Cruising the Green of Second Avenue

Wild Child Publishing has issued the second volume of short stories in Cruising the Green of Second Avenue. The tales take up where Vol. I left off—bringing back Klein the Biker, Straight Charlie and Sammy the Madman while introducing new characters stumbling over life’s difficulties in the late 60s. Vol. II is an e-book published by Wild Child Publishing that you can download, save as a pdf (Adobe) file and print. Read both volumes and see that life isn't all that serious. Find it at Barnes & Noble and other online book sellers.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Writing to Meet Evolutionary Expectations


I suppose it was revolutionary when the codex replaced the papyrus scroll, just as the e-book reader is replacing the bound volume. But more critically, is the actual writing keeping up with readers’ expectations? Is stylistic form following function?

Not likely.

In 2008, Yume Hotaru's first novel became a best-seller in Japanese bookstores; he wrote it entirely with his thumbs. His First Experience, a story about love and sex in high school, became a top title in one of Tokyo's biggest bookstores.


Keitai shosetsu, composing with your thumbs

Since it emerged in Japan nearly a decade ago, the cell phone novel – keitai shosetsu
has moved from a subgenre to a mainstream literary phenomenon. Today, keitai shosetsu sites boast billions of monthly users, while publishers sell millions of copies of cellular stories taken from phones and turned into paperback. By 2007, half of Japan’s 10 best-selling novels were written on cell phones, (For more, go to http://www.keitai-shosetsu.com/.)

I began wrestling with this thought a few years ago when netspeak began appearing on cell phones. (“R u listening? Lol.”) And, to some extent, leet (733T) speak became a secret code. (I was so proud of myself when I deciphered someone’s e-mail address — disbm3g — as a phonetic of her name.)

Kathryn Schulz, book critic for New York magazine, calls Twitter a valid literary form. Imagine, art contained in 140 characters! But, forget limits that are more stringent than 100-word drabble. This is how people communicate!


Last week, a neophyte writer in our bricks-and-mortar group read her e-mail diary: Letters written to herself. While the writing was rough, it was insightful in an epistemological way. I think she’s on to something, if it can be polished. In fact, she’s probably better than I at reaching young adults who can no longer read or write cursive English, and who have no familiarity with Roman numerals.

This is why I’ve been experimenting to see if new fiction forms can get us through the century. “Big Biz @ the Mall” was a trial run at the quotidian way people communicate via Facebook and instant messaging. (“Big Biz” appeared in Issue 4 of The Corner Club Press,, pp. 50-51, at http://thecornerclubpress.weebly.com/uploads/6/0/5/3/6053731/the_corner_club_press_issue_4.pdf)

Im startin to like this dude with his hair fallin in his eyes. But don’t get any ideas cuz Im married w/ kids and dont fool around. I say okay Ill confess. I peed on the phone. I thought there was a pregnancy app.

“Movin to the Moon” was published in The Story Shack last year, and moved the language a bit further ahead. (“Movin” is at http://thestoryshack.com/2013/01/05/movin-to-the-moon/#respond, under the pen name of Carolyn Foulkes.)

“R u suffering a midlife crisis” she asks, all serious like Dr. Phil.

Just a tiny one I tell her, but it might be PMS. Then I see a guy w/ a mic interviewing people. Hes got a PA system and is wearing a necktie so I know it’s the real deal. I shout ITS SHOW TIME!!! All the geri freaks wake up and stare. “Time for Beauty and the b***h!” I shout to the old guy near me.

Hard to read? Jarring to those literate senses honed in English Lit 101? Yes, it might be. In fact, I’m sympathetic for those 3rd century Romans wondering why they stopped making scrolls. We’re moving into an age of Google knowledge and Wikipedia wisdom. It will be unlikely to find readers who think clearly, grasp basic rules of grammar and syntax, and can communicate without Spell Check and Auto Correct. Rather soon, I’m sorry to say, writers whose world is bound up arguments over the Oxford comma will be so perfectly adapted as to be extinct.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chasing Duclod Man with a Crime Story

Few people have heard about Duclod man, unless they were college girls who received one of the weird letters accusing them of sexual deviancy. I read the account of one student, Sarah Asell, with interest, particularly since I’d graduated Grinnell (Iowa) College some years before her. Duclod man’s letters, written in crude block characters you’d see in a ransom note, began in 1992.

These threatening, wacky missives then spread to students at Dartmouth and other colleges. The recipients were referred to by the serial writer as “duclods.” Duclod was surmised to be a contraction of “dually closeted,” referring to the girls’ sexuality. According to Sarah Aswell, writing in The Advocate, it was 14 years before she learned the identity of the Duclod man — and confronted him. You can do your own detective work into the case by starting at Wikipedia.

This is a teaser of a mystery and it was several years before I was able to weave it around a crime story featuring my Newark Detective Mike Mullally as the main character. You can read it now at Over My Dead Body!, at http://overmydeadbody.com/janus.html.

Mullally has appeared in several short stories, notably “Chain of Events,” also published by Over My Dead Body! in 2010 (at http://www.overmydeadbody.com/giersbch.htm). And he’s the MC in the novel Goodbye, Stockholm that’s nearing publication. True events are often the catalyst for my tackling a story. In the case of "Janus Man," fiction in no way trumps the strangeness of reality.

Monday, June 16, 2014

So That’s How Our Culture Works!

Something seems to be driving us all to stare at our phones and devices at the dinner table, at school desks, on the street. No, it’s not the sex appeal of digital devices. It’s (drum roll) THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT! The anxiety born of worry that something might be happening and WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT.

Seriously. How many wretched films have you seen, how many badly written books and stories have you read because EVERYONE ELSE HAS SEEN/READ THEM? It’s the FOMO syndrome.

And it’s making me nervous.

Do I need to call my satellite TV company and order Showtime in order to see Breaking Bad? (I already have 250 channels.) Do I need high-speed Internet service so I can call up Netflix to see Orange Is the New Black? Some years ago, I was told I absolutely had to watch Silence of the Lambs. And Titanic. And X-Men (1, 2 or 3, I don’t remember). When, years later, I did, I could only say “Meh.” I didn’t paticularly like any of them and regretted wasting my time.

I know I’m not a tourist from the flatlands, 60 percent of whom make up Broadway audiences, but I turned off the movie versions of Chicago, Cabaret and Les Miserables. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire. Love ‘em all, partly because they’re not loud and irritating.

God knows, I try to keep in step. I’ve been on Facebook for years. I clicked yes on LinkedIn, but I don’t know why, since there’s only an occasional discussion having to do with the Oxford comma that’s interesting. I signed up for Twitter, but consign all their entreaties to the spam folder. Likewise, emails from Goodreads are spam. The site is irrelevant to me except as a repository for a review I’ve written for other purposes, such as a friend’s new book or some especially good piece that I’ve finished that goes in my library and then onto Amazon and/or B&N. And Goodreads notifications as to what my “friends” are reading get deleted. Thank you, Facebook, for enlisting everyone I know to tell me what they’re reading.

William Wordsworth said it best: “The world is too much with us.” Put down the device, turn off your connections for awhile now and then, and smell the daffodils. You won’t have missed much of anything.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hook Your Readers

This is my advisory published by Flash Fiction Chronicles a few years back which was recently re-published at http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/hook-your-readers/. The situation hasn’t changed. Advertising copywriters still insist that a good poster capture the attention of a commuter dashing to catch the 8:05 train. That’s a tough chore — almost as tough as grabbing a reader in the first 30 words of your short story.

The grabber is the narrative hook, an intriguing opener that makes the story impossible to put down. It better be good, because an e-zine RSS feed gives the subscriber just that 30-word teaser to invite a click-through.

I’ve started scrutinizing the openers from flash fiction sites that depend on a feed into your mailbox and a click-through to their site. These teasers must make you hit their link or they’ve failed. Check these out from Everyday Weirdness, a now-defunct e-zine.
• “Faith Stands Guard” by Deborah A. Blood: “Holy shit, Faith,” Todd cried, hopping awkwardly to avoid the small terrier. “Do you have to lay there?” He continued toward the kitchen, shouting over his shoulder, “I’m gonna end up stepping on your dog!”...
• “A Note on Spiderlings” by Brenda Stokes: Not all spiders eat their young. Take this from one who knows. I love my spiderlings. All hundreds. I’d never dream of eating them. It’s barbaric! But sometimes, exceptions must be made....
• “Scuttle” by Milo J Fowler: True Story: I never thought buying a gallon of milk would prove to be fatal. He came at us like the Marshmallow Man, pasty but hairy and flushed and sweaty, gargling and huffing, staring straight through us as he staggered, both arms flailing out....
• “Service” by M.E. Ray: The second person that showed up was carrying a shotgun. He had two Labs with him and looked like he’d been hunting. He made eye contact from the far side of the smoking crater and we both looked down at the cooling metallic teardrop embedded below....

Or these, from Short Story Library, also now defunct:
• “Wild Weather” by David McVey: There are two ways that I could tell this story. I could start at the beginning and keep going until the story ends. That, of course, is how it happened. But it’s not how I experienced it nor how I remember it. In particular, it’s not how I remember Kathy and she, after all, is the....
• “I Will Not Eat Cookies” by Amy Corbin: Recently, I gave all my size 4 clothing to Goodwill. This was very hard to do. I’d been holding on to those things for 10 years. I told myself I was not giving up on being size 4. It was just that these clothes were no longer in style, and when I got down to....

