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, Amazon and other online book sellers.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Greetings

It’s been a helluva year, or as Mickey Spillane might put it—“as tough as a Times Square babe with one hand on your wallet and the other hailing a taxi.” But we can hope that the New Year—and the new decade—will be better.

I hope that marketers will stop naming products and companies with exclamation points (Yahoo!), lower case aberrations (eBay), or changing theose names for no good reason (Wal-Mart to Walmart).

…That new words will continue to be coined, like 2009’s locavore, (buying locally grown food), Obamamaniac (self-explanatory), fang-banging (sex with a vampire), and shovel-ready (infrastructure projects ready to spend stimulus money). My favorite: googlegänger, for the person always looking up his/her name. And who knew the distorted letters I puzzle through to respond to a blog is called a captcha? (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart). But I still don’t know what you mean when “you get the jones for a pizza.”

…That writers will kill needless adjectives and adverbs that allow them to be lazy. (And that young wannabes will learn what adjectives and adverbs are!)

…That young people and the intellectually challenged will stop signing off with lol and consign smiley faces to the archeological midden heap of bad communication. I’m tempted to exclaim, “WTF!” and hit the delete. button.

…That reporters everywhere will learn to spell minuscule, that media is plural and that the Smithsonian is an Institution.

…That elected officials not proclaim ordnances (subject to a statue of limitations), and that Congressional reconciliation does not mean head banging. Are they aware that election results is an anagram for lies—let’s recount.

And to all, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year and New Decade!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tackling the Trash

I told editor Gay Degani this was what I was writing the day before Christmas instead of wrapping presents. She seemed to agree that writing trumps everything else, so I’ll give you an advance peek at what’s coming up on Flash Fiction Chronicles ( ).

My groaning file cabinet is filed a score of published pieces along with a hundred rejected or unsubmitted orphans that just don’t work. Either I killed the idea or editors responded, “We wish you luck in placing this with another publisher.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an archive for failed efforts, like Jasper Fforde’s brilliant Well of Lost Plots where all unpublished writing resides? My flash story “Alien Nation” (read “Alienation”) about a werewolf vegetarian would sit next to Fforde’s “unread and unreadable Caversham Heights, a cliché-ridden pulp mystery.” My three novels—begun but never completed—would collect dust until some literary archeologist cried “Eureka!” And “Gaslighting,” where I poured my heart into a tale of spousal abuse ending with a Halloween murder, would lie comatose.

Or—and this is the germ of an idea—could my orphan stories be posted where struggling writers might find they serve as the perfect prompt needed to re-energize their spirits? I would get a credit line, much like F. Scott Fitzgerald did when he failed to turn in a satisfactory script for Tender Is the Night. And the new author, bound for the Elysian heights of publishing, would add insights into the successes and failures of humanity.

Let me think about it before taking out the trash.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I’m Talking SHORT Here

I was taken aback when I learned three of the top five best-selling novels in Japan were keitai shousetsu—novels downloaded to cell phones with chapters of just 70 to 100 words. The days of 5,000-word stories in Collier’s are only dimly remembered. Playboy is known for its fiction (who looks at the photos?), but that magazine is rarely displayed outside of Borders or Barnes & Noble.

The short writing we see today is defined by my e-mail pal Brian Huggett. His Short Humour Site ( offers 500-or-fewer-words stories to meet today’s rush-hour needs “between stations on the metro, during lovemaking, during lovemaking between stations on the metro, during free-fall skydiving.” Truly, this is reading on the run. (Disclosure: Brian has carried half a dozen of my pieces.)

How short can you go? Flash (fewer than 1,000 words), drabble (exactly 100 words, nano (300 to 500 words, depending), dribble (50 words), the 55er (yes, just 55 words), one-sentence stories and six worders. Yes, there are online sites, contests and paying publications that champion this kind of brevity. For a deeper look into a lesser form of writing, see my comments at Flash Fiction Chronicles ( by scrolling down to Nov. 30.

