Saturday, March 30, 2013


Photo: Wikipedia page for "Spiderman."  From The Amazing Spider-Man #547 (March 2008); Art by Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines

A very cool entry about a missing house spider on Michael Seidel's blog amused me to no end, as I thought I was the only one with an odd connection to a pet-like house spider that was smart enough to stay out of my way.

I realized, however, that I have some very specific spider rules:

1.  Don't fall on my face. This happened at 2 a.m. many years ago, right after an inner voice said, "Look up."  I was reading a book at the time, on a typical insomniac night, when I heard that voice, and looked up.  The spider, possibly more afraid than I was, scuttled beneath the sheets.  Yuck.

2.  Don't be hangin' in front of me so that I walk into you.  This happens more often than I would've thought possible.  Recently I guided a co-worker out of the way before one landed in her hair.

3.  Don't go into my slippers.  That wasn't fun, feeling a hairy, squirrely somethin' scurry between my toes and the top of my slipper.

4.  Don't make your way into my bathroom water cup so that I feel your hairy, spindly legs when I take my allergy pill, and spit you out, and already hate the day at 6 a.m.

5.  Don't create a spider nest in my car's vents and have so many babies that about eight of them crawled quickly out of those vents and onto my hands, which were on the wheel as I was driving.  This caused my car to swerve as I was grossed out.  I pulled into a Cumberland Farms, ran in, grabbed a box of Kleenex, smashed the spiders that were still on the wheel, and to this day the guy behind the counter calls me "Spiderman."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reading Like A Writer: Story Structure

Photo: The Golden Gate Bridge, in an aerial view, from the bridge's Wikipedia page.  Click it; it's a great pic.

I've been trying to read books lately with a writer's eye, so that I could learn what makes successful (defined here as published; maybe also as respected and/or successful writer) writers write successful things.  I've had (extremely) modest success recently, and I've been trying to learn why some pieces have sold and why some haven't.  Here's what I've come up with recently:

--Stories sell better if they have a structure, and not just a "this happens, then this happens" kind of feel.  Readers can feel the flow of the structure; they're pulled along by it.  So the story, the characters, the setting--all of that is important, but the flow of the structure is like a double-pull with all of those things.  Stories that are just a series of events don't have that flow, and so the reader feels disjointed right away, even if the characters and the plot and that stuff are solid.  No structure, no flow, no pull.

--The structure we've all learned in high school--the Shakespearean Plot Triangle--is not the only structure to use.  Some stories just won't fit to that form, especially if there's no solid climax in the middle of the piece, or a clear finish for the resolution.  And not if the story doesn't break cleanly into five or so different parts.  There may not be a clear rise to the climax, or fall from it to the end, especially if the end isn't tragic or definitive.  For example, if the ending is more in the Chekhov vein, where you're dropped into the lives of the characters, and they're not done at the end--or even if there really isn't an established end, then the five-part plot triangle won't fit.  And you can't make a story fit a structure that it just isn't made to fit.  You can't force a structure upon a story.

--A three-part story structure that works for me lately--that I think might work for one of my novel manuscripts that I'd been sort of forcing a five-part structure on--is called the Suspension Bridge structure.  It differs greatly from the plot triangle because there's not much building up, nor falling away from, though the ending is usually pretty solid like it would be at the end of the plot triangle. 

Picture an actual suspension bridge.  It starts at the land's edge, and the bridge's cables swing up to the first apex.  This is the build-up of the character, his traits, and his flaws, and the climax, if you will, of the peak there is when he gets something that he wants, that might better his plight.  This thing must change the character in a major way--or it has to at least offer the possibility.  Usually this involves a change in the character himself; it sets up the character vs. self conflict, though there must be many other conflicts to come.  Then the bridge cables drop.  And it's a long, long drop, and somewhere there is a rock-bottom, in which the character is threatened with the possibility of going back to where he started, if not worse.  This is also where all of the conflicts are established for that thing that he wants and here's where the antagonists are established.  This is also where the big reveal of a big conflict happens, something the protagonist might not even know.  But then he does.  Then the next upswing starts; he overcomes those conflicts somehow and succeeds in some way by the apex of that next upswing.  There was such a huge crash before so then, when he succeeds for the next upswing, that apex of that upswing has to be a major victory, much more so than the previous one, and it sort of wraps up the whole story.  The space between these two apexes is the vast majority of the story.  The last descent is not necessarily a downswing--it just has to establish the normalcy again of this character's new life as the bridge's cables connect to the land again.  The dust has settled, and the character's life is a bit more clear, usually in a good way.  The ramifications of the victories and successes are shown, and the character again carries on with his life, and both you and the character feel it'll be better.

