THE WRITING of ‘Through a Lens of Dark & Light’

The Story Behind the Story

This 23,000+ word story evolved from a writing challenge. What was planned as a short story to be called The Campfire based on a picture that was the runner-up to Union Station in one of my PICK- A-PICTURE-GET-A-STORY-WRITTEN contests. This photograph shows two teenage boys and a girl sitting in front of a campfire. I wondered who the girl was… and was she […]

The Center That Holds by Dennis Lowery


I answered the phone, and after the “Hi, how’re you doing,” he had started the conversation: “I believe many of these students have already formed the way they view life. If they don’t have basic honesty as part of who they are…” It was Tom Faught, one of my clients on the phone; he’d emailed me on what he would call about. “How will what I say have any meaning to them?”

Tom—who sadly passed away last year—was a veteran (a Marine) and Harvard-educated former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and university professor. He had also been the CEO of a global company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. His book focused on corporate ethics and integrity; core values that define the responsibility of business executives as stewards and leaders of companies: a comprehensive guide on how young executives can be ethical and still achieve success in their careers. That was the topic he’d been invited to speak on by a major college. His question—an excellent one—was something I’ve given thought to and written on. We talked and I gave him my perspective, which seemed to help for his speech. After hanging up, I continued to think and looked at my notes jotted as I talked to Tom. One was a quote I had recalled and put at the top of the sheet of paper:

 “Everything is figured out, except how to live,” attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre (1905—1980)

I’m a writer and that entails a strong inclination for introspection and thought—often on the ‘Why’ of things and to see the truth and sometimes perplexity of human behavior—on cause and effect. I’m in my late 50s now… an age which includes reflecting on life so far and the first tinge of wonder about how much of it is left. It’s sobering. So, I understand what Sartre meant.

I’m also a publisher who sees that often big-name biographies and memoirs—representing success—are testimonies to a celebrity without talent, wealth without earning it, positions of power and authority without knowledge and experience as the foundation for judgment (many of our political leaders are stellar examples). The hypocrisy of them is overwhelming. Many are pages and pages of that and the books sell because of their celebrity, notoriety or money to fuel a well-oiled hype machine. While other books and memoirs—much more valuable to the reader (and to our society and nation)—stay undiscovered. I’ll share here something about such a memoir from another of my clients. It’s an email from one reader of his book:

From: Mark Faulkner
To: Richard Neal


I just finished reading your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. More importantly than being easy to read and hard to put down, it is packed full of lessons for success in life and service. What I found most impressive in your writing style was that the lessons were not delivered in an “in your face” fashion with lessons as titles of chapters or words bolded or underlined. Rather, they were delivered as part of one of your many life experiences, which, in my humble opinion, made them even more relevant and digestible. I just told Col. Woodbridge that I think this is a book that needs to get in front of CMC [Commandant of the US Marine Corps] for his consideration to be added to his professional reading list. I think it would be beneficial to our Corps’ younger officers for a number of reasons (discussion of importance of family, courage (and fright) in combat, jointness, etc.).

Semper Fidelis,
William M. Faulkner
LtGen, USMC (Ret.)

I’ll pull things from that email to touch on because I see them as the cornerstones of life. The messages within Butch (Richard) Neal’s memoir are a direct reflection of who he is: no self-aggrandizing bullshit. Not a pretentious word or phrase. No ‘secrets of leadership’ hype; its straightforward lessons learned from experience. Its teaching leadership real-time by example. The thread throughout of what’s important: Family doesn’t need elaboration or explanation, we know the benefits of having family in our lives; when there are mutual respect and love… they’re our anchor. How earned and given loyalty makes for a sense of ‘family.’ Courage in the face of consequences (such as combat, when not all come out alive or unscathed)… that’s doing the right thing when it’s needed. It’s the innate fulfillment of responsibility and accountability, two things all should live by and expect of others. The precepts of jointness when different service (military) branches work together to support and fulfill specific missions. The working together to achieve a common goal (for the public good).

Why those are meaningful requires a slight digression. There is a line from W. B. Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’ (written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War), that has always fascinated (and concerned) me:

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold…”

I’ve never felt more than now, how important that warning is… how much I hope it’s not a near-century-old prophesy coming true.

I wrote the following years ago. One of the countless things (some in pieces, some sewn whole) that I’ve kept for the right time and place to use. Perhaps now is the time and this article is the place:

A husk. The thing that seems to surround nothing but space. That facade that everyone sees as being the substance.

