Thursday, December 28, 2006

Learning Classrom Management.

While I have been trying to defend education, I must post a bit of absurdity. In one of my classes in the school of education, the subject of classroom management arose. Being a group worker, I sat back, eager to hear her discourse on group dynamics and how to intervene. Here's what she said:

"Let's say a student or two are being noisy," she started. "First, give them THE LOOK."

At this point the teacher scowled, her left brow rising ridiculously near her hairline and her lip curling in a manner to do Quasimodo justice.

"If they don't respond to the look, wait a moment and then give them your NEXT LOOK, and say the student's name."

She then gave forth her NEXT LOOK, the eyebrow twisted maniacally, and her face twitching so she looked like a rotweiller ready to pounce. Sweat broke out on her brow and a scent drifted to us. She was actually able to spray pheremones. Cross my heart. You could see them like dust motes in the sunlight.

"Now some students need a bit more," she said. "In that case I recommend walking to that student's desk and usually they will respond to your movement, to your proximity. If you need to, gently touch them on the shoulder for a just a second and say a name. They'll get the message."

At this point I had to go to the restroom. I returned a few minutes later and froze at the doorway. Here's what I saw. The teacher had seperated the classroom into pairs. We were now sitting in couples, facing one another, taking turns with first, THE LOOK, then THE NEXT LOOK. I'm in the doorway watching these adults practicing their stern looks, knitting eyebrows, thrusting out jaws, gnashing teeth.

I did the only thing I could do. I left class and went to dinner. Maybe I missed the next part..maybe it was pull out the tazers and have at em.

Well...I was prepared for alternative education now, let me tell you. Making faces?!! Teaching is easy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dead Pool

As the new year approaches, I find myself thinking of the Dead Pool. I know, it's vulgar, tasteless, and tacky. The three T's. wait...make that Turgid, Tasteless, and Tacky. There, the Three T's. Some of you are wondering what the hell I am referring to. Well, it seems that there are some crude individuals out there who will make lists of people who they think will die in the coming year. Then, whoever has the most dead at year's end ---wins. Some Dead Pools even offers odds. People will bet on anything.

I would never have thought to put James Brown or Steve Erwin on the list. Nor would I have thought to enter Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, Actor Darin McGavin, or Actor Dennis Weaver. However, Gerald Ford would have been a no-brainer.

Usually picks are chosen according to age and behavior. For instance, someone who is hitting their nineties is on borrowed time. Wait, was that crude? Someone who is hitting their nineties is in the twilight years. That's better. Those are the easy picks. However, someone who lives recklessly is a bit more difficult to pick. Someone like Fifty Cent or Eminem, they might make the list, both of them with past or present (not for me to judge) connections in the violent world of illegal drug trafficking and gangs.

I would imagine that some of the more popular picks for the coming year would be Helen Thomas (reporter), Richard Widmark (actor), Mike Wallace (87 year old retired journalist), and Saddam Hussein (duh). Some of the less popular picks would be Dick Cheney (heart problem, but too evil to die), Keith Richards (the man will be around to watch the Earth melt) and Bill O Reilly (culture warrior claiming to be on the Al-Queda hit list---obviously that's one terrorist organization with too much free time on its hands).

Now, I'm not a proponent of DeaD Pools. There is something ghoulish about them and sitting around trying to figure out where the reaper will strike next seems a hell of a way to start off the New Year. But hey, who am I to judge? And be honest, as you have been reading this posting, weren't you, in the back of your mind trying to come up with some other names? Be honest. As long as my name isn't on one of the lists, I can live with that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Staying Edgy

Getting to work early one morning, I spied a "Soccer" mask sitting on a chair by my desk The same soccer mask pictured here, although that is not me in the picture. Another teacher had brought it in. Halloween was a couple weeks off. I decided to try on the mask. With no one else there, I put it on and walked around the office for a few minutes before it became uncomfortable. I took the mask off and put it away. About a minute later one of my students came in.

"What were you doing?" he asked, his voice accusing. He seemed uneasy.


"I saw you. I saw you walking around with a mask on. I could see you from outside. Why were you doing that?"

I shrugged.

"There was no one else here," he pressed. "You had no reason to put it on. Why? Why did you do that?"

I felt he was near becoming hysterical. I shrugged and went back to sorting through the papers on the desk. The moral here for teachers, is always keep your students off guard. Just a little. Especially in alternative education.

Sometimes, the edginess comes with a little assistance.

I remember in the middle of an American History lesson this one student declared that he was leaving school to go to McDonalds. I smiled and told him no, attempting to redirect class back to the lesson. He proclaimed that as he was eighteen, he could do what he wished. I again smiled and told him that if he left the school without permission, which would be a violation of the handbook rules, that he would not be allowed to come back for the rest of the day. He could wait for lunch and then go.

"I'm going to McDonalds," he said, standing. "And I'm coming back. And there's nothing you can do about it."

Ah, the sweet smell of oppositional defiant disorder.

He left and returned about thirty minutes later with a McDonalds in hand. Striding into my classroom, interrupting yet another lesson, he sat and started to enjoy his meal. The other students looked at me, eager to see my response.

I told the student to leave the school. He refused. I explained that he should leave voluntarily, before more dire consequences followed.

"What are you gonna do? Throw me out? Call the police? What are they gonna do? Throw me out over a McDonalds? What an ass."

The kids looked at me, then at him, then at me. He grinned triumphantly, sucking on a shake, eyes gleaming. I nodded and pulled out the cell phone. Within ten minutes the police chief walked into the building. This was my first time meeting him. I was almost embarassed. Almost.

"What's the problem?" he asked me.

"I went to McDonalds," the student said before I could speak. "I'm eighteen and I went to McDonalds."

"Did he tell you that if you went you couldn't come back?" asked the chief.


"So, you were told you weren't allowed to return to school?"

"I'm eighteen. He can't tell me what I can and cannot do."

The last we saw of him that day was through the classroom window. He was being helped into the rear of a police car. Hey, he was eighteen.

I remember hearing one kid whisper to another: "He called the cops over a McDonalds?"

Another student responded: "He told him he was gonna do it. The idiot should have left. He had a chance. He got what he deserved."

"But McDonalds?"


Sunday, December 24, 2006


At this time of year, people tend to take stock and focus on change, noting that which is worth keeping and that which they should let go. Maybe it's the equinox, the shifting from one season to another as we prepare to meet another year. Maybe it's the imporantance of awareness and realigning one's priorities.

Allow me to offer you a short short passage from "Palpable Illusion" by Stewart Sternberg. We'll ignore Rev. James Maloney, and instead focus on Adam Hart, the book's 'hero', for want of a better word.