Can you write “flash”? It’s tough. It was Blaise Pascal who famously stated, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” There. Glad I got that off my chest.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Excuse Me, Your Fist Is in My Nose

Perhaps I overdosed on Anderson Cooper’s frenetic chatter or four extremist heads arguing political nonsense or Sarah Palin and Levi the tattooed opportunist jawing at each other. Anyway, I came up with the feeling that the greatest problem we face (apart from Peace in Our Time) is a lack of civility. Courtesy. Politesse. Good manners. How could I have overlooked this bit of dialogue I wrote several years ago that encapsulates my argument?

[The school teacher tells her lover,] “You know what I believe? Anti-social behavior is the biggest, most major problem now. Before 9/11, but more now. Anyone who doesn’t think so just ain’t serious.”

“What’s the solution?” he asked, admiring this reflective side of her. “Do what your brother [the police officer] does?”

“No, of course not.” She propped herself on an elbow and tapped his chest with the pack of cigarettes. “Love ’em. I love people, but just the ones who deserve it. I can love them even though I don’t like them. Certain people…well, I also make love so they know that I care.” Her tongue rotated lasciviously around her lips.

He felt a laugh gurgle up. “You can’t make love to the whole world! It’d take forever.”

“Well, for evil people, there’s another answer.” Her large eyes twinkled. “Throw all the guns in the ocean. Barring that, castrate all the sociopaths. Gotta be an answer there somewhere.”

This is an extreme dichotomy--and I’ll overlook the sexual intimations--but it's all there.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Million Here, a Million There

The figures are now in: Supporting a single soldier or Marine in Afghanistan costs a million bucks a year. Our school district recently asked everyone to dig into their pockets to maintain Manchester schools. The cost was two soldiers. Doctors Without Borders (USA) helps people in 60 countries—often risking their lives—through donations equivalent to 161 soldiers. Habitat for Humanity in New York City is building houses through benevolences that equate to ten soldiers.

Putting a price tag on education, health care and housing looks very different when they’re equated to expenses for military adventures. One is an investment; the other is an arbitrary expense. It’s the difference between a family separating its “needs” from its “wants.” Mine isn’t a question of where the money comes from. Just a moral awareness that an investment is better than a hazardous and costly expense.

It’s time to let the war makers know which is which.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why Writing Groups?

One of my first recommendations to anyone who’s even half serious about writing fiction or non-fiction is to join a writing group. They’ve been enlightening, educational, enabling and informative. A few of my thoughts on the subject are now up on Flash Fiction Chronicles (, a new site of, by and for writers of all styles and interests. Drop on by and bookmark it. There’s new commentary every day or so.

Oh, and another value in writers’ group: Great friendships are forged.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Photos for Our Time

I thought today of those “iconic photos” that define a point in time and enlighten us with moments of reflection. There was the flag raising at Iwo Jima (Joe Rosenthal, photog), the sailor kissing a woman in Times Square as the world celebrated VE Day (Alfred Eisensataedt), the woman kneeling in front of student Jeffrey Miller shot at Kent State in 1970 (John Filo), General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon soldier (Eddie Adams).

I’m sure you can think of others. The question is what photograph describes our age most memorably? Somehow, Michael Jackson lying in his coffin doesn’t have the esthetics or meaning even of Demi Moore’s profile in pregnancy or George Bush, the little emperor, crying “Mission Accomplished”? And don’t suggest President Obama looking Heavenward like a cheap litho of Jesus.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bill Safire, R.I.P.

The New York Times Magazine is the last section of the Sunday paper I read, and then weeks pass before I get to this mostly innocuous magazine. But when I open the pages, the first piece I stop at is Bill Safire’s “On Language” column. I’m a word nerd, keep a list of new words to learn, read Quinion's World Wide Words RSS feed, and so on.

When I heard of Safire’s death, Sept. 28 of pancreatic cancer I felt the loss of a kinsman.

