Get a Group

Frequently mentioned in articles, lectures, and informal conversations with successful writers is their early association with a writers’ critique group. Well functioning associations encourage their members, offer different perspectives, pass along knowledge about craft and marketing, nurse their folks through periods of writer’s block, and celebrate publishing and contest victories.
In my own case, the Burlington Society of Great River Poets fostered my desire and need to write. Their feedback improved my poetry skills, and their guidance and encouragement allowed me to self-publish my first book of poetry. The book has since won silver medal awards from two national veterans’ organizations. Other writers’ groups I have attended have been consistently supportive and nurturing. One thing I did have to learn: sometimes their critiques contained constructive comments about my work that I was not happy to hear, but those were the very things I needed to hear. Listening carefully and considering all suggestions much improved my writing.
Some groups are also literary powerhouses. In addition to promoting their members, they open the literary world to their communities. Through grants or self-financing visiting poets are scheduled, readings held, workshops and retreats offered, and programs presented to school and civic organizations. Many publish periodic collections of their member’s works.
If you are not already a member consider trying a group near you, the benefits are immense.

The Monitor

Posted by on Jul 27, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments


Extract from the third story of Free Fire Zone entitled “A Chat with Uncle Ho.”

An old man was hunkered down in soft ashes and smoke, as still and quiet as could be. He wore one of those funny-shaped rice straw hats and a rain cape made the same. He was lucky, the drops was fallin’ like a mother’s hard tears. Splattin’ and making the embers hiss, they probably kept him from bein’ fried. Feathers of ragged smoke from the fires drifted across his wrinkled skin, coatin’ him with oil that smelt like burnt pig. His wispy beard and mustache were blackened and clotted.


Free Fire Zone, a book of seventeen linked short stories by Dennis Maulsby, published by Prolific Press. An extract from each of the stories will be posted, one a day. Lieutenant Teiglar struggles with multiple personality disorder — a berserker reptilian persona released in Vietnam attempts to become dominate.

Free Fire Zone extract The Ambush

Posted by on Jul 26, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Free Fire Zone, a book of seventeen linked short stories by Dennis Maulsby, published by Prolific Press. An extract from each of the stories will be posted, one a day. Lieutenant Teiglar struggles with multiple personality disorder — a berserker reptilian persona released in Vietnam attempts to become dominate.

Extract from the second story entitled “The Ambush.”

The monsoon rain beat at the men. Great gray pillars of rain stomped over every-thing. The triple canopy jungle surrounding the patrol never got dry. Water trickled off millions of exposed plant surfaces to make background noise unique to the season and place. One could hear the percussion of drops landing on leaves like a thousand brushed snare drums. Water fell on the top foliage, then dripped downward from leaf to leaf accumulating until one heard the thrup, thrup, thrup of rivulets slapping the spongy jungle floor. Flesh could take the constant soaking, but standard issue leather boots rotted out after three months.
So far, it had been one of those usual patrols; no sign of the enemy. A man took a pungee stick in his calf from a pit trap. Two others hauled him back, reducing the group to nine. The remaining men dealt with the damp misery by focusing on family, girlfriends, or the chance the next mail call would bring something good. Everyone drifted off in his own little world, lulled by the drumming, drumming, drumming of the rain. The dreams were better than reality but not being alert in the here-and-now could get you killed.

Free Fire Zone extract

Posted by on Jul 25, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Free Fire Zone, a book of seventeen linked short stories by Dennis Maulsby, published by Prolific Press.

In Vietnam, free fire zones were enemy territory, where killing and chaos could be hourly events, and survival was achieved by surrendering to one’s most primitive instincts. Rod Teigler, a Midwest farm boy, finds himself in the zones courtesy of Uncle Sam. His ability to stay alive becomes dependent upon a second personality — a persona, rising out of the ancient reptilian portion of the human brain — that millions-of-years old ancestor who decides when to fight and when to run. During the fighting in Southeast Asia, this old berserk one surfaces to keep them alive. With each manifestation, it becomes stronger and more independent. Lieutenant Teigler will bring back home two distinct personalities. Will they learn to co-exist?