As they moved through the village, Ibu talked without pause and Adam listened with rapt attention. The man’s charm was irresistible. Along their path they stopped often so that Ibu could introduce Adam to his neighbors. Word of Adam’s confrontation with Sharkey had spread and all greeting him warmly. One man reached out and touched Adam’s lip, speaking quickly in hushed tones.

“What?” asked Adam.

“He wants you to laugh for him,” interpreted Ibu. “He thinks your laughter is magic. He thinks your laughter turned away Sharkey’s bullets.”

Adam couldn’t help laughing and the man made a snatching gesture at his lips. Adam watched the strange gesture and looked to Ibu for clarification.

“He thinks he has captured a bit of your magic and will take it home with him to bless his house.”

“He is welcome to it.”

And so, here is my Christmas greeting to all of you..whatever magic I can offer you through my writing, my laughter, my words..."you are welcome to it".


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Concept Then Plot

Charles Gramlich has made two excellent postings on writing on his blog. But one posting on plot, based on something by Dean Koontz, has prompted me to make this observation. I'll elaborate upon what I started in a comment there. Also, author C.S.Harris has written a piquant observation called "plotters v. seat-of-the-pantsers"

Some people when they write have a concept in mind. Their faces light up and they say: "I've got a great idea. I'm going to write a story about two people who live together, one a slob and one neat, and about the conflict those personalities must have living in close proximity." CONCEPT. My experience though is that as people express this, the excitement of that initial concept prompts them to sit down and start writing. Bang. Unfortunately, this often results in a poorly executed bit of prose which doesn't live up to the initial enthusiasm.

What's missing though is that concept isn't plot. Now, according to the quote on Charles' blog, Koontz says he doesn't plot, but allows the characters to drive the story.

I think allowing the characters to develop is fine for Koontz, but with many people I know, without having a clear plot, without having some sense of an end, they flounder. That's why I try and have some sort of outline when seriously sitting down to work, even if it is only the most rudimentary structure. An outline can be detailed, with extensive character notes and even sketches of scenes that occur in your mind, or it can be a few paragraphs which just get you from point A to point B.

In the defunct horror writers group to which I belonged, several members talked about outlining and plot development as though they were rebellious children standing against their parents' rules...oh nevermind. I've picked on them enough. Maybe I'll devote some posts to them later on, but for now, lets return to the point...

Some people hate to see writing as work. They don't want to reduce it to the mundane, to take away anything of the romance they see in writing. These people want to be WRITERS, not writers. They're the ones who have trouble revising, sending stuff out, dealing with rejection, and then sending it out again. An outline is work, and they feel it is too restrictive.

Now I understand that every writer has his or her own way of doing something. However, if you are a writer and you find that you are swimming in your stories, having trouble getting stuff completed. If you find that plot is a weakness, that you have trouble with endings. If logic is an issue and stuff doesn't make sense....then why not do an outline?

Why? I'm asking? I'm begging you to explain it to me, because I can't figure out why WRITERS don't want to become writers?

Yes, characters drive the story. Yes, characters are what the readers will connect with in a story. Yes, characters are just about everything, but they aren't the only thing. The plot gives characters something to do and provides for conflict. It's the framework about which theme and characters are strung. Anyone who knows me knows I think character development is critical and the most important thing about a story. Just not the only thing.

So..concept, then plot. Concept---plot. And above all else...Serenity Now.

So what do you think? Am I wrong? Am I being too anal, too tough on people? Too...Stewart?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bah Humbug!

So, what? You've never seen a Scrooge before?

On the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Lovin' Blog, I wrote an article about magazines, specifically "Dark Wisdom" ( In the article I mentioned that short story markets are drying up and changing. In another comment on an earlier blog, SQT asked: "What do you do if you have a story and no real market?"
William Jones, in a comment on the aforementioned blog wrote (which I have edited a little to match it to this site, but you can check it against the original on the other blog):

Many bookstores have difficulty selling "literary" magazines (short fiction magazines) of any genre. The reason is because they are not considered entertainment, such as magazines like XBOX, and Entertainment Weekly, which do not require a large investment of time, and usually give a quicker return (in knowledge or pleasure). Reading short fiction is a bit tougher. The result is bookstores have difficulty moving such magazines.The answer might rest in online magazines, but if the above concepts of entertainment magazines apply, the problem isn't fixed, it is simply shifted to a new medium.There seems to be far more short fiction writers than there are readers

Is that true? I made a comment about poetry on another site, stating it was dead. Stating that most people who read poetry also wrote poetry, and that as a whole, I considered it a dead art form. I stand by that. But are we reaching a point in our multimedia culture where we start to make the same comments about short fiction?

I don't have the answers, just more questions. Still, I believe there will always be storytellers and always be people who enjoy hearing their words, or reading them.

Eventually I would like to try and publish an online magazine. In some way this blog has felt like a magazine to me. It has offered short stories, essays, and some personal portraits. I've tried to keep it entertaining.

So now, that I've rambled in this direction and that, let me answer SQT's question. What do you do with your stories if there is no market for them? You keep finding places to tell them. Give them to friends, publish them online, whisper them in the night. Keep them alive. The stories will only die when the imagination dies, and when creativity is replaced by mundane acceptance of reality in black and white.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Collected

A small man, with large deep-set eyes that rarely blinked, he would occasionally disappear for an hour or so, but Vicky could only guess at what he did down there. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

"Man's got to have some place to call his own," Marty would say. "It's my workshop."

"You're so secretive," she would respond with a smile, content to let him have his eccentricities.

Her friend Arlene heard this and stuck out a pointed chin. "He locks you out?"
Vicky hated defending herself to anyone. Shrugging she said: "Everyone needs privacy. He never goes into my sewing room, and I don't go into his room."

"But you don't lock him out."

Vicky had no response to that.

"Besides," said Arlene. "Aren't you curious what he does down there?"

"Probably drinks and tinkers with stuff."

"Don't it burn at you?"

"Why should it?"

"He could be doing horrible stuff with porn. Child porn, for all you know."

"Hush," Vicky responded, raising her voice, putting an end to the conversation.

Still, the question had been put to her and curiosity allowed to ferment.
Five years. She should know.

The file shoved something up. A click sounded and the lock yielded.

Stepping through the door, feeling instantly guilty, Vicky flipped on the light switch. She stood still, mouth open, eyes tearing up, trying to comprehend what she was looking at.

Every inch of wall, as well as the ceiling, was plastered with photographs of ---her! There, Vicky standing next to her mom and dad. Vicky in the living room watching TV. Vicky outside the house, looking so proud the day they moved in. Vicky kneeling over a patch of dirt in the garden.

