Downhill Skiing and Writing: A Match Made in Heaven.

It’s me, Ollie. And James is back from skiing in Utah. I’m so excited. I missed him so much. How much, you ask? Well, we have a huge (no, I’m not related to “the Donald”) yard, and when I say huge I mean huge – more acres (hectares to some) than you can imagine. I missed James more than that!

Skygate Farm

He picked me up today from the kennel, and as soon as we got home we went for a nice long walk. Of course, I was super tired from having been with all my friends, playing until the wee hours. (Truth be told, we play all night, but don’t let the humans know.) So I tagged along and listened to what James had to say. (He talks a lot when we walk – well, he walks and I run around.) He told me all about his ski trip.

Now I won’t bore you with the details. Not that I was bored with anything James had to say. (Oh, that one got me a treat.) All I’ll say is he had a great time with John & Kathy & Ellie & Elodie & Nick & Jeanie & Rhonda & Squid. (I know, I thought a squid was found in the ocean and not on a ski slope – go figure.) Now, you might be asking, why am I bringing up his skiing trip if I’m not going to talk about it? Because it was the things he’s learned from skiing that I thought you might find interesting.

First day lesson at Park City (Patrick, Kathy, James, John) [Photographer unknown]
The first and foremost thing James learned on the initial day he put ski boots on his feet and slipped those boots into the ski bindings was to take a lesson. Actually, James said he took a lesson every day during the first couple of years he skied. That’s a lot of lessons. And he took a lesson on his first day in Utah. And learning one’s craft – the rules of writing – is critical to being a writer. You need to know the rules in order to break them successfully. Some may say there are no rules, especially with poetry, but there are.

Another thing to remember when skiing, as well as when writing, is that you are never as good as you’d like to be. The blowhards on the slopes are fools who don’t know their limits. When writing, the first draft is rarely, if ever, good enough. It’s the multitude of edits that make for good writing. Think of it as practice. James says there’s an old adage, Practice Makes Perfect. But perfection is only in the mind, yet striving for it makes you better at both skiing and writing.

James showing no fear before skiing an avalanche hazard area at Deer Valley [Photographer John Rist]
A critical thing James told me he learned years ago (I didn’t ask how many – darn, no treat) was to not be afraid of the mountain. An early ski instructor told him he looked like he was scared of the mountain. Instead of being scared, James was told to attack the mountain. As such, James doesn’t let fear prevent him from stepping into the bindings of his skis, or from putting the first word on the page. Just as the degree of incline shouldn’t prevent you from trying to ski down, don’t let the length of a novel put you off starting one. And if you are sick or injured, don’t let being sidelined from skiing prevent you from writing. James wrote the first draft of his three-act play, Charades, one winter while at Utah when he couldn’t ski.

Version 2
Rhonda, Scott, Ellie, Squid, Nick, John, Kathy at Deer Valley

The best part of skiing, and writing, is the friends you’ll make along the way. James says he’s so lucky that his friend Phil introduced him to skiing and to the Kathy’s House Maddog Ski Team. And this past Oct Platform Challenge through Writer’s Digest brought him in touch with a wonderful group of writers. James feels so fortunate to know both of these groups and to call them his friends.

Photo credit: mullerb via / CC BY-NC-SA

In terms of how skiing has helped James with his writing, he showed me a clean sheet of paper. He asked me what I saw. I told him a clean sheet of paper. (Duh!) James said he saw a ski slope on which no one has yet to leave tracks, and he’ll be the first to have the enjoyment of skiing through all that powder. (I wasn’t sure if I should be worried about him. What, no treat?) James went on to say that the process of editing, which is critical to being successful, as mentioned above, was the crisscrossing of the tracks already laid down. And then it all comes together.

The act of skiing also clears James’ head. By clearing it, he can see how a story or poem or novel or play on which he’s working could come together in a more meaningful manner. As such, when he gets in front of his keyboard, the words and plots and characters come alive. All of this, James told me, is because he has been invigorated to begin new journeys, travel new paths, seek new answers. At this point, James was all but dancing on the snow during our walk as he told me skiing has given him the confidence to be a writer, reaching heights he would have once been afraid to scale.

