How I Became a Writer of True Stories
(Instead of a Famous Author of Fiction)

Richard Franklin Bishop

© Copyright 2017 by Richard Franklin  Bishop

Photo of a writer working at a computer.

Many people set out early to be something special in life - some children already know what they want to be at an very young age. . . saying: “I want to be a Policeman when I grow up !” I had no such aspirations and drifted along for years with my juvenile peers who showed the same lack of career focus. For me, later in High School and College, it was: “I’d like to become an airplane Pilot.” But the eyes would not have it - not as a Profession. And so, my career plan which had taken so long to articulate became a little Zig-zag.

Then I joined the Military (the U.S. Air Force) on 6 September 1950 while the Korean War was in progress. Wearing glasses, I still had no desire to create text by the bushels. It wasn’t until I was assigned the task of writing changes to an Accounting and Finance operating manual and the responsibility for keeping it current with “updates” that I seriously began honing my writing skills. This journeyman apprenticeship lasted about five years. Then, as an Accounting and Finance Officer, I wrote and edited changes to another operating manual entitled: The Airlift Service Industrial Fund, thereby keeping it up to date. This went on and off part-time for the next 20 years until my retirement from the Military in 1976. In case you could get the idea that I did nothing else while in the Military, I invite you to read my seven archived true stories in “My Military Life Series”: Story Numbers 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, & 38.

But the seasoning had set-in early-on. I had become a great fan of true adventure tales in the form of short stories. The leading Magazines such as Argosy, Blue Book, Collier’s, Saga and True held me in their grasp. Their Authors of note were my mentors. I said, many times: “I must try to write like Paul Gallico, Ray Bradbury, Erskine Caldwell or Robert Ruark”. But Fiction escaped me in my mature writing - I could not write dialog. I would rather try to describe the events of D-Day, the 6th of June, than to create dialog for a room full of people.

So it went. Me trying to spice-up my dry Dictionary style (that I had acquired from writing Military operating manuals — that were akin to Encyclopedias) with something exciting and stimulating to the reader in a non-fictional setting. Then out of nowhere, a Hero appeared. In a library, I read:

Pipeline To Battle, London, William Heinemann, Ltd., 1944. This book was about the Military experiences of the Author during WW II. He began his commissioned service at age 50+ as “the oldest Subaltern (2nd Lt.) in the British Army” and achieved the rank of Major while serving in the Royal Engineers with the British Eighth Army in Africa. Still available from

He was not a trained writer or editor or famed Author “of a hundred books”, but was a self-taught, aspiring Author whose style was tempered by his adventurous “Indiana Jones” life-style from *1890 to †1945. His name was PETER WILLIAM RAINIER, a South African, and he had written four books before I was old enough to notice them (in 1945) at the age of 14 ½. I was so enthralled that later I purchased all (4) books at different times in tattered condition (because they were bought from United Kingdom [UK] bookstores specializing in vintage or used “out-of-print” books). The other three are listed here:

P.W. Rainier, American Hazard, London, The Travel Book Club, 1943. This is about his coal and gold mining experiences in the U.S.A. between the two World Wars. Still available from

Peter W. Rainier, Green Fire, New York, A Bantam Giant Book (a PAPERBACK reprint), 1953 (first published @ New York, by Random House, Inc., 1942). This is about his experiences as the Manager of two Emerald mines and as an Official Consulting Mining Engineer in Columbia, South America, shortly before WW II. It also became a Movie with top stars Stewart Granger & Grace Kelly. Still available from

Major Peter W. Rainier, My Vanished Africa, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1940. This is about his formative years, serving as a Cavalry Trooper, operating as a Big-Game Hunter and his adventures in mining with giant Gold and Tin dredges during WW I. Still available from

Over the years, I first read them in the above order. And read and re-read them. By the 1960s, I was already a big fan of Archaeology and the following quoted passage really bowled me over when I finally, at last, stumbled across and read My Vanished Africa:

I knew all about that dredge. It was to be built on the Revue River flats, where the ancient working showed pock-marked when the sun was low -- made by some forgotten race which had built Zimbabwe and a chain of other settlements, now ruined, from Sofala on the coast right along the gold belt to the edge of the Kalahari desert, a thousand miles inland.”

But here on the Revue the ground had been worked out to water level, although from there to bedrock it had proved up rich. It was water which had beaten those ancient miners. Subjects of Hiram, King of Tyre -- so said the archaeologists. If that was true, the Mozambique and Rhodesian gold belts were the Ophir of the Bible. If the wisdom of Solomon had been equal to evolving a pump, the Rhodesian and Mozambique gold field would not exist today (1912), because practically every modern mining property there has been developed by following up the ancient workings, which invariably stopped at water level.”

