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Doris Buffett: 1928-2020


Doris Buffett, sister of Warren, and mega-philanthropist in her own right, passed away peacefully last month at her home in Rockport, Maine.

I never met Doris. But if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been commissioned by one of her foundations to write Letters to Doris: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those With Nowhere Else To Turn.

I wouldn’t have been blessed by the creative synergy with my co-writer, Anita Mumm, and our photographer, Stephanie Craig. I would never have met Amy Kingman, the boss you want to have on a project that involves traveling across 19 states for the better part of a year.

It it wasn’t for Doris, I would never experienced such heart-breaking, in the sense of heart-opening, interviews with her grant recipients. I would never have met Ken Prather in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who asked for funding so he could take terminally ill children to the zoo in a reliable vehicle. A man who was getting by himself on a tiny monthly disability check had started his own foundation.

I would never have known there were English Labs capable of detecting when a human’s blood sugar level dropped to dangerous levels, until I met one in Rockwell City, IA, along with her new owner, Kalie Buenting, a 12 year-old brittle diabetic—bringing the two of them together was another of Doris’s good deeds.

I never met Doris, but I met her spirit in each of the two dozen individuals we interviewed for the book—and there were hundreds and hundreds more we could have spoken to. This is what great people do; it isn’t about meeting them. It’s about getting to know each other, about getting together to help each other through this life. That is why when a great person dies their essence remains here more than anything is gone.

You can read Doris’s obituary in the New York Times: here. And if you were lucky enough to meet Doris, you can leave a story, memory, or message on this site which will eventually become part of a virtual celebration of Doris’s life.

Fear of the Blank Page

When I was in mortuary school, I had the good fortune of being surrounded by a number of dead bodies. A dead body is always a shock, and the shock continues. I never really got used to walking into a room and feeling the presence of a dead person. They were not breathing shallowly. There was no actual danger; the closer and closer I got to the body, its eyes did not shoot open, nor did its arms reach out and grab my wrist like in a horror movie. The fear was all internal.

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Role of the Prompter

Writing teachers often say that finding your own unique voice is the most important thing to do as a writer. But what are you to do when you struggle to find your voice: Mimic authors you admire or write like the author you are reading at the moment?

The thing is, when people speak of voice in writing circles, they don’t often talk about what it is. It’s pretty simple, really. It is the voice you hear in your head.

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Common Structural Problems

From an independent editor’s perspective, there are common obstacles I see in writers’ work, and some of these are structural glitches.  Sometimes when this happens, a writer begins to lose faith. The work seems to have issues, and one suspects they may have to do with form rather than content.

As with a lot of things, when we can formulate the question, we almost always find the answer arriving right behind it. Below, I have compiled a list of six common structural problems, in the hopes that by recognizing a particular issue a little more quickly, the remedy will come with a minimum amount of heartbreak.

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