A Universe of Stories Writing Contest Winner

Andy Rowe
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Reviewer's Rating
Sep 29, 2019

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Andy Rowe has won our writing contest in the Open Category on the theme of A Universe of Stories with "Heinlein and Burroughs".

Andy Rowe has enjoyed a 25-year career as an instructional designer and business trainer. He is also an award-winning business trainer, who has delivered some 900 presentations and seminars to over 50,000 people.

“You see the work of the instructional designer whenever you attend a training session,” says Andy. “There are manuals, assessments, activities, facilitator notes, PowerPoint slides. It’s the job of the instructional designer to create all those materials, and every bit of it must be clear, concise, and accurate.”

After all those tens of thousands of words for the corporate world, Andy is now writing for himself. “Some fiction, some essays, some observations. I’ve had a lot of stories and ideas in my head but never put them to paper. Now I am and I’m finding that it’s as difficult as I’ve heard and read—but it’s also just as rewarding, so I’ll keep at it.”

Andy is grateful for the opportunity that the library has provided to showcase his writing. “The Johnson County Library is important to me,” he adds. “I, my children and my grandchildren have supported it and used it for almost 50 years. I volunteer at the Library now so I feel like things have come full circle.”

He continues to write every day. “That’s the one bit of advice that every writer gives: Write. Write every day. Just write.

Heinlein and Burroughs

When I was ten years old two authors opened the universe to me.

I was on a camping trip, bored because I hated camping, and while we were in town one day I wandered into a drugstore to find something to read. I was immediately attracted to a fantastically rendered cover – “The Mastermind of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I paid my 40 cents (thank you, Ace Books!) and we went back to the tent

Ignoring the entreaties of my family to come out and do camping stuff, I devoured that book, transported to the red deserts of Barsoom, fighting my way across the dying planet in search of mystical cities and beautiful princesses, my staunch alien friend at my side. It exhilarated me. It changed me as nothing else had.

At the back of the book I found another unexpected treasure: a list of the other Barsoom books. There were more? This was just one in a series? I soon discovered that Burroughs created Tarzan and other worlds too—Venus, Pellucidar, future Earth. Over time I read them all, as many as I could find.

Burroughs’ writing was fulsome, lurid, descriptive and wonderfully intricate to my ten-year old brain. He revealed to me the power of words, the pure delight of imagination, heroes and villains and what it meant to be one. I discovered chivalry and the fair fight, and to persevere no matter the odds. Swords and ray guns! Floating battleships kept aloft by mysterious forces! Aliens and humans fighting together on a dying planet! Wow! Ten years old.

About the same time, the librarian at my school noticed that I loved to read. Mrs. Badger bestowed on me the great honor to be her assistant—to come in before school and paste the card holders in the new books, to shelve them and to get that day’s stack ready. She taught me how to handle a new book, how to organize them, how to respect them. I loved it!—and one day Mrs. Badger handed me a book. “I think you’ll like this”.

“Have Space Suit Will Travel”. Robert A. Heinlein was all about the science in science fiction. He was different from Burroughs in almost every way, except that they both expanded the world into someplace exciting, better, and a lot more fun.

Like Burroughs, Heinlein was also available in cheap paperback form. I was soon never without one or the other, ready at a moment’s notice to pull the book out of my back pocket and read. I read walking down the street. I read riding in the car. I read while I ate and at recess.

I read a lot of science fiction after that and a lot of fantasy too. Some exhilarated me as much as did those first two books, but they were my first, and you always remember your first.

Robert A. Heinlein was ahead of his time in many ways and he taught me something else that has stayed with me. Women were strong in his books, loving, powerful, always equal to men but always women. This, in 1958 (when the book was first published).

He was born in Butler, Missouri, and sometime in the early 80s I read in the paper that he would be attending a parade there in his honor. I have a picture of myself from that event, walking next to him, hands folded, head down. The picture looks exactly like an initiate receiving wisdom from the master. It looks like that because that’s what it was.

I owe him and Edgar Rice Burroughs so much.

But as much as I owe them, when I read them again in my middle age I realized they were really not very good writers at all. I had grown up. I began to read history and commentary. I had a career as a professional business writer. I came to know what good writing was (and wasn’t) and re-reading those treasured classics of my youth was…sad.

Burroughs was really just another pulp-fiction hack; that’s why he was so prolific and so verbose—he was paid by the word. No words, no pay. Heinlein wrote thirty years later, but he was pretty much a hack too, churning it out to pay the bills.

But still…I don't think that matters. They were both writing to an audience and that audience was me. They knew exactly what boys wanted and needed to read, and even though they wrote to a formula and never strayed far from it, they seemed to need to impart something valuable to those young minds.

Heinlein actually distilled it into a list: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

I can't do all those things but that’s not the point. Nor is the fact that his writing (and Burroughs’ too) is almost unreadable to me now. I think the point is this: make your own list of what it means to you to be good. Do everything you can to fulfill that list—knowing before you start that it’s impossible. But dammit, stand for something impossible and keep trying to get there.

Honor. Integrity. Clean up your own mess. Allow others to be others. Be polite. Hold the door open. Get up when you’re down. Don't pick fights. Think. Imagine. Do your duty.

So thank you, Mr. Heinlein, and thank you Mr. Burroughs. Fifty years ago your words reached out and entered the heart and brain and soul of one young man. You made a difference to me and to millions more. You made a difference.

I only hope that somewhere along the line, I’ve done the same.

Written by Helen H.

I adore furry faces.