The Times obit mentions Safire’s “rules for writers,” which I love. “Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!” I even forgive him, when he was Nixon’s speechwriter, for coining Agnew’s phrase about “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

He was the kind of guy I’d want to have a beer with. He reportedly needed a shoeshine, hair could’ve used a trim, clothes were rumpled. “He was tall but bent—a man walking into the wind. He slouched and banged a keyboard, talked as fast any newyawka and looked a bit gloomy, like a man with a toothache.”

Yep, I know that kind of guy, and I recall banging out copy on a Remington when I was a cub reporter in the Chicago ‘burbs.

I’ll keep his last column when I find it in the pile on the coffee table. Now, the editors report he will be “on hiatus for a while.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bite the Bride

A news story out of Ohio gripped me by the, er, throat. A middle-aged couple was married, with the groom arriving in a coffin and dressed like Dracula ,while the bride was also dressed as a vampire. The minister appeared as Jason in Friday the 13th.

Now, I know Twilight soared to the charts and half a dozen neck-biting novels are on the best-seller list, but isn’t this carrying things a bit far? What did “Jason” say when the ceremony concluded? “You may now bite the bride?” Was the Champagne toast replaced with Type O blood—or plasma for those on a diet?

I know there’s a back story here somewhere!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

All the News from Sioux City

Unfortunately, it’s true. Even trying to call up the devil with the best of intentions can go awry. All hell can break loose. The news from Iowa gripped me in its cold fingers until the real unvarnished, true back story emerged: The ritual killer was simply dyslexic. You've heard of the dyslexic who walked into a bra? That's Louis Harris, Jr.

Read the truth of “Satanic Ritual Gone Bad” at

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Don’t Overlook Elmore Leonard

Is 9/09/09 an auspicious day? Hell no. I wrote about it in “Number Eleven” years ago. Check it out at

Okay, to another subject: Elmore Leonard has written a new book, the 41st notch on his gun, not counting 31 works turned into movies and TV shows. Robert Pinsky, in The New York Times, said Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs “is about the varying degrees of truth and baloney in human relationships. Sometimes the truth or the baloney is lethal. Droll and exciting, enriched by the self-aware, what-the-hell-why-not insouciance of a master now in his mid-80s, Road Dogs presents interesting questions: Can a grown person change? Specifically, can a man abandon expertise that wins him respect but makes a mess of his life? Can anybody trust anybody? Is love ever true? Is friendship ever real? Or, leaving aside love and friendship, does loyalty exist? We road dogs—trotting along companionably on our way to sniff and woof and boogie-woogie and perhaps knock over an occasional trash barrel together—are we reliable?”

I’ve kept a list of every book I’ve read since 1973, starting when I realized I was reading an embarrassing amount of pop fiction at the expense of more worthy literary efforts. Not that Robert Ludlum is bad, but it’s genre writing.

Finishing my seventh Elmore Leonard opus I realized it was time to get back to Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering or David Liss’s Conspiracy of Paper. Then I had my epiphany: Elmore Leonard is a damn good writer.

You know Leonard from the films Get Shorty, Stick, Mr. Majestyk, Jackie Brown and 27 others. You just haven’t read him.

The Christian Science Monitor’s James Kaufman wrote in 1983, “It’s taken awhile for people to catch onto Leonard, though Stick finally brought him the scrutiny of the critical establishment…. But like more overnight successes, Leonard had been writing…since 1953.” Newgate Callendar, writing in The New York Times Book Review, stated, “When [Leonard’s] 52 Pickup appeared in 1974, it had some critics talking in terms of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald

Leonard’s characters are for the most part, good, decent people, but ones who might challenge you to arm wrestle. The writing is spare and lacking in simile or metaphor. His protagonists have interior thoughts and existential questions. What remains when the reader puts down a Leonard work are characters drawn in clean, sharp lines. He is Hemingway, unexpurgated and sitting in a bar or police squad room. Don’t apologize for going out to pick up Road Dogs. You'll find Leonard is addictive.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sayonara Summertime

One more week to Labor Day. Is it too soon to fear the end of summer is creeping in like a bad dream? Time to shake the sand out my beach towel and gird myself for autumn? No matter, it’s been a great summer. The family is doing well. The heat has been tolerable. My only regret is that if we’d had more rain I’d’ve written more instead of hanging out at the pool or hitting the Point Pleasant boardwalk or eating at the raw bar on the Manasquan Inlet.