Wringing her hands, Vicky moved around the room, not sure how she felt. She stopped at a picture that must have been eight years old, taken before she met Marty. There she was, standing outside the dorm, a backpack slung over one shoulder. Above that, a picture taken from the ground level, looking up into her dorm room as she stood leaning against the ledge, looking dreamily out upon the campus. Another picture of her in a rest room, taken from an odd angle, with a dark spots around the edges of the photo to suggest the picture was being shot through a wall.

Before they dated he had been stalking her?

She studied another picture. A more recent photo, taken from afar as she shopped at the local supermarket. Still another picture of her at work, taken from across the street.

He was still stalking her.

Not wanting to, she reached down and pulled open a drawer in the small desk he kept there. Underwear. Some of it missing for a long time. Another drawer. A pair of earrings missing since Easter, crumpled Kleenex, one torn nylon, a half bottle of perfume.

Closing the drawer, stepping back slowly until she was out of the room, she turned out the light, locked the door, and closed it. Vicky touched her face, not sure what to make of this revelation, not sure whether it should make any difference. It felt creepy to think of him studying her, taking pictures when she was most vulnerable. She tried to imagine him watching, his finger tense on the camera trigger.

Marty would be home soon. She nodded to herself. He would go into the kitchen, maybe check the fridge for a snack, grab a beer. He'd call out, to see where she was. Where would she be? Perhaps in the tub? Low in the water, a washcloth over her eyes. Vulnerable. She could pretend to be asleep and leave the door open a crack.

Smiling, Vicky started upstairs.



Cravings, needs, fetishes, obssession, yearnings...for something a little different. That itch for something that perhaps makes us a square peg in a round hole. It's a drawer that we keep locked, a night-time vigil that only one or two are allowed to see, a dream that shouldn't be shared. It's a whisper that tempts until its followed uncontrollably.

I am listing the links to Weird Addictions. These are the first entries. More will be coming today and tomorrow. At least I am hoping to read some from such people as Jon, Sheila, Pythia, Crunchy, Meander, Gem, Charles, Sidney, Lori, Sue and more. I encourage you to visit, read, and comment. Share. You'll find my own posted later tonight. It's called: The COLLECTED. )SQT writes about surgical problems. You're going to like this one. The ever popular, ever clever JR proves you shouldn't go home again. Mist's story..a bit of floss..but then what would one expect? Christina is the type who likes to be scared a little too much. Gugon has a dark, disturbing, Stewartesque piece. Infection. Crunchy's story...a mother/son situation Stewart Sternberg's story about discovery and romance...hahahahahaha

These next two links are submitted gently, in otherwords, they are marginal submissions, meaning: they are two writing samples but not exactly the given assignments. Still, you might find them entertaining. (Jon Zeck and a bit of urban neurosis) (You know her as Gem, her name is Gale Martin and her blog is:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Last Blog on Blogging

So, what have we learned from all the comments?
1. Blogging is a chance for self expression.
2. Blogging is an opportunity to connect with other people. For some it's about staving off loneliness, for some it's about shameless flirting, and for others it is merely a way to become part of a community. People tend to like to find a comfortable niche and settle in.
3. Commenting is an important part of blogging. Commenting on blogs of others brings comments your way. However, only by commenting in a meaningful manner can a dialogue begin. Without intelligently acknowledging the comments and opinions of others, a poster runs the risk of committing comment masturbation.
4. What brings someone back to someone's blog? Apparently interesting posts that say something significant. Or posts that at least titillate or give us some slice of a person's psyche. There must be a hook.

One writer's words, sent to me by Deslily, went something like this:

"All the writers I read are wallowing through major life issues, which are manifesting themselves in different ways in the virtual pages of their blogs. It got me to thinking: perhaps this is what separates the true writers from the mere hobbyists among us. There are those who quit writing altogether, leaving us with a swan song entry explaining that they’ve written all that’s worth writing, and they’re off to spend their time on more worthwhile pursuits. ( The inference being that all these however many months of blogging have been nothing but a waste of time.) These people, in my mind, are not writers. They may be intelligent, interesting and articulate, and write very well when they choose to do so, but they have not the passion of true writers."

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, just offering up comments for thought.

If you are interested in looking at other posts relating to blogging, here are some which were sent to me and here are some which I culled through my surfing. And Helen, I am giving you first billing. Visit at least a few of these, I think you'll find something to consider and perhaps elaborate upon. If you want, feel free to return here and continue the dialogue we began in the prior posting.

I'll lead off here with a link to "The Top Ten Reasons Writers Should Blog"

Then, here are some personal comments on blogging from many of the people who have commented on this blogsite at one time or another: ( A British teen and why she blogs) (Gem waxes philosophical about her blogging) as well as (these two postings from Pythia inspired a good deal of lively discussion) (Author Sidney Williams comments on blogging) (Interesting notes, some interesting comments on blogging etiquette) (some thoughts about the blog as dialogue, or lack thereof) (more interesting observations)

I could post many more links, but instead I will encourage you to surf on your own. There are some great sites for reading. Also, another reminder...WEDNESDAY...send me WEIRD ADDICTION posts.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Blog To Blog

I have been conversing with a friend about blogging. He complained that he has so few people coming to his blog and asked how to increase traffic. I gave him the usual advice and then added the following: don't post for comments, post because you have something to say. If you have something meaningful to say and people connect with it, they will come back to your blog and they will comment. Second, I told him to go to other people's blogs and read with interest, read because you want to hear what those people have to say. Then, when you comment on someone else's site, do so to make a connection.

A few more words about comments. I urge people to filter them somehow. When reading someone's blog, it is equally entertaining to read the comments. Unless the comments are redundant and tend to be continually annoying. There is one blogger who posts cheesecake pictures of herself along with serious and intelligent postings. As a result she gets the expected comments: "hey're so hot" along with the intelligent sincere responses. I have asked her about this and she has responded that it is part of her blog experience. I suspect ulterior motives. To each their own.

In the old days of AOL, I used to surf through the profiles of members because it was interesting to see who was out there. I do the same thing in google. I type in key words and see who is out there. For instance, "writing, blogspot" or "Michigan, blogspot". As a writer, interest in people is what makes me who I am. If you're not interested in people, how can you seriously approach dealing with character.

In the next couple days I want to publish links to people's postings who have written about blogging. Observations, me links to postings you may have made, regardless of how long ago that posting may have been. I'm interested and I think other people are.

also, remember..if you are participating in WEIRD ADDICTIONS, send me link by Thursday

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Weird Addiction

Charles Gramlich, author of "Cold In The Light" (a book to pick up if you like horror) and a man with his own entry in wikipedia (, addressed the issue on his blog site about whether or not blogging is useful for a writer. My answer is: YES. If nothing else, it puts you into a community of writers and allows for an exchange of ideas. It's also a great online journal.

