By RICK BROWN, Yard Light Media
KEARNEY — John Henry Dam’s life changed in 1980 when a livestock accident happened at a feedlot where he worked.
He was riding a mule that reared up, causing Dam to fall off. The animal then rolled over on him, depriving his brain of oxygen. He suffered the same kinds of effects as a stroke.
“After I got hurt, my whole life changed,” he said. “I had to relearn everything, 110 percent, things I knew from being a baby. I had to learn how to crawl again and then walk — everything. Before the accident, I wasn’t a gifted speaker but I spoke pretty well. I could easily speak in front of a bunch of people. Now, when I speak to somebody, I have to search for a word. If it doesn’t come, I start stuttering.”
As a result, Dam began to write down his thoughts. His written words of him came easier than his speaking words of him.
“I started studying profusely,” he said in an interview from his home in Kearney. “Then I started writing because I could express myself better; I could comb my mind looking for just the right word I needed to use.”
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Writing down his thoughts progressed to writing about people and then creating poetry and stories. Today Dam is the author of three books—two novels and one book of poetry. The Nebraska writer has a third novel in the works, a process where he writes in an organic way, shunning an outline and just letting the story unfold.
“I labor over every word in each sentence trying to get it right,” he said. “I just start writing and see where it goes.”
Dam, 68, published “The End of a Beginning” in June 2021, a story he calls in a promo for the book, “a parable concerning love and integrity, infidelity and death, soon afterward devastation the forerunner for a new life.” The life of Rudy, his protagonist, reflects many of the challenges that Dam has faced throughout his life.
“My character, Rudy, is a stand-up character,” Dam said. “He shows you, by example, that a person can have high morals and tenacity, along with it. He goes through more predicaments in this book than you can shake a stick at.”
The author credits two strong elements in his life for his success: “Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and my rodeo/cowboy mentality. When you’re rodeoing, when you get hurt, you ‘cowboy up’ and go on with it.”
To those who claim that Dam just needs to get on with life, 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 gifted as far as my coordination and my ability to do things. I lost that ability. I used to have beautiful penmanship that was second to nobody. Now I can barely write. I live with this every day of my life.”
Telling stories through his writing Dam to move beyond his physical limitations by using his platform to write about the values of his life.
“20 Shots from the Quiver,” his book of poetry, features writing that condenses ideas. Dam tries to use that same type of concentrated writing in his novels by him, giving them a poetic feel.
“My poetry rubs off in the way I write my stories,” he said. “I started writing poetry first, so my poetic style bleeds into my books. The way I put my words together, you just have to read it to understand. Some paragraphs you need to read two or three times before you say, ‘Oh, yeah.’ It’ll slap you upside your head.”
Dam’s publishing experience led him to create his own publishing company, Media Literary Excellence.
“I worked so hard and so long to get my books out there,” he said. “I could never get anybody to look at my work without paying a bunch of money. I’ve self-published with three different companies and one thing I’ve figured out about self-publishing is it’s a way to get your stuff out there, but collectively, 90 percent of the companies are scam artists. They promise you one thing and give you something else.”
He hopes to help other writers get their books in the hands of readers by using honest means to publish.
“You’ve got to speak truth and integrity — and that’s the way it’s got to be, period.”