Lilly Labs: Author Site of Daniel R Bernstrom The Place of Story Sat, 27 May 2017 11:45:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lilly Labs: Author Site of Daniel R Bernstrom 32 32 49088650 On Sparking Joy Sun, 26 Feb 2017 15:46:49 +0000 Heather and I have been spending the last few days this month getting ready to complete a couple baby storybooks. Though Haven is 6 months, we want to stay on top of our photos. This is one of the photos going in his photo book. For me, this picture sparks joy!


Digital clutter discourages all of us. How many of us have thousands of pictures stuffed on flash drives and memory sticks. With the digital revolution, those pictures are taking up so much space that is it becoming too overwhelming to deal with them. I recently read a book called Spark Joy, where the author helped people declutter their lives.


The main premise of the book was to only keep things that spark joy in your heart. And, if they spark joy, put that joy in a place where you’ll see it or encounter it on a regular basis. What do you do with the rest of your photos? Throw them out. You won’t miss those pictures. In fact, those pictures may be keeping us from really enjoying them. We use that “one day” mantra. “One day I may need this.” So we stuff it away. For most that “one day” will never come. I got tired of “One day” thinking. I decided that it was time to put our photos in place where we could enjoy them


My mother demonstrated this to me early on. Photos spark joy in my mother. So she keeps tens of photo albums on bookshelves in her living room. If you walk into my mother’s home, you’ll see right away what sparks joy for her… family. This photo storybook class is just the beginning. Image the joy of seeing your long lost pictures displayed. Imagine bumping into long lost memories on a daily basis. You don’t have to join my storybook group starting in March. But this free bit of advice to you is to go through your pictures and only keep those that spark joy. And if you do, I believe with all my heart that you will find joy. 

Join Class Now!

On Sharing Our Lost Stories Wed, 22 Feb 2017 12:24:22 +0000 So my storybook class starts in a couple days. I’m sharing this idea on Facebook because it is an adventure. I want you, my friends, to hold me accountable, to ask how I’m doing in success or failure. 

March Storybook Class!

Look at this photo I took of my son eating taffy at Lark Toys. LaVonne and Grace had so much fun walking through the largest toy store I have ever seen. They were truly kids in a candy store! But… I have pictures of that day that I’ve never shared. Photos locked on my phone. How many photos do I have stashed away in unseen storage? Thousands. And what’s going to happen to all those pictures? 


If anything, I want people to tell their stories. Share their stories. You have no idea how beautiful and precious they are… even told imperfectly. Remember the Pixar film Inside Out? Remember when Joy falls into the memory dump? The scene is dire. Memory after memory fades around her. She desperately tries to save the memories that mean the most to her, but she’s too late, and they fade. I cried during that point in the film. I held my daughter tight. I knew that I couldn’t hold on to every memory… but I wanted to hold on this memory: this memory of when we went on our father daughter date to Inside Out and daddy cried because he loved spending time with you. 



Yes, I’m asking people to join a class. I’m asking people to pay $50 so that they’ll actually finish the class and create a storybook that will be in their family for the rest of their life. Because what if I can help people fill their homes up with beautiful stories? What if I can help bring a smile to a grandmothers face? What if I can help you resurrect those bright and precious moments and bind them up in a beautiful storybook? I think I can. I can help people tell their stories… before they’re lost. But, I digress, please share your stories.

This Morning_On the Day I Go to Buy Alabaster Paint Thu, 29 Dec 2016 14:56:54 +0000 I have finished my 500 words of revising for the day. Why do I revise 500 words at a time? I don’t. Well, I do…. Let me explain

The Problem:

When I write a first draft of anything I pour out a mess of terrible prose upon the page. My first drafts of books are terrible! But when I revise, I take the book 500 words at a time. After I have rewritten the book at least twice, I go back through and “spot revise.” 

I’m not saying this technique works. I haven’t sold a Middle Grade book yet. But it has helped me come close to selling a Middle Grade book, so I believe the method effective. So… why am I not “Spot Revising?” I’m not spot revising because the book needed work… and I thought it perfect… and I didn’t know what else to do. 

