By RICK BROWN, Yard Light Media
KEARNEY — John Henry Dam’s life changed in 1980 when a cattle accident occurred at a feedlot where he worked.
He was riding a mule that reared up, knocking Dam down. The animal then turned on him, depriving his brain of oxygen. He suffered the same kinds of effects as a stroke.
“After being injured, my whole life changed,” he said. “I had to relearn everything, 110%, of the things I knew from childhood. I had to relearn how to crawl and then walk – everything. Before the accident, I was not a good speaker but I spoke pretty well. I could easily talk in front of a group of people. Now when I talk to someone, I have to look for a word. If it doesn’t come, I start to stutter.
As a result, Dam started writing down his thoughts. His written words came more easily than his spoken words.
“I started studying hard,” he said in an interview from his home in Kearney. “Then I started to write because I could express myself better; I could comb my mind for the right word I needed to use.
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Writing one’s thoughts progressed to writing about people and then creating poetry and stories. Today, Dam is the author of three books – two novels and a book of poetry. The Nebraska writer has a third novel in the works, a process in which he writes organically, avoiding outlines and simply letting the story unfold.
“I work on every word of every sentence trying to get it right,” he said. “I’m just starting to write and I see where it’s going.”
Dam, 68, published “The End of a Beginning” in June 2021, a story he calls in a promo for the book, “a parable about love and integrity, infidelity and death, shortly after the devastation the harbinger of new life”. The life of Rudy, its protagonist, reflects many of the challenges that Dam faced throughout his life.
“My character, Rudy, is a standing character,” Dam said. “He shows you, by example, that a person can have high morals and tenacity, to boot. He goes through more difficult situations in this book than you can shake a stick at.
The author attributes his success to two strong elements in his life: “Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and my rodeo/cowboy mentality. When you rodeo, when you get hurt, you ‘cowboy’ and continue.
To those who claim that Dam just needs to keep living, he refutes that idea.
“I was so active and so agile before that,” he said. “I wasn’t an athlete, but I was very athletic and good at my coordination and my ability to get things done. I lost that ability. I used to have beautiful calligraphy that was second to none. Now I can barely write. I live with this every day of my life.
Telling stories through his writing allows Dam to push past his physical limitations by using his platform to write about his life’s values.
“20 Shots from the Quiver,” his book of poetry, features writing that condenses ideas. Dam tries to use this same type of concentrated writing in his novels, giving them a poetic touch.
“My poetry fades into the way I write my stories,” he said. “I started writing poetry first, so my poetic style is reflected in my books. The way I articulate my words, you just have to read it to understand. Some paragraphs have to be read two or three times before to say, “Oh, yeah. It’ll slap your head.
Dam’s background in publishing led him to found his own publishing house, Media Literary Excellence.
“I worked so hard and so long to get my books out there,” he said. “I could never get anyone to watch my work without paying a lot of money. I’ve self-published with three different companies and one thing I’ve learned about self-publishing is that it’s a way to get your work out there, but collectively 90% of companies are scammers. They promise you one thing and give you something else.
He hopes to help other writers get their books into readers’ hands by using honest means to publish.
“You have to tell the truth and the integrity – and that’s how it should be, period.”