This structure is much more open for characterization, and is an especially good structure to use if one of the main conflicts is character vs. self.  The best example I've noticed recently of this suspension bridge structure is the movie The Verdict, which I mentioned in the recent blog about signs you're growing old: it's the movie I sought, made in 1982, and I sought it because I needed to see it again, because it suddenly hit me, purely from memory, that it was the epitome of the suspension bridge structure.

I'll explain how and why in a blog entry to come.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Published Poem Now Available

Photo: Book cover of the anthology that contains my recently-sold poem, "An Old Man."

You'll find it in this anthology of "poems of hope throughout the world."  This recent write-up says it better:

We are delighted to announce that “Hope Springs A Turtle” is now available to order from Amazon or your favourite bookshops. Thank you for taking part in this project, we are delighted with the unique beauty and inspirational quality of this anthology.This anthology is an eclectic collection of beautiful photographs and inspiring poetry from all over the planet,  proving that hope is the power that unites everyone.
This book is an ideal gift for the young and old showing everybody the importance and joy that hope brings.
10% of all profits goes to support Mind U.K., a mental health charity in the United Kingdom.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry for the unabashed plug!  An actual blog entry will come tomorrow.  (I'm an unapologetic tool.  But at least some of it's for a good charity.  Hell, I've had many days when I've done much less.) 

Anyway, click here for the printed book and for the e-book.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Signs You're Gettin' Old

Photo: Bon Jovi, from its Wikipedia page

These are ways that are a little more subtle than, let's say, your hair thinning, or you just plain losing your hair.  Neither of these are happening to me, of course.

--You hear yourself constantly comparing yourself, or your generation, with the younger, and you constantly begin such comparisons with, "I don't mean to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but..."  And then you hear yourself sounding like an old fuddy-duddy.

--And you hear yourself using phrases like, "Fuddy-duddy."

--You take naps not because you want to, but because you have to.

--And such naps are unplanned.  You just suddenly wake up on the couch, and it's a few hours later.

--Friday nights are no longer nights you go out, but are just an extension of the workweek, just another night in which you're tired from the workday.

--If you're lucky, Saturday nights are party nights.  But more often than not, it's just a go out night, when you're happy to just go out for dinner somewhere.  Dinner and a movie in the same night is a truly special night.

--You pull a muscle simply by getting out of bed in the morning, or during the morning shower.

--You look forward to your garbage and recycling stuff getting emptied on Monday mornings.

--You pat yourself on the back whenever you manage to be utilitarian about something.  Today I brought five DVDs I don't watch anymore to F.Y.E., got $5.50 for them, and then turned that over, with $14, to get a DVD I've wanted for a long time, The Verdict.

--Speaking of which, you find yourself wanting DVDs of movies made in 1982.

--As a comic has said somewhere, you find your body is losing hair where you want it, and growing it in abundance where you don't want it.  (I'll leave the rest to your imagination.)

--It's possible that the high school you went to may be closed due to lack of enrollment.

--And your junior high school has already met the same fate.

--Your birthdays remind you more of the finish line, and so you no longer enjoy them.

--You find yourself thinking that a forty-five year old actress looks attractive.  Forty-five used to be old and ugly.

--You notice that it's been a very long time since your favorite musicians have recorded something new.

--And that actors you remember as a kid have started dying off.

--Or you're amazed that your favorite actors are still alive and kicking, if not exactly making movies anymore.

--And you realize that favorites like Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis are the exceptions, not the rule, of longevity.

--And that Meryl Streep is the exception in terms of favorite actresses who are still a little bit of a force in Hollywood.

--Your favorite recent actors are younger, or, if they're your age, they're newer to the business.

--You don't know the newer musicians and singers anymore because you're too busy wearing out your CDs.

--And that Bon Jovi and David Bowie and Green Day are the aforementioned exceptions, not the rule.

--And that you tend to listen to the one station playing 80s music, which you realize is in existence solely for those who, like you, have realized that they're gettin' old.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

Photo: from
Guilt is Kellerman's best book in quite some time.  I'd long given up on the author and on the series; things had just gotten too graphic, too gross, too judgmental.  In short, Kellerman had gotten lazy, and his prose spoke of too much self-opinion and attitude and not enough mystery and characterization--you know, the reasons you read series like this to begin with.

Finally, he returns here with a book that is more mystery than attitude, more puzzle and who-dun-it than gross-outs and psychos who come out of left field to be the bad guy.  The end result is a winning work that hopefully will remind Kellerman of what he used to write.  Here's to hoping that he produces more like this.

It starts off with a baby's skeleton found deep in the now-exposed roots of a tree in a rich woman's front yard.  Then another baby's skeleton is found.  Then a young woman's--these last two in the same park.  Then more turn up, but by then you know that they're amongst the villains, and the reader will know who did it about 75% to 80% of the way through.  The rest is explanation, proof, and arrest.