Extract from the first story entitled “Free Fire Zone”

It was black. It was blacker than black — not just the absence of light, a blackness of sound, a blackness of mind and soul…. It crept in, as it always did, after the rocket attacks in those hours of the morning that one wanted to believe were inviolate. It grew so thick that the pulse of its organs could be felt against the skin. The blackness filled every surface and irregularity. The slow tide would crest the earth berm, leak through and around the sandbagged bunkers to touch booted feet, and then rise to groins and chests. It filled the barrels of rifles and pressed cloth and hair against flesh, pushed out the air as it entered pores, noses, and ears, until its acid velvet was all there was.

Reading List

Posted by on Jul 17, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments


The Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) has selected Near Death/Near Life, a book of poetry by Dennis Maulsby as one of ten published works to make their Summer 2016 recommended reading list.

MWSA is an organization of hundreds of writers, poets, and artists drawn together by a common bond of military service. Rapid growth since its establishment in 1998 makes it currently the world’s largest military genre writer’s organization.

Dennis Maulsby is a retired bank president living in Ames, Iowa. His poems and short stories have appeared in literary magazines and on National Public Radio’s Themes & Variations. Prolific Press released his third book of poetry, Near Death/Near Life, May 30, 2015.

Amtrak Dream

Posted by on Jan 9, 2016 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Amtrak Dream
(An extract from the unpublished novel The House de Gracie.)

The train jiggled on its suspension as it ran over a curved section of track. Hugh opened his eyes — the Hudson River glided by. He was on his way home to up state New York after receiving a disability discharge from the Army. His route had included Germany to New York via C-130, taxi to Grand Central Station, and now, the last leg by train. All modes of travel had allowed little chance for peaceful sleep. On top of it all, Hugh was still plagued by a virus caught in Afghanistan — generating alternating bouts of fever and chills.
The clickey-clack of the train, a man’s baritone rumble across the aisle, and his fever put him to sleep. Hugh drifted off into a resurrected memory. He was on patrol with Sergeant Murphy. The pair drove a Humvee, the fifth and last vehicle of the convoy taking supplies to an outlying Afghan patrol base. They passed time telling each other riddles. Known as Riddler, Murphy could spew forth an inexhaustible supply, especially dirty ones.
“What’s a mixed feeling? The three-striper asked. The answer: seeing your mother-in-law backing off a cliff in your new car.
Hugh gave her one: “What is the definition of Macho?” The answer: jogging home after a vasectomy.
“What is the difference between oooooh and aaaaah?” The sergeant inquired.
After a respectable silence, Hugh said, “I give up.”
“About three inches.” came the laughing response.
An IED exploded on the lonely stretch of road flipping the lead vehicle onto the roadside. Its fuel tank ignited with a bang. He bailed out of the Humvee, Beretta in hand. A 7.62 round from a Dragunov sniper rifle struck him smack in the middle of his chest. The impact slammed him into the hood of the Humvee.   He dropped to his knees. The pistol fell onto the red-brown earth of the roadbed.
Murphy ran over. She started dragging him to cover. A second round caught the sergeant in the unprotected area below the armpit. The slug tumbled through both her lungs exiting on the other side.      Face in the gravel and dirt, Hugh heard the bass chug-chug-chug of the Ma deuce fifties and the tenor chatter of the M-240’s mounted on the remaining vehicles establish fire superiority. Three minutes later, the action ended. A woof of wind blew around the vehicles, sucked up fine particles of dust to mix with black ash and the odors of burnt pork and cordite.
The ceramic plate in Hugh’s armored vest had saved his life. Other than temporarily knocking the wits out of him and a saucer-sized bruise there was no damage. He rode back to base holding Murphy, keeping pressure on the bandages while bloody foam bubbled out of her chest. They failed to find the killers, the Dragunov rifle with its PSO-1 telescopic sight could hit accurately from 800 meters.
Hugh woke, the deep tearing vacuum of her loss in his heart, with the train taking on passengers at the Albany station.