That being said..someone asked me about the next assignment. To be honest, I was holding off because it looks as though the writers' group meeting this week in Chesterfield may not be going forward. Actually...I'm pretty sure of it. There is one woman whose address I don't have, so if you are reading meeting this week. Anyway, that is why I haven't posted the assignment. But since I've had a couple it is:


Write a short story about addiction, keeping it to under a thousand words. The idea is to write about an addiction or even a fetish that is out of the ordinary; perhaps something a bit dark and unsavory, or something a bit silly. Your choice, although you probably know which direction I'm heading. Let's keep all contributions limited to an G,PG, PG13, or R, with anything R-17 being offered by email only.

Further instruction: mix it up. Check to make sure you aren't just writing 'subject,predicate' over and over. Throw in participle phrases, appositives, absolutes, and adjectives out of order. That is the purpose of the assignment, to take your writing style and consciously try to spice it up. If you want more information about spicing up your let me steer you to this site : Professor Noden has good information there about the abovementioned writing tools.

So, Weird the next assignment. Due Wednesday of next week. Once you've completed the assignment, email me the link and on Thursday, I will post the links of those who have participated.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Horror That Is Poppins

I was going to post this on SQT's blog, to which I am a regular contributor, but I'm going to be selfish and keep it for House-of-Sternberg. So what is it? It's the most terrifying film to be released in years....don't watch this video with your mouthful, I accept no responsibility for sprayed monitors. Funny, funny stuff . Also, check out this other posting, which is still my favorite:


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mr. Sidney

I've decided to start posting about some of my internet friends. Maybe once a week...just to share the love. It's my way of embracing the blogging community that has so warmly accepted me.

If you enjoy horror and fantasy, you might stop by Sidney William's blog.

Mr. Williams, according to the Fantastic Fiction Directory ( began his career as a journalist. Publishing his first novel at age 26, he has sold several novels and short stories, three of them being young adult fiction under the name of Michael August. I gotta get me a non de plume some day.

Sid's blog is a fun place for fans of the genre. He recently published an interview there with the great Ray Bradbury, has provided numerous books reviews, and comments on classic horror. My favorite is his discussion of August Derleth's "The Lonesome Place".

So go ahead and drop in ( )

Monday, December 04, 2006


Writing is a craft. It's something that comes with practice and dedication. Writer's write...and write..and write. And hopefully rewrite.

It's more than just composing sentences and paragraphs to get across one idea. It's understanding the elements of writing and how those elements come together to form a whole.

It's about setting up mood and rhythm, it's about understanding character dynamics and how to anticipate what a reader's response might be.

One approach to better understanding writing is by studying how other people work.

"But I read," someone said to me recently. The person, a horror writer, explained they had read three or four horror novels through the summer, along with short stories. I nodded and asked if they studied what they read. Did they break it down? Did they ask themselves what the author did in regards to dialogue and pacing?

I am currently reading "Grapes of Wrath" by Steinbeck. I won't copy the passage here, but there is a section where Tom Joad is returning home from prison, and he stands in the doorway. His arms are slightly outstretched, resting against the doorjam and the sun is behind him like some form of halo. His face is shadowed so that at first his mother can't see who he is.

When I saw that scene I stopped and found myself going back through what I had just read to look for religious symbolism. If Joad is a Christ-figure, then how is Steinbeck preparing the reader for this? After all, Joad is returned from prison, he is quick to anger, and often behaves in a rash manner. Not exactly praiseworthy behavior.

And perhaps that counterpoint is exactly what Steinbeck plans...perhaps to show that holiness comes not from the extraordinary, but from the ordinary. From the mundane. From the common.

I point this out because it is a good example of reading and at the same time studying a device used by a writer. Also, I am sure you've noticed that the novel in question is not a horror novel (one of my complaints is that people who write genre will often just read genre and ignore important works of literature).

As a person who frequently, though not exclusively, writes horror, I did the same to "Salem's Lot" by Stephen King. I tried noting what made the work horrific and what carried along the plot. What made the story significant (I read this after reading King's "On Writing" and found that in "Salem's Lot" he broke many of the rules he himself had set down for writing).

Upon a second reading of "Salem's Lot", I noticed one thing King did to make the story effective: he didn't use the word vampire until late in the book. The reader suspects it, especially as exposed to the concept of vampirism as we are in America, but by not immediately pointing to a vampire, by redirecting us through a backstory regarding the previous owner of a possibly haunted house possessed of evil, the reader is looking for something supernatural aside from the vampire. Thus when the vampire comes, although we have suspected its presence, it is a surprise and a horrible one.

King also has the wisdom to give us first characterization and a strong setting with which we can identify before introducing something unreasonable and horrible.

A little thing.

But writing sometimes turns on little things.

If you are a writer or hope to be, take this challenge. Take whatever book you are now reading and stop. Attempt to look at it critically. See how the writer uses dialogue to build character or move along the plot. Or, see how the author changes sentence structure to fit the action, perhaps writing longer sentences for setting the stage, or shorter sentences and stronger verbs for action sequences.

"But you'll kill the book.."

AH HAH!!! I heard that. No, analyzing a book won't kill it, unless the book is bad. Instead it will give you a deeper understanding of the material and perhaps bring you closer to the writer.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Helping out a friend

Mr. Jim Miller has asked if I would help draw some bloggers to his webiste to participate in a survey. So if you will, go to and help Mr. Miller out. And while you're there, tell him hello for me.

The Fat Man Cometh

This entry of bad writing frightens me. I think it reads like some bizarre French existential comedy that no one would pay to go see, unless their first name was Raul and they didn’t know the difference between a croissant and a bagel. See?
Anyway...look below this posting for links to other people who sent in some BAD ASSIGNMENTS


The holidays were no fun for someone with holes in his pockets. The holes in his gut and stomach didn’t help either. The fat man lay there, draining an assortment of bodily fluids into the gutter.

“Another Santa?” asked Detective Juarez, jaw rugged enough for three cops and a gay cowboy.

“Guess someone rang his Kringle Bell,” Sgt. Macino’s attempt at flippancy fell as flat as roadkill.

“This could spell trouble,” said Juarez.

“My wife left me today,” said Macino. The two men stared at one another.


Juarez took a cab back to the office, a bad and sat down at a desk messy enough to blind a mole. He reached over and sipped from a cup of frigid joe, following that with a bite from an old doughnut someone had left there as a tithe.

The chief, a tallish man with a short temper came by.

“I heard you got Santa Number Five.”

