Friday, February 28, 2014

My Love Letters

My wife claims she still has all of the love letters I have written to her . . . which must be an imponderable pile by now, seeing as how I have written hundreds, and an even greater number of love poems.  But I've never seen this stash, she must be hiding the whole shebang in four sock drawers. And as far as I know, she doesn't use any of my letters as stuffing in undergarments. Most likely, I'll find this trove at a most unlikely post, like in the trunk of the car next to the spare tire, or perhaps under the lawn mower cushion.  All of my letters will just come flooding out, very likely embarrassing me in front of my in-laws, where I'll have to explain to my father-in-law what I meant when I wrote, "I wanna get jiggy wid' it" or "meet me under the back deck at midnight and we'll hunt for night crawlers."

Love letters are, if anything, an embarrassment to real literature.  And yet, here they are, spewing forth from my pen in great profusion.  I write 'em on napkins, on the backs of cardboard boxes; I write 'em on used envelopes and, when the kids are not at home, scrawl a few lines on the kitchen counter in ketchup.  

Not that these love letters have had any impact, of course.  At least, I've seen no negligible traces of influence through nearly thirty years of marriage.  But I still write 'em. 

Last night, I wrote two incredible love poems while in a state of near exhaustion.  In fact, I know I'll find a home for these poems in some journal or magazine that is managed by an equally inept male editor who only dreams of romance, but can only find love through the newspaper classifieds.

Most of my love poetry ends up this way . . . first appearing in university journals or, at times, in the pages of slicker magazines.  It's months after I have written them, but the publication, I hope, will somehow prove that I am a Romeo to be reckoned with, a guy who can write love in pentameters, or sonnet forms, or even in free-flowing verse that has no boundaries.  Sometimes, I write well enough to get paid. But now that I have hundreds of these things alongside my by-line, they are just another by-product of my imagination, romantic ponderings that have no basis in reality.

One of these days I'll find those love letters in the most unlikely place.  I won't remember writing any of them, but I'll know I did.  I would recognize my handwriting anywhere.

After all, we don't have our milk delivered to the door anymore.         


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Romance of Signing Contracts

I love signing contracts (when I sign them).  Yesterday, when I returned from a pastor's conference, I signed four.  Four in one day.  Might be my new record.

I signed up with a New York publisher for a new book.  I signed two other contracts granting permission to have nearly a dozen of my essays published in two magazines.  And I signed another contract (electronic pen online . . . with that tiny little hand) granting permission for a journal to publish a poem.

I'd love to say that I love the smell of fresh ink in the morning, but there's very little ink used in contracts anymore.  Contracts now days are essentially long rambling documents, written in legal jargon (which I have finally learned to interpret), and the writer signs the whole shebang at the end in illegible script.

In my office at home I have a filing cabinet, one drawer nearly filled to the brim with writing contracts.  These things mound up as the years go by.  I rarely have need to pull them out . . . but sometimes questions arise around issues of second rights, or foreign rights, or even such mundane matters as the number of author copies to be shipped at the time of publication.  Sometimes I pull out an old contract to check royalty percentages or the scale of the percentage built around sales figures. 

Often, when writers talk about these matters, folks believe that we are discussing enormous sums of money. In actuality, most contracts I sign are for $0 net, and even with books the sums discussed are mere pennies.  Still, contracts look impressive . . . especially when they are piled high in a filing cabinet drawer and my wife sees them and the stack causes her to become romantic and she yells at me for not having dinner ready.  Fifteen page contracts can have this effect upon women, and I always make sure my wife is sitting next to me on the couch when I sign them.  It's my way of telling her that I have value, that I am worthy of her ten minutes of attention each week.

Of course, she always wants to know, "How much are you gettin' to write this?"

My answer is usually, "Nothing.  It's just the honor of being married to a guy who can write a decent love poem."

This is where she walks away and sticks her nose in the freezer, searching for a creme sickle. 

I just sign the lines.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Under Further Review

My first delivery of the year was a sizable box that included a treasury of books . . . all to be read and reviewed.  I'm now underway, pages deep into the endeavor, already formulating my synopses of these titles.

Writing book reviews is a most different kind of writing.  It is at once powerful and humbling.  There is the sense of urgency combined with the tedious plodding through pages, an unwillingness to take chances with another writer's handiwork while at the same time an eagerness to comment on it.  Being fair and honest, while also insightful, is a difficult business.

But I enjoy writing book reviews and, as the publishers and authors look to me for my insights (as I look to other reviewers for theirs) there is a sense of camaraderie, of being a part of a great industry of words, with my reviews serving as part of the bridge between the writer and the eagerly-awaiting public.  (Are they eagerly awaiting?) 

