Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Darrell James

I like learning new things. In fact, I’ve always thrilled to it. As an adolescent, I would spend much of my time, not on the playground (although there was plenty of that also), but on some excursion into the unknown in search of something new to learn.

I recall (at the age of eight) attending railroading classes at Cincinnati’s Union Terminal. It was a special learning series, just for kids. The seminars were held once a week, on Saturday mornings, and ran throughout the summer. I went alone (my parents trusted me). It took three buses to get me there, leaving early-morning from my small town of Crescent Springs, Kentucky. I had always been fascinated by trains and wanted to know more about them.

I learned a lot that summer, much of which I still retain. But the big pay-off (the real learning) came on the last day of class when we actually got to take a train ride. The trip was only about fifty miles round trip. But…Wow!... eight-years-old, on my own and riding the rails, feeling the rumble of the wheels beneath my feet, and feeling on top of the world!

On another summer, I took the same buses to attend a series of summer long, children’s theatre productions. The costuming, the lighting, the amplified sounds… not to mention the fairytale storytelling… filled me with delight. Live theatre still does that to me.

A lot of time has transpired since those childhood days, but my love of learning has never diminished. I’ve accumulated degrees in both Engineering and Business Administration (mostly for something new to learn). I’ve learned to play a number of musical instruments. And I’ve taken classes in acting, as well as writing and screenwriting. For something else new, I spent the past six months teaching myself HTML. I now build websites in addition to writing the next book. (You can see my handiwork at: http://www.darrelljames.com/ )

Did I mention I read a lot to learn?

I know I’m not alone in this regard. I have been on several author panels in the last year, speaking to senior groups whose programs are geared toward “learning for life”. (Exploritas is one such.) The audiences at these programs are among the most inquisitive and intuitive I’ve run across. And nearly all are avid readers.

When it comes to writing fiction, I go somewhat against the common wisdom of “write what you know.” Instead, I search for ideas that first teach me something I don’t know. And it’s my hope, that when readers read my work, many will come away feeling they’ve experienced something new, as well.

What about you? As a reader or a writer, what were some of your earliest learning experiences? Do you still have a lust for learning?

Darrell has had close to thirty short stories published in various mystery magazines and book anthologies. His debut novel, Nazareth Child, is forthcoming from Midnight Ink in September. It is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.


Beth Groundwater said...

Oh yeah, I still have a lust for learning--and adventure. That's one of the things I most enjoy about writing mystery novels: the research that goes into them. I've learned how to fire a semi-automatic, how to shoe a horse, how to snowshoe, and how to get a pinned raft off a rock in the middle of a whitewater river, among many other things, in the pursuit of my fiction.

Robin Allen said...

What a sweet story about your railroad adventure, Darrell. That sounds like something I would want to do now.

Beth, a semi-automatic? I thought you wrote cozies...

I love to learn and I love talking to people who are intellectually curious about the world. I haven't been out of my comfort zone lately, so thanks for the reminder.


Terri Bischoff said...

Man, I wish I were as cool as Darrell!!

Beth - Jessie Chandler said she would teach me to shoot a gun. I think she has a glock. Very cool!

Alan Orloff said...

I find that as I get older, I still like to learn things, but I'm much more selective in what I'm trying to learn. And I usually start with a book or two in my pursuit (thank goodness for the Dummies line of books!). I'm looking forward to learning a thing or two about charismatic cult leaders in NAZARETH CHILD!

Kathleen Ernst said...

I'm a big fan of "know what you write." I also love to plunge into new things while developing stories. One of the definite perks of being a writer!

Keith Raffel said...

Eartha Kitt said, "I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."

Darrell James said...

Beth- you're another adveturer afet my own heart.

Robin- I still love trains. There's something about looking down a lonely set of railroad track tthat inspires imagination.

Terri- You're already "just the collest ever!"

Alan- I depend on Books for Dummies. It's where all us self taught gurus go.

Kathleen- The reseach part of the job really is the most fun (well, a close second to telling the story).

Keith- I'm hoping to put off graduation for a long time.

Alice Loweecey said...

For my books, I've learned how to pick locks, how to play cello, how to shook a Glock (loud!), fishing, archery--and I've tapped into lits of espteric things I've learned over the years. I love learning new bits of information for my books.