“Gut shot in the stomach,” said Juarez. “If the coroner gives me what I want, we’ll find the bullet’s trajectory indicates that the gun was fired up at a forty-five degree angle.”

“So the shooter was short.”

“He was a short shooter shamefully pumping shells to turn a shirt shades of maroon.”

“Simply put?”


Juarez thought about his childhood and all the good times he didn’t remember because.

“An elf, you say?” said the Chief.

“Either that or not.”


“Take your pick. Disgruntled employee. Mother complex. Too much caffeine.”

“Elves. I hate them.”

“Did you hear Macino’s wife left him?”

Juarez headed downtown to reclaim his car, stopping first to see a dame. Her name was Bettie, and she was. He smiled and patted the side of her face, but missed and got something else instead.

“You heard Macino’s wife left him?” she asked.

“That’s what I heard.”

“Go figure. Something like that.”

“We found another Santa today.”

“That five?”


Talking to Bettie always gave him a sense of clarity. He slipped her a bill and went to find the car. He found Mancino instead.

“Why’d you do it, Mancino?”

The cop looked up at him. A shy expression turned into a sly one, which shifted into a confused one, and then didn’t.

“How’d you know?”

“Bettie. Name mean anything to you?”

“No. Should it.”

“She knew about your wife.”

“She always did. What was my downfall.”

“Hiring the midget to off the fat man. I had to ask myself why was someone trying to nix all the Santas in town. That’s when it occurred to me. They obviously couldn’t see Kringle’s face to tell which santa to plug so they planned on killing all the Nicks. Next time you wanna kill someone, hire someone your own size.”

“Smart, real smart.”



Bad writing is like a saw on a strip of ivory meat. Yeah.

The following people have taken up the challenge and sent me truly bad writing samples. Stinking bad...starting with the words: The holidays were no fun for someone with holes in his pockets. Below are the first entries. Feel free to send me links to your atrocious posts, and please visit the ones below and tell them how bad they are. You know, what I should have done was given this project to my students. They know how to write badly. (asara has shown us some wretched description here...well some truly mundane word usage) (she's lean and mean...and a bad writing machine) (donkey's from downunder...he's given us his own flavor of putridness)

Monday, November 27, 2006


Sometimes I write a story and there are nods. Sometimes there are shrugs. Mud produced shrugs. It's the product of another assignment. We were to write a story with Mud in the title.

Mud sat on the curb outside his home, blonde hair sharply parted to one side. His clothes looked new and he fidgeted in them, tugging at a pant leg, pulling at a sleeve and collar. He didn’t look like Mud at all. He looked like nineteen-year-old Henry Druery, except for when his head jerked involuntarily, or he suddenly squinted.

A shadow slid along the pavement and over his polished shoes. Mud glanced up and smiled with broad lips and crooked teeth. A younger teen stood over him, a heavy youth in baggy blue pants and a brown shirt.

“Whatcha doin’, Mud? Why you dressed like that?” asked the newcomer, whose name was Steven.

Mud shrugged, picked up a stick, and started scraping it along the curb. Steven dropped to the curb beside him. As a light breeze whispered over the boys, bringing the knell of summer’s end, Mud caught a scent and raised his face in bliss, swaying slightly and making a low whistle. Steven watched him and then turned his own face into the breeze. They sat for a long time like that. When the breeze spent itself, Mud lowered his face again.

Steve leaned forward and touched Mud’s shadow. “I wish I could stop time,” he said.

Mud continued to rub the stick against the curb.

“Right this second,” Steve added.

Mud stopped and grinned broadly. Steven grinned back.

Fingers moving spastically, Mud swayed from side to side and and groaned. Steve pressed a palm to Mud’s shoulder and the spasmodic motions calmed.

A white, official looking van rounded the corner and came up the driveway. The boys stood. The driver, a square-shouldered man, climbed stiffly from behind the wheel, straightening a gray suit and black tie. His skin appeared colorless in the sunlight and his mouth was a straight line.

“Henry Druery,” the man said spoke in a clipped fashion.

Mud smiled.

The man’s head swiveled and his gaze locked on Steven, who looked away quickly and dug his hands deep into his pockets. The man from the agency turned back to Mud.

“Why don’t you go on up and get your mother, Henry? She’s expecting us,” the man said.

Mud’s squint became more pronounced. He moved toward Steven, but at the last moment turned and headed up the walk to the front door of his house.

The man from the agency leaned back on his heels , clasping hands behind his back and gazing down the street before once again. He turned to Steven again, a smile creeping over his face, a grimace of white even teeth. The smile snapped shut.

“What’s your name again?” the man asked.

Steven remained quiet.

The front door opened and Mrs. Druery emerged, pulling Henry behind her, his face scarlet and his cheeks glistening with tears. She made clucking noises at her son, producing a tissue from her purse to daub at his eyes.

A slender woman who moved lithely, Mrs. Druery was attractive, possessing large brown eyes and full lips. She wore her black hair in the style of a younger woman and that, along with her unblemished skin, often drew expressions of surprise and admiration when people discovered her true age. Those expressions turned to pity and embarrassment when they realized her son was Mud.

“Where is Mud going?” asked Steven, stepping to intercept them.

She flinched slightly at his approach. “Henry is going for a treatment for a couple of days.”

Mud’s legs stiffened and she pulled harder to keep him moving.
“Is he sick?"

Mrs. Druery didn't look at Steve. The man who had come for Mud rescued her.
"He’s going to have a good time there," the man said. "He’s going to come back and be close to normal. Just like other children.”

“Mud is normal,” said Steven, blinking rapidly.

“Of course he is, Steven,” said Mrs. Druery. Placing an arm on Steven's shoulder, she attempted to gently nudge him to the side so she could maneuver Mud to the sidewalk. Steven followed, his breath coming more quickly.

”What are you going to do to him?” asked Steven.

The man from the agency placed his perfectly crafted face at Steven’s level. Steven drew back, off balance.

“He’s going to receive gene therapy, Steven. We’ll give him a shot with some special vitamins in it and some very friendly tiny robots that will help fix what’s broken. Nanobots. And he’ll be fine.”

“But he is fine.”

“Then, he’ll be better. He’ll be smarter. He’ll be happier. Isn’t that what you want for Henry? Don’t you want to see him happy?”

Steven’s speech came quickly now, almost lost in a horrible stutter. “B-b-but, what about me? He’ll b-b-be like ever-r-ry one else. He won’t want to b-be with me. I’ll b-b-be alone.”

The stuttering appeared to amuse the man, who smiled over Steven's head at Mrs. Druery.
“Don’t be selfish, Steven,” said Mrs. Druery.

