The Title Made Me Do It

I have mentioned that I live in Ventura, CA and before that I lived in Santa Barbara, CA.  Between the two cities, I have lived on the edge of the Pacific Ocean for 35 years.  However, since I can’t swim a stroke and I don’t fish much anymore, I don’t spend a lot of time at the beach.  My dog, Tinker, likes it, so we go for walks on the beach now and then, but I don’t spend enough quality time on it to be called a beach bum, however, I can see the ocean from most parts of Ventura and in my daily commute, I drive next to it for over 30 miles.

One day when I was trying to think up more trouble for my Detective Anderson character I may have been looking at the ocean when a title for a story popped into my head.  I cannot say for sure if the image of all this blue water was the reason for it but since Anderson seems to be around a lot of dead people, some by his own hand, and he lives in Miami, the deep blue of the sea made me think of this phrase:  Death and the Deep Blue Sea.  Maybe I was thinking of all of the mariners that have gone down to the sea in ships or maybe it came to me for some other reason.  I honestly don’t know, but it got me to thinking about how I could involve Anderson in a murder mystery at sea.

The first challenge, of course, was to get him on the water.  For this I used his partner, Detective Coombs.  Coombs loved to fish while Anderson detested it but Coombs kept inviting him to go on a party fishing boat with him and since Andy was tired of making up lame excuses not to go, he relented this one time.  Naturally, trouble followed when something awful turned up in the offal.  In a tip of my hat to Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal movie, Lifeboat, all the actions take place on board the ship.  This had to be done because Anderson was afraid that if the ship made landfall before he deduced who the criminal was, said criminal would be able to make his escape.

Between the time he and Coombs boarded the ship and the time they set foot on dry land again, our two intrepid detectives discovered who was murdered, who did the deed, and what was the main dish in the galley…  The entire story evolved from what I thought was a catchy title.

This story, Death and the Deep Blue Sea, is included in my book, On Borrowed Time.

Incident in a small market…

This morning she was wearing a battered Levi Denim shirt–with silver buttons–just like the one in the Mary Chapin Carpenter song, This Shirt.  Her blonde hair fell on the turned up collar, her wrists protruding from the rolled up sleeves were unadorned, and on her hands she wore one small ring. She was looking at produce in the greens sections, seemingly trying to decide if the Kale was too wilted for her taste.  He tried not to stare, and failed, after all he had just seen her the night before.

She must have felt his eyes on her because she looked up, and smiled.  He smiled back then went about his business while wondering if she was who he thought she was.

The incident above is true, but it would not make much of a story.  I mean men look at pretty women all the time and nothing comes of it–unless you are a writer and you can make what you want of it just as I did as soon as I got home from the market.

Mistakenly, I thought the lady in the market was the same one I had seen just the night before playing the cello in a local orchestra. There were at least 50 other musicians on that same stage and though she was partially hidden by a violinist, there was no way you could not see the enthusiasm she put into her playing.  It was as if there were no other players, no conductor, not even an audience.  We were all irrelevant to the passion she put into each bow stroke.  She wore a simple black dress and one string of pearls; her attire showed that it was the music that mattered, not what she wore or how she looked.  I have always admired performers like this whether they were in Carnegie Hall or playing on the street corner for spare change.

This brief marketplace encounter turned into my story, The Right Note, which not only produced my biggest royalty check to date but was also published in one of the biggest literature markets in the world, New York City.

In the story, the lady is who the man thinks she is and he approaches her.  The first line in the story is this: “You play the Cello, don’t you?” and of course she does.  What plays out is a tender tale of two mature people from very different backgrounds finding love at a time when they least expect it.  When I finished the story, though formulaic,  I liked it a lot and so did everyone else who I let read it so I thought I would take a shot so I sent it to New Love Stories Magazine.  They bought it–on the condition that I make it longer!  That was a request I had not heard before.  Since I wanted to be in this NYC magazine, I looked at my story in an effort to add more words.  In this case it was surprisingly easy.

The original story had only two parts; the first section is where the two lovers meet in the market and the second section detailed how the man showed up at one of her concerts.  This lead to a budding romance.  So how do I add to that?  I had the beginning, I had the ending, people liked it, I liked it.  How do I make the editor like it?

I finally decided to add a third section in the middle of the story.  The female protagonist is fascinated by the good looking man who complimented her on her playing and since he gave her his name told her that he was a writer, and that he lived locally, she decided to try to find out more about him.  Taking to the Internet she discovers that he is much more than he seemed and after discovering this, she wanted to see him again more than ever.

This obviously was the solution the editor was looking for because he sent me a sizable check for the story.  Sadly, New Love Stories Magazine is now defunct but with its death, all the rights to the story have reverted back to me and you can read it in my collection, Angel and the Bear.

While doing so, you can listen to this song:

This Shirt – Mary Chapin Carpenter:

For the benefit of Mr. K

All through my blog posts I have told you of the incidents and people who have inspired me to write.  This post will be no different though I write it with great sadness.

I found out last week that one of my friends died suddenly, the cause of his death is irrelevant at this point so I will not go into it, let me just say that he was much too talented and much too young to be gone now.  Even though I went to his joyous wake yesterday, I am still in shock over his death and I will be for some time to come.

The man’s name is James Kasmir and you can visit his FaceBook page here:

James was a man with a zest for life.  To me he was always smiling, always upbeat, and always willing to entertain.  He was a comedy writer, an adept magician, one of the BEST harmonica players I have ever heard, and one of the most creative improvisational comedians you’d ever meet.  It was during my two year stint in improv that we became friends.  I could tell you of some hilarious skits we did together but that would take much too long because anything Jim was in was funny; I was irrelevant.

Since we were having a wake and since it was to be held in the Ventura Improv Company Theater and since it was to be attended by an astounding amount of talented people who would be performing in honor of Jim, I wanted to get involved as well but not in an improv setting.  So, I wrote a short poem even though my poetry is lacking.  The name of the work is Jimbo The Magnificent and there is a story behind this title that few people knew until I told it before I read this work.

As I said, Jim was a magician and I am one who has always loved magic.  I have even put on a few shows (one when I was 9 years old) but I never reached Jim’s talent level.  Well one day, in a private conversation, I told him that if he was going to be successful magician, he needed a catchy name.  So I bounced a few suggestions off him and Jimbo The Magnificent is the one he liked the best, though I don’t think he ever used it on stage even though I promised him that I would not charge a royalty fee if he did–at least one that was not too steep, that is.

So, using my favorite name for him, I wrote the following.  It was warmly received despite it’s crudeness because it celebrated all things Jim.  That is something we can all celebrate for the remainder of our lives.

I love you buddy.

Jimbo the Magnificent

With mouth organ blazing, he’d pull a rabbit from a hat

Now how in the world could you not laugh at that!

Up on the boards he’d act like he was Heaven sent,

And maybe he was, he was Jimbo the Magnificent.

He’d been known to sing and he’d been known to prance

And sometimes when silly he’d do a naked chicken dance

Whatever he did, he did for our enjoyment.

Because as we all know, he was Jimbo the Magnificent

Now that he’s gone, the lights have gone out

But we’ll all be happy and we’ll all have no doubt

That he’ll be wearing wings to where ever it is he went

And Angels, those lucky Angels, will be laughing with Jimbo the Magnificent

Fact into fiction

When I first moved to California, I lived in Santa Barbara–a town I had never heard of before relocating to it.  It is a nice place, great weather, terrific scenery, and Hollywood stars walking on the streets like all of us nobodies, but after 5 years I decided it was not my kind of town so I moved south to the beautiful little town of Ventura and that is where I have been ever since.  I love it so much here, that I will never leave it really.  I have it set up so when I die I will be cremated and my ashes will be spread just off the coast so they can slowly wash ashore (thank you Neptune Society).

One thing that I really did like about Santa Barbara was their library.  It is a beautiful facility with a large collection of books.  Well one day I was there just browsing for nothing in particular when a title caught my eye.  It was A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Conspiracy of 1865 written by a man name Louis J. Weichmann.  I had never heard of this author and I always thought I knew everything about Lincoln’s assassination so I would have normally passed on this book but the intriguing title enticed be to pick it up and at least read the dust cover.  After I did that, I checked the book out, took it home, and read it is just a few days.  It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone, history buff or not.

I, for one, didn’t know all the intricacies of the plot against Lincoln which included the kidnapping of the President in order to hold him for ransom.  When that plot went astray, sadly, John Wilkes Booth took matters into his own hands.  I also did not know that there was a mystery woman who often visited Booth in the home of Mary E. Surratt, the mother of conspirator John H. Surratt.  This mystery woman has never been identified.  There is a lot in the book that I did not know but that is because the revelations in it were divulged by Weichmann–a man who lived in the same house with the conspirators but was not party to it.  Louis J. Weichmann was a clerk in the War Department at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Anyway, the mystery of the woman who Weichmann spoke haunted me for years even after I moved so one day I applied the magic “What if…” question to this lady and came up with a wild plot for a story.  I call it Saving Abraham and it is available in Angel and the Bear.

The story is a science fiction tale that revolves around a plan to stop the conspiracy and assassination; the idea is dreamed up by a scientist living in Atlanta in the year 2145.  The scientist known only as Johnson, and his partner Locke, have invented a machine called the Timatron which can not only let you travel in time, it can also transport you to specific places as well.  For his own reasons, Johnson wants to save Abraham Lincoln from Booth’s bullet but he and Locke disagree on what this would do to time. They have a spirited debate on that subject with Johnson finally hooking in Locke’s greed to get him to come around to his way of thinking and help him on his mission.  Well, things go terribly awry–in a most personal way–but you will have to read the story and it’s double climax ending to see how badly Johnson miscalculated the power of time.

Along the way to this conclusion, though, you will read a historically accurate tale that I wrote with the aide of Weichmann’s book.  The boarding house of Mary E. Surratt, where Johnson takes up residence is where it really was located in 1865, the livery he used, the events of the time, the visitors to the house, etc. are all real people and places described by a man who lived in that time period and with these people.  The only part of the story that is truly fictional is the actions of Johnson and Locke.

However, to make these dueling scientist seem more real, I based them on two other men famous for their dueling diatribes.  They were based on the movie critics, Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, both of whom now have sadly passed on.  I admired them greatly and was such an avid fan, I could easily see them fitting into the roles I created for them.  At one point, Locke even gives Johnson a “thumbs up”.

This story not only shows how I used real people of the past, but real people of my time (Siskel & Ebert were both still with us when I wrote this).

Here are two links to the real people involved:

Louis J. Weichmann

Siskel & Ebert

A dog’s blog

(NOTE: I had to go out for a little while this morning and when I got back my PC was on and the following notes were typed into my blog.  My dog Tinker, pictured above, must have finished working on her FaceBook page, Tinker’s Diary, and then decided to see what her daddy was up to.  The little scamp; I didn’t know she could do these things when I adopted her from the Humane Society.  Here is a link to her FaceBook page: 

My daddy is a writer so I guess that is why I write.  He told me about this thing called FaceBook so I started messing around with it as a way to keep my friends at the Humane Society up to date on what I was doing.  The people there took care of me for over a year and I guess I was special to them, so I did not want them to worry.

Before I lived at the Humane Society, I lived in a place that had over 100 animals running around in a small space.  I was often hungry and sick and I was always lonely despite all the other animals.  When the people from Humane Society finally came and took us away, I was real scared because I didn’t want to go back to the place I had been before; it was even worse than this animal house.  I was very happy when they took me to their place, gave me a bath, let me see a doctor and fed me real well.  I got to stay in a place with only one other dog so it was real nice.  I always had nice people coming to see me and taking me for walks too but they always left me back in my room when I so dearly wanted to go home with them.

One day my daddy met me at an adoption event.  He was real nice to me.  He took me for a walk and tried to get people to adopt me even though I wanted to stay with him.  He even kissed me a few times.  After the event I had to go back to the shelter and I was lonely for days afterward because I liked him so much.

I don’t know how much time passed before I saw him again but it was at another adoption event.  Daddy took me up on a platform and told people all about me.  He said he thought the only reason I had not been adopted was because I wasn’t a puppy anymore, I was 8 years old.  But that didn’t mean I was bad or anything, daddy told all the people that.  Anyway, after the show, daddy said he would take me to his home for a while so I would get a break from shelter life.  I was so happy.

When we go to his home I was a little fussy but I worked hard on being a good doggy, hoping to stay there forever.  After a while, two more dogs came to visit us, Angel and Hercules, who daddy said were my cousins and that if I stayed at his home, I would have to get along with them.  We had some rough and tumble times but overall I guess I was good because a few days later daddy adopted me and my Foster Home became my Forever Home!!

All doggies like Forever Homes, so if you have one to share, go get one; we will love you forever, just like I love my daddy!

The challenge that became a story

I was sitting in an office looking across a huge chrome and glass desk at a man who was deciding whether or not I would be good fit in his company.  As I do in most all job interviews, I mentioned that I was a writer.  This usually adds to my value since employees who can write clearly are an asset to any company. However, in this case, it worked just the opposite way.

