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.

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 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.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Who Is That Masked Writer?

J.K. Rowling caused a ruckus when Harry Potter’s creator published The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. For being “outed” by her own solicitors, she successfully sued. Not every writer is so secretive about his or her pen name. Everyone knew Mark Twain was really that guy in the white suit, Samuel Clemens. Lewis Carroll was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s essence. And, Ann Landers and Dear Abby aren’t one person, but many after 50 years.

Still, there may come a time when you need to consider an alias to hide your real persona. The excellent editor of my story collections, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, at Wild Child Publishing has adopted several to publish. One for writing to men’s magazines, another when her ex was suing for divorce, and a third for her titillating romances. “Each pen name has its own personality,” she states. She was the one who advised me to take a pen name if it solves a problem and to hell with the critics.

Another friend uses two initials preceding her surname because of rude comments from friends over the several books she’s published. Fans of J.B. DiNizo won’t be too surprised to learn the woman behind the name is Alice DiNizo. Others may find a lot of explaining is needed when their book is read by their mother. Taking on a pen name can raise as many issues as it resolves.

Should you adopt a pen name? You’re surely aware that some fiction sells better if written by a woman — romance, for example. Or by a man, if the subject is dark and violent. Business books generally seem to sell better if written from a male POV. The gender issue relating to who gets published and reviewed is a contentious concern, as noted by The Guardian this summer; males writers far overshadow females in the U.K.

The subject matter may strongly dictate a pseudonym, such as erotic romance. If you’re a published writer of serious material, attaching your name to such “bodice-rippers” can cause negative spillover, reduce your literary stature, challenge reputation, and decrease enjoyment of the reading experience.

There’s another significant reason to use a pen name if the writer is of the opposite gender to his/her main character. Readers can easily be confused when starting a piece of fiction, becoming misled by the author’s byline, and discover the narrator is of the opposite sex. A sense of trust — even Coleridge’s “suspension of disbelief — is broken. The reader becomes distracted by the conflict of an author taking on the persona of the opposite sex, detracting from the quality of whatever he/she has written.

A host of other questions need to be addressed — and you’ll probably wrestle with them — before you step into another name. Is using a pen name liberating? (Only you can answer that.) Should you let people know you’re using a pen name? (If you do, why bother with a pen name?) What if people are upset that you’re using a pen name? (Some people will always be upset.) Does using a pen name mean you have multiple-personality disorder? (No, far from it.) Does using a pen name constitute a breach of trust? (Look at your value system and decide if you’re setting expectations that might be violated.) Is it hard to do business using a pen name? (No, unless you feel conflicted as a man trying to sell your book as “Gloria L’Amour” at a library reading.) Is using a pen name legal? (I’m not a lawyer, but most publishers insist on knowing your real name in accepting a work.)

Finally, you can put the whole matter to rest. Don’t use a pen name if you’re not comfortable doing so. And, if you’re going to tell the world your secret identity, why bother?

In the interest of full disclosure, let me add that I’ve published flash under a pen name. Why? My narrator is of the opposite gender, it’s stylistically experimental work, and it doesn’t fit into the body of writing I’m concentrating on. Sorry, I can’t tell you the byline I use.

For further discussion, go to the Men with Pens blog by James Chartrand at and an article by Howard G. Zaharoff in Writer’s Digest

[This essay was published on Jan. 28, 2014, by
Flash Fiction Chronicles at]

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Belated Greetings--and Bedtime Reading

Sorry to have been away for so long, but Google wouldn't let me into my blog. Ah, you know the usual excuses. Actually, I’ve been writing. It was a very good year, with some 17 short fiction and non-fiction pieces published in print and online. Let me share those online pieces that are most satisfying as I look back on 2013:

“Waiting to Join the Grey Lady,” is a ghost story published by Short-Story.Me (at ). I was intrigued by the thought that people become captivated by books because they’re preferable to people. This clicked as a story when I learned of the ghost who haunts the town library in a small Ohio town. And, because one of my favorite used bookstores is on Cambridge’s Huron Avenue, the three elements melded together.

Often, reading about a weird psychological or neurological condition will serve as a prompt. Reading Dr. Israel Sacks led to discovering hypnopompic hallucinations, the visions a patient has when wide awake. This was the prompt I needed for “Scouting Alternatives,” published by Bewildering Stories on (at Imagine being followed — or in this case, preceded—by your hallucinated other.

“Rosamonde Calley” was similar in that an editor is on the trail of a pseudonymous best-selling auth. But, the author exists only by being channeled through a failed book collector. This story of frustration was published by The Corner Club Press in its Paranormal Issue (at - p. 11).

Perhaps one of last year’s favorites is “The Psychic in the WalMart Parking Lot” simply because I’m extremely rankled by the nefarious spying done by the CIA and NSA. At the same time, a psychic was in the news for losing a lawsuit in which she bilked customers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, what if a psychic were legit in her demonstrated abilities? What would the government do to stop her or him? Guess. (Times up!) The story was published by InfectiveINk (at

Remember the college football player who was played by a girlfriend who existed only in the social media? The schlunk is known as a “catfish” It’s a shame when you can’t believe what you see on the Internet and social media. It’s even worse when your unseen lover bamboozles you into committing a heinous crime. “You Ain’t the Only Catfish” was published by Every Day Fiction (at ).