The man from the agency had the van’s door open and was gesturing for Mrs. Druery to bring Mud along. Her fingers closed around her son’s upper arm, and she gently cajoled him the rest of the way down the walk and into the van. Struggling as they belted him in, Mud began mewling like a kitten and calling for his friend.

“Steven,” Mud wailed. “Steven, help me.”

The man closed the door and turned around. Smiling at Steven, he reached into his pocket and pulling out a small vanilla business card, pressed it into Steven’s hand before going around to the other side of the van. The engine started. The van backed down the drive and rolled down the block, making a neat turn around the corner.
Sitting on the curb outside his home, Mud watched Steven waddle toward him from the other side of the street. He smiled at his friend, head jerking involuntarily and mouth twisting into a grimace.

“Did you just get home today?” asked Steven. He tried to look into Mud’s eyes, but his friend kept his head down.

“Are you okay, Mud?”

Grunting to himself, Mud twisted his body around. A tremor passed through him and his fingers moved as though tapping out Morse code. Steven watched carefully and at last put a hand on Mud’s shoulder.

"I think I want to be alone," said Mud. "I just need some time."

Steven raised his eyebrows, surprised by these words.

"You're different," he said.

"Yeah," said Mud. Voice thick with bitterness, eyes suddenly tearing, another tremor hit and Mud involuntarily rocked back and forth like an exotic bird.

Steven sat down and patted his friend on the arm.

"You're alright," he whispered. Mudd looked away.

The two boys sat still in the autumn sun.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rev. James Maloney: On Death

My friend, Stewart, has given me access to his blog. Apparently he had something called "writer's block" and didn't have a clue what to do for the next post. "Think big and write big," I told him. He shrugged shoulders and gave me the look of a farmboy trying to understand what his father meant by calling him the milkman's child.

"Life and death," I explained. "What greater?"

"I don't have anything new to say about it," said Stewart, as though it was a defense.

"One more cliche' about writing," I countered, "and you will."

In thinking about it though, who would really want to read his comments on the last spark of stupidity. He'll probably whine at the end and cry, selfishly making anyone bedside a tad uncomfortable.

Sometimes the cessation of a heartbeat is merely a formality.

In the old days, when the good William Masterson and I started the church, I remember the first time I was asked to officiate at a funeral. This was in days before we first attained our high profile. Will was against it. A funeral would be attended by outsiders and not dedicated worshippers. He never liked a hostile audience. William was always something of an old woman.

The mourners were like mourners everywhere, and I gave a brave face to all and felt the communal love of those who have come to be thankful that they weren't the reason for the assembly. One pleasant surprise was the departed's trophy wife. Widow. Younger than expected, she possessed an angellic face and astonishing breasts. Her lips were full. I remember leaning back against the casket and admiring her cleavage.

"Is that your's, Reggie?" I asked loudly, pointing back over my shoulder toward the widow. The room fell silent.

I reached down and took the corpse's hand. I have no problem touching the dead; my abusive stepfather ran a funeral parlor and as a young boy with tremendous curiousity, I would often lift the sheets and explore. I raised the hand as though I were holding the arm of a victorious prizefighter.

"You must have been quite the man, Reggie," I said, nodding toward the widow. "You must have enjoyed yourself. Yes?" I let the hand drop and turned to the mourners. I studied their faces, turned and stuck the hand back in the coffin, and swung back around.

"God made us alive, and I think we can safely say that was The Creator's greatest gift. So, what then would you say is the biggest sin we can muster? What would be the most horrible crime against the Almighty that Reggie, the Created, could have committed?"

I tipped backwards and cupped my ear as though to listen to a voice from the coffin. The mourners leaned forward. The widow leaned forward, and so did her marvelous cleavage. I nodded my head and put a finger against the side of my nose; a gesture of knowledge and confidence.

"Death," I said and let the word settle. "Death is the most incredible affrontery to the Creator."

I left the side of the casket and walked to the widow. I touched her hair and smiled at her. Softly. Kindly. Soulfully.

"You've always been taught Death is a process. That it's part of some sick cycle. You've always assumed that it was an inevitable byproduct of birth. God gave life and God took it away? Did you think He was that fickle?

"Some of you comforted yourselves by clinging to the concept of an afterlife. Afterlife. Why should God grant you an afterlife, when you have been so inconsiderate and wasteful as to squander His first gift by dying? Did you think, Reggie, that you knew better than God?"

I looked at the casket as did all else.

"Come on, Reggie, get up. Get up and show these folk that Death is a mistake. Show them that Death isn't inevitable."


I rushed to the casket and grabbed him by the shoulders.

"Get up. Get up, you son of a bitch. Get up you selfish little turd."

I slapped him hard, letting the sound of flesh against flesh electrify even those in the back row. I roared my frustration, raising my arms above my head. I yelled until I thought blood would shoot out my throat. "Get up, you prick!!!"

Someone in back tentatively called out: "Get up."

Another person, stronger now: "Get up, Reggie."

More voices: "Get up. Come on, Reggie. Get up. Get up. Get up."

As the chant washed over me, I put myself between the voices and the thing in the casket. I closed my eyes and let the electric moment happen. Sucking it in, I listened to it build until it became something raw and unwashed.

I swivelled on the ball of a foot and held up a hand for silence. I waited and finally pointed to the dead man.

"You see?" I called out. "What greater sin is there than that?"

I went to the widow and gently pulled her up,inhaling a subtle perfume and becoming unbearably aroused. She pressed against me.

"Rebecca here has food waiting at home," I said. "Feel free to return with her to offer comfort. I suspect, if not dearly hope, that there is some libation there as well."

She nodded. I squeezed her hand and played a little finger upon her skin.

"Let's all leave here then and let Reggie lay there and give some thought as to how selfish he is being. No, no one walk anywhere near him. Don't give him attention, it's exactly what he wants."

I started with the widow toward the back exit. "You'll know where to find us should you decide to stop being selfish, Reggie."

With that we walked out, and the mourners walked with us into a warm, sunny August day.

"So that's been the answer to dealing with you all along?" asked William later. "It's a matter of walking out and not coming back until you stop being selfish? We should have left you long ago."

"You tried," I pointed out. "You're not going anywhere, until I go first."

So, you see, Stewart, it's possible to write about life and death without having anything new to say, or anything to say at all.


Thursday, November 23, 2006


It's time for the next assignment for anyone who feels up for it. Since you all did so well with the SEDUCTION theme, I thought I would give you something really bad. No..I mean really bad.

I want people to have a silly good time by writing 700 words or less beginning with the phrase: "The holidays were no fun for someone with holes in his pockets."
Then, proceed to write the worst bit of drecht that we've ever seen. Twist your metaphors, skew your similes, write the purplest of purple prose. Make my eyes bleed.