Still, I did a fair amount of writing. “Demon Switch” suggested measures to prevent demonic mayhem, published June 5 by Everyday Weirdness, at “Death in the Afternoon” took a metaphorical look at adolescent relationships through melting ice cubes, published by Every Day Fiction. July 4, at “Who Dares Call It Murder?” was a venture into near-future speculative fiction, published by OG Short Fiction on July 15 at Bewildering Stories has slated “Gothic Revival” for an upcoming issue. And a trio of humor pieces was published by the U.K. site,

Still, I wonder if I have the energy, endurance and perspicacity to write a novel. Maybe I'll know when NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—rolls around in October. Hell, maybe I won’t shake out the beach towel just yet..

Sunday, August 2, 2009

If There’s a Doctor in the House…

Until recently, I’ve been running to doctors for checkups like a rat chasing nachos. All I get are concerned frowns as they consult their PDRs. So, perhaps I’m not the best of patients. But there are worse, and they’re part of “Innovations in Medicine, at The Short Humour Site. Read it at and call me in the morning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Who Dares Call It Murder?”

It’s murder when George Bush, the little emperor, sends kids off to Iraq to be killed. And it’s murder when healthcare costs mean neglecting a doctor because the rent is due. But is it murder when you kill your wife? Ah, but I hope you’ll read the whole story, “Who Dares Call It Murder?” at The Opinion Guy. It’s up at

Author David Levy (Love and Sex with Robots) caught my eye when he suggested that in the future, people will fall in love with robots. Robots won’t be cold, predictable machines, but actual lovers—precocious, sexy, remarkably humanlike in appearance… And in the progressive states, some people will even marry a robot.

Editor Seth Crossman said of this speculative fiction, “Hah! I don’t know what I like more, the depth of character you present in so few words or the frustration I feel at wishing I could see more of this love story.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Jersey Tawk

People not from the South Jersey shore probably think we talk—or tawk—funny. A long meat-filled sandwich is more often a hoagie (Jersey shore and South Philly) than a hero (New York dialect), sub (North Jersey), grinder (New England) or blimpie (commercial name). Similarly, the candies on an ice cream are jimmies instead of sprinkles and the tourists are bennies or shubies.

I was tawking with an in-law from Manahawkin last weekend, and he mentioned some of the shore towns have no parking areas. This is to discourage the shubies. Sometimes spelled shoobies, the word refers to visitors who used to bring their beach snacks in a shoe box. A bit farther north, say Point Pleasant, every kid knows the auslanders are bennies. The come, variously, to absorb the benefits of the Jersey shore or because they’re from Brooklyn Elizabeth, Newark and New York.

There’s even a language distinction that separates Ocean County from the hillier north counties. We call a truck with detachable trailer a tractor trailer, not a trailer truck. You fetch water in a bucket and not a pail.

As for the accent, there really is a Jersey-New York accent, according to Rutgers linguist Fay Yeager. Our accent lacks the “th” diphthong and the “r”, she says, very much like British English. And that was adopted in the 1920s by the upper—uppah—classes. “Finga” sounded classier than finger, apparently. If you’re still confused, give the Jersey speaker the finga. “We been true dis tree times awreddy.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

International Relations Improving

One of the most amazing things happened when I submitted a short humor piece —excuse me, humour—to The Short Humour Site. Editor Brian Huggett e-mailed me from England an hour later with an acceptance and the piece already on the board. Wow!

I responded, “I’m totally amazed that you digested the piece and had it online within the hour! My writing isn't Dickens or Shakespeare. It's not like editors are knocking down my door, crying balefully for gripping stories.” I added that I would submit more, although America isn't a place that encourages warm humor or wit.

