here at Write on the River, when I get letters and whatnot.


Theme and Intent– Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Theme and intent can be interchangeable. Intent is a term I’ve taken from screenwriters. It took me almost ten years of writing and fifteen manuscripts to realize the critical importance of having an intent to my stories, beyond simply being entertaining and having that intent in my conscious mind.

Some in the business of screenwriting say you should be able to state your intent in three words.

  • Love conquers all
  • Honesty defeats greed
  • Honor versus loyalty

There are others who say you need to be able to state it in one word:

  • Relationships
  • Honesty
  • Faith
  • Fathers

What Is My Intent?

What do you want readers to walk away with emotionally when they finish reading your story? This is a question many authors don’t ask themselves and it’s one of the most important questions because it’s the readers whom you need to keep coming back for more. When you consider intent, consider your readers first.

Filmmakers have to think about what they want the viewer to feel when they walk out of the theater. This is one reason there are so few negative endings in films. That’s not to say you can’t have a dark ending. It’s more to point out that you need to be aware of the effect of a dark ending.

pretty womanI’ve seen some excellent films where the ending was dark and bleak—and often most realistic—but most of those films were not box office blockbusters. The original screenplay for Pretty Woman was called Five Thousand Dollars. And the Richard Gere character drives away at the end. Realistic, yes. Would it have succeeded as much as the rewrite?

I’m not saying you have to have happy endings and make your reader happy. I’m saying you have to know what feeling you want the reader to experience and make sure you deliver. Larry McMurtry is a master writer and most of his stories have rather bleak endings.

I think that the more negative the intent, the better you have to be as a writer to keep the reader involved. To take readers on a dark and relatively unhappy journey, you have to be very good to keep them in the boat.


  • What do you feel? Why are you writing this book?
  • What do you want readers to feel? Do you want them to feel one way or another? Or do you prefer to make it more nebulous where readers could argue about the book’s message and intent?
  • You always have an intent. Make sure you know it consciously.
  • Positive versus negative. Your call, but negative is a harder sell to readers.
  • Beware of lecturing. It’s called info-dumping. Also, if you take a stand on some matter, realize you run the chance of alienating 50% of your readers. In some instances this is a good thing as it could bring you attention.
  • Resolution–the payoff to the reader. Intent peaks in the last scene in the book.

The more a reader feels about a book, the more he will get into it. Feeling comes out of the three aspects of a novel:

  1. Idea
  2. Intent
  3. Characters

If you know and, more importantly, have a good feel for each of these three before you begin writing, you increase the quality of your work.

Do you know what your intent is?

Also, I have two slots left for the 27-28 June Write on the River workshop.  Drop me a line if interested and I can offer you a discount.

If you had an accident working out, would anyone know?

IMG_2301This morning I did a long bike ride at Oak Ridge, along a gravel road that had once been part of the classified facility. It’s been set aside as a rec area and it’s very pretty and quiet.

So quiet, that it occurred to me that if I had an accident, I might not get help for a while; today I passed two people, which is actually a lot, but’s it’s also the weekend. On weekdays, the place is pretty much deserted. I also run every other day in Concord Park here in Knoxville. There are more dirt trails packed into this space than any park I’ve seen. I usually take Cool Gus. Again, though, rarely do I meet another runner or biker. I’ve often thought: what would happen if I fell and got badly hurt on this trail? I’ve actually tripped several times and am grateful that the first thing I was taught en route to my Black Belt was how to fall. So far, no major injuries, but I’m one trip away from something bad happening.

My brother-in-law was biking to the store one day and had an accident. He was hurt pretty badly and it was fortunate that there were people around. Despite a concussion, he was able to tell one of his rescuers the unlock code for his phone. But what if he’d been unconscious? His wife found an app that prepares one for just this emergency.