But that doesn't spoil the read, which is a good thing, because once again Kellerman uses real-life L.A. types for his work, without bothering too much to hide the real identities for his characters; this is a habit that had grown thin with me, and still does.  But here it works, sort of.  But it's still lazy writing, as the real-life people are the characters and characterizations that he's supposed to work hard to show us on his own.  Instead, there's an obvious Brangelina here, using the real-life couple and their fame, eccentricity and adoptions to substitute for the work that Kellerman should be doing with his writing to supply us with the characters.  By the time it ends, the similarity to the real-life couple has long since entered fiction and separated from the real-life people, but that doesn't disguise the fact that he used them to get us there.

Whatever.  I read the book in two days, so it's an easy and interesting read.  It's free of Kellerman's usual judgments, and, thankfully, the sparring and relationship troubles of Delaware and Robin are long gone--and about time, since they're not the reason we read this stuff, anyway.  Their troubles were like Robert B. Parker's former use of chapters and chapters of describing Spenser's cooking prowess--unnecessary and a disturbing deviation from the plot and storyline.  Give us characters, not forced character traits or character drama.  In other words, story over anything else, always.

That rule was followed here, to everyone's benefit.  Now, when I buy the next one in the series, I won't feel bad as I do so, and I won't have to tell myself that I'm buying it only because I have all the others.

For my reviews of other Jonathan Kellerman books, many Stephen King books, and dozens of others, click on this link to my Goodreads book page.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Comments for "So Many Reasons," now published in On the Premises

Photo: Norman Rockwell's "Merry Christmas, Grandma!" at (Not my kinda site, but it had a good photo of this painting).  Is Christmas ever this old-fashioned and homey?

"So Many Reasons to Celebrate the Season," my most recently-purchased story, about how a best-selling author deals with a collapsing marriage on Christmas Eve, was published by On the Premises (Link: on March 10th, in Issue #19. Use the link above, then click on "Latest Issue (March 2013)" and then click on "So Many Reasons to Celebrate the Season," four stories down on the page. Check out other good stories in that publication as well. It's all free. When you're done, please go to this blog entry and leave a comment. Let me know what you think. Thanks!

For those who care about such things, this story is especially important to me because it is the first non-genre piece I've sold.  This means that it's not science fiction, or horror, or mystery, or speculative fiction, or a specific genre like that.  It's a more everyday story, very contemporary, very today.  And it's about relationships, about how they end, and about not lying to yourself about them.  It's a tough lesson to learn that your life is crappy, and that you're full of crap as well, but that's what happens here.  But I digress: this is especially rewarding because there aren't any tropes of a genre that the writer can fall back on.  For example, in a horror story, you expect some blood, some terror, some fear.  In a mystery, you expect a puzzle, a whodunit.  In both cases, the writing itself doesn't have to be all that good, in a way, as long as the blood and terror keep coming, or as long as the reader is hooked so much on the whodunit that he doesn't notice how terrible the writing is.

In a non-genre story, it isn't that easy.  There are no bloodletting scenes, no whodunit, no YA romance, nothing that a genre writer can fall back on when nothing else is working.  It's just a real-life guy and his real-life problems.  Characterization is more important here, and so is the conflict and the reality.  So when something like this sells, the writer feels a little more confident because this type of writing can be much harder to create than a genre piece.

So if you've taken the time to read it, thank you; if you haven't, please do.  And please comment below.  Let me know what you think, good or bad.  Let's have a discussion about it.  As long as your comments are politely stated (and a specific example from the story would help), I promise to publish them.  Please, and thank you.

As usual, thanks for reading my stuff.  I appreciate and respect the time you sacrifice to do so.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Wife of His Youth--Charles W. Chesnutt

Photo: Cover of the Library of America edition, from this link.

I wrote a blog last year about a very real-to-life and entertaining short story by this guy, here.  Please read that one, if you haven't, before you continue on here.  I just re-read it myself, since I wrote it last year, after all, and I'm still impressed that a man who could pass as white, as he was apparently 7/8 white, refused to do so, instead listing himself as African-American.  He became a popular writer of short stories, and made apparently a very good living for himself, as he joined some high-falutin' social clubs, which is the subject of his ironic and classic short story, "Baxter's Procrustes," the subject of the linked blog above.  So read that entry, and his story, too.  The link to the story is in the blog linked above.  (And a quick note about that entry: It continues to be one of the most popular I've written, as it consistently shows up on the side of the blog, in the "popular entries" section, which is generated by the numbers provided by Google's Analytics, not by me.  As of this writing, it has been the second-most popular entry of the past month--and that entry was written on August 8, 2012.)

This entry is about "The Wife of His Youth," another story that could only happen to a man of mixed race, who comes across as white and who looks white, but who is not entirely white, and if I have written a more real but ridiculous sentence recently, I'm not aware of it, because why any of this matters is beyond me, anyway, and if you think this is crazy, Google the "One Drop Rule," which was an act actually passed by this country's local and federal Supreme Courts in 1910 and 1924.  You won't believe it--or maybe you will.  But don't get me started, and I digress, anyway.  If you're interested, read about the "One Drop Rule" here.