Version 2
James on high [Photographer John Rist]
Speaking of heights, the way James was acting, I thought he might be high. When I asked him if he was, he told me he’s never been so high. Skiing and writing have allowed him to enter a world all of his own. From the exhilarating physical exercise he’s invigorated to scale new heights, to challenge himself to be better. James told me that it’s a high you can’t get anywhere else. (Except from being with yours truly – I’m sure that is what James meant to add. And a treat comes my way. Yea!)

Let me know if you, too, have found something like skiing that has made you better at what you do. I always like hearing from you in the comments on my site.

Until next week,
Short Stories - Author Webpage Help Needed
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)

Paw Prints courtesy of
All photos © James Stack 2016 (unless otherwise specified)

Six Delightful Facts About Dogs and Why Children Benefit Being Raised With One

[Hi. This is Ollie. I’m on holiday this week, and DMG Byrnes has graciously agreed to step up with some reading pleasure for your enjoyment. Without further ado….]

Dogs are awesome! The day I was brought home as a baby, I was introduced to what would become two of my best friends: Baron, a rather large and solid German Shepherd,

me and baron

and Haley, a loyal and much smaller Golden Retriever.

me and haley

I feel sorry for the souls that are allergic to dogs because truly, they can be one of the dearest friends you will ever have (which is true of any pet or animal to which you’ve grown attached), but growing up with dogs (and pets in general) can teach you a lot. Here are 6 wonderful things about dogs that show why children can benefit from being raised with one.

  1. Responsibility

How many of your parents told you that you couldn’t have a pet until you proved you were responsible enough to have one? While I completely agree with and understand this reasoning, one thing to point out is if your child is raised with a dog (or almost any pet), where they not only watch you caring for the puppyface, the fact is that they can be taught this responsibility as they grow, especially when they’re old enough to help with the duties (chores) that are involved with having a dog, including fresh food and water, love and attention, training, etc.

  1. Empathy

Part of teaching a child responsibility involves explaining why something does or doesn’t need to be done to take care of a puppyface; for instance making sure a dog has fresh water, especially since they aren’t able to use words to let us know when this becomes an immediate need. Teaching a child that understands their own thirst that everyone else, including your family friend on four legs, gets thirsty too can go a long way in exposing a child to understanding and experiencing empathy (reading is also fabulous for this, but we’ll focus on the furry helpers).

  1. Companionship

There is much that a human relationship can give you, yet there are some things reserved for the companionship that come from having a dog. One lesson I vividly remember learning was that a dog would never revoke their friendship, while people could and did, often on whims. Dogs do not judge and are examples of the level of acceptance we should have for others. Having grown up with dogs, I can say that my dearest human friends have the capacity of companionship I’ve seen mostly in dogs, with love and acceptance and the absence of judgement.

  1. Loyalty

I don’t know many creatures (including humans) that could exemplify loyalty the way a dog does, the two words are practically synonymous. A dog that loves you will do anything for you. Even the meekest seeming dogs have been known to show extraordinary courage and loyalty for the sake of their family on two legs, or more. You can Google for hours and find video after video of dogs saving humans and other animals, from people, cars, fires, poisons, seizures, and more. I, personally, learned much from having a dog, as well as watching many dog story inspired true movies, one that comes to mind that I grew up with was Chips the War Dog, excellent movie….excuse me. Need to go watch it now.

  1. Protective

A dog that is loyal to you is a dog that will do anything to protect you, no matter the cost to themselves. Again, you can easily Google this and find countless stories of dogs risking their lives, or ultimately dying in the attempt or actual rescue of humans or other animals. The second German Shepard I had in my life was named Emma, but we also called her Emma Jean. We used to think she was all bark and no bite, till one night the wind blew open an improperly shut garage door and Emma was at the door, hair on her back raised, snarling with her teeth bared, ready to attack anything at the door that may hurt us as we were eating at the kitchen table. We used to joke that this was the last thing a burglar would ever see.

Version 4

I felt safer growing up knowing that we had dogs, and ones that loved us enough to be there if my family or I were in danger.

  1. Love

Dogs are amazing in their capacity and ability to love. They remember humans they haven’t seen in years and greet them with special exuberance (look at any soldier that’s been greeted by a beloved puppyface upon their return, it’ll make your heart melt). They practically explode with their joy and the strength of their love, which is shown over and over again by the other reasons on this list. If only people could have the same capacity to love so blindly as dogs, yet could also be such discerning judges of character, the world would be a very different place. This is Evee.

Version 3

She is a beautiful example of this. Evee was such an intelligent and loving puppyface, and she had a special love for kids, which is also why she was called Nana Evee (think Nana from Peter Pan).