I don't write reviews for all the books I read.  I have made it a point not to write negative book reviews.  If I can't tolerate a book, I won't pan it.  I'll simply ignore it. 

Under further review, this seems like sane practice to me.  I don't have to engage in all conversations.  Sometimes, just reading a book is enough. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Writing the SpongeBob Life

Somewhere in the dim, dank recesses of our basement storage are boxes filled with assorted VHS and DVDs of childhood years.  Among them is a set of SpongeBob Squarepants episodes.

I liked SpongeBob.  He loved hamburgers and . . . well, he lived in a pineapple under the sea.  He also lived vicariously through an assortment of characters who served as friends and foils.  As I recall, one friend was Squidward--a fellow who played the clarinet (and that no so well), and another was a squirrel named Sandy (who wore a glass dome on her head so she could live under the sea).  Watching that show, and other animated features, always impressed me as a writer's paradise.  With animation, a writer can do most anything.

Many years ago, in college, I had a course in Shakespeare, and the professor pointed out that there are, in actuality, few plots.  Shakespeare was a master at using similar plot lines over and over again.  Certain of these involved a flawed hero (Hamlet), the star-crossed lovers (Romeo & Juliet), or plots that were either tragic (the hero's flaw ends badly) or triumphant (the hero's flaws are overcome and there is redemption at the end).

Writing novels (and short stories) basically involves one of these (or a few other) plot lines.  The writer may not always be aware of using a plot, but nearly all novels are formulaic to some degree, with mysteries, thrillers and romances being the most predictable.  Still, a great genre novel never misses, and the best writers have a knack for kicking some new or unexpected element into an old formula.

And for those who want to write comedy, I don't think you can go wrong with studying SpongeBob episodes.  Take out the starfish and the blowfish and the Crabby Patties and you have some decent comedy here. With a few holes in it.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cover Art

Of all the tasks related to producing a book, working on the book's cover is exhilarating, especially when the publisher desires input from the writer.  In recent months I've been involved in quite a number of these forays. 

And now, in this age of both print and digital, it is not uncommon for a publisher to produce several covers for the same book, the idea being that different colors, schemes and even type face can somehow appeal to various demographics of readers.

In addition, once a book moves into the cover stage, there is a growing sense of finality, as if the thing is actually going to be born.  The cover seems very much like the creation of Frankenstein's monster, and an author always wonders if people will be amazed by this new thing or frightened of it.  The cover always signals the end of the writing, too . . . and if a writer is still working on the book, the publisher is now standing on the top deck, waving the glow sticks, and the writer had best be landing.  If he's not completed the manuscript by now there is a good possibility that he is going to have to ditch in the ocean.

I have always been one of those who finish a manuscript much earlier than expected.  In fact, most publishers have to tell me to hold onto the manuscript for a few months, they just aren't ready to accommodate me.  And so, while I'm sitting on those manuscripts awaiting their adopted covers, I'm working on others, and the crude just keeps on flowing.  My biggest problem is having to go back and work on a manuscript I finished months before, reconnecting with my old friends while I'm making new ones, and trying to recall exactly why I placed a footnote on the bottom of page twenty-two, for example, or trying to answer a question like:  "Would you like to change the type face on page ninety-seven?"

Good Lord, I just don't remember . . . what's on page ninety-seven?

But book covers are different.  I rather enjoy discussions about photography, light saturation, type faces, and size (yes, size matters!).  I feel in these discussions the finality of the book, the sense of urgency required to finally "kill another one" so that I can begin creating the next.  Publishers, I'm sure, have this same elation, but from the marketing end of the stick.  They complete their lineup when a writer gives the final nod.

Then, we go to print (or to the net).  But that, my friends, is another story entirely.   

Monday, February 17, 2014

Writer's Soup

This week begins with Q & A . . . a blend of obvious and not-so-obvious observations aimed at answering the pressing concerns that nobody really cares about:

Q:  What is the next book you will be reviewing?
A: Word has it that I should be receiving the latest Leonard Sweet title any moment now, fresh off the press.  I'll have my mitts on Lenny's pages within the next 48-hours.  You can bet I'll read him quickly, but will take my time writing my review, which should make its way, then, to the pages of several magazines.

Q:  Exactly how many books are you working on right now?
A:  This is difficult to answer.  The easy answer would be to say that I work on one book at a time.  The truthful answer would be to say that there are no less than a half dozen books in various stages of dress.  The best answer is to say that I don't keep track of numbers, just deadlines and ideas about deadlines.  If I concentrate on anything else, those deadlines will kill me. 

Q:  What is your next book to be published?
A:  Currently, if the book gods are true to their word (they usually lie), I can expect to receive contributors copies any day now.  This time, a poetry anthology that includes a nice representation of my verse.  But if this book doesn't strike first, it could be a book about Jesus, or wine, or perhaps even a novel.  I stopped trying to predict these outcomes years ago.  Which is why I never buy a lottery ticket.