One of my favorite story feeds comes from Big Jewel. A great lead feature was “New Old Wives Tales” by Whitney Collins: “If someone dies on Good Friday, they go directly to heaven. If someone dies on Fat Tuesday, they probably had diabetes. If your nose itches, a fool is about to kiss you. If your crotch itches, blame Derek. Be sure to wait an hour after eating before dumpster diving. If you carry an acorn in your pocket, good….”

C’mon, tell me that most of these leads make you want to shut out the world and read on.

Our reading culture is changing because of multi-purposing distractions. The TV is going, the iPod is playing MP3 downloads, the cell phone is dinging new text messages, you’re trying to Facebook a comment on your tablet — all simultaneously — and some presumptuous writer wants your attention? Get serious!

Darrin Miller states in www.Writing.com, “Writing that all too important hook…has to be done in this business in order to make it…. People are busy, too busy to waste their time reading a bad book or short. We have to make them want to read and not stop reading until it’s over and this has to be done at the beginning. All the greats have done it.

“Stephen King's It would have been impossible to put down. “The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years — if it did ever end — began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

“Or H. P. Lovecraft’s, Thing On the Doorstep. ‘It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer.’

“And Dean Koontz, who is a master of the craft and of writing that single line, which would effortlessly snag his readers. The opener from Strangers, ‘Domimick Corvaisis went to sleep under a light wool blanket and a crisp white sheet, sprawled alone in the bed, but he woke elsewhere — in the darkness at the back of the large foyer closet, behind concealing coats and jackets.’”

When you feel your story is finished, go back and isolate the lead. Will it tease, intrigue, horrify, invite or cause the reader’s blood pressure to rise? Good. Now make sure the story’s last paragraph — even the last line — is just as memorable.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Screw the Commuters, Open Wide the Paper!

Why is my elbow in your eye when I get to the middle of the paper?

Is anyone else as prickled as I am when coming to the center spread of a New York Times supplement only to find a double-truck story?  That’s the spread in this week’s “Sunday Review” that marches across eight columns of type and art from page 6 to page 7.  It features a 10-panel cartoon about pasta and, below, some 3,000 words asking “Why Are There No People of Color in Children’s Books?”

My arms open wide to see the extent of this ocean of typography and art.  If I start here in column one then  how far is it to the end?  Although I no longer commute, the “end” is usually the nose of the person sitting next to me.

As a former train and bus commuter I learned early on to open the Times vertically, then fold it vertically again.  This minimizes the space I (the party of the first part) intrude on the personal space occupied by my fellow passenger (the party of the second part) sharing a bench seat.  This courtesy is a small part of what helps everyone get along.

Why do the art directors — perhaps copy editors — do this?  Simply because they can.  These are the same people that fill a page with black ink and drop out the type in white making it impossible to read.  They’re the same Look-at-Me designers who run boxes of insignificant blurbs in 6- or 8-point type.  When I see these sections I know it’s time to stop, take off my glasses and squint to find some 50-word colloquy on current opinion.

“Simply because they can” is not a defensible approach to design, layout or publishing.  Or keeping peace with the fellow passengers in your life.




Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why’s the Smoke Alarm Over My Collection and Not in the Kids’ Room?


I’ll confess that I’m fascinated with watching American Pickers in TV. Now, my 7-year-old grandson also is captivated by the show…for hours at a time. I think there’s something in our DNA.

This faintly sociopathic hobby of collecting began for me at an early age. What 10-year-old wouldn’t begin picking up matchbooks with bathing beauties as art? Sure, my mother worked to collect one American coin of every denomination and every mint, but coins bored me. Forty years later, I put away every Joe Camel matchbook I came across, and now there are three metal lunchboxes full of them.

While taking my daughter to her job at the Englishtown, N.J., flea market in the ‘80s, I began wondering how many fast-food-franchise drinking glasses were made, and when they began as premiums. There was a universe out there that needed mapping. In the process of buying and selling, and traipsing Englishtown every Saturday, I ended up with 300 or 400 glasses.

I’ve mellowed since then. My sights have dimmed, and I no longer want to collect one of everything. Just a few items. Like those junior pilot wings the airlines gave to kids. Decks of playing cards with advertising. White knob windup toys. Bronze bookends. Cast iron ashtrays. Piggy banks and pig representations. Clay bricks embossed with the manufacturer’s name. Unusual cigarette lighters. Books marks to hold your place without dog-earing a page. Swizzle sticks featuring the restaurant or bar name. And pens with moving dioramas and objects — like bathing beauties whose swimsuits drop when you turn the pen upside down.

