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, February 25, 2010

I’m Only Going to Tell You Once

In the 30-plus years I was a corporate mouthpiece and wordsmith, senior managers sidled up to ask if I had any tips for writing. Their memos and plans had all the verve of congealed mac and cheese. This was the crib sheet that I pulled from my desk drawer for them. The suggestions apply also to flash fiction.

1. Use short words and, when you edit your writing, cut, cut, cut! See what makes this piece stand out: “Our world’s well served by his last book, The Old Man and the Sea. He said words should be like small, bright stones, seen in the sand through a clear stream. You know it’s tough to find the ones that are lean, have strength, stand up, shout out and sing loud. At last, each best, true, sole verb or noun takes its place. On a good day, we might write just a page, two or three, then call them done.” Notice each word has just one syllable? It’s not that word choices are overwhelming, but that we move too fast to complete the assignment.

2. Decide what result you want to achieve, what message the reader should take away. Each word, each thought must support this end result. Kill the rhetoric that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with your message.

3. Substitute Anglo-Saxon words when you can. Use “strength” instead of “fortitude,” “start” instead of “commence.” Greek and Latin derivatives are soft and mushy. Why say “apprise” or “inform” when “tell” says the same thing in half the syllables?

4. Avoid clichés, as in this real-life example: “Opening night at the Cirque de Soleil was a strictly A-list affair, with a veritable Who’s Who gathered under the big top for a mind-boggling performance.” Neo-clichés also lurk in memos and meetings: think outside the box, paradigm shift, core competencies, strategic initiative, impact (usually as a verb). Tired words and phrases grow like nits into lice.

5. Don’t worry about the fine points of grammar. Sir Winston Churchill said about dangling participles, “They are an outrage up with which I shall not put.” The same is true about split infinitives. Capt. Kirk always wanted “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Who’s going to argue with the Captain? Grammatical rigor mortis can make you sound stuffy.

6. As the Microsoft grammar checker on your toolbar demands, choose the active voice over the passive. How easy it is to say, “The policy was reviewed before implementation,” instead of “The manager reviewed the policy before….” It’s amazing to think how much work gets done by itself!
7. Avoid adjectives. They’re a lazy way to bring an idea to life. Instead of writing about a “lonely office after everyone has gone home,” go for the image with something like, “The loudest noise was the cleaning woman’s vacuum cleaner at the far end of the hallway.”

8. Prosaic writing dulls the mind. Rewrite sentences, such as “The performance was so exciting that the audience was stunned when it was over,” with imagery. Substitute “There was a minute of stunned silence before the applause broke out.” Undistinguished writing is the stuff of TV news reporters.

9. Lazy verbiage that searches for the dramatic will always hijack your story. Here’s an example that came from one of Mitt Romney’s highly paid Bain & Co. consultants: “When you join the Corporation, you also become a member of a very special and very unique team. It’s a worldwide team of over 50,000 men and women whose diverse mix of experience, energy and expertise makes us a true force to be reckoned with in the global marketplace. (And more blah blah blah.) Wow! Mind-numbingly vapid!

10. Computer spell checking won’t do your work for you. Spelling must be absolutely correct. If a person can’t spell the difference between burro and burrow, it’s fair to say he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mystery and Humor

“Epitaph with Flowers” is a crackling good mystery that's now up at Big Pulp--love, death, lost treasure and betrayal. All in various shades of noir. Print it out for reading on the run, while waiting for the bus or during that bathroom break at the office. At

Now, we all know there’s only a single letter separating “ironic” from “iconic.” You decide which is which, between the mystery above and the humor below.

If it’s not pollution making us irritable, it’s the alternative to fossil-fuel energy. Who’d ever believe freedom from the oil cartel would invite the dreaded “Wind Turbine Syndrome?” "Blowing in the Wind" is new satire at

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tsunami Changes in Book Selling

There was a 6-column-inch blurb in Sunday's Times that Seattle-based Amazon on Christmas Day sold more e-books for its Kindle than paper-based books.

Interesting factoid, but more startling was the next sentence that Laredo, Texas (pop. 250,000) closed its last bookstore. (Laredo's population is only slightly smaller than that of Newark, NJ, one of the poorer urban areas.) I checked my online Yellow Pages, though, and actually came up with eight Laredo bookstores, three of which were Christian and one Spanish-language. Two recognizable names were Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton. That left two that appeared to be independent bookstores.

What's the takeaway?
> A lot of people got Kindles for Christmas. (My Seattle-based friend has 4,600 books on his e-reader, most which he admits he'll never read.)
> Texans read less than Newarkers, where there are 84 listings for bookstores. Newark's median household income is $26,913. Laredo's median HH income is $23,832, but has a lower cost of living index.
> There's a sea change coming in the way--and whether--we read books. (Does Steve Jobs know something about e-books that led to the iPad?)
> Laredo's population is 97.1% Latino, but unemployment is just 6%. (Are Hispanics working too hard to read?)
> Bookstores are an endangered enterprise.

I think all of these assumptions are correct.