A seed. That self-contained promise that if there’s soil… if it can get enough water and light… it will grow.

Then soil, water, and light work leading to what’s next.

A push. In two directions, first downward… feeling, then setting the roots of who you are, and strengthening them. Then upward… reaching for more light… more sky… more life.

When we—humans—come upon something like that in the forest do we wonder how it happens? It’s nature. Don’t question… just believe.

A whisper. A sound… an articulation of a word. Even if barely past your lips, it breaks the silence, more compelling than a shout. Sometimes the start of a conversation. Even if it’s just saying to yourself, “I am good and can fill any void… can grow and be strong. I am the center that holds.”

Don’t dismiss Butch’s book as a mere military memoir. It’s a story about a man—once a small-town boy—whose personal philosophy and belief, his sense of loyalty to the deserving, is a center that holds. What LtGen Faulkner mentioned and what I wrote above as cornerstones… are what can keep a person, even a nation, together.

I’m not naïve. There is no easy solution to the issues we face in life. Reading a memoir as good as Butch’s won’t solve problems. And what I’ve written here won’t be of much import to people stuck in their ways or are non-receptive, but it’s not for them. This and Butch’s memoir is for those who might read and realign their thinking and for those who agree with the message and do things in their own way to further the principle. I think that is who Butch hopes to reach, too. Especially those young officers in our military who bear such tremendous responsibilities and may become senior officers shaping policy at a national level.

Mostly, what I write here is for my children to read and think about what I try to teach them… to be a responsible person: to believe in the principles of family, courage, equality, and togetherness. Those go a long way—are perhaps the only way—to create a better life and build a better world. To answer Sartre, that’s how we should live… and to Yeats I’ll say, that is the center that holds.

What Now Lieutenant - front cover 10-6-2016

# # #

Richard ‘Butch’ Neal’s book is What Now, Lieutenant? Leadership Forged from Events in Vietnam, Desert Storm and Beyond. He is a retired 4-star general (USMC) and former Assistant Commandant of the US Marine Corps.

Dennis Lowery is a writer, ghostwriter, author and founder and president of Adducent, Inc. (established in 2000). Adducent is a creative company that provides writing, story and book development and publishing services. It assists individuals and organizations with their writing needs and finds, develops, writes, ghostwrites and publishes stories and books with compelling and positive messages that are entertaining, enlightening, informative and enjoyable to read. Adducent and its founder believe in Cause-Based™ stories and not just nonfiction, fiction stories work equally well—sometimes even better—to present a compelling message. Adducent works with clients internationally, and several have appeared on PBS NewsHour, 60 Minutes and MSNBC (not to mention other TV and radio shows nationally and in their local markets).


One thing I tell my daughters is that you have to take action to get what you want in life… but equally critical is how you respond to what’s happening, especially when things don’t go your way. And that’s perhaps the most important lesson to learn. Life, happiness, and self-respect, ultimately, come from what you […]

BOX SCORE by Jack Carpenter With Dennis Lowery



Order Now (click bookseller logo above)

BOX SCORE Cover ConceptAbout the Book

Ladies, it’s time to gear up. To step onto the pitcher’s mound or better yet, into the batter’s box in the game of relationship improvement.

BOX SCORE—What Husbands and Boyfriends Really Want is your turn with 10 ideas of how women can make their husbands and boyfriends happier.

WISHBOOK (front) by Jack Carpenter With Dennis Lowery

Available Now

In his debut title, WISHBOOK—What Wives and Girlfriends Really Want, author Jack Carpenter offered men 10 suggestions to improve their lives with their women, and a call to action. Game two of this double-header, BOX SCORE is the companion book for women. After you read it and make your 3 For 3 choices, your happiness with your man will significantly increase, guaranteed.

So, strap your cleats on, get your grip but be loose and be ready for a fast-paced and entertaining read. You’ll be glad you did. Hey batter, batter!

Click here to read about this book’s title and its AFTERWORD.

And if you want to follow my writing, click here.

The Sign of Fools & Sages

An Alpha & Beta Story

“How do you learn from Fools, dad?”
I turned the volume down (sorry, Steven Tyler). “Well,” I sat at the end of the table. “It’s important to pay attention to all kinds of people around you. But mostly those close to you that you might listen to or think you can learn from. You have to watch to see how they act and interact—what they say and do, especially the impression they give you. And then compare that to reality.”