He answered, “We look forward to reading other submissions. Neither Dickens nor Shakespeare have submitted anything thus far, so you are ahead of them already.”

You can read “Tidings of Great Woe” at And a big thanks to my fellow blogger Avis for hipping me to this market.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Distributor of Cruising

Cruising the Green of Second Avenue now has an additional distributor. The two volumes of my short stories are e-books available from BookStrand ( Thank you, Marci (my publisher)!

Friday, June 5, 2009

“Demon Switch”

Odd where ideas come from. I was lying in bed reading the Sunday comics and laughed out loud at the cartoon “Baby Blues.” The thought of a “ghost switch” that brings the ghosts out—scaring the shit out of baby brother—stayed with me through church service as I blocked out the short story. “Demon Switch” is now up at Everyday Weirdness. (Sorry, Pastor.) Catch it at, at today’s date, June 5.

By the way, the good people at this e-zine are fast! One month elapsed between my writing the and their publishing it. As my college English professor ruefully noted, I may not be an A student but I'm facile.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Steal This Book, or This Book’s a Steal?

Story in the New York Times’ Week in Review focused on readers kvetching about Amazon selling e-books for $9.99. David Baldacci, the ubiquitous writer whose hardcovers regularly turn up in flea markets, had his new title stonewalled by readers who felt a great fat opus (in electronic form) wasn’t worth downloading for the cost of a couple of Starbucks lattes. Call it the Kindle conspiracy to mark up e-books. Worse yet in the fare hikes, there’s Sony, selling releases for its Reader at $11.99.

What the heck is going on? Marketing, dear friend, when costs don’t disappear simply because publishers eliminated paper, ink, binding and freight.

Now, have I got a deal for you! Cruising the Green of Second Avenue is available from for only $4.75. If that price is a choke point, go to for a pleasantly discounted price. There, put that on your Kindle or Sony or iPhone.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hey, Mr. Jones, Where’d Ya Come From?”

I was stopped short by a reference in the New York Times Book Review (Mar 1, 2009)—Rich Cohen writing about the explorer Percy Fawcett. “He got the jones [sic, lower cased] for exploring, which back then you could catch like a fever.”

Where’d jones—or Jones—come from? The street corner or some nabob of neologism?

Inventing a new word lends itself to a kind of immortality. At least, if future generations have forgotten your name they’ll at least remember the word you invented.

Imagine being Herb Caen, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, who coined the word beatnik. For Mr. Caen, there were two shots at immortality (in addition to his wonderful columns): he also created the neologism hippie to describe the generation that followed the beatniks chronologically and in spirit.

John W. Tukey was another immortal, both for his neologisms and as an influential statistician. He created the word software. “Three decades before the founding of Microsoft,” the New York Times wrote in his obit July 28, 2000, “Mr. Tukey saw that ‘soft-ware,’ as he called it then [with a hyphen], was... ‘at least as important as the hardware of tubes, transistors, wires, tapes and the like.’” A dozen years earlier, while at Bell Laboratories, he coined the word bit, an abbreviation of binary digit.

Variety, the daily newspaper of show biz, is famous for creating a host of neologisms. They claim such commonplace terms as sex appeal, corny and sitcom. Their glossary of terms is listed at, and includes boffo, moppet, scripter and dozens of other insider terms.

“Kathryn Cason, the widow of management theorist Elliott Jacques and coiner of the phrase ‘mid-life crisis’ has been trying to [evaluate leadership potential],” reported the New Yorker in the May 10, 2004, issue. Did we know there was a mid-life crisis before Jacques invented it in his book Death and the Mid-Life Crisis? And, are we better for knowing now?