My childhood and my life would have been very different without each of the dogs I have known, loved, and been loved by so far. I miss having one and look forward to a time when I can once again have a four-legged companion to snuggle and spoil.

If you had a dog growing up, what was (were) it’s (their) names? Let us know in the comments section of this blog.

And a special Thank You to Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm, who we call Ollie, for allowing me to be his guest while he is on holiday.

Version 2

DMG Byrnes is an author with a reading addiction. She blogs every Wednesday at and also reviews books. Currently she’s working on short stories, poems, articles, and publishing her novel entitled The Foretelling Spark.

You may stay in touch with DMG Byrnes by following her:
Twitter: @amalgamology

How to Set Stress Free Goals in the New Year.

It’s the second day of the New Year, and if you haven’t made any resolutions, don’t bother. Hi, it’s me, Ollie, James’ Old English Sheepdog.

That’s right. Resolutions were made to be broken, or so James told me while we were out walking this morning. He told me that he made a couple of them. One resolution was to walk an extra 10 minutes with me each morning. We already walk (Well, James walks while I run around having the best time.) for at least half an hour, even in the bitter cold. I have no idea how James even keeps track of how long we’re out there. It’s all fun and games for me, except when it rains, and then we’re only out there until I do my business. (What business is that, you ask? TMI – simply know that I take my time like most males.)

Well, the past two mornings James wasn’t able to keep his resolution, so he told me making them was fruitless. (I like some fruits, like apples, yum!) He advised me to take a look at his desk, and how messy it is. A second resolution he made was to clean up the mess surrounding his work area. (I’ll let you in on a little secret. James’ work area looks better than the rest of his study – believe me. He has a sofa no one can sit on it’s so full of papers and stuff.) He took one look at it, then he looked at me and said, “I give up.” Then he did nothing. Two down.


I asked what his third resolution was since he implied he had made more than two. James looked at me like I had the face of a cat, and said, “Set realistic goals for the year.” When I asked if he had done that yet, he said he was still working on it. And here is where he said he had learned something during the time of BO (Before Ollie). Always begin by stating that all goals are fluid and subject to change. So when I asked what goals had to do with the pond (fluid) and my fur/hair (change), he said you never know how deep a pond is and you never know what color a puppy Sheepdog’s hair will turn. As such, all goals have to be subject to change and revision as the year progresses. Nothing is written in stone.


So I pondered all this before asking James if this meant that goals, like resolutions, were meant to be broken. He didn’t hesitate in saying that goals are different from resolutions in that goals are things you set for yourself to achieve because your heart is in them, while resolutions are things you would like to make happen, but if you don’t stick to them, well, your heart won’t get broken. They both require motivation if you want to stick to them, but the big difference is goals, if set properly, are achievable, while resolutions are nice to have but not necessary. For instance, it would be nice to take a longer walk each morning, but not required. Whereas if it had been a goal, as the warmer weather starts creeping in, we will begin to take longer walks. A goal is something you strive to work towards, like sending out query letters (James says these are letters sent to agents to hopefully get them interested in your writing), which you must do if you are going to take the traditional route of publishing.

I told James it sounded complicated, and he agreed. However, he did say that each goal must be measurable in order to gauge whether or not you have achieved it. He told me measuring them is like how many times he has to say “drop the ball” before I drop it and get a treat (only once if he has the treat ready – I keep telling him that). So, taking the query letter idea from above, James said he would set a goal of sending out one query letter a week during 2016. If he misses a week, he may send two letters the following week so that he has sent at least 52 letters by the end of the year, unless he lands an agent earlier. (Oh, that made me twitch my bobtail and put my head on his arm – I love James.)


And that’s how to take the stress out of setting goals – you can revise and amend as the year merrily rolls along so as not to get upset when things don’t go exactly as you might have wanted. This makes a lot of sense to me. But I’ll have to believe James when it comes to the difference between resolutions and goals, and things like that. Resolutions are made to be broken and goals are made to be updated.

Let me know if you made resolutions you plan on keeping – and what they were. If you want to share a goal or two, I’m all ears. (Well, not like Basset Hounds, but I think you know what I mean.). I always like hearing from you in the comments on my site.

Until next week,
Short Stories - Author Webpage Help Needed
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)

Paw Prints courtesy of
All photos © James Stack 2016