The man spoke deprecatingly about “wannabe authors” who have worked for him in the past until they got their big break and then they bolted.  This made me wonder how many great authors had sat in the very chair that I was now occupying?  I didn’t say anything to that effect but I did want to defend writers.  I told him that the curiosity that drives a writer allows them to think more freely, to be able to look at a problem and see it from all sides, just like they do when developing a character or a scene since neither should be one dimensional.  He scoffed at this and made more rude remarks about my avocation so I said that his opinions were his to express but since he felt that way, there was no need to discuss my employment further.  As I got up to leave he said that I was like all writers, I was a quitter.

That is when I wanted to smack him up side the head but instead I said that at least I could write about anything which is more than he could do.  I got all the way to the door when he asked me to stop.  I turned and he said, “Anything?”, so I repeated my boast not really knowing if I could back it up.  At that point he reached down and picked something up off his desk and asked if I could write about this?  I said that I could but he had to be careful to “not bend Peter”.  He looked at the paperclip in his hand then put it in a shallow holder on his desk.  He told me to go and write about Peter the paperclip then get back to him.

As I drove home, I really didn’t plan on writing anything for the guy because he was such a jerk, but the challenge gnawed at me and a small idea started to grow.  When I got home, I immediately sat down at my computer and started writing down some notes.  A week later, I sent him Peter the Paperclip (PTP).  A day later he offered me the job which I turned down.

This incident showed me that any challenge is good for a writer whether they are challenging themselves or being challenged by others.  In my next post I will tell you how two other challenges lead me to write in a specific genre for the first time, just like this one did.

As far as old Pete goes, no one, not one person–outside the publishing industry–who have read it has not liked it.  Most loved it.  I have even published it on sites just to get criticism of the story and none has come forward.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find an editor who feels the same way.  This may be due to the fact that PTP is, as I said above, the one and only children s story I’ve written and I just don’t know how or where to market it.  So, I have included it in my collection of short American fiction entitled Angel and the Bear.

If you want to read an inspiring story of the little paperclip that just wanted to be more, then go here

When your life becomes the story…

When I first started using people I know as outlines for some of the characters in my stories, I made a pledge to never use myself as one.  To this day, I have only broken that pledge once and I was almost forced into it.  Almost.

Let me start by telling you that I loathe Christmas.  Not the Ebeneezer Scrooge kind of loathing, mine goes much deeper than that.  I hate everything about the holiday from the crappy music played decade after decade, to the greed of it (this is what I want for Christmas), to making people feel guilty for not believing in either fantasy (“Honest daddy, God knocked me up” or “If you’re good a fat guy in a red suit will break into your house and leave you stuff.”)  No, Scrooge has nothing on me.  This all being said, I wrote a Christmas story the people have told me is one that shows the true meaning of Christmas.  I will put a link to that review at the end of this blog–just in case you don’t believe me.

With feelings like this, imagine my discomfort when my then 7 year old son came up to me and dropped this bomb, “Dad, is Santa Claus a real person?”  For all his life, my wife and I had played along with the Santa fantasy since all the other kid’s parents were doing it.  I never felt good about lying to my son, but I always thought the truth would hurt him worse.  Pretty stupid, right?  Truth is always better and now he was standing in front of me demanding the truth.  Well I had no ready answer so I told him that I would give him one in the morning.  After a mostly sleepless night, an inkling of an idea came to me.  The next morning I told my son that he should ask Santa himself if he were real or not.  So we got out some paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps then set out to do just that.  When done we walked to the mailbox and sent the query on its way.  My son was skeptical about all this but I had bought myself another few weeks in which to come up with an answer.

That answer appeared in the form of a letter from Santa which was simply a letter the jolly old elf left under the tree for my son.  What was revealed in it worked because my son was happy and he never asked about this myth again. Afterward, I often told people about what I did and many of them with young kids would ask me for a copy of the letter, which I would provide for free.  Then it dawned on me that maybe I could write a short article about the incident and sell it to a magazine.  Was I ever right about that!  I never sold all my rights to the work so I was able to sell the approximately 750 word article over and over again.  One year it was published in Atlanta, San Francisco, and San Diego.

After a few years, this played out which is when I decided to break my pledge.  I felt I could get the letter out to a greater audience if I wrote the happenings into a story called The Letter from Santa.  The problem would be that this was a real event and I wanted to be able to label it as fiction.  I did this by adding one small part to the story.  When people I know read it I ask them to guess what that part is.  So far only one person has guessed correctly.  If you read the story, send me your guesses, too.

So, you can use your real life as a story and it can be successful just remember to change the names of others in it to protect yourself from the innocent.

Here is the link I promised:*Version*=1&*entries*=0