This is the ephemera that measures our past, like the jewel-bedecked wire toogles you mom used to hang her purse at a restaurant table or the plastic thingies a woman used to dial a telephone without breaking her fingernail. They're gone now. All gone. Our culture ebbs and flows with a tidal wash of stuff. And when you touch one of these old objects, your mind goes back to recapture other times and other places.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Give Me More Old-Time Fiction

“Noirish” mysteries, crime and horror stories may not be entirely an American genre, but you can’t read them without considering roots that go back to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, H.P. Lovecraft and the early days of short stories. Happily, this kind of fiction is being published today.

Pulp writing brings back memories to people — mostly men — of a certain age. My recollection is of reading Argosy magazine in the barbershop or surreptitiously under the bed covers. Happily, the magazine founded in 1882 and ending with the last issue in 1978 is back. I was thrilled to discover the publication has been reborn as a digital all-fiction magazine in the U.K. at http://argosymagazine.co.uk/. And, that its Pulp Modern volume 2 is devoted to the stuff of mystery, fear, thrills and horror.

There are four top-notch stories in this issue.

“The Beat of Heavy Wings” by Kurt Newton skirts horror and moves tangentially past myth to tell the current-day story of ancient Thunderbirds. They’re baaack in New England and scarier than ever. Worse, they’ve captured a young boy who was innocently camping out to collect moths. Thirty years later, the boy’s younger brother returns home to resolve the loss and to make amends with his parents. Seeking closure to the disappearance of his brother, Drew repeats their night-time moth-hunting expedition. Wrong! He too is taken by a Thunderbird and, in the process, makes an amazing discovery. On surface, the story simply recounts a tale, but the sub-text is a magnificent job of digging deeply into a person’s guilt and redemption.

James McConnell’s “Your Basic Plot” trades on the bottomless pit of paranoia when a man wakes up in a strange Texas location, doesn’t remember his name, and finds his wallet and belongings have been lifted. It’s the loss of a man’s basic identity. An existential question is raised when a skinny man at the homeless shelter says he can’t eat because of “Discipline. Cain’t live without discipline. Man is a prisoner of his animal appetites.” The crime appears when the wealthy do-gooder Suki Vanderwaal-McCarthy hires the man with no name to murder her husband. Conscience rises from somewhere, and the narrator immediately tells his new friend on the local police force about the plot. He carries a wire, he negotiates with the socialite as to whether he’ll do the murder if he can get laid. But, he confesses to her anger, “I can’t do it.” The tension is “Your Basic Plot” is that the reader learns to care passionately about a “bum” trying to determine his identity before the story segues into the crime plot.

“Illegal Aliens” draws out the trope of Area 51, the Nevada desert, and alien landings. Lloyd Helm takes a novel tack by clearly drawing his main characters — characters who could have jumped straight out of an Elmore Leonard novel. They set out ostensibly to take location pictures for a zombie-alien film (their cover for getting on the restricted base), immediately run into Air Force personnel, and choose to grab a few cold brews at the Spaceship Bar and Grill. Their next conscious thought is of being collared by Air Force police, having no memory of the past evening, and experiencing a certain pain in their backsides. This is a jolly romp, but the narrator begins puzzling out inconsistencies in the military’s explanations. Promising to never mention the incident, they are released — and set off to find that Spaceship Bar and Grill.

“Hidden” by Peter Glassborow begins calmly enough with an Auckland, New Zealand, trucking firm’s security guard trying to find where a driver has been hiding his truck in order to goof off. Cameras, gate checks and radio messaging fail to uncover the hiding place, which is driving George crazy. George is a simple person trying to make sure his employer isn’t cheated, but the driver’s daily disappearances are plaguing him day and night. Carefully, the cheating driver’s routes are reconstructed, leading George to a junk-filled area between two buildings. Tire tracks lead in and then disappear. And, dear reader, you don’t want to know what George eventually finds in the location of the driver’s hiding place.

Some of the novelettes’ success lies in the stories being told in the first person. (“Hidden” is written in the usual third-person singular.) You, the reader, are in the narrator’s mind as he experiences the weird, the unfathomable, the terrifying, and the humorous. This works flawlessly, too, in Glassborow’s story.

It’s not possible for Argosy’s genre fiction like this to succeed without such uniquely drawn characters. Fortunately, the four novelettes will leave you remembering the heroic protagonists long after you’ve turned off your e-book, laptop or PC. In addition, there’s plausibility (could this happen to you?) and sharp dialogue (you’ll wish you’d said, “You’re not a killer… And even if you are, I’m not… Find a killer lawyer, a whole shark school, and be as vicious as you want. But leave me out of it.”). Pulp fiction draws on the darker side of life, but it’s no less realistic. When it’s written well — as these four stories are — they rise to the level of literature.