Daniel D. Maurer, an interview

Today, I welcome Dan Maurer to Writing Together. I met Dan recently through the radiant writer Rachel Pieh Jones. Dan is a writer of great energy, depth and dedication. His own story is powerful and he’s doing the important work of helping others tell their stories of transformation. Thanks for joining us today, Dan!

When did you start writing?

I began writing as a teenager in high school. I mostly wrote poetry. The dense, efficient power of words in poems intrigued me. Later on, I began writing prose, but only after I had become a Lutheran pastor. The exercise of writing weekly sermons and newsletter articles was a great weekly workout for my writing muscles. Only after I got in the habit of writing for work, I began to find interest in writing for therapy and pleasure.

After I fell hard in addiction and depression, I lost my job as a pastor. In retrospect, that wasn’t such a bad thing, because I didn’t want to be a pastor anymore. Through connections I had in the church, I had the opportunity to write some articles after I got sober for The Alban Institute and The Upper Room. Those opportunities, along with some freelancing I began to do for Sparkhouse and Amicus Publishing led me to begin doing this professionally. It’s hard work and it doesn’t pay anything near what writers deserve to get for their work, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other job. Writing is just so cool. I think it has to do with the nearly god-like aspect of creating. First, there is nothing. Then only ideas. Then they become reality. The creative aspect is so addicting. And that’s a much better addiction to have than chemicals.

Why did you write Sobriety as a graphic novel?  


When I was at Hazelden rehab in Minnesota, my father had given me another graphic novel. It’s actually a New York Times bestseller titled Logicomix. Its topic, believe it or not, is Bertrand Russell’s attempt to prove the foundations of mathematics. Talk about a boring subject. Well, this book wasn’t boring at all. Through the power of comics, the authors tell a story. And story is where you grab people’s attention, because human beings are “storied creatures”—we understand the world through narrative. I began to think of a book using comic art to tell the story of recovery. Hazelden Publishing had the foresight to see the power of the book. Three years later, Sobriety: A Graphic Novel is a reality!

Tell us about your newest book.


I co-wrote Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking with a friend who shared his true story of being used as an underage hustler in 1975 St. Louis. It’s a very important story, because there are many books out there sharing girls’ stories, but this is the first ever, nationally distributed work relaying the problem of human trafficking from a boy’s perspective. I’m very excited for people to read the book, not only because it’s a great read, but also because this will bring the problem into a perspective others may have not known before.

What inspires you?

Really? Hmmm. That’s a tough one. I have a lot of interests. I suppose you could say I’m a bit of Renaissance man. Here are a few: books, writers (and the writing community – especially in the Twin Cities) and peoples’ transformative stories and stories of transformation. My non-fiction and freelance brand is Dan the Story Man and I share these things with others. I’d have to say that the larger community of writers and the virtual explosion of written works has been what has sustained me through these past years in my new-found life. Writers are very cool people, not just because they write; they’re interesting, because most of them have interesting stories themselves. I’m very grateful for my friendships and connections with other writing artists.


Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer and published author. He lives with his family in St. Paul, Minnesota. In his spare time, Dan enjoys gardening, reading, playing with his two boys, two cats and one dog. He also plays the bagpipes and can make a mean latté . . . but not at the same time. For more information, visit Dan at: http://www.danthestoryman.com.

DTSM art

Grandma Alma

With the recent death of my Grandma Alma, all my grandparents are gone. I am no longer anyone’s granddaughter. I feel older. I feel a step closer to being next in line to die, though I know there isn’t really a line.

She went quietly, suddenly, apparently peacefully in her sleep in her recliner, glasses folded on the table beside her. Since graduating college, getting married and starting my own family, we drifted apart. She was no longer a daily or even monthly presence in my life. I can hold the grief at bay easier than it must be for her six adult children who have lost both parents in six months.

At summer family camp-outs when I was younger, Grandma and I sat around the campfire, mutually befuddled by the noisy chatter of everyone talking at once. We often wondered to each other who was listening if everyone was talking. In the dark night, in the glow of the fire, swatting mosquitoes, Grandma and I chatted quietly, sporadically. Both observers. Both listeners and thinkers connecting in a way that didn’t seem possible in bright daylight.

There’s more. I know there’s more. The words and images tumble and smear. My defenses fly up and I think that the driveway needs shoveling, the dog needs a walk, I need a shower. Nausea overwhelms me. That’s a new symptom of grief for me. I’ve experienced mind-numbness, hunched shoulders, shuffling feet, lack of appetite, tears, and exhaustion; my body flips out when I’m grieving. But the nausea is new. I see a picture of my grandparents and I turn away to keep from hurling on my computer. My gut is rejecting this. The hearse pulls away with Grandma in the casket and I retch at the side of the church. I hate this, but I’m feeling it, I’m getting it out viscerally.

How can they be gone?

Rest in peace, Grandma and Grandpa. I love you.
Grandma and Grandpa

When Jacob was taken

He was 11 years old. So was I.

He was abducted less than 10 miles from where I lived. He was biking home with his brother and a friend. He was biking home from the Tom Thumb where my uncle was a manager. My family regularly drove through Jacob’s small town of St. Joe to visit my grandparents in the next town over. This was in my area. A boy my age. Gone. Taken at gunpoint.