Do we ever truly leave our childhood behind? “Brace Beemer, Please Come Home” is a non-fiction look back at the glory days of radio shows. Mr. Beemer, of course, was the first actor to take the role of the Lone Ranger when radio was in its heyday. The memoirish recollection was published by The Connotation Press (at

Sure, crime stories are a grabber for reader and writer alike. Now, imagine The New York Times writing about the Army’s working on the lightning bug gene for warfare. And imagine your girlfriend was making a few bucks by testing this development — until her body parts started showing up around New York City. “Light up My Life” was published by Short-Story.Me (at

I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil War and to a certain extent Southern Gothic culture. This was an entertaining story to write in order to get the atmosphere right, with a dollop of murder thrown in for good measure. “Grammie’s Waiting” was published by Liquid Imagination and narrated by Bob Eccles, at

Love those stories that do a U-turn near the end, and then another 180° turn in the last paragraph. Mostly, however, I knew I had to do something about viaticals — those brokered insurance policies that let you collect the payout before you’re dead. “Life Settlement, Finally” was published by Over My Dead Body! (at

Bitchy women and dysfunctional families are so entertaining, as long as you don’t have to live with them. Would anything piss off Mother Dearest more than to have her 16-year-old daughter announce she was going to marry an older man from Morocco? And the conversation at the three-star Manhattan restaurant just got louder and louder until…. “Lunchtime Interlude” was published by Short-Story.Me (at

There was another trip back in time, to my childhood when a Hollywood star introduced an 11-year-old to love. “Marilyn Monroe Loved Me” was published by Writers Haven in its 9th issue (at

Hope you can enjoy these short pieces. Send me an e-mail if you have a comment, at or on Facebook.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

German? A Funny Language? Make me laugh.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Review reminded me of my fascination with the German ability to form long compound words that are impossible to express in English.

Is there any synonym for Schadenfreude, the joy we feel at seeing someone else’s pain? Or Zeitgeist and Doppelgänger?

The Times suggests Dornschőenschlaf (dorn-hoos-sh’yen-shlaf) meaning to pretend you’re asleep to avoid having sex. Fetenlauschangriff, for tuning in and out of numerous conversations at a cocktail party. And Tantalusqualerlősung, for the relief that comes from slaking your thirst with the first martini (or drink of your choice).

I confess that I run across these neologisms and then try to find a way to sneak them into a story. Bildschirmbräune refers to screen suntan, for the pasty faces of computer geeks. That appeared in “Who Dares Call It Murder.” (Odd how I remember our bathing nude on the beaches of St. Martin, when Schiller laughed and pointed. “Bildschirmbräune,” he said. “Screen suntan,” referring to the hours you spent on computers, because your unblemished skin remained pale while I — more advanced — colored like a potted lobster.)

And in my as-yet-unpublished novel, Gerde the dental hygienist is made to say to her lover, “We have a word — Vergangenheitsbewaltigun. It means ‘coming to terms with your past.’ Have you come to terms?”

Now, if I can only find a way to shoehorn Verfremdungseffekt . A wonderful word meaning distancing oneself from a suspended disbelief.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

If We’re All Heroes, Then Who’s Left?

Every dead soldier is a hero, according to news reporters. A helicopter crashes, a truck blows up, school bus careens over a cliff. “Heroic” and "tragic" are adjectives that have lost their meanings against the press of a deadline.

More disgraceful are the Army’s PR stunts, dressing up a Dad being rotated (alive) from Afghanistan to show up at his child’s (a) ballgame as the catcher (b) school play as a clown or (c) party as Santa Claus. The mask is ripped off, the child screams “Daddy” and rushes tearfully toward the hero parent.

These tricks have simultaneously reduced the meaning of heroism — acting willfully in disregard to personal danger—and masked the horror and tedium of military action. It's a tragedy.

My skin crawls at the manipulation these Army public relations practitioners resort to. It’s almost as bad as the Lassie movies I saw as a child. Invariably, the child says something like, “Lassie, I’ve fallen down the well and the water’s rising. Run and tell Dad to bring a rope.” These are two handkerchief moments.

Similarly, the news media — predictably — sees every drunken teenager who drives into a tree at 3:00 a.m. as a “tragedy. Isn’t it just possible that the youngster acted stupidly, as many young people do with great regularity? (I prefer to believe they should be given Darwin Awards for removing their DNA from the collective gene pool, thereby strengthening our future generations.) Sentimentality in the face of stupidity is lazy thinking.

In response to affected writing, cynicism grows like e. Coli on poultry left on a porch in Texas. It’s not easy to restate a situation to avoid triteness, to break through the platitudes of supermarket tabloid writing and reject the mundane, banal and trite responses to the world around us. The cynicism rises in our gorge because we all have a hardwired response to tragedy, nostalgia and sentimentality. That’s how scriptwriters made Lassie a star. They put the dog through tricks to pull our heartstrings, and the audience responded like puppets.

Stop the next time you see or hear bad writing — or change channels or put down the magazine or paper. Insist on inventing unexpected and serendipitous results as you go along. Take an independent direction, Robert Frost’s “road less taken.” It’s a chaotic and muddled process. A rocky road. But it leads to clearer thinking.