Anyway, the long and short of it is this: a black man who doesn't look black and who is therefore walking around a free man in the south is soon to be captured by the slave-owner of a black woman (whose skin is very black) and sold down the river.  She tells him this, and he runs, vowing to come back for her.  He does, but she's sold down the river for tipping him off.  He looks for her for awhile, maybe a couple of years, and then, deciding that he'll never find her, comes to Groveland (real-life Cleveland), Ohio, and sets up a life as a very social and sophisticated gentleman--a man whose race is never discussed, since he's 7/8 white and nobody realizes there's a discussion to be had there about his race, which therefore means there isn't, but whatever.  So he becomes high-falutin' and popular and rich and sophisticated, and nobody knows he's black, and he doesn't tell anyone, which at first seems like a betrayal, but then you realize that maybe the subject of his racial identity never came up, and that maybe the whole matter ceases to matter to him, too.  Anyway, all the women around wants this guy, but he pines for another woman, and she wants him, and he wants to ask her to marry him, so to make the proposal fit the prosperity of the people themselves, he throws a lavish ball to match the woman's awesomeness, and it is here that he will propose to this woman and live happily ever after.  (And she's white, too, which could've been a whole story in of itself, since nobody knows there's a mixed marriage about to happen there.  But Chesnutt, perhaps wisely, in 1899, never goes there.)

So this guy is about to ask this woman to marry him, when in walks this wrinkled, very black woman, who tells the main character that she comes to speak to him because he is a known intelligent and social man of the area, someone who knows everyone, and she's looking for a specific someone--her husband, who she got sold away from, twenty-five years ago.  She's been looking for this guy ever since.  For twenty-five years.  She's never stopped looking for him, though he, the main character, had stopped looking for her, a long, long time ago.  This woman is uneducated, doesn't speak well, not socially sophisticated, and all that, and she doesn't recognize the man she's talking to, as it had been twenty-five years ago, after all, and he had been quite a bit younger than she had been, so she's pretty old now.

What is this guy to do?  She's been looking for him for twenty-five years, and he may, or may not, love her anymore, and he definitely does love someone else, this rich and beautiful white woman, who wants to be with him.  And nobody, including, perhaps, this beautiful white woman, doesn't know that he's black, but everyone sure as hell will if he introduces this short, old black woman as his former (and current) wife.  But if he isn't honest about who she is, and about who he is (which is the point of the whole story; because, after all, does his "hidden" blackness matter at this point--if it ever did to begin with?), then he will violate all of the ideals of honor and respect, love and fidelity, that his classy and sophisticated gentleman persona publicly believes in.  He wants to do the right thing, but what is the right thing?  For that matter, what's the question?

So what does he do?  Well, you'll have to read it to find out.  Read it here.  Do so now.  Who was this Charles W. Chesnutt?  He was a helluva writer in his time.  He shouldn't be as forgotten as he is.

This is another entry about a short story sent to my email for free from the Library of America.  I don't write blog entries about each story, but they're all interesting, for one reason or another.  I heavily recommend that you sign up to receive them, which you can do by clicking the icon in the upper right-hand corner of the page you'll go to when you click here.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On the Premises--So Many Reasons to Celebrate the Season

Just a quick note to say that On the Premises (OTP) has purchased my short story, "So Many Reasons to Celebrate the Season" and will publish it in its next issue, #19, online at  I think it's available in .pdf as well.  And it's free to read (I think)!  It'll be available starting March 10th, or thereabouts, so look for it at that site every now and then.  And while, with breathless anticipation, you're waiting for my story (fourth in the issue, I think), why not click the links of other issues and read some good, free stuff?  I just did.  I read the third and fourth stories of Issue #18, an unusual ghost story and a good time-travel piece.  I wouldn't recommend it if I didn't like it myself.

I'll soon set up another blog entry with more concrete information about this publication and about my piece.  After reading that next entry, please feel free to comment about my story once it becomes available.

As always, thank you for reading this blog, and for reading my other pieces.  I appreciate your support.

P.S.--I actually received notification in February from the magazine that they would publish my story, but I wanted to go through the process of seeing edits, and proof sheets, and signing the contract, before I announced it here.  Since I sold the poem, "An Old Man," in January, that means I've been fortunate enough to sell two pieces within four or five weeks of each other.  I'm on a little bit of a roll.  (I just knocked on the wooden table my laptop rests upon, after hoping I also sell something in March.)  I really do believe that this recent wave of good luck is due in part to the support I get from my friends, colleagues, and people like you, my blog readers, who are nice enough to congratulate me, or to pick me up, when I need it.  So, again, thanks very much for doing that, and I mean that sincerely.