So, I write, word by word, 500 words at at time.

I do this because the waiting is maddening. I do this because I only get vague comments about what isn’t working. Your language is dated. The beginning doesn’t capture the reader’s interest. So my job is to make the story less formal and create a stunning-amazing-spectacular-beginning that will make every one love me and sell ten billion books! Yah, that’s easy. Yah, every writer knows how to do that.

So, I write, word by word, 500 words at at time.

The Story:

My wife and I just bought a house recently. The house is great, a cozy ranch nestled into a wooded bluff. It’s as if I have the Hundred Acre Wood in my backyard. But… the house isn’t perfect. It came with no dishwasher (which was a must for our family of 5). It came with no garage door opener (which was a must because of the harsh Minnesota winters) and it came with an outdated 1970’s decor (which needed to be updated on account of… I’ll be careful… my wife).

My wife is sending me to Sherwin Williams today. I tried and failed to paint the downstair’s wood paneling but the cheep paint washes over it. Indeed it looks terrible. So I am going to Sherwin Williams (a brand of paint that we have used in the past) to buy Alabaster White. I am dreading the concept of painting. I love this house, but I want to snap my fingers and have it be updated and perfect. But that isn’t how life works. Sometimes you have to try and fail, paint a room in substandard white paint before you try again, get off your rump, go to Sherwin Williams, buy Alabaster White, and start all over again.

The Solution:

Sometimes things are great. But sometimes great things are missing dishwashers, garage door openers, and white alabaster walls. And I can’t help but think that is what my agent is trying to tell me. Daniel, it’s great, but…

And, so, I write, word by word, 500 words at a time.

This Morning_The Hero of My Own Story Tue, 27 Dec 2016 14:58:18 +0000 This morning I sit in the quiet ready to ponder what it means to pursue this dream of trying to be a writer. The biggest question that plagues me these days is why can’t I get it? I dream of writing middle grade fiction. I dream of having these crazy stories in my head come to life. But it hasn’t happened yet.

The Problem:

What am I missing? Perhaps it’s talent. So few know how difficult it truly is to write fiction. There are a hundred things happening at one time: Point of View, Setting, Character, Microtension, Plot. All these aspects of writing all happen at once and all interconnect. And as much as I wish to will these subsections of writing to intertwine, it is impossible for them to do so. To think of these pieces of writing as intertwining is itself wrong. All aspects of writing are separate yet one. Character is setting is plot is point of view is theme is story 

I know how to write. I know how to engage readers, but then…. I fail. I fail because I do not have the stamina or skill to keep all these elements of fiction pumping out of my heart all at once in a continual flow of story magic. 

The Doubts:

There is so much self doubt in writing. I as a writer am plagued by ego, worthlessness, self importance, envy, jealousy, and pride. I hope it’s not only conceited me. So many worries. Does my agent think I’m baggage? Will my (very kind) editor not wish to hurt me and accept a submission that will embarrass us both? Will I sell enough books to keep the publisher happy?

Don’t be afraid. Just write. Fear not. Just write. Just believe. Just hope. Just have joy. Fear not.

Just. Just. Just. Just.

Write. Write. Write. Read. Read. Read. ReWrite. ReWrite. ReWrite. Read. Read. Read.

Thats all I can do. That’s all I know to do. 

The Story:

Oh, for the power to rule these doubts, to journey on into a story fearless and unafraid. But I am afraid. I’m afraid because I do not know the ending. The writer is the hero of another story beset by psychological tormentors and a villain that is as much myself as the goal I dream of reaching. But that is the answer, isn’t it— reaching?

In a book a hero reaches and reaches and reaches and tries and tries because if he does not, then Middle Earth is ruled by Sauron, Winnie the Pooh never gets a pot of honey, Katniss Everdeen is enslaved by President Snow, Voldemort plunges the world into darkness and terror, in essence, all hope is lost. As a hero of my own story can I bear the thought of all hope being lost?

The Answer:


And, so, as the hero of my own story, I can only try.

I can only…

Write. Write. Write. 

Read. Read. Read. 

ReWrite. ReWrite. ReWrite. 

Read. Read. Read.