The dredge was a success. The gold tables on clean-up day would have filled the ancient miners with chagrin at what they had left."

(Quoted from Chapter XVI, My Vanished Africa by Major Peter W. Rainier, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1940). Bold print (Year) added by present Author.

His “crisp” style was like a “newspaper Reporter who was there” when the events took place. From the quotation above you’ll see that he wasn’t afraid to use his imagination and speculate about those historical events and their outcomes. That’s when I found out that the imagination didn’t lie fallow in this kind of writing.

War Correspondents like Ernie Pyle were masters of the genre (also Homer, in The Iliad -- the story of the downfall of Troy -- has been dubbed “the first War Correspondent!). So, right then and there I decided: “Who needs dialog ? Writers of Fiction need dialog. I’m not one of them, so I don’t need it.” And I have never looked back. But I really do enjoy writing in the documentary style injecting into the lines pathos or melancholy or nostalgia as if with a hypodermic needle. Perhaps adding “an angle” or a point of view useful to the Reader or even wild speculation.

But, documentary writing has a big drawback -- the necessity of reporting about elusive facts that need painstakingly exact verification -- this includes obtaining official photos and images and written permission to reproduce them. Both require an extraordinary effort that takes far too much time and becomes such a drudge that, it often dampens the creative urge ! Writers of Fiction don’t (necessarily) have to bother with that -- unless, of course, they are writing a historical novel.

My first efforts at commercial writing concentrated on a Deer hunting trip that occurred in my High School days. I set my sights on selling it to a Hunting & Fishing Magazine. That’s when the stack of “reject slips” began. Years later I finally realized that while I was putting sufficient detail into the tale I was also ignoring and leaving out the “gee whiz” excitement. So, I edited it again for about the 15th time and now it proudly sits as Story # 3 in my 39 Archived stories.

The only story that I have ever sold was about farm life while I was a teen-ager during the great depression of the 1930s. It had to do with the loneliness and isolation that many folks endure in rural life. It was accepted by Farm and Ranch Living Magazine and was printed in their Feb/Mar issue of 2012 as “You Don‘t Know Lonely”. I was deliriously happy because I knew that I had finally “arrived” as an Author (at the age of 82) when I saw that the check was signed by the giant Reader’s Digest Group (their parent organization). It is now Story # 7 in my Archived Stories. Let me say that this sale had become a lesson in perseverance. I was glad that I had refused to become discouraged as I watched my stack of “reject slips” grow and grow.

All writing is not done for recompense. One of my hobbies was studying the Phoenician language. I wrote several articles about ancient inscriptions which were accepted for publication by an Academic Journal: Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers (ESOP). Two of these became Stories # 34 and # 35 in my Archived stories. This amateur effort and its documentation gave me great satisfaction (without a University degree in a foreign or ancient Language, this earned me the label as “a dilettante”).

It is amusing to read one of my reject slips about a Language article that I had written and sent in to a leading European scientific journal based in Rome. It is so polite and is couched in such diplomatic language that it could have been written in good taste to a President or a “head of state”:

Dear Mr. Bishop:
Thank you for sending us the draft of your article.

I have read it carefully but I am afraid that it is not suitable for a strictly scientific journal that publishes the results of the latest research in ancient cultures. Your article brings nothing new for the specialists (Experts), and it is not written as a scientific text. Therefore it cannot be considered for publication with us.

With all best wishes . . . . . ”

Of course, they were correct — the article had been written for strictly popular consumption to unravel some knotty language problems and to simplify and clarify them for the average person.

I would say that the 20 years from 1976 to 1996 did not hone my writing abilities very much. I was a Lecturer in Business and Management courses at a Community College for 17 of those years after retirement from the military. This was with the City Colleges of Chicago in their Overseas Program for the Military.

I was also a “Coordinator” which means putting together 15-20 daytime and evening classes each Term (for 5 ten-week Terms per year) and offering them at various U.S. Army Military posts around Southern Germany (Bavaria). This was a paid position of the College carrying a simulated rank of GS-12 on my Military Installation Pass & I.D. card.

