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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Only Song I’ve Memorized

My daughter asked me querulously, “What is the 'Frozen Logger'? I was singing to Zeke (my grandson) last night and he said Grandpa always sings ‘The Frozen Logger.’”

First, I was overjoyed that this seven-year-old liked my singing enough to remember it. Second, that he liked the song, since he rarely laughs at my jokes. Does his best to appear sophisticatedly unamused.

“Well,” I told my daughter, “it goes like this. ‘As I sat down one evening / within a small cafĂ© / a 40-year-old waitress / to me these words did say.’”

“That’s the song?”

“It gets better. ‘I see that you are a logger / and not just a common bum / ‘cause nobody but a logger / stirs his coffee with his thumb.’”

I don’t know if I need to memorize more songs. One seems to do just fine. I was at a wedding in Taiwan once, held on a street covered with tents and with a stage for karaoke. The emcee saw me and asked in Chinese if I’d like to sing a song. I demurred, mostly because I’m not sure I know all the words to the only other song I’ve kind of memorized. “I’m back in the saddle again / out where a friend is a friend / where the longhorn cattle feed / on the lonesome jimson weed / I’m back in the saddle again.” I think those are the words.

I’d better check. After all, a man should know more than one song. And when I was six years old, I was seriously thinking of changing my name. My dad explained how you do this, explaining to a judge who will order the change. “And by the way,” he asked. “What would you like your new name to be?” “Gene Autry,” I answered.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Things She Left Behind

Judy complained uncharacteristically of being tired and in pain, and half an hour later she was gone. It was the end of a 46-year marriage in which “she” and “I” became “we.”

The months since then have been a long and difficult, costly in terms of burial arrangements and mental turmoil, and unusually quiet with just half the household noise and even less conversational chatter.

Slowly, I’m uncovering the bits and pieces of her life that I wasn’t aware of. There is loose change in the pockets of her jackets hanging in the closet. Clothes and purses and scarves that still have store tickets attached. Our children’s greeting cards for Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day from years ago. Utility bill receipts from a decade ago.

Tucked in her bedside table were half a dozen hung bau, little red envelopes Asians use to gift children or elders with money on the Lunar New Year. Each contained a $20 bill. These — along with the clothes and purses — were gifts just in case someone came to our house and was celebrating an event. These were stored and ready just in case she suddenly needed a birthday present or there was a surprise guest during a holiday.

All I have left are the things she left behind.

We took Judy home to Northfield, Mass., for burial in the cemetery where she’ll be with my parents, brothers, grandparents and great-grandmother.

And then a curious thing happened. Following the interment service, the pastor came to me and said, “While you were speaking this leaf fell on your shoulder.”

I take it as an omen, that Judy was listening. And I have more to think about now than the things she left behind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Enjoying the Slings and Arrows

Sorry to have been away for so long, but I’ve been writing. And reading. And socializing. But I had a sudden insight this morning that I’d like to share. I published a humorous satire yesterday on Every Day Fiction. “Brand Management in an Age of Anxiety”, at One of the many nice things about EDF is that the publication invites reader comments and assigning “stars.”

This story garnered 63 comments, and replies to those comments, and replies to the replies — all in 24 hours. Some were quite critical, others uplifting. Some went entirely off the track and was the subject of the publisher’s cautionary notice about do’s and don’ts in commenting. So the insight came to me that reading a story — even a novel — is at heart a Thematic Apperception Test. This psychological test checks underlying motives, concerns, and the way people see the social world through stories they make up about ambiguous pictures of people.

Some readers were turned off by the brand names in my story (even though this was the magnet that drew two superficial people together). Others felt the story needed more editing, that they were “fooled” initially into thinking the male author was a male narrator, and that this wasn’t the “reality” they were expecting.

(In full disclosure, let me note that EDF balked at buying the story until I had rewritten it. Their editorial team was clear in what bothered them, and I corrected the copy so it read more smoothly and clearly.)

My response to these varied reactions is that they’re all simply marvelous. It shows the wonderful diversity of our makeup, our subliminal literary expectations, and the “anchors” we drag with us to a reading task.

I often say I write hoping there will be some one — or more — who exclaim, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I’ve felt that way myself.” This particular insight into reader kinship came to me years ago when I was editing travel guides. I received a letter saying, “I’m wheelchair bound and can’t get out, so I read your guides and imagine I’m traveling the country.”

Those are the people I write for. That stranger out there who comes into my world. The other critics — often right, sometimes wrong — are vastly amusing.

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

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

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, 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

Mullally has appeared in several short stories, notably “Chain of Events,” also published by Over My Dead Body! in 2010 (at 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 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, “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.