Back to jones. The Urban Dictionary ( defines it as a “desire for something that may be sought irrespective of the consequences.” The earliest definition appears in 2002. As a verb or noun, it can apply to humans, love, and is strongly associated with heroin. We may never know the origin of jones, but it’s another example of English delivering an enchanting, descriptive, organic approach to communicating as well as prescriptive school-marm ordination.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Good Things Happening

I’ve been woefully derelict in managing this blog…and it’s all due to time-wasting on Facebook. (My uncritical friends laugh uncritically at my bons mots.) While I’ve chronicled my writing on this blogsite, Facebook sucked away my attention to such things as e-books. (“For those who buy/read/enjoy e-books, there’s a great site for interacting with others like you. Forums are set up for a variety of interests, news of e-book promotions, vulnerability of Adobe pdf’s, and more.. There’s more, at”)

All the while, I’ve been writing to some good reception while tediously marketing older stories. “Who Dares Call It Murder?”, a piece of near-future speculative fiction, will be published by OG Short Fiction in July, at And, “Louise from the Bar” recalls that when you’re 14 life can be thrilling, dangerous and filled with memorable sensations. It’ll be up in a week at Paradigm, an online quarterly, at . In particular, Matthew Norris, co-publisher at Paradigm, was so complimentary he can be assured they’re tops on my list of favorites. “We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to see your work,” he wrote. “We feel that ‘Louise from the Bar’ exemplifies the spirit of Paradigm, not to mention being something others will undoubtedly find exciting, inspiring, and worthwhile.” Ah, that is so nice. Thank you!

And, I’ve been having an inordinately good time working with the Writers’ Circle, a group of 15 or more (they come and go) now gathering fortnightly at our Ocean County library branch. Reading your work aloud is valuable. I used to have a cat who was a good listener, but the feedback was terrible.

Friday, March 27, 2009

High School Memories?

Duotrope—the writer’s conscience—suggests that I have an extraordinarily high rate of acceptances. I think they believe I’m cooking the books by not reporting my rejections. T’ain’t so!

Anyway, I’m happy that “Conehead,” a short humor piece, has been published by Big Pulp. (Students can be merciless with their teachers, but anybody can be their own worst enemy if they presume too much.) So, click on and remember what devils we were as high school students.

By the way, this was rejected once before Big Pulp bought it. Maybe the title should have been two words, as Microsoft Spell Check reminds me. Thanks, Bill Olver, editor and fave publisher.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When Paper Cuts Scissors

When you’ve lost your last dollar, watch out for the stranger who still wants to gamble with you: there’s a sucker punch coming. By counting the woman you left behind, you may also have doubled your losses.

That’s the thought behind “Paper Cut,” just published by Big Pulp. exactly one year after it was accepted. Take a moment and read it at My thanks go to Bill Olver, editor and publisher of some fine noir fiction.

Monday, February 23, 2009

“The Iceberg” Floats

When a deep pit of loneliness and despair consumes a child, something will emerge to fill it. Often, the truth of the matter is a dark object that floats just below the surface. Ever felt this way? More on this thought has just gone online at Bewildering Stories Issue 327, Feb. 23. Read my new short story, “The Iceberg,” at

The story examines an environment that’s a few degrees off center, drifting toward that elusive sense of unreality. But then, isn't that what hedge funds, children’s wishes and waking dreams are all about?

Separately, I’m sad to hear from my editor at Wild Child Publishing, Faith Bicknell-Brown, that she’s leaving the organization. She’s the sort of person who would blue pencil a phrase, mixed metaphor or anachronism in my collection, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, and demand an explanation. Usually, it was my oh-my-Gawd mistake. Thanks, Faith, for your encouragement and…well, faith in my writing. You’ve been the spoon to stir my coffee. (Is that metaphor okay?)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bad Usage, Bad! (A Rant)

The misuse of two words—fulsome and enormity—are fingernails on the blackboard of my nervous system. James Wolcott, not usually guilty of careless locution, writes in Vanity Fair (February 2009), “My fellow comrades are still walking around with Obama buttons stuck to their fulsome bosoms.” Ouch! Fulsome means offensively flattering or insincere, ME disgusting. Oh, James, how could you!

