Good-bye to an Old Friend

Thirty five years ago I bought a research tool that has helped me write for decades.  At the time I was still a year or so away from owning my first PC (a Commodore VIC20 that William Shatner –aka Captain Kirk–hawked on TV) and the Internet was just a communication device for the military industrial complex.  You actually had to get up off your butt and go to the library to do any in depth research.  One other thing you could use was the tool that I bought so long ago.

It was the 1980 edition of The New Webster Encyclopedia Dictionary of the English Language: Including a Dictionary of Synonyms and Twelve Supplementary Reference Sections.  A copy of the title page is featured above.

The dictionary started out with a very interesting forward entitled On the Origin of Words which, essentially, explained how the English language came to be.  Nine hundred and seventy two pages of word definitions followed until you came to the 12 supplements mentioned in the title.

The supplements were as follows:

  1. Synonyms and Antonyms
  2. Popular Quotations
  3. Classical Mythology
  4. Foreign Words and Phrases
  5. Student’s and Authors Manual
  6. Secretaries Guide
  7. Business Law for Laymen
  8. Business and Finance
  9. Names and Their Meanings
  10. The Story of America in Pictures
  11. Flags of the World (in color)
  12. Presidents of the United States (in color)

The last president listed in section 12 is Ronald Reagan.  I found out in section 9 that my first name means “The Lord is gracious, merciful” and in section 5 I found out how to edit a document using Proofreading Marks.  There are too many great quotations to list here but my favorite from the Writing list in section 2 is “Look, then, into thine heart, and write!” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

At this time, I have to paraphrase another well known quote, “Time waits for no man nor great tome of knowledge”.  Over the course of the decades, this book was referenced more times than I can remember especially after my son was born in 1984.  It was at his side countless times while doing homework and at mine as I did my writing.  Now, however, it is showing the effects of its great use and great age.  The pages are torn and falling out as they fade from yellow to brown and the binding is all but gone.  So I have decided to give it a new life; I have made the gut wrenching decision to recycle my old companion in hopes that its next life will be as useful as its first one was.

So good-bye my old friend, good-bye.

NOTE: I used this book one last time to look up the proper way to spell-and hyphenate-the term “good-bye” since there are many variations of it and discovered that the phrase is a shortened version “God be with you”.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary on line is located here.  It even has a section for Scrabble:

Captain Kirk selling computers (as William Shatner):

50 Shades of Green

You hear a lot of nonsense on the Internet every second of every day but sometimes you hear something so outrageous, you know it could not possibly be true so you dismiss it.  Then when you find out it is true and you are left to sit in stunned silence–unless you are a writer like me.

This happened to me yesterday when I heard that E L James published a “writing guide”.  In case you don’t know who this person is, she is the author of the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

Before I go on let me make it clear that I have not read any of her books.  Nothing anyone could ever do could make me read her books either.  The reason for this is simple; the subject matter is very disturbing to me.  There has been enough written about the books that I know it concerns a rich man controlling a woman sexually, often using force to do so.  That subject makes me so crazy that I once beat a man senseless because he was bragging about how he abused his wife in this way. I told him to shut up and when he didn’t do so, I shut him up.  That being the case, I don’t condemn Ms. James for writing the works and for making a boatload of money from it.  Some people love to read sick garbage like this which I know is crazy but that is our world like it or not.

What really bothers me about this situation is that Ms. James did publish this “writing guide” and given her following, most likely people will buy it looking for pearls of wisdom from the “great” author. That is even more disturbing to me than the subject matter because while I, again, have not read any of her books there are a plethora of excerpts from them on the Internet and I have read a great many of these bits and pieces. Doing so brought me to the conclusion that while Ms. James writes sick garbage she also writes like garbage.  Some of the passages are so illiterate that they make no sense at all yet she is telling others how to write?

In case you do not believe me, here is an excerpt I found.  I will add the link to this page below my post:

“Trust me?” he breathes.

I nod, wide-eyed, my heart bouncing off my ribs, my blood thundering around my body.

He reaches down, and from his pants pocket, he takes out his silver grey silk tie… that silver grey woven tie that leaves small impressions of its weave on my skin. He moves so quickly, sitting astride me as he fastens my wrists together, but this time, he ties the other end of the tie to one of the spokes of my white iron headboard. He pulls at my binding, checking it’s secure. I’m not going anywhere. I’m tied, literally, to my bed, and I’m so aroused.

He slides off me and stands beside the bed, staring down at me, his eyes dark with want. His look is triumphant, mixed with relief.