The End

A book of Estimable Value

Posted by on Oct 14, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

When I graduated high school, I promised myself I would never write another book report. Well, like most vows and New Year’s resolutions, there comes a reckoning.
I must pass on to you the excellent book by Noah Lukeman: A Dash of Style , W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2006. Lukeman is an author and a literary agent (Lukeman Literary Management, LTD), who shares his knowledge of punctuation as creative writing tools. Using simple, conversational language, the author describes how clarity and enhanced style can result from understanding how masters of writing such as Poe, Melville, Hemingway, and others used punctuation. Along with the major marks (period, comma, semicolon, colon, quotation marks, dash, and parentheses), he discusses little-scrutinized tools such as short sentences versus long sentences and paragraph and section breaks, including comments for poets on line breaks.
If you have been looking for a way to clear up confusion over punctuation, this is the book. Especially helpful is his perspective. He is a literary agent, who has read hundreds of manuscripts. His insight and advice may help your writing get by that first critical read by editors and agents. The book can be found at your local library or at Amazon at varying prices.

“A Perfect Unwonder”

Posted by on Aug 29, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

In a September 22, 2014 article in the Ames Tribune, David L. Ulin of the Los Angeles Times quoted from a Shane Salerno and David Shields biography of J.D. Salinger:

“It just seems to me a perfect unwonder, that writing’s almost never terrific fun. If it’s not the hardest of the arts — I think it is — it’s surely the most unnatural, and therefore the most wearying. So unreliable, so uncertain. Our instrument is a blank sheet of paper — no strings, no frets, no keys, no reed, mouthpiece, nothing to do with the body whatever — God, the unnaturalness of it. Always waiting for birth, every time we sit down to work.”

In this quote, Salinger speaks to poets and writers of all stripes. He has captured the essence of our discipline, and its difficulty. The next time you sweat over a poem or a piece of prose remember even the most successful authors share your struggle.

Before the Haiku

Posted by on Aug 6, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The direct ancestor of the haiku is generally considered to be the tanka. Also known as the waka, the poem’s early structure was influenced by Uta, Japanese songs to the gods. A favorite of the Imperial court for over 1,300 years, twenty-one anthologies of tankas survive, compiled between 905 and 1433. This record of publication has preserved more tanka over a longer period than any other poetry form worldwide. The first of the court anthologies is the Kokinsu, A Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems (ca. 905) and may be found at your local library, if not on the shelves, through interlibrary loan, or can be purchased at various sites on the Internet.
Adapted into American form the traditional tanka consists of five lines in a 5,7,5,7,7 pattern (thirty-one or fewer syllables). Example:

Since I have loved you
I compare my former thoughts
to those I have now,
and realize that I then
had no ideas at all.

Atsutada, 10th century. tr. Frances Stillman

The form is untitled and unrhymed, and like much other poetry, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, and occasional repetition may be used. In Medieval Japan, tankas were routinely exchanged between lovers. One partner would send the first three lines to the other printed on a fan or on paper knotted around a flower, the last two lines to be completed by the recipient and returned.
Write some tanka, you may find a use for the form.

A performance Art

Posted by on Jul 30, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Our overwhelming exposure to poetry is from the printed page. However, the art of poetry predates the manufacture of paper and writing. The story of Gilgamesh, over 4,500 years old, circulated in oral form for many centuries before someone impressed its words on cuneiform tablets. We know The Iliad and The Odyssey were recited by storytellers from memory, before a conclave of scholars gathered to compare versions and write down a final adaptation.
Poetry in our long and ancient history was performed more than read. I am sure not more than fifteen minutes after language was invented, some one of our long-ago ancestors grunted out the first poem to the delight and amazement of his/her companions. Minstrels and jongleurs or equivalent singers of tales carried on the verbal tradition among populations that could not read. Only recently, have we been limited to printed versions of poetry that lack the rhythm, intonation, and fire of the author. We cannot savor the poem in the way they dreamed it.
So, gather your courage, practice in front of the mirror. Join in a group reading, or go solo at an open mic. Let’s go back to our poetical roots, be missionaries for the craft.

Frozen Chosin

Posted by on Apr 7, 2015 in Poems, Prose | 7 comments

This book is available for free download. I await comments on this prose.