The Sign of Fools and Sages - An Alpha and Beta Story from Dennis Lowery

The Sign of Fools & Sages (NONFICTION, FREE SHORT STORY)

‘Dream On’ started playing. I was at the kitchen counter making sandwiches.

“Do you like this song?” I asked my two youngest—twin—daughters. Alpha and Beta [not their real names] nodded at the same time; Beta with her spoon still in her mouth.

“Do you know the words?” Beta asked wiping milk from her chin.

“I do, it’s one of my favorite songs to sing.”

It’s a thing with me—to sing at times—especially as they eat breakfast while I make their lunches for school. It’s also good talk time (with topics ranging from silly to serious). We discuss school, what they’re studying, they ask me about stories I’m working on… and we talk about travel, places we’ve been and where we want to go. And I find ways to talk about life (often my stories are a good segue for that).

I had my Kindle Fire HDX, sitting on the kitchen table Bluetoothed to our home music system. [I really enjoy the rich sound from the speakers set in the high ceilings and bass thrum from the subwoofer on the floor in the corner.] We enjoy new music but do play a lot of oldies: 60s and 70s (era of my youth) mostly with some from the 50s to take it way, way, back. My twins are probably the only kids in their grade that know all the words to Zager & Evans ‘In The Year 2525.’ And a whole slew of songs from The Temptations (you should hear them sing ‘Ball of Confusion’), Johnny Rivers and Bad Company and other greats from back then. We were recently on a Styx kick, pre-Mr. Roboto songs).

I walked over and turned the Kindle so Alpha and Beta could see the lyrics scroll. A favorite line was coming up, and I sang along. “… live and learn from fools and from sages.” Beta stopped me with a question—I hate to stop when rolling—but it was a good one. The kind of question a parent needs to consider and answer thoughtfully.

“How do you learn from fools, dad?”

I turned the volume down (sorry, Steven Tyler). “Well,” I sat at the end of the table. “It’s important to pay attention to all kinds of people around you. But mostly those close to you that you might listen to or think you can learn from. You have to watch to see how they act and interact; what they say and do, especially the impression they give you. And then compare that to reality.”

Alpha’s bagel kicked up in the toaster. I got it for her and brought it and the not-really-butter spread she likes to the table. [I’m a butter believer so look down on such pretenders, but she loves it.] I explained what I meant. “Does what they say and do make sense.”

Alpha raised her hand and looked at Beta before speaking—it seems twins do that; I think its telepathy—and at the same time, they said, “Martin.” [Name changed to protect the not so innocent. I’ve heard tales about Martin; heaven help his parents.]

I nodded and continued. “You see, really odd and unusual people are easy to spot. You learn to avoid them and not take them seriously. But Fools can be hard to identify. They often sound like they know what they’re talking about.”

Alpha had not-really-buttered her fingers, and I handed her a napkin. She asked, “How can you tell?”

“If they tell you about things they can do… but they never do them. Or when they do, it never works out like they said and they always want to blame someone else… they never take responsibility. People like that and those full of excuses are not the ones you should listen to… chances are they are Fools or delusional.”

“Does delusional mean crazy?” Alpha asked.

“No.” Though in my mind I thought of people I’d met and known who seemed at odds with reality and could qualify as bughouse bizarre. “Not exactly. It means the world inside their head is not the same world normal, rational, people live in. No matter what reality shows them, they still believe in their own version of things. Stay far away from people like that… they’re Fools.”

Beta looked at me. “But Sages are wise; smart people. Right?”

Back at the counter gathering their lunch stuff, I sipped my coffee, nodding. “Supposed to be.” I took another drink.

I didn’t (don’t) want to make my daughters grow up paranoid or suspicious of things and people in the world, now and in the future. But I think it’s crucial to learn to not automatically place faith in anyone or anything because of a label, position, a title, or perception that they are an authority. And certainly not because the media covers them extensively. That does not confirm, nor is it evidence of, their value. My girls need to know to verify and validate that for themselves. I told them. “People who get things done and are right more times than wrong… who have real experience and produce actual results aligned with doing what’s right. People who when they talk, make sense and show intelligence and compassion… and you can match it to accomplishments and action. They are the ones worth listening to.”