You know what needs to be done.

Then, when I've received all your links to all your postings, I will do what I did with SEDUCTION, make a posting with all the links so you can all bask in what will hopefully be the worst of the worst. Come on people...I know you want to be bad. Who doesn't?

Have fun.

oh..and if you want to check out a swinging spot for retro seventies gear, go to It's where that groovy pic came from.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Get Critted

There are so many people writing about how to critique other people's work, but a scant amount write, in my opinion, on how to receive critiques. So permit me a few minutes to contribute to the dialogue.

When I was in college, a fellow student walked up and said: "Read my paper and tell me what to change. It sucks." I looked at him and looked at the paper. I asked if he were sure he really wanted the feedback. He insisted he did. I took my pen and X-ed out four or five paragraphs, made numerous scratch marks in others, and then handed the whole thing back to him.

He looked upset.

The lesson he should have learned is: "If you don't want people to give you feedback, then don't ask for it." The lesson I should have learned was: "While many people ask for feedback, want they really what is applause and unconditional approval."

I never learned my lesson. I doubt that student learned his.

I have been in numerous writer's groups and I have found the feedback experience repeated on numerous occasions. In one group a rather irate woman who fancied herself a poet wagged a finger at me and said: "What right do you have to critique someone else's work?" I smiled and responded: "I'm a reader."

Obviously a person giving feedback strictly as a reader is going to have a different perspective from a fellow writer, but I would argue that the reader's point of view has significance. After all, who are you writing for?

In another writers' group [ where people seldom actually wrote] three people were voted to edit the submissions for a would-be anthology. Those three people would work independently and make comments to the author about what would be needed to make his or her work acceptible for publication by the editorial board. The response? An unhappy group of would-be writers who felt personally attacked. Or to quote one author: "This sucks! You don't know what you're talking about!"

So, if we all agree that critiques should point out the positive as well as the negative; that they should be specific about what can be improved; and that they not in any way be personal---then what can we then say about those receiving the critiques?

Don't personalize. While you may have poured your heart and soul into a story, you owe it to the person reading your work to assume that it isn't a personal attack. If you don't trust the person doing critiques, then either don't give him access to your work or ignore whatever is coming out of his mouth.

Pick and choose. Only you know what your intention is when you write. It could be that the person critiquing is totally off base. It could be that person doesn't like the sort of writing you do; it could be that person isn't your audience. If that's the case, maybe accept what they may have to say about grammar and discard all else. Pick and choose.

The Three People Rule. If you have three people telling you something about your work, and they arrived at their conclusions somewhat independently---listen to them. For God's Sakes.
If three people tell you that you're an ass, then start looking for that tail.

Thank Your Critic. You asked that person to look at your work. YOU. It doesn't matter what they said, they took the time to read and make comment. That has to count for something.

It's Still Your Work. One woman whose short narrative had at least six different points-of-view looked in horror at me when I suggested that she narrow the points-of- view to one person. "If I make the suggestions you want, it won't be my work." It's your work, people. Even if you change things around and radically tear it down and rebuild's your work.
People let me promise something right now, if I submit a work and an editor asks for dramatic changes, I will probably do whatever is asked without question. I don't care. Call me a whore. If I don't want to make the changes...then I can take my work somewhere else.

Critiquing other people's work and having your own work critiqued is essential to a writer's development. By critiquing someone else's work, it helps you reframe your own writing by seeing the craft through another person's eyes. By having someone read your work, it allows you to get other perspectives and to question ways you are doing things, not necessarily to say that something is wrong but how that something might be better.

One extremely unpleasant woman, who is a member of one of the groups, leaned over and at the mention of critiquing, responded: "I don't like critiquing. I don't want to put my work up there for people to pick apart. I've had nothing but bad experiences." After reading her work, I can understand why. Still, even that person could have benefitted had she chosen to break out of her shell and tried to forge ahead. The responsibility is on the writer, not the critic. The critic can only make suggestions or offer feedback, the writer is the one who decides how to handle it.

Anyone who writes and expects to be published had better be willing to write, rewrite, and edit their work according to feedback from others, and most importantly according to that internal critic. And finally, they had better develop a thick skin.

The reality is that people submitting their work for publication will often receive several rejection letters.

Lots and lots of them.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


In another writing group we were asked to take a fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderrsen or The Brothers Grimm and to give it our own twist. I chose the sweet little story of the Frog Prince. After all, who doesn't like the kiss and the frog emerging as a handsome savior. Sigh. is my version.


Born to the common people, she would surely have died young. Addled, and unattractive, Princess Ursula was also unlovable. Small eyes set far apart, weak chin, a flat nose. Her spine curved grotesquely and she shuffled rather than walked. Thick and lustrous gold hair ran so beautiful down her shoulders that her ugliness was made more startling by contrast.

Easy to bear in a child, in a young woman such defects proved a tedious challenge to the king. Protected by her royal station, she was indulged and kept away from the cruelty of those who would seek to exploit any weakness in the royal family. As King Marodius contemplated his only child though, the shame and guilt of such an offspring darkened his scowl and cut short his humor.

“At least it wasn’t a son,” he said, bemused. Had a male heir been born a simpleton of such degree, the king would have been forced to act. The idiot boy would never have become the idiot king. The princess was different. She could be relegated to a small portion of the castle where the queen could harmlessly proffer affections on her plaything.

Occasionally they dined together. Ursula would be escorted in by a servant who would stand beside the girl and keep her quiet. During dinner the servant would whisper calming instruction and occasionally help with her plate. The king would eat in silence, addressing Ursula only when she arrived and again when she left the table.

On this night the child appeared sullen; the king watched her, unused to Ursula expressing any emotion that might suggest her capable of anything beyond childish simplicity. He watched for some time, rubbing his jaw as curiosity increased.

“What has vexed my child this day?” The king asked at last.

The queen turned and studied Ursula and instructed the girl to answer her father.

Ursula’s long skinny fingers strayed to her plaything, a gold ball, a gift from long ago which she carried everywhere. Her forefinger traced its curving surface and she shrugged.

“Have you done something you shouldn’t?” asked the king, amused.

Ursula leaned and whispered into her servant’s ear.

“Begging your pardon,” said the servant. “But Princess Ursula says …”

“Let the princess speak for herself,” said the king. His wife began to object but the king silenced her with a gesture.

Ursula stared at her plate and time passed. She raised her face and spoke softly, her words formed with difficulty around crooked teeth.

“I lost my ball,” she said.

“Did you? Well, you must have found it,” said the king.

“I got it back.”

“And so that makes you sad?”. He smiled and again they waited while Ursula considered how best to answer.

“It fell into the well. I got it back.”

