Creativity and More: The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

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Albert Einstein said, “The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

My undergraduate education is a liberal arts education. My major was history and my minors were English and military science. My Master of Arts degree is in Christian education. My broad-based liberal arts education did more than prepare me for a job. It provided the foundation that allows me to compete in the marketplace of ideas. I also completed the core curriculum for a computer science degree.

It has been 43 years since I heard the University of Texas at Arlington President Dr. Nedderman say I had met the requirements for my bachelor’s degree. Within minutes of his pronouncement, I raised my right hand and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army through Army ROTC.

I did not make the military a career. Three years later I headed to graduate school. I was amazed at how prepared I was. I knew how to read, write, study, do research and write research papers, and most importantly how to think.

My UT Arlington liberal arts education taught me how to think independently and make sound judgments. I learned how to expand my horizons, discover new perspectives, and acquire the tools to defend my point of view. My education helped me learn to reflect on life, have a moral and historic compass where I can distinguish good from evil, justice from injustice, and what is noble and beautiful from what is useful.

I have been employed over the years as an officer in the US Army, a minister, educator, corporate trainer, Internet Coordinator, IT Support Analyst, IT Systems Administrator IT Application Engineer, and writer. These have been my day jobs that have supported my 38 plus years of freelance writing. When working in IT it is interesting to see how many persons have undergraduate degrees in the liberal art disciplines. These are the people that know how to think outside the box. These are the people with excellent critical thinking skills. These are the persons that embrace change and know how to successfully deal with it.

What have I done with my history degree? All the above plus I have published hundreds of magazine and trade journal articles. I have published poetry. I have written book reviews. I have a website “Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews.” The site was named a 100 best websites for history buffs. I read and review military history books published under more than a dozen different imprints.

I get asked often by younger adults how I know so much about so much. They say I am a modern renaissance man. My answer: I received a liberal arts education at the University of Texas at Arlington.

How committed am I to a liberal arts education? I have three grown children – all three were liberal arts degrees.


Photo Source: Image created and shared by Jerri Kemble, assistant superintendent at Lawrence (KS) Public Schools, after reading Scott Hartley’s “The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World.”

Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Dreams

Have I mentioned I’m writing my fourth novel?  Oh, I know, everyone is either writing a novel, plans to write a novel or has the next great story idea.  So, with that in mind, I’ll start over.

Writing My Fourth Novel

Did I mention I am writing a novel?

Yes, I am. While I’ve published a science fiction novel, a historical fiction novel, a short story anthology, a poetry collection, and have a second unpublished science fiction novel, I have never published a literary fiction novel. Novel number four is literary fiction.

Even though I have hundreds of paid writing credits over the last 40 years in dozens of trade journals, magazines, literary journals, and science fiction magazines, few people view me as a writer.

Response of Family and Friends

Have you ever noticed the response of family and friends when they learn you are writing a novel?  You know the responses I’m talking about.  You’ve seen them.

There’s the rolling of the eyes up toward the sky.

There’s the bobbing the head up and down while shaking it in disbelief.

Sometimes they will express condolences to a spouse that you’re using your time in this way.  other times they will say “That’s nice.  Everyone needs a hobby.”

When I get responses like these I want to put my hands on their shoulders, look them directly in the eye and say, “Hello, did you hear me? I said I am writing a novel.  That’s because I am a writer!”

At this point they usually repeat, “That’s nice or I thought you worked with computers.”

I reply “Working with computers paid for my passion for writing before I became a full-time writer.”

It’s sad. They still don’t get it.  Oh, I can send them running out of the room in a hurry if I say, “Would you like to hear a chapter?”  Those words are like saying “FIRE, RUN, FLEE FOR YOUR LIFE!”

Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Dreams

I mention all this to say, don’t let anyone steal your dream.  If you’re like me, you have to write.  You can’t help it.  It’s part of who you are.  So write!  And, tell your friends and family that you’re working on a novel.  Let them the progress you are making.  And you can drop me a note from time to time in the comments section.  I’ll understand.

Good Friday and Easter – My Personal Christian Testimony

Being good doesn’t get you to heaven. Being “saved or born-again” does. Here’s my story of “being saved.”

On July 11, 1977, my life changed. If you look up that date in history, you will find nothing historically significant happened on that Sunday. It was a remarkable day for me. Sunday, July 11, 1977, was the watershed event in my life.