Q: How are you coming along on your goal to have 150 essays published in 2014?  
A:  Thanks for asking, Vinnie.  Thus far I've had thirteen essays published (which, of course, is an unlucky number).  I'm going to have to pick up the pace considerably if you do the math.  But if I count book reviews, too, I should make some headway once I receive my first big-ol-shipment of books. 

Q:  Word has it you don't sleep much these days.  Is this true?
A:  Obviously, I do sleep.  Compared to a black bear in hibernation, I sleep very little.  Compared to the mouse in my attic that keeps me awake most nights, I sleep too much.  But I have been known to go for days on the stamina produced from coffee and the glow of a fresh page on the computer screen.  If I have work that won't let me sleep, then I don't.  When my wife tells me she wants me, or just has to have me in bed right now, I sleep with her.  (But just imagine that black bear in hibernation and you'll have an accurate picture of what this entails.)

Q: As a writer, what do you hope your legacy will be?
A: Isaac Asimov wrote something like 600 books in his lifetime.  If the book gods smile favorably upon me, perhaps I'll reach the 100 mark by the time the worms chew my gizzard.  

Q:  Any advice you would give to the young writers out there?A:  Yes.  Just do it . . . and stop reading this blog.         

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day

Only a handful of people know me . . . and among this tiny enclave, it is a select few who read (or who want to read) any of my work in progress.  And, because I write across so many genres, even these select few are surprised when my name shows up in print.  In fact, I often get to surprise my wife by showing her essays and articles (and sometimes even whole books) as they appear in print for the first time.  Usually, her comment is: "That's nice, dear."

In the coming weeks I do have several "love" poems that are slated for publication, along with several essays and books, but none of them are going to arrive in time for Valentine's Day . . . when I could truly express my love and appreciation by opening up pages and pointing to my byline.  But for those who have contributed to my writing in recent weeks, or otherwise made it possible for me to make my way into print every month, I am truly grateful.  I have many to thank (and you know who you are).  But I'm especially indebted to Tom, Ginger, Andy, Perry, Andy, Sarah, Dan, and Amy in recent weeks.  Thank you!

And although I do have some new poetry on the way in several journals/magazines, and therefore can't blog it here, I'll offer this one from my 2013 poetry journal as a Valentine's Gift to Becky.  (She won't be reading this, but that's a reality I have to live with.  We'll talk things over later while we are eating a can of Chunky soup on Valentine's Day.)  But here's one I wrote last winter

The weatherman says it is going to snow:
Rain forming to sleet, then turning cold.
I have prepared a can of soup
Such as one might find in any kitchen
Where people live in the dark,
Looking out on the brown lawn
With the expectation of winter.
Later, we will sit at the table
With crackers and cheese on a plate
And string a life together from days
Such as this, where we wait
With nothing at all to do.
Sharing a bowl of silence
That is more than enough for two.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Malcolm Gladwell has written another intriguing book, this time an exploration of underdogs and overachievers.  Gladwell has a knack for discovering connections between seemingly unconnected subjects, and David and Goliath is no exception.

In David and Goliath, Gladwell explores everything from the Biblical story (the introduction) to a high school girl's basketball team to Harvard admissions and graduation statistics to famous personalities and their respective achievements.  Better yet, the book is a type of sociological, and at times pscyhological, study of personality and conflict.

In addition, what makes Gladwell's books so interesting is the spare language and concise (even precise) writing.  Nothing is wasted. 

So . . . what's next for this wild-eyed New Yorker staff writer?  Difficult to say.  Gladwell defies categorization. 

But this might, of course, be the very thing that defines him. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Olympic Spirit

It occured to me last night during the opening ceremony of the Olympics . . . that these late nights could actually be quite productive.  Having recently signed a contract to write another BIG book, I'm now going to have to burn the midnight oil for months in order to produce another 100,000 word manuscript.  But I'm already well on my way . . . thanks to the Olympics.  One can, after all, watch only so much curling or luging.  And when it comes to ice skating, I can only take about five minutes of toe-loops and triple axels.  As soon as I hear Scott Hamilton say, "Oh, she missed that triple-salchow and only did a double!  That's going to cost her points with the judges . . ." I'm back to the keyboard.

Still, the Olympics do compel me to compete.  So, in that spirit, I've been thinking about some titles I could write.  I wonder if I could find a publisher for any of these?

Curlying in Cinema
     This title will explore the variety of Curlys throughout cinematic history, beginning with Moe, Larry and Curly.  I'll also explore the rise of Shemp as this juxtoposition lead to the Dairy Queen curl and women's curling under the blowdryer.  The book will also explore the influence of Shirley Temple's curls on women's hairstyles and how styles have changed through the years in cinema, leading up to this year's Oscars and the impact of the Justin Bieber curl.