Fear not.




The Hope and Habit of Today Fri, 19 Aug 2016 15:48:54 +0000

The Hope & Habit of Today

When my dreams don’t come true I am tempted into despair. Believe it or not, I am not a positive person. I struggle to find meaning each day. Some days I wonder if I can get up. What is the point to all my trying, all my writing, all my work?

A wise man once said, “Vanity, vanity all is vanity […] there is nothing new under the sun.”

This sums up my despair. Why try when all is meaningless?

But the same wise man also said. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.”

In such a saying there is so much hope. The wise man says to me, “Find joy in today. Find joy in habit of living.”


Steve Jobs, the businessman and creator of the Macintosh Computer, the iPod, and iPhone once made a similar remark in his commencement speech to Stanford University.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day like it’s your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and ever since then, for the last 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

I have so many things to be grateful for. I am the husband of an amazing, beautiful woman. I am the father of three healthy children. I work for an amazing employer. I am living the dream of being a published writer. I have parents who love me, friends who support me, and a faith that sustains me. Which makes me wonder, isn’t joy found in the simple every day doings — the reading of the morning paper, the cozying up with a hot mug of Columbian roast coffee. 


And too many times each day I enslave myself to anxiety. I need a better house. I need a better car. I need to be the best writer in the whole world. There is no joy in these anxieties.

Instead, I wish to live for today and look for the little joys sprinkled throughout my life. And perhaps the greatest joy I have been given is the joy of habit. The habit of waking up and creating, writing a few words every morning; the habit of kissing my wife good day and hugging my children; the habit of exercising; the habit of chasing the good in life.

“Joy is found in the simple every day”

I don’t believe the wise man means for all to specificlaly eat and drink and be merry. I know his words inspire me to write, create, and dwell in life’s daily joys. I see in his advice the joy of habit. And, over time, habit, like a seed, can flourish into a strong and healthy tree that is not tossed about by storms of life; a tree that remains stalwart and able to give shelter to many.

This Morning_Tell Me Your Past And Find Your Pain Thu, 19 May 2016 15:01:48 +0000

It was curiosity and nagging back pain that led me to the chiropractor’s office. As I was filling out the intake form, the chiropractor walked in the consultation room, sat across from me, picked up her pen, flipped through her papers, and said this. “Now, we know that who we are today is a result of the pain we experienced in our past. So tell me about your past.”

I folded my arms over my chest, leaned as far away from her as possible, and built a wall between us.

“Traumas?” I asked.

I thought I was in therapy. I related my past experiences. An accident I had in college with a book bag in which I lost muscle and strength all down my back and arm. I told her how my right shoulder (the shoulder that should be the strongest) was lower than the right. I told her how my legs go numb when I sit or stand. I told her of the aching pain in the middle of my back. I told her all this with a careful skepticism. Chiropractors after all aren’t “real” doctors. They just crack your back, make noises, and make false statements. Pain can be managed with Advil, stretching, and donuts.

She asked about my headaches. I don’t know why I hid this from her, but I was in the midst of a pounding headache at that very moment. I felt as if I were going to throw up. “One or two migraines a month,” I said. “Headaches every now and then.”

Her eyes got wide. she leaned forward. “What if I told you that the [insert medical study I can’t remember] says that you are only to have two to three headaches a year? Headaches, not migraines which are much more severe. And you say you have one to two a month?”

I laughed out loud. I literally laughed out loud. “Who doesn’t have headaches a few times a month?” I asked.

“I don’t,” she said.

It was then the pain in my back increased from sitting too long without slouching. I slumped forward. Her eyebrows raised again. I wanted her to go away. She took reflexes. No response on my right. A small response on my left. She she got behind me and felt my neck. She leaned it right. I squirmed.

“Hurt?” she asked.

“I’m just tight,” I said. “Probably need to stretch.”

“Yah,” she said.

She turned my neck the other way. It hardly moved without me grimacing.

“More stretching there,” she mocked.

I didn’t know chiropractors were so snarky. Then she turned my head left and right. No problem. She lifted it up. No problem. She turned it left and pushed down and I nearly went through the roof.