“If it fell into the well, then how did you get it back?” asked the king. He shook his head, smiling with amusement. The amusement dissolved. He stared at his daughter and for a minute imagined her leaning over the well, trying to see into the darkness. He imagined her leaning over a little further and further still until she lost her balance and pitched forward.

“A frog,” she said. “It brought it up to me.”

“A frog,” said the king. “How lovely. Was it a talking frog, then?”

His daughter’s eyes opened wide. She looked down with uncertainty and then up again to nod once.

“A talking frog,” said the king. “Do you hear?” he asked his wife. “And next she will be speaking with the rabbits and the birds. She’ll sprout wings and fly with the faeries. Oh, we’ll have a hard time keeping up with her then.”

The king’s voice had been rising and the last sentence was shouted with a fist pounded on the table before him for emphasis.

He let choler pass. “Well,” he said, “at least you can claim a new friend.”

“He scares me,” she said.

“A frog? Then you must do what I did when I was but a boy and stick him with a knife. Or, crush him with a stone.”

“He gave me back my ball.”

“So he did. I had forgotten.” The king returned to his meal, putting his daughter from his thoughts. The queen nodded at the servant and she took the princess by the elbow to lead her away from the supper table. Before they had gone more than a few feet however, a pounding sounded from the rear of the castle.

The king raised his eyebrows and turned. A young man came rushing in, eyes wide and face pale with horror. He stepped close to the king and spoke in low tones. The king looked at him with an incredulous expression and stood.

“What is it, my husband?” asked the queen.

“There is a beast at the door. He is trying to force his way in, but two of the guard are holding him fast. He is making…” The king’s voice faltered. “He is making claims upon the princess.”

“He brought me my ball,” she said.

One guard brought the creature in, yanking it by a rope looped around its neck. Another guard kept a spear’s tip close to the thing’s back. Shaped like a man, its skin was tinted green and looked slick to the touch. Impossibly broad mouth, a stub of a nose, round black eyes set far apart. It dressed in worn raiment as would befit a man of stature.

“What are you?” asked the king. He rose and brought with him a knife from the table.

“Your daughter promised me companionship,” it croaked.

The king rushed forward and pressed the knife’s tip to the throat of the thing. It writhed as he did so and the guard had to strain to maintain their hold.

“How dare you,” the king whispered. “You are talking about the princess.”

“Princess or not, she is human and she has promised me companionship.”

The king whirled around and pointed a finger at his daughter. “Did you do such a thing?”

The girl nodded and giggled nervously.

“The promise of a princess,” said the monster.

“Don’t presume to teach me about honor,” said the king. He nodded to himself. While the princess may have promised companionship, it was unlikely that she had the wit to promise much else. She could hardly have promised the thing any safe passage. Thinking this and satisfying himself that it must be so, the king stabbed at the belly of monster and yanked up to open the wound. He stabbed again, this time at the heart.

The beast sprawled full length to the floor and as the last of life fled him so too did his curse. Green skin gave way to ruddy flesh; wide mouth to well-formed lips. Curly brown hair flowed from his pate.

“Bewitched,” commented the king. “Those features are distinct. He comes from royal family.”

“What shall we do?” asked the queen.

“We will spare his family the horror of this revelation and bury him in an unmarked grave.”

The princess tipped her head to one side and cried. “I was his companion,” she said.

The king scoffed and reached for his daughter’s chin, cupping it in a blood stained hand.
“Some things should not be,” he said. “You may know no man’s bed. You are denied all that is woman’s nature.”

“What if they have already known one another?” asked his wife.

The king paled and shook his head. “It would be against all nature. There is an order to things and stepping outside such order, we deserve the punishment that befalls us. I have no male heir. She will bear no child.”

Saying this, the king left the room.

The princess looked after him and rubbed first the ball and then her belly. Her mother watched her knowingly and the two women shared a conspiratorial smile.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Oscar, Felix, and You

My mother was a New Yorker and a lover of Broadway. When I was kid, I was exposed to scores of tons of musicals. I grew up loving the music and appreciating the Great White Way. Unfortunately, a twelve year old kid has little chance of getting to New York to check out the latest Toni winners. So? So I did what I could to recreate the experience: I checked plays out of the library. I discovered that most of the major plays were printed in yearly compilations.

In this way I discovered Man of La Mancha, Hello Dolly, Two Gentlemen From Verona, Golden Boy, etc. I also discovered Neil Simon. I probably read just about every one of his plays available in print. I loved Doc's way with words, the texture of his dialogue, the patter.

Through this period of my development I was getting an education in something without being aware of it: dialogue.

In my Thursday night writer's group we talked about reading and the importance of absorbing different literary voices. We emphasized the importance of not just reading, but analyzing, breaking apart the prose, and studying the underlying structure. One of the women from the group wrote me an email today and asked what author or authors I would recommend. Having thought long and hard about this, I have to start here, at my beginning awareness of how to communicate--through dialogue. Through plays.

So I recommend to her and to anyone else who is interested that a wonderful and fun place to begin would be the plays of Neil Simon. They aren't profound. They don't describe the soulful nature of man. They aren't the works of Tennesse Williams or Edward Albee. However, for studying natural flow of dialogue and how that dialogue can be used to establish character with economy and move along the plot, there is no one better. In particularly, I recommend: "The Odd Couple", almost all of Simon is wonderful.

Resist the temptation to go rent this video. You can't study it by watching it. You need to read the words, hear them in your own voice. Ask yourself what is happening in each scene. Explore interactions and try and see if Simon is truly utilizing a sentence or two, or if he is merely filling space. Don't bother, he never merely uses space.

Look at the arc of the story. Simon is a genius at setting up the audience. He gives you two opposites and you rub your hands together waiting for them to get on one's another's nerve as they share living space. You know this is going to end badly for them; you want it to end badly. That may sound tragic, but tragedy is the best comedy. And as the inevitable occurs, you feel satisfied and at one surprised by the richness of the comedic conflict.

So Lindy...that's my answer to you. If you want to start reading work for analyzing writing techniques, read Neil Simon. It's fun and it's a terrific primer for one type of dialogue.
(pictured: Art Carney and Walter Matthau from the original Broadway production of "The Odd Couple")

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Quick Word on Critiques and Writing Assignments

A question has come up. What sort of comments should people leave on blogs for the assignments. Here are some suggestions. First, I would suggest just leaving a few impressions. If you liked the writing, detail a little of what you liked. Character, description, beginning, middle, theme?

If you want to give critical feedback, then I suggest you be specific and pick only one or two things. At school, when I grade papers, it's important not to overwhelm or discourage someone. So, for instance, on one person's blog, I suggested that they do not change point of view in a short piece