If you are a career Professor at a University, everybody knows about “Publish or Perish”. This usually means that you are expected to write one or more Textbooks about one of the subjects where you are considered to have special expertise. With the pressure of creating and running classes (which includes the hiring of Registrars and Teachers), yourself teaching one or two classes per Term, and attending Graduations and such functions as are required by the Military, left little time for creative writing. Besides, writing a textbook in Accounting was carrying the documentary writing business along the same old dry and dusty route that I had been traveling while in the Military and offered little new in challenges. Making double-entry bookkeeping sound exciting enough to write a best-selling book about it was way beyond my capabilities as a writer. This was also true while I was licensed as a PUBLIC ACCOUNTANT (P.A.) in the State of Ohio and offered my services as a Management Consultant for a number of years.

After my second retirement (Social Security) in 1996, I felt unencumbered enough to push through several writing projects which have, indeed, given me great gratification. I now pass myself off as an Author pointing out or highlighting various “footnotes” in History that have been glossed over or totally ignored by mankind: to wit, I have become a Historian; an accolade I wear with great pride -- even if I did the naming, myself. A raconteur; a teller of tales -- anecdotes about the amazing and sometimes astonishing quirks of history. Story # 36 “The Yellow Sea Incident” and Story # 37 “The Chachapoya Culture”, I think, fit my new image very well. Again, this time, without a University degree in History.

For those Readers who would be interested in a biography of the amazing life and adventures of Major Peter William Rainier, here is a LINK:

Then scroll on down to:
About Peter W Rainier”

For those Readers who would be interested in his International contributions to Emerald mining and Gemology, here is a LINK:
Keep clicking (past the GEMOLOGY sign-up and such details) until the Story “In Rainier’s Footsteps: Journey to the Chivor Emerald Mine” appears.


I want to describe what I call my “true stories” (Non-Fiction) with the goal in mind of encouraging others to write in this genre.

By now you can tell, that this is my favorite retirement occupation. No pie in the sky. No serendipity. As the police Detective Joe Friday (Jack Webb) in the Los Angeles-based TV Program Dragnet of the early 1950s always said: . . . . “just the facts, Ma’am !” And you may say: “There’s nothing creative about that.” And you would be mostly right. But, then again, there’s something challenging about it (if not creative) that brings out the finger-tip sensitivity in a person while teaching him to sift his memory for little scraps that might be useful in “telling it like it is or was.”

Don’t miss anything” might here be the motto. And the “sifting” is not confined to your memory -- it could be used on the facts presented in an Encyclopedia or an interview with a live person or illuminating a deceased person’s life-works. I like to think of it as comparing yourself to the job of a Newspaper Reporter reporting the facts after having totally immersed himself in the subject matter for a while . . . . and kicking himself all the way home if one little salient thing is overlooked in the telling.

Some people could say: “Hey, aren’t there too many details here.” Now this is a charge that should be taken seriously when offered by your Readers in your documentation of someone else’s life story. But they’re just telling me that my prose is “right on” because that’s how you know that you’re really coming to grips with your subject matter. The whole idea of writing Non-Fiction is being able to set a mood or to show the life and times of another era without dialog. That takes some talent (some people are natural storytellers and some are not) . . . but mostly, it just takes hard work to scrape the scene off the inside of your brain. I can put stories on paper but I’m afraid if I tried to do the same thing (verbally) at a party, the people would yawn themselves to death !

Over the years, some rules evolved for personal story-telling within this kind of writing:

1. Only document curious or funny or interesting things that actually happened to you that are truly unique and probably never happened to anyone else. Most people’s lives have a good bit of boredom built-in and they need you to amaze them with some wild tale out of the ordinary -- that really occurred !

2. Stock the tale with plenty of details -- there’s no other way to flesh out the images you want to present -- sad, happy, stressful, dangerous -- all come from the building-blocks and tiles you string together.

3. Don’t lie and try to puff up your own role within the story. That is easily seen by the Reader and destroys your credibility with everything else. Keeping strictly to this rule helps you in other ways that are not very obvious. For instance, the opposite treatment, self-depreciation, is one of the best forms of humor and is very endearing to your audience -- when you play yourself down they will always smile along with you about it (unless, of course, you overdo it and come out a complete, sickening nerd !).

Well, you get the picture. I also store my stuff in an On-Line Archive of The Preservation Foundation, Inc., because the last minute “topping off” and “shaping-up” necessary for this kind of public display is good discipline for me or anyone. They are a non-profit publisher established in 1976. Their motto is: Preserving the extraordinary works of ‘ordinary’ people. So you see, another important facet of Non-Fiction is in documenting things “for posterity” as they once were and maybe never will be again.

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