“Interesting,” she said. “That hurts?”

I glanced at the door.

“You look as if you want to leave?” she said.

“Where is the nearest door?” I tried to joke.

“What makes you so uncomfortable that you want to leave?” she asked, her voice very serious.

I felt the wrecking ball slam into my protective wall. I blubbered something unintelligible. I stuttered. I didn’t know what to say. But I did want to leave. She was right about that. I was uncomfortable. She was right about that.

“You know, if you were to go to the eye doctor and you couldn’t see the big E, you wouldn’t think there was a problem unless someone told you were supposed to be seeing a big E. I’m here to tell you there’s a big E there and you’re not seeing it.”

And if she hadn’t looked down at her paper to write I probably would have lost it. I fought the tears welling in my eyes.

I am in the stupid chiropractor’s office, I thought. This is just witch doctor medicine. Why am I feeling so emotional? And then it hit me. It is hitting me even now as my legs are falling asleep. I have lived in this way for nine years or so. The back pain is relatively new and so is the numbness in my legs, but the pain in my neck has been there for a long time. And, she was right, I wanted to leave, not because of her sale’s pitch, but because of what she was suggesting. She was suggesting that the pain could be gone. That the headaches that I have had for years. The neck and shoulder pain, that this could be gone. I wanted to leave because what if she was/is wrong. What if she couldn’t take away the pain? Why give me hope? Why tell me there is life outside of this prison cell? I was happy until you told me there was a chance I could be free.

And as I sit here, with tingling legs and toes, I can’t help but think of what the chiropractor said. “Now, we know that who we are today is a result of the pain we experienced in our past. So tell me about your past.” I don’t know if a chiropractor can help me with headaches. I have one right now. But I think what she had to say is very true, that who we are today is a result of the pain we experienced in the past. My writing teacher, Jane Resh Thomas, would have said “Who we are today is a result of the pain and pleasure we have had in the past.” This I feel is more true. But I want to emphasize what the chiropractor said, because story is about trouble and problem and pain. Jane Resh Thomas said, “In stories, there must be darkness and light!” But where does a writer find the darkness? Where does a writer find the trouble?

Listen to my chiropractor. “Who we are today is a result of the pain we exerperiened in our past. So, tell me about your past?” There is secret pain hiding in places you had not realized.

Well, everybody had a terrible father, you might say. Everybody had a boyfriend that beat them. Everybody had a childhood filled with noise and threats and anger. No. Not everyone. There is pain there. There are pains in the head and heart, numbness in the body and aches reverberating through your core. Tell me about your past. And you will find your story’s tension, your story’s trouble, your story’s pain.

All Will be Well: Creating Three Dimensional Characters Wed, 11 May 2016 14:45:19 +0000 All will be well. I can’t escape these words. This morning I was again at my computer, working through a revision of a middle grade book for my agent. Her main critique was that my secondary characters/supporting cast were two dimensional.

It has been a painful process to go back in and tear up my book page by page, and begin again. But more painful than all this is the creation of three dimensional characters.

When writers write, we work as God. We have the power of creating worlds, settings, and scenes, to create the garden of Eden. And we have the power to create Adam and Eve in that perfect garden, free of trouble and heartache

And, I wonder, when I play god, does God love the world in the same way I love my story? Does God love his characters in the same way I love mine? And if my characters were living, breathing, beings who could reach me via a prayer, what would they say to me. For I have set their paths on a horrible trajectory and the glory in my story will not be their triumph living an easy life, but of their triumph through a great and terrible suffering. 

This is where most of my pain comes from in writing three dimensional characters, because I know that if God were to do what I am doing to my characters, I might hate Him. But that is what we as storytellers do, tell real stories. Stories about characters with real problems and real pain. And as I lean over my story, I the god, the creator of their world, their grand Inquisitor, create stories in which I will break their hearts in pieces. Yet, I tell my three dimensional characters, “All will be well.”

It is the only message I have for them. All will be well. And it is that belief that helps me spin words into flesh and bone, and breathe life into their two dimensional beings. And if a writer can create such real, authentic characters, then it is the author’s triumph when a reader picks up the story, falls in love with the lives of flat fictional words, and says as he turns the page in spellbound furry, “I hope all will be well.”

We Broke Amazon and Barnes & Noble! Sat, 07 May 2016 00:55:49 +0000

Barnes & Noble


Harper Collins

One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree & Hope Wed, 04 May 2016 13:54:45 +0000 Yesterday, my book, One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree was released. That day, I had no launch party. I had no book signing. I did no promotion online. I spent the day at work, tutoring students in the College Learning Resource Center, handing out hope.

This week is finals week for the College students at Southeast Technical. In this week, lives are changed. Most of my work at the end of the semester is helping struggling students pass classes. Most of my work at the end of the semester is telling students, “there is still hope.”

If you were to read my book One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree, the story of a boy who is gobbled up by a big hungry snake, you would find that it is a story about hope. I remember the day One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree popped into my head. I was a newly married, disabled graduate school student studying at Hamline University. And during that time, I worked part-time as a janitor, at a small preschool five miles from from where I lived.

I took the 84 bus to Rosedale Mall, and from there I would walk two miles to work, rain, snow, or shine. I would often get there around 7 o’clock. I cleaned the preschool’s little potties, swept the floors, and vacuumed the offices. The whole job took me about two to three hours. And it was there, in that preschool, surrounded by stuffed animals, children’s books, and vivid color that the story of the Eucalyptus Tree materialized.


If you were to read the book, perhaps you could hear the little-playground-rocks, left in the carpet by little shoes, popping into the humming vacuum, or the broom shushing over the marmoleum floor, or the spritz of my cleaner dusting the pee-stained toilets with antibacterial film. And when my job was done about ten p.m., I would again slog the two miles to the bus stop, wait for the 84, and arrive home around midnight.

And in that place of darkness and in those difficult dark days, I lived on dreams and the hope of others.

Would my situation ever change? Would I ever be rehabilitated? How was I going to live life without driving? Would my new wife leave me? So many fears.

But all the while there was hope. My wife gave me hope, my faith gave me hope, The faculty at Hamline University gave me hope, the kindness of others gave me hope. And if you fill up a problem with enough hope, perhaps that problem will not be able to contain all that hopeall the people who believe in you, all their love, all their goodness, and all their faith — that it will have no option but to spew you and all your hope out upon the world. For I must believe, that problems can handle only so much hope, and, It is with this heart, I hope the story of One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree fills up the lives of children with the one thing I want most for them in a world full of problems: hope.

This Morning_Writer, Leave the Dark Sat, 30 Apr 2016 22:43:46 +0000 The children are napping. The room is still. I have just finished rewriting another chapter in a middle grade novel. I have not sold one middle grade novel yet. I have written three since graduating from my creative writing program, but have not been able to convince an editor that I can write.

But I am one of the lucky ones. And I know this. I have a brilliant editor (who won’t take my middle grade books), and I have an agent (who is hesitant to represent my middle grade books). But I at least have these. And I trust these two people very much. But it seems, it is not my time.

I know of many talented writers who are writing in the dark. Who are throwing query letters to the wind and begging to be heard. They have miraculous stories they want to tell, but neither an agent nor an editor will give them a chance. But even here, in my amazing position, I feel at times as if I am in the dark. What if I never figure this out? What if I’m not meant to be a middle grade novelist?

These are legitimate questions. Ones that should be asked and ones that should be pondered. But each failed book sent back my way, breaks me down a bit by bit. Like a chisel against a marble heart. And I feel for my dear friends who have the same dream as I. We were meant to write. We were born to do this. Why then can we not find a way to make a story work? Why are we still writing in the dark.

Alms of wisdom? I have none. But what I can offer you is my hand and the little hope I have left. So, my precious, beautiful, talented artist, I give you hope. And hope withheld makes the heart weary. I am weary. But, dear writer, come and find the arms of fellow dreamers. In their arms I know hope will be passed to you and me. In their arms arms hearts will be comforted. And in their arms hope grow beneath their whispers of faith.

Yes, writers, write in the dark, but when your heart becomes weary do not hide in your hovel. Find hope in the arms others.