Do you have an ICE # on your phone? In Case of Emergency? But what good is that number if your phone is locked?

nav_logoThere’s a free app that solves these problems: RoadID

We tried it this morning and it worked as advertised. I put my wife’s cell phone and her email address as the person to be notified. She gets an alert on both when I start my workout. Then she will get an alert if I am stationery for more than 5 minutes and haven’t turned off the app; ie lying in a ditch, unconscious. And she gets an alert when I’ve finish my workout. There’s also a two hour limit that I set—if I’m still biking after two hours, it’s likely I’ve been abducted by aliens.

It also has a way for your ICE number and your ID to come up even though the phone is locked. So if someone finds you, they can figure out who you are and call whoever you designated.

It gives your location and it also tracks your route so it’s a way of recording your workout. And getting found. (Do not use this app if you are on your way to a clandestine rendezvous).

One time I four-wheeled across a couple of hundred miles of unimproved trails in Utah on the way to Moab in my Jeep.  This app would have been helpful, because it turns out that north of where I was, this old couple had tried to take a “short cut” on a similar trail, gotten stuck, and eventually died.

Of course, you need a cell phone signal for the app to work; so perhaps it wouldn’t have been helpful out there, but then again, it sends a text alert:  did you know that you can often get a text through when the voice signal is spotty?  In an emergency, text is more reliable.

The key to this is being prepared. I’m going to blog some more about Preparation, not only for survival, but day to day things that make life safer and easier. I constantly preach this but it’s too late to prepare for something when it’s already occurred. Talk to people who’ve experience a disaster and they’ll tell you all the things they wished they done to prepare. I’m going to do a blog on preparation for a power outage, because I submit the vast majority of people are not prepared for one that lasts more than a day or two.

Are you prepared?

A Cornerstone of Leadership: Commander’s Policy Letter

Whenever someone joined our A-Team, the first thing the team sergeant and I did was sit him down in our CP (Command Post; a fancy acronym for two old desks in a room at the end of the top floor of an old World War II barracks building) and welcome him to the team. We also gave him a copy of the team SOP—standing operating procedure. The first two parts of that were mine and my team sergeant’s policy letters, basically spelling out our philosophy of things.

One interesting aspect of the welcome was that a new guy often remarked we were the first people who actually ‘welcomed’ them to the unit. Everyone else from the Group, to Battalion, to the company, ‘welcomed’ them with loads of warnings of what not to do and not to screw up and threats, etc. etc., while we were very happy to see them and very positive.

In a reverse manner, whenever I took over a new unit, one of the first things I told them was that they automatically had my respect and that I had to earn theirs’. I was always amazed at how well soldiers responded to being respected right up front; and I have found that extends into the civilian world. Most people want to do a good job and want to be treated with respect. I find people rise to the level of the leadership; or sink with it.  Most of this is covered in more detail in Who Dares Wins, but I want to write about it with a fresh perspective here on the blog, as I sort things out in my head and also want to get feedback from people who have had an array of experiences, as my view is, naturally, my own narrow one.

Nightstalkers by Bob Mayer

Nightstalkers by Bob Mayer

I’m going to be posting more about leadership and other aspects of organizations which I learned in my time in the Infantry and Special Forces, and also as a writer for a quarter of a century. I think it’s interesting stuff to ponder, especially now that I can look back on it all with a difference perspective. So here are some of the elements of my policy letter at the beginning of ODA-055’s (A-Team) team SOP (what’s interesting is I use almost these exact same ones for the inbriefing in my first Nightstalker books when Moms and Nada inbrief a new member):

Here are some excerpts from mine:

Most basic tenet of teamwork is honesty.

With rank & privilege comes responsibility.

Everyone is a leader.

We do everything together.

Don’t get in a pissing contest with a man on a balcony. You just end up wet and smelling. If you have a problem with someone above us, let me know.

Keep a positive attitude.

Discipline stays at team level.

Be on time.

Keep your sense of humor. You’ll need it.

When starting a new job, how were you greeted and inbriefed? Were you given an SOP?



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