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.

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.

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.