I gave them the line again from the song. Yes, I sang it. “Live and learn from fools and from sages…” I want them to learn to acknowledge labels or reputations but—and this is a big but and I cannot lie—I want them to define people and assess situations based on their own relevant criteria. I continued. “Something to understand that’s important in life.” That’s not the first or hundredth time they’ve heard me say that. I got a bit of eye-roll from them but kept going. “You can learn from both types of people. The way to do that is judge by actions… results, and not words. Listen to what people say but… it’s more important to see what they do. If a person proves to be a Sage; an intelligent person with good, moral, ethical, judgment… then their words have weight.”

Beta raised her hand. “What does weight mean—you know—how you just said it?”

“It means to take them seriously and listen. They have value and merit attention.” I went to the pantry for napkins and came out with their allotment. [I tend to harp a bit on being wasteful… my ‘don’t use more than you really need’ thing. I know if they have five they’ll use five… if they have one… they know that’s it… and will use it wisely. On pudding or fruit cup days, they get an extra napkin. I’m not unsympathetic on this issue.] “But don’t give people’s words power over you. Only you can—rationally, logically and contextually—decide what’s right and wrong for you.”

Alpha poured more milk; adding some to Beta’s glass, too. “But what can you learn from fools?” She brought me back around to the original question.

“Simply, what not to do… and how not to be. We don’t live in a perfect world, and humans are imperfect, too. We all have flaws. The thing to do is to not just understand our own flaws but also see them in others because that can be a factor in gauging the value of what they’re telling you and more importantly any advice they give you.” I put a drink-box, chocolate milk today, snack bag of carrots, fudge brownie and their sandwiches (Alpha’s turkey with mayonnaise and Beta’s peanut butter—not spread too thick—with grape jelly) into their lunch bags.

I made my ‘wind it up’ motion, twirling my index finger and hand clockwise to speed them up; an eat-your-cereal signal. “So, Fools can talk a lot and have very little, if anything, worth listening to. Sages may not say much but when they do… you listen. And the most important thing is to think about what they say and decide what it means to you. That’s called giving it context.”

It was time to finish so they could read a while before walking to the bus stop. They brought their bowls to the sink. Murphy—our Irish Terrier, my only boy—had discovered a couple of Cheerios under Alpha’s chair and was underfoot exploring for more. While they wiped down the kitchen table and counters, another song came to mind; another favorite of mine. I switched my Kindle from Pandora to my music library; found ‘Simple Man’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd and pressed play. It got to the line I wanted before they finished cleaning up. I put my hand on their shoulders, and they looked up at me. I sang a slightly changed version of a line from that song:

“Your father’s telling you… while you’re young. Come sit beside me my lovely ones. And listen closely to what I say. If you do this… It will help you in many ways.”

They smiled at me—used to this sort of thing—and gave me a hug. As they headed to their bathroom to brush teeth and hair, I told them, “We’ll talk more about this….”

And we will….

Follow my writing here.


Dream On – Aerosmith

In The Year 2525 – Zager and Evans

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations

Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrad

They made a rhythmic click-clack sound

[You’ll need to watch the video below or be familiar with the novel or movie, The Caine Mutiny for this to make sense, or be humorous, to you.]

We were at sea and I went from the Combat Information Center to the ship’s bridge to match nav fixes with the Quartermaster’s chart. Done with that little bit of duty I walked over to the Captain who was also on the bridge at the time. I didn’t say anything as I stood there next to him. He was tall, about 6′ 4.” He glanced down at me.

“Lowery…” he nodded his head.

“Cap’n…” I nodded back.

We looked out on the Persian Gulf. We’d just transited the Straits of Hormuz. I reached into my pocket and took out two ball bearings I kept handy for the right occasion. I began to roll them in my hand. They made a rhythmic click-clack sound. He didn’t turn to me but I felt him stiffen. Neither of us looked at each other. I knew it was coming.

“Lowery, get off of my bridge…”

“Aye aye, sir.”

Along with the sunshine…

I remember when this song was a hit and coming into or leaving the house, seeing mom in the kitchen. Often cooking and cleaning, but sometimes she was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and the ever-present cigarette trickling smoke—pooling with vestiges from those that came before—that climbed and formed a cloud […]

You Sure You’re a White Boy from Arkansas? [M]

Rated Mature for Some Language

Around the first of August 1978, at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I got into a bit of trouble. Not quite two weeks in the Navy and the shock of it—bootcamp—had begun to turn into routine. Which meant you finally looked up and around —stopped thinking maybe you made a mistake—to interact […]