“That’s better,” he murmurs and smiles a wicked, knowing smile. He bends and starts undoing one of my sneakers. Oh no… no… my feet. No. I’ve just been running.

“No,” I protest, trying to kick him off.

He stops.

“If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening right now.”    Gag me! Kate!  I shut up.

Okay, Ana, the female protagonist, has apparently let this cowardly puke tie her to her bed but only gets upset when he starts to take off her sneakers?  Why?  Because she has been running!  Does this mean that her feet will stink as bad as this passage?  I could go on (“my blood thundering around my body.”–messy, messy) but you get the point.

I just hope that this “writing guide” bombs.  Maybe then Ms. James will realize what most writers already know and when she does, she will take her money and disappear from the literary world forever.

By the way, if you like good erotica where BOTH parties consent to sex, then read my friend’s short book Make Me Sweat.  I have provided a link below.

50 S of G excerpt:

Make Me Sweat:

Ennui with a Side of Envy

For all of you who follow this blog, you know that my posts are intermediate at best and lately they have not been that frequent. The reason I don’t post more often is not due to writer’s block, I rarely have that affliction, my problem is one of ennui which is defined as:

ennui (pronounced on-we)
noun en·nui \ˌän-ˈwē\

: a lack of spirit, enthusiasm, or interest

It isn’t that I don’t have subjects to write about, it is that I don’t care enough anymore to write about them. The same goes for my fiction and non-fiction writing.  The idea of creating something and seeing it in print just doesn’t interest me as it once did.  This sense of disinterest really permeates my entire life anymore but I still perform my day to day functions like work, go see plays, wash my car, etc. but I do these things robotically.  They are here to be done so I do them.  The only thing that my ennui totally stops me from doing is writing.  I think this is an issue with lots of writers and other creative types but they pass it off as being blocked when they are really just bored with life.

So why am I writing today?

Because yesterday I did one of those robotic actions I mentioned above.  I went to see a play.  It is called The Last Train to Nibroc and it is one that I would not have chosen to see, based on it’s description, but since I have season tickets at this theater I went to the show and was enormously surprised; I gave it a standing ovation along with every other patron.  It was a marvelous production, just 80 minutes long with 3 small scene changes, but the actors and the writing made the story come to life.  Whoever cast Erik Odom (“Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2”) and Lily Nicksay (“Boy Meets World”) in the the only two roles in the play chose the best people that could be chosen as far as I am concerned.  They were absolutely spot on character throughout.  There dialogue was crisp and on time every time–and what dialogue there was!

The play was written by Arlene Hutton and all through it I kept thinking to myself, “I wish I could write that good.”  I left the theater envious of Ms. Hutton’s talent.  The wit, sadness, and joy all depicted in the show were driven by the perfection of script she created.

Yes, I do wish I could write as well as she does.  That wish is what drove me to get on my tail and start typing, maybe some day I will be as good as her and maybe this blog post is just the start.

Sometimes You Have To Get Dirty…

…in a grooming sense of the word anyway…

I was in the process of getting very dirty when the inspiration for my story Go Ahead, Steal My Car came to me.  At the time I was under my car, which was sitting up on my Rhino Ramps, draining the old oil from it so I could replace it with my recently bought fresh oil.  As I watched the dwindling ebony ribbon of dark oil pour into the drain pan, I heard shuffling foot steps approaching in the alley behind my house.  When the sound of the footsteps got to my driveway, they stopped and I could see that they had been made by two brightly colored tennis shoes. Who was in the shoes, I don’t know, why they stopped behind my car, I don’t know, but from the direction they were pointing, I could tell that the owner of the shoes was looking at my car and into my open garage.  I don’t think this person could see me since I was mostly under my car.

What motivation the feet had for stopping and looking I don’t know, but I do know that if they had approached my garage, they would have jumped high enough to hit the roof of it when I popped out from underneath the car.  But they did not approach, after about 3 minutes, they continued on their way.  I replaced my car’s oil drain plug then got up and looked down the alley, but who ever owned the shoes was gone.

However, the mystery stayed behind.  Later I could not get the unanswered questions out of my mind so, being a writer, I sat down and started listing what possible reasons the person had for standing behind my car and one of those possibilities, however remote, was that they wanted to steal my car.  I wondered what I would have done if that had been the case; since my car was a 1998 Chevrolet Lumina that I had owned since it was nearly new, most likely I would not have fought the person over it, I would have just said, “Go ahead, steal my car.”  What came from these musings is a sometimes sad, sometimes poignant story of a man grieving the loss of two partners, one personal and one professional, while blaming himself for both.

