Whenever you enter into a professional field, you discover aspects of the craft that you never anticipated.

In my 35 years of writing I have had some strange Japanese fellow claim to be me on line (he may still be doing so, for all I know), a priest in New England literally lift passages from Letters to My Son and use them as his own in published sermons (I let it pass, much to the dismay of my more litigious and anti-Catholic friends), and seen a professor in the Philippines build a public following and develop his professional reputation around his thievery of my chapter on Marriage in Simple Truths.

But nothing has compared to the recent discovery that a highly popular French film, Driving Madeleine, currently showing around America as well, was a direct lifting of my story from Make Me an Instrument of your Peace about the time I picked up an elderly woman in my cab and drove her through her old neighborhood before dropping her off at a hospice.

To be fair, this story got cut loose from its point of origin in my book and set free on the internet, where it was often attributed to “anonymous” or claimed by various wannabe writers or inspirational bloggers. But, by and large, it was appropriately credited and became the one thing I’ve ever written that has “gone viral”, to use the parlance of a generation to which I do not belong.

“Aha,” I thought, when I first found out about the film.  ‘That’s my story.”  For once in my life I had dollar signs in my eyes and I was prepared to move to some South Sea island and spend my life smoking cigars and drinking Margaritas (“I said, ‘no salt, no salt'” for those of you in the know).

Alas, the legal Big Dogs said there is no case there. I would be squashed like a bug and drained of every penny I had. “You can’t copyright an idea,” they said. “You will be legal road kill.”

Now, there are many things I don’t want to be, and legal road kill is high on the list. So I have taken my dashed hopes and trudged back to my writing desk where I hunker down listening to the echo of my father and every other working stiff I have ever known who said, “Better the slow nickel than the quick dollar.” But it was a good fantasy while it lasted.

Now you can see for yourself what that fantasy was all about. Here’s the cab driving story:  And here’s the IMDB listing for Driving Madeleine:  The trailer doesn’t show the ending at the nursing home, but, trust me, it’s there.

Oh well, life goes on.

Hunker, hunker.  Write, write.  Where’s that nickel?


Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce — my proudest accomplishment

I just received this note from a reader:

My wife and I traveled through western Montana this summer and just happened to stop at the Big Hole National Monument. The ranger on duty recommended your book, “Chief Joseph & the Flight of the Nez Perce”.

I’m halfway through the book and loving the book. I’m disappointed with the treatment of the Nez Perce, but your writing brings the events to life. Great job!

I hear this comment often from readers.  Many of the sites on the Nez Perce trail recommend my book as the one to read, because I wrote it as a ground level experience for the reader with a sympathy for all participants on all sides.  I wanted you to be there as the events unfolded, not watching from some historical perspective.

It took me four years to do that book, and it was the loneliest literary journey of my life.  But in many ways it was the most rewarding.  It reveals the shadow side of the journey of Lewis and Clark and offers a look into one of the most poignant stories of American expansion into the west.  It changed me forever.

It may not seem like a subject that intrigues you.  But I urge you to overcome your resistance.  The Nez Perce are a people quite unlike any other tribe you may have experienced.  And their story and the story of their tragic flight are at the core of our American historical narrative.

If you liked the way the story was told in Neither Wolf nor Dog, The Wolf at Twilight, and The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo, you will find Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce well worth your while.  I hope you will pick it up.

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