So . . .You Want to Luge
     The only Olympic sport that EVERYONE believes he/she could do, luging is fast becoming the most popular sport in Indiana, where people are now building luge tracks in their back yards.  This title will explore the connection between luging and the 57% rise in Emergency Room visits.  A handy appendix in the back of the book (including an actual appendix removed from a healthy 45-year old female pole dancer) will illustrate how to built your own luge out of discarded Gremlin auto parts.

Ice Skating Terminology Made Easy
     Everyone will want to keep a copy of this book close at hand during the Olympics.  With its handy alphabetized reference guide, this title will explain terms like Axel (which is where skaters attempt to jump in the air and land without breaking the pelvis) and Salchow (which is a Scandanavian term meaning, "this guy should be a bartender instead of jumping on the ice").  Professional skaters, as well as those who skate at Rhonda's Rumpus Rink, will want to own a copy.  The book will also contain tips on how to break your opponent's ankle with a cast iron rod (known as a "Gillooly") and how to influence the judges' voting (a "bribe").  

Is Hockey for Real?
     This title will become a cult favorite due to its graphic core and blood-n-guts photo plates.  Based on expert interviews and excerpts taken from conversations between players and coaches, we'll see how hockey is directly related to boxing and is a legalized version of assault and battery.  Team doctors will reveal how players are kept alive through intravenous Gatorade drips, including a few corpses who are still skating (but the leagues won't admit it).  The book will also include favorite quotes from Don Rickles, who described everyone he met as a "Hockey Puck!" 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Two Too

Later this year I will receive copies of two books to which I have contributed.  Now, as I look on my shelves, I see that I've contributed to something like 20 titles in the past decade. But I don't count these in my total since my name is not on the cover, even though, in some instances, I was the principal contributor.

I don't mind contributing, however.  That's really more my style, anyway.  If I were an actor, I'd never lead.  I would have a minor role.  If I played a professional sport, I'd mainly ride the pine.  In fact, I have always preferred the back row to the front row.  Still do.

If I were to count these other twenty books, though--I'd now have over 50 books that, in some capacity, could be attributed to me.  I don't talk about this, though, as my wife is not easily impressed.  She usually just yawns when I show her the latest book copy.  Mainly, she just wants to know if I've taken the time to cook dinner.  She never seems to like it when I tell her I traded dinner for writing, and will likely do so again tomorrow and the day after.  Sometimes, I toss her a hamburger and point out the large stack of Ramen noodles in the pantry.

Every now and again my wife sees one of my new books lying on the floor and she asks, "When did you write this one?"

I tell her I don't remember.  And she says, "Well, I don't remember either . . . but it looks interesting."

I ask her if she'd like to read the new book.  She declines.  And that's that.

I'm not sure how many books I will contribute to in 2014.  Being only forty days into the new year and already two deep into the pot I don't want to speculate.  But it could get interesting.

In the meantime, I'll continue to stack the books on my wife's desk.  Perhaps she will read one soon.  After all, most of the books are dedicated to her. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dark Fiction

Word came that my latest science fiction story is now available.  The story, "Squatters" was published in the British magazine, Morpheus Tales, which has been described as a home for dark and controversial fiction.  (Not sure if my stories are either, but I do like this story about a wild-west world near the giant red star, Betelgeuse.)

Print copies not available in the U.S., but a Kindle version of the magazine can be found on Amazon at:

Anyway, want to thank Adam for including me in the issue, and I hope we can meet again in these pages, soon.

One of these days I'm going to gather all of my published science fiction and make a book . . . but until then . . .

There are always more stories to write, because there are always more worlds to imagine.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Game Time

For years now I've used the S**** B*** as an opportunity to read, write and research . . . and this year will be no different.  And now that the commissioner and the NFL have made it clear they will pursue legal action against anyone who uses the official term S**** B*** to describe their party, gathering or family event, I'm even more eager to steer clear of the hype.

So, I'll just read my S**** B*** books.  I've got my S**** B*** nachos.  I've got my S**** B*** drinks.

I also plan to write on my S**** B*** computer.  But I won't write about the S**** B***.  That would be too risky.  S**** B***! I might get sued.

Four years ago I read an entire book during the game.  I even remember the title of that book.  It was The Cheapskate's Guide to Life.  Still have it (somewhere).  That was a S**** B*** book!  

Not sure how the game will turn out, but I don't plan to be dormant.  S**** B*** I might accomplish something significant.  

Now, please excuse me . . . I've got to get back to those S**** B*** sandwiches.  They are S**** B*** good!