July 1977 found me on active duty as a lieutenant in the United States Army. I was serving as Battalion Maintenance Officer, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington. Life was good. I had a beautiful, intelligent wife. I had a new son born in January that same year. My career was going great. I had just received a commendable rating during an Annual General Inspection in maintenance and Department of the Army General Inspection (DAIG). It was the first commendable rating since the division had returned from Vietnam.

Because of the DAIG commendable rating, I received a special officer evaluation report with addendums from my battalion commander, brigade commander, assistant division commander for support, and division commanding general. I with Named an Outstanding Junior Officer of the Ninth Infantry Division because of the commendable rating. I was branch transferred from the Infantry to Ordnance Corps to better utilize my giftedness in leading support maintenance. I received an offer of a regular army commission. I was asked to be assistant division commander for support’s aide.

I always tried being the best I could be and doing what was right. I was a perfectionist, high-achieving, and a workaholic. However, after all of this, I still had an empty, unsatisfied, void, and alone feeling.

Beginning in my college years I tried drinking, women, materialism, partying, and hanging out with the right crowd to fill this unexplained need I had. I knew something was missing from my life.

I was attending First Baptist Church of Lakewood in Tacoma, Washington. I noticed a group of men that seemed to have what I was missing. I attended a Bible study with them.

Here I found that God has given us an essential manual for life — the Bible. He has the answers to the problems and emptiness we may face. I found out I was here for a purpose, and not by accident. I learned Jesus loves me and desires to have a personal relationship with me. However, sin separated me from Him.

I realized I had a sin problem. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23 But no one is perfect! We have all sinned and therefore cannot save ourselves by just living a good life. Why?

I learned there was a penalty to be paid for my sin. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

I learned God gives us a promise. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

I learned that God made a provision for me. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. – Romans 10:9-10

I prayed to accept the gift of eternal life through Jesus. I prayed, “Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I believe that You died for my sins and rose from the grave so that I might have eternal life in Heaven with You. I willingly repent of my sins and ask you to come into my heart and life. Take control of my words, thoughts, and actions. I place all of my trust in You for my salvation. I accept You as my Lord and Savior, and this free gift of eternal life. Amen.”

Since then my life has not been perfect. It’s been far from it. I’ve messed up from time to time, sometimes failing miserably in my decisions and choices. However, I have had direction and purpose in my life. I know where I am headed. I have the Bible to give me the principles for daily living. I am never alone. I have had real peace for the last 40 years.

How about you? Have you ever been “saved”? You can do like I did.

Romans 10:9-10, 13 tells us, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. … For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Why not pray this simple prayer and accept Jesus Christ today.

Hold On Tight To Your Dreams

Hello there. Welcome to jimmiekepler.com, the blog of a writer, poet, and polymath named Jimmie Aaron Kepler. This is Jim Kepler.

On my blog, I communicate about how I write, my writing process, and how I manage to do it while maintaining a life. From time to time I’ll interview other authors on the same subjects.

I don’t have all the answers. Like you I struggle. My struggle is a thirty-five plus years journey of writing while working a day job, being a husband, father, grandfather and caregiver.

Presently I work full time as an Applications Support Engineer for a Fortune 500 privately held company. I average 45 hours a week on my day job. I spend another ten to fifteen hours a week in my car during my daily commute. I am the primary caregiver for my wife of forty-plus years who is battling Stage IV Melanoma Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer. I also am the primary caregiver for my ninety years old father who lives 50 miles from me with all of the city of Dallas, Texas and its traffic in-between. He still drives and lives on his own.

Today I am the blog’s guest. My name is Jim Kepler. I earned a bachelor of arts degree in history with minors in English and military science from The University of Texas at Arlington and a master of religious education and master of arts degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I later earned a doctor of education degree as well as completed the core curriculum of a computer science degree.

Relax, I promise not to hit you over the head or between the eyes with the Bible. I confess I write science fiction with faith where I include Christianity and other belief systems. I try to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction.

Since high school, I wanted to write. I was told writing was not a real job for a man who would someday need to support a wife and children. Graduating from college, I did three years active duty as a commissioned officer in the US Army. I then headed to grad school.

When I finished graduate school, I started taking writing seriously. I attend my first writer’s conference. There I was offered a nonfiction magazine article assignment. I jumped at the opportunity.