And we all waited for news. We sang “Jacob’s Hope” in school. We didn’t go biking after dark. We didn’t talk about how a kid our age could vanish. We didn’t talk about how it could have been one of us.

I practiced singing because if I was ever taken maybe I would sing so beautiful that he would let me go. I practiced breathing through a straw. Maybe that skill would be helpful if I was taken and trapped. I plotted ways to escape, practiced running as fast as I could. Go for the eyes, fight dirty and get outta there. That would be how I would survive if I was ever taken.

How many weeks, months did I wake up and think, “Today they will find Jacob”? But they didn’t. Then my family moved over an hour away and I didn’t have to think of Jacob. Some days I still did and he was still missing. Now I’m a mom and I feel the loss of Jacob in a new, raw way.

When Jacob was taken, he was 11 years old. So was I. But I wasn’t taken. And I don’t understand why or how to make any sense of it.

On October 22, it will be 25 years since Jacob was taken. We still look for him.

Act as if…

Act as if it were impossible to fail. –Dorothea Brande

What does that look like? How does that change my approach to my day, to my work, to my life? Does that mean I’ve been acting as if it were possible to fail? When I introduced myself as a writer and editor and suggested that I would know how to put together a haiku book, was I doing what Brande prescribes?

I recently read this quote from Brande and it’s sticking with me. Springing to mind in the morning, prompting me out of bed. It’s become the counterweight to all my questioning, doubting thoughts. How will I be able to review a book? Act as if it were impossible to fail. Will I do a good job editing a memoir? Act as if it were impossible to fail. How can I possibly get my house ready for a party? Act as if it were impossible to fail.

It’s a direct order, which I tend to rebel against, but I don’t rebel against this one. I actually feel energized, spurred to action. It’s equal parts direct order and wishful thinking. I can do wishful thinking. And that leads to wishful acting. And somehow that leads to real results. I start thinking, “Well, cool. If it were impossible to fail, I would totally introduce myself, totally just clean this corner today, totally just get down to work.

What would you do if you acted as if it were impossible to fail?

She and a Loft blog post

She sits in her chair. Her puppy curls up at her feet. A mug of pumpkin spice tea steams to her left. It’s not pumpkin season, but the big canister of tea was on sale and she’s going to be drinking it for months. The warm drink is comforting on a rainy night, especially when it’s been raining for days and there’s no end in sight until the end of the week. The lack of school recess is showing in the kids’ loud, tumble-around behavior and she thinks that tomorrow she will send the kids out in the rain after school because, to borrow a phrase from her childhood, a little rain never hurt anyone.

She has a file open behind this file. She needs to finish it. Only 300-800 words, but the words are not syncing up today. She can write one word after another, but there’s no guarantee of making sense. It might end up bad, she thinks. But she doesn’t even mean bad, mostly she means not great, not amazing, not spectacular. How to defuse the anxiety of completely unnecessary and unattainable perfection? If she could answer that question, pigs might fly and unicorns might pop into existence.

She thinks on unicorns, then horses, then farm animals, then how her newly groomed dog looks exactly like a freshly shorn lamb, all leggy and cream-colored. She searches the web for the couple who sent her a wedding invitation today, but she doesn’t know them. Nope, not at all. The names don’t ring any bells; neither do their faces. They are young and beautiful. So much ahead of them. Where will they be in 14 years?

She fills in the RSVP card with her regrets. She wishes them joy and laughter and don’t worry too much about the wedding. That’s only the beginning after all.


P. S. She did finish that file and here it is at the Loft Writers’ Block and she thinks it turned out pretty good: https://writersblock.loft.org/2014/05/02/3195/motherhood_words

Writing with Joyce Sutphen

Yesterday I attended the Writer’s Fair at the Chanhassen Library. One of the presenters was Minnesota’s own Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen. She recited poetry to us. Near the end of her hour, she read “April” by Connie Wanek. We were to listen for a word, phrase or image that drew us in. Then we all wrote for 8 minutes. A room of writers wonderfully writing. Including Sutphen.

I loved the phrase “sleet…precipitation by committee”, but chose to write on “You are free to be water now.” Here’s what I wrote, raw and unedited:

Yes, please, snow, go be water, sink down into the ground, slowly, surely, softening, thawing the earth. But not too much at once, no floods please.

Don’t send all our water, our green-grass water, swooshing down the streets, pouring into the sewers, rushing into our streams, rivers, lakes, carrying too many nutrients, too much garbage, too much salt, sand, unraked leaves, soaked tree-cutting flyers and unpicked up dog poop.

Freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, let the water seep inch by inch through the soil, down to the groundwater. The soil cleans the water, contains the water, filters the nasty out.

I cackle at the snow melting, melting away, free to be water, no more crystals, no more structure, just liquid and flow. Be gone snow. Where I shoveled is now clear by the radiance of the sun. But my neighbors have boycotted shoveling in April. I still have to put my boots on, but I will not retrieve my winter coat from the closet.

My review of The Reason I Jump

Check out my review of The Reason I Jump: The Inner Life of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida; Introduction by David Mitchell; Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell


David Mitchell, who helped translate the book and wrote the introduction will be at the Univ of MN at the Northrop this coming Wednesday, April 9 at 7:30 pm.