Then our beloved leader Barack stood at the lectern and pronounced on the enormity of our financial meltdown. Well, the country’s broke, but I’m still $47 to the good. Still, enormity means excessive wickedness or outrageousness. Yes, Bernie Ponzi—er, Madoff—can be accused of enormity, but Barack really meant enormousness.

There, I’m glad I got that enormity off my fulsome chest. But James and Barack, I’ll be watching.

Oh, damn, I couldn’t stop without passing on this gem from the homepage today: “On Net This Week: Spring Fashion for the Economically Conscience. Whether you want to role back the hands of time to some of the most controversial trends of the 80’s or borrow fashion tips from our incredibly stylish first lady, this spring will be a unique blend of fashion.”

How many “gotchas” can you find? Conscience should be conscious, and role should be roll. And then, why doesn’t this entertainment scribbler connect frugal buying with retro fashion or the First Lady’s (caps, please) clothing? My retort to AT&T’s OJT writers: “Thoughts tumble in your heads, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

History Talks to Me. (You? Us?)

Someone—Alexis de Toqueville?—called Americans autodidacts. We teach ourselves and proudly ignore authority. But something in that description made me dig around to find out who that English aristocrat was who rebelled against the Crown in 1675-76 Virginia, burned Jamestown, and attacked Native American camps with abandon. His actions—known as “Bacon’s Rebellion”—capture the tenor of the times. They may also be applicable to our world today as we struggle to regain control of government.

My synthesis is that it’s difficult to look at 17th century American history without generalizing the clash of cultures as “grasping Europeans annihilating the Native American” or “angry savages attacking innocent settlers.” Neither was the case, of course. Theirs was a power struggle between strong egos representing established government, populist immigrants and indigenous peoples.

The article (and photos posted with the footnotes) can be read at

On another historical note, I was pleased to have my article on “Barrancas: The First Shots Fired in the Civil War” reprinted in the Camp Chase Gazette, a reenactors magazine. The piece—as above, written because of curiosity—was first carried in Military History Online ( Originally published in Jan. 2005, “Barrancas” is a review of the initial assault on a Union fort, four months prior to the fall of Fort Sumter. That dramatic confrontation included a four-month stand-off and spies who aided the Union cause. Among all the statues and medals for heroism, I don't think there's any comparable testimonial to the intrepid courage of Lt. Adam Slemmer and 82 Union troops.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Who Was that Masterful Writer and Illustrator?

A nice incident came around this past week as the American Book Collectors of Children’s Literature newsletter carried my longish piece on children’s book author/illustrator Holling Clancy Holling. (See and click on Vol. 20 No. 2 in the Archives.) HCH has fascinated me since childhood, as much for his magnificent drawings as for the curiosity of a man who named himself twice. Paddle-to-the-Sea, Tree in the Trail, Seabird and the other Houghton-Mifflin titles are luxurious in their drawings and sidebar intelligence.

This was a writer whose books are still in print almost 70 years after winning a Caldecott prize. Curiously, there’s very little in print about HCH, and biographies are limited to the most obvious details. However, a librarian near Holling’s home county came to my rescue with “hometown” information, and a researcher at the Leslie (MI) Area Historical Museum offered a bounty of undiscovered details. After more than a year of doing detective work into his life, I’m sure there’s a great deal I still don’t know about him. But it’s this serendipity in tracking down clues and details that made this a rewarding project.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happiest of New Years

Here’s wishing everyone a healthy, bountiful New Year. May your favorite bookstore remain a welcoming hearth through these perilous times, may all your rejections from editors and agents be positive and constructive, and any gift cards you received continue to be negotiable. To Barack Obama, here’s hoping his new home at 1600 Pennsylvania is fulfilling, and that a dictionary there shows him the word is not pronounced “ir-re-VOC-able. To departing Dick Cheney, an invitation to take up water boarding, assuming there’s no surfboarding in Wyoming. And, let us all have a moment of silence for the demise of Polaroid film before cheering the advent of phonographs that convert our 33 and 45 rpm records to digital files and CDs.