Over the next fifteen years, I wrote, sold, and had published one to three articles a year. I was paid at professional writing rates. I penned a weekly newspaper column for fifteen years. I also wrote a nonfiction book, sold it, and then had the kill fee clause in the book’s contract executed. I was paid twenty percent of the contract by the publisher to cancel the book. I was devastated. I started losing my motivation to write.

Then life seemed to get in the way. I did a major career change where I started doing a large amount of corporate training, technical writing, and curriculum writing. I also went back to college and faced the common challenges of career, parenting three teenagers, having my wife develop a serious illness, and caring for aging parents.

Because of this, I took a ten years break from writing articles. I still wrote and worked on a few poems. I also started writing and publishing book reviews in the military history field as well as blogging. I did not write any book-length manuscripts, magazine articles, short stories, etc. during this season of life.

In 2007 I was revisited by my Muse. She encouraged me to start writing again. This time I started over as a newbie. Instead of writing nonfiction I decided to write short stories, historical fiction, and my favorite, science fiction.

That same year I started the next great American novel, joined an excellent writers group, and started writing and submitting short stories and poems. Along the way, I sold a few short stories as well as placed at some writing contests.

The writing contest affirmations of my skills helped my ego and increased my drive. Somewhere in this time, I learned the need to focus. My focus was improved by listening to podcasts on writing like Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” and Joann Penn’s “The Creative Penn.”  Dean Koontz and Diana Gabaldon also were podcasting during this time and provided great insights and motivation.

I took me three years to complete that first novel. It was historical fiction. I went the traditional route pitching it to agents at Cons, small press acquisition editors, and publishers at more Cons, and finally self-publishing the first novel to minimal sales. It proved to be of great value as it showed me I could complete a book. I have since written the first two books of a four-book science fiction series.

Through the years I found myself wanting to be a full-time writer so bad I could taste it. I modeled the habits of the people who successfully transitioned from day job to full-time writer. I started writing an hour a day before work, giving my best time and effort to my writing before going to the day job. I would also write for two to three hours on Saturday.

So I’m chasing the dream. In the weeks ahead we’ll pursue the dream together and meet other writers pursuing their dreams.

And you’ll be reminded to hold on tight to your dreams.

Buna, Texas and the Polka Dot House

Buna Polka Dot HouseIn southeast Texas at the southern end of Jasper county is a community called Buna. I lived in Jasper County from 1984 through 1993 and again in 1996. Buna was my home in 1992 and 1993. I had the blessing of serving a wonderful group of people as associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Buna.

Two large questions filled my mind when I first talked with the church’s search committee about joining their staff. The first was how the community got its name. The second concerned a certain house in town.

Buna was named by the owners of the lumber mill. I was told the Beaumont Lumber Company mill in southern Jasper County was first called Carrolla. It was named for the Carroll family. They were prominent Beaumont lumbermen and industrialists. The site was renamed Buna, however, in honor of one of the family’s cousins, Buna Corley. So Buna was named after a cousin of the saw mill’s owner.

The second question concerned that certain house. At first glance the house was nothing special. It was painted white like many other houses. At second glance I realized it was different. There were spots on the house. Cleaning my glasses didn’t help. The spots were still there. As I got closer I realized the spots were actually polka dots. The polka dots were painted blue!

Several members of the associate pastor search committee taught me the history of the house as they knew it.

Some told me a couple bought the house after World War Two and couldn’t agree on the color to paint it. They said the wife wanted a white house, but the husband wanted it painted blue. He grudging gave in painting it white to please the wife. Then he painted blue polka dots to please himself. I believe it was the Odell family that purchased the house.

Not all on the search committee agreed with how the house got its polka dots. Others told me the Davis family owned the house and later sold it to the Odell family. Some thought it may have already had the polka dots before the Odells got the house. One said no matter how many times the Odells painted the house white the dots just kept bleeding through the white paint so they finally gave up and kept the polka dots.

Buna water towerApparently the house originally had red and blue polka dots, though I only remember the blue ones. They were a royal blue, just like the high school colors.

Through the years the house has been a residence, florist, gift shop, home of the Buna Chamber of Commerce, and a few even remembered it housing the sub-courthouse of Jasper County.

Any residents of Buna that know the real or rest of the story please feel free to leave a comment.

Does Buna, Texas still have the little white house with blue polka dots? I don’t know for sure. I haven’t been to Buna since just after Hurricane Rita. That certain house was still there then.


A reader shared this website with me that has more info on Buna’s Polka Dot House: http://bunapolkadothouse.wix.com/bunapolkadothouse. Also please read the below comments to get the rest of the story from local residents and kinfolks of Buna’s Polka Dot House original owners and polka dot painters.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

Writer’s Life: Remembering My First Sale

Today I was sitting back and reflecting on the writer’s life. It got me to thinking. How did I get that first sale? That first book review?

The first sale involved learning the system. I attended a Smokey Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference. I was a want to be writer. I learned some of the basics of magazine article writing. Maybe the most important happening at the conference was meeting editors and publishers. I talked to several publishers who expressed interest in working with new writers.

All the editors required that I write on speculation. That means I write on the subject they assign, but they have no obligation to buy my work. It allows them to see if I can follow their rules, meet their deadlines, write saleable copy, etc.  It lets them see how thick-skinned you are and if you take criticism too personal.

I had a kind editor who loved taking a few rookie writers under his wing each year and mentoring them. I had to rewrite six times before he bought the first article. My payment was 2 1/2 cents per word.  I received a check for $12.50, three copies of the magazine – one for me, one for my parents, and one for my wife’s parents. Plus my name was on the by-line. The article was published in a little magazine called “Sunday School Leadership” published by Lifeway Christian Resources. Its circulation was over 250,000 subscribers. It was read by my church members, seminary classmates, and members of the 40,000 plus Southern Baptist Churches in the USA as well as most directors of Christian education of all denominations.

I wrote an article or two for this editor every year for the next 15 years. It took me over a decade before I got a cover article. Once I did get a cover article I got one every year until he retired.  The first article is very basic. It is attached and titled: Who Does What?

I wrote the article in the Emory University Library in Atlanta, Georgia. I lived close to the campus. It was a favorite place for me to hang out and study.

In 1989 I was approached about reviewing books. At the time I would put a book review about once a month in my church’s newsletter. My editor was on the mailing list and said I wrote good reviews. He recommended me to a colleague. The thought of having someone give me a book for free to read was exciting to me. I bought and read about 100 books a year. The article for the first book I reviewed is attached with the simple title Book Review”.

I wrote this article while sitting in my church bus. I had taken the senior adults from my church to an event in the Smokey Mountains. We had the afternoon free and had gone to tour the Vanderbilt Estate in Asheville, NC.  One lady refuse to visit the house. She was protesting paying homage to the wealthy and decadent lifestyle I think. Even though the cost of the tour was prepaid, she refused to go on it. It was fall and cold in the mountains. I would not let her stay on the bus by herself. So, I sat out there on the bus all afternoon and wrote. I can write anywhere I think. The dear lady is still living and around 90 years old and still has strong convictions. The picture is of the Vanderbilt Estate.

What is my point? My point is if you love to read and write you can probably leverage it into a paying gig.  You will never get rich. I was reminded at the DFW Writers Workshop last spring that less than one percent of all writers are able to support themselves writing full time. So don’t quit your day job. If love writing why not go for it? Just write!

My Grandfather and Me

My maternal grandfather’s name is Stayton Henry May. He passed away when I was thirty-three.

I wrote the poem from memories from 1963 and 1964. Those years I lived in Seguin, Texas. He lived on the old Pruitt Place between Leesville and Nixon, Texas in Gonzales County.

As a fifth and sixth grader, I spent many weekends and holidays with him during those wonder years. The poem is of memories of fishing with him and when I asked him about Jesus walking on the water. He asked where I heard the story. I told him Sunday school. He then retold me the story saying he first heard it attending church as a boy.

I had a wonderful grandfather.

grandpa in boat

My Grandfather and Me

We would walk to the stock tank
My grandfather and me
There I learned to bait a hook
In the cool shade of the trees

Sometimes in the little boat
Rowing close to an earthen dam
He would retell of Jesus walking on the water
A story he’d learned in church when just a lad

He would take a dip of Garrett Snuff
Addicted to the nicotine
While I watched my cane pole’s cork float
When it bobbed, I tugged the line, and let out a scream

In my homemade feed sack shirt
Blue jeans rolled up nearly to my knees
He was always in his khakis
A red bandanna used to catch his sneeze

Memories of those early years
Are as fresh as yesterday
Someday we will meet in Glory
Again he will show me the way.

Jimmie A. Kepler
July 2012