This is the second story in my book Angel and the Bear

Character Development

I tell everyone that I am not a novelist and to this day that is  true.  It may change some day but for now I am novel-less, so to speak.

The closest I have come to writing a novel is when I wrote On Borrowed Time, my book of mysteries that revolve around Detective Anderson and his private investigator agency.  In the book, many of the character have recurring roles.  Two of these characters are B.B., Anderson’s stunningly beautiful “Office Manager, full-charge bookkeeper, and all around do everything person” and Nate Kubrick, an up and coming young private investigator.  Around mid-way in the series, I wanted to develop these characters more because they were pretty interesting and because I had plans for them later in the series.  So, I decided to write a story called Into the Dark Desolate Night where they were the main characters.  In fact, Anderson and his partner Coombs are not in the story, though they play heavily in the background.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the story involves B.B. more or less blackmailing Kubrick into stealing Coombs’ new car, a candy apple red Cadillac El Dorado convertible.  Along the way we discover that B.B. is short for Beth-Ann Banks, her boyfriend’s name is Ray Ramundo aka Ray Ray, and that Kubrick has a juvenile criminal past that is unknown to Anderson and Coombs.

Why B.B. wants Kubrick–and only Kubrick–to steal the car is the crux of the story.  In the end, though, Kubrick finds a major league Miami crime boss deeply in his debt.  This is a situation that he does not relish, but he cannot get away from it.

For the record, the title of this story was the original title of the book and it fit well with the cover of the book, but after talking to a “book coach”, I figured it was too long so I renamed the book to another story.  I am not sure this was the best move but I have researched the question of long book titles and it does appear the shorter titles sell better.

So far I am not sure how accurate this assessment is.

On Borrowed Time:

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:

These “sayings” drive me CRAZY…

Saying things like this is a sure way to get me in your face and if you use these terms in a story, without making the character a total caricature, it will get you a terrible review, which is what you would deserve for taking short cuts with the English language. You are a writer, so write, say it in a way that doesn’t only appeal to Valley Girls and Stoners.  Write for the world and avoid these phrases at ALL cost:

  1. “I am going to REACH OUT to that person” – If you are not within arms distance of a person, you cannot “reach out” to them.  You can call them, email them, make an appointment to see them somewhere, or even snail mail them  If you ever get within arms length of them, then you can truly “reach out” to them; just make sure they want your advances.
  2. “I can’t wrap my head around that” – Perhaps if you wrapped your head around a brain you would not have this problem.
  3. “Back in the day…” – What day?  Last Tuesday?  A month ago?  1899?  Get specific, tell me WHAT day you are back in.  I have posed these questions to idiots who have used this phrase when talking to me and all I got in response was stuttering inanities.  Which is why I figured they used this phrase in the first place.
  4. “Don’t go there” – Ummmm, where is it you don’t want me to go?  We were having a discussion and not traveling anywhere.  Do you want me to go to a specific place?  Should I leave the room?  The building?  The planet?
  5. “It’s not rocket science” – That’s good since we were NOT talking about ROCKETS or SCIENCE or anything remotely related to these professions.  We were talking about what to have for dinner tonight.
  6. “Push the envelope” – Well gee, I can push an envelope.  Heck, I can push thousands of them all at once.  Does that make me special?   Do you have any idea what it is you mean to say?
  7. “Think outside the box” – Sorry, does it look like I have a box on my head?  Maybe you should talk to my barber.  What box is it that you speak of?  Do you have any idea?  If not get your head out of your as…
  8. “Chill out” – Are you referring to my Martini?  I mean it is already cold.  I drink them in toast the the English language that is being slowly killed off by catch phrases.
  9. “Don’t throw (someone) under the bus” – This punishment should be reserved for people dumb enough to use this irritating phrase.
  10. “It is what it is” – But what is it?  Can you tell me or are you just using this idiotic throwaway phrase to tell me you are too ignorant to express yourself in words?

There are more but if I keep writing this, I will blow a gasket….

How a near death experience inspired a story…or two…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a near death experience, and the drug induced hallucinations I experienced as I recovered from it, inspired me to write the story, Images, the third work in my Detective Anderson series that comprises my book, On Borrowed Time, but that was actually the second story idea that I came up with while I was in the hospital.  However, Images, was the first one I wrote even though I had the second story pretty much worked out in my mind.

The other story I came up with is called Eye of the Storm, and it follows Images in my book.  It does so because I wanted to add more characters to Detective Anderson’s world and I wanted to introduce his new private detective agency which I did in Images.  I also brought in his new partner in the story who was a character in the previous story, Welcome to Jupiter.

Now, how did I dream up Eye of the Storm?  More hallucinations?  No.  This idea came to me before the morphine drip really kicked in.  Since I was very sick, I was placed in a unit that was just one step down from the Intensive Care Unit.  This unit is on the top floor of the hospital I was in and if I peered out my window and between two buildings, I could see the Pacific Ocean.  On the second day I was on the unit, though, our annual “June Gloom” arrived and muted that view.  “June Gloom” as we call it here (no matter what month it comes in) is a heavy marine layer (a high fog) that can blot out the sun for days at a time.  If you have never experienced it, you might think that the fog is a thick layer of clouds.  From that I imagined two Floridians standing on the Ventura Beach and thinking that a hurricane was heading our way.  In my imagination, I visualized one of them looking at the other and saying, “It’s coming.”

From those two words emerged a 6394 word story involving mistaken identity, a murderous clan, helicopter chases, the near death of Anderson, and much more!

Here are the first few lines of the story:

“It’s coming.”


 “Should we stay, ride it out?”

 “No.  It will make landfall here, we would not survive it.”

 “Then let’s finish and go.”


So would I go through my sickness again if it meant coming up with two more stories?  No.  I would have to take a pass on that even if I never wrote another word.

Support your local author–even if your city will not do so.

I have mentioned that I live in Ventura, CA a beautiful little working class seaside town in between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, CA.  Undoubtedly the most famous person to hail from our town is the author Erle Stanley Gardner.

If you have never heard of him, that is not unusual, not even in Ventura where we have a building named after him (see picture) but you most likely have at least heard of his work because he wrote all the Perry Mason stories and Mason is unquestionably the most famous fictional lawyer ever created.

Gardner was not born in Ventura, but Perry Mason was.  Gardner moved here in 1921 and since the legal profession bored him, he began writing stories for pulp magazines.  These stories eventually became a long series of books and then a long running television show with Raymond Burr in the role of Mason.  I am a huge fan of the show and one of the biggest thrills of my life was meeting and hugging Barbara Hale who played Mason’s secretary, Della Street.

I provided this brief background of our most famous resident so you will know why I am trying to start a project in memory of him and the frustration I have encountered in doing so.

A few years ago Ventura decided to brand itself the “the new art city” so it spent $61 million dollars to build a condominium complex that is two blocks from the beach and Surfer’s Point.  The complex was to house WAV residents.  WAV stands for “working artists Ventura”.  The ideas was to have “working artists” buy these “affordable” condos so the city could claim that it was indeed the Artist Hub of California.  I thought the idea was fanciful because if an artist is making the kind of income that would be needed to buy these units, they would probably be living somewhere else.  I won’t go into the disaster this has been and tell you about how many units sit empty because I am all for the arts of any kind.  Cities should support them–just not this way.

Anyway, I figured that if the city could spend millions of dollars on this project, it could spend $5,000 on a project I have in mind that would not only honor and recognize our most famous artist (yes, writer’s are artists!) it would also generate income to keep the project going year after year.  I called the project Adventures in Mystery: A tribute to Erle Stanley Gardner.  

My idea is to publish a series legal mystery short stories using Amazon and CreateSpace.  The stories would be generated through a call for submissions asking authors to send in stories no greater that 3500 words in length with the authors being paid a flat fee of $150 for each story that was selected.  I was going to pick a panel of judges from among local authors to decide what was to go into the book.  Each judge would be paid a flat fee yet to be determined.  I was not going to collect any money, all I asked for was to be credited as the Editor of the book.  The books would be sold worldwide and they could be sold a city facilities like the gift shop at City Hall.  Our city hall is one block from the Erle Stanley Gardner Building and it used to be the main courthouse.  The City Council now occupies the very same courtroom where Gardner practiced law.

This same City Council flatly rejected my idea.  They told me to apply for a grant that would not come close to the $5000 I sought.  Maybe they could not afford to spend this much after the WAV fiasco?  I don’t know all I do know is that I have been trying to get this project going for years by approaching new council members as they come and go (though one of our Councilmen has been in his seat so long he thinks he is a Saint) and I have been rejected each time.

Because all of this, I have given up on the idea of having the city have any hand in this effort but I have not yet given up on the idea itself.  I am mulling a Kickstarter campaign for this project and if it happens, I will put out the call for writers here in my blog and on other social media outlets.

In the meantime, here are two sites where you can get some more background on this post:

Learn more about Erle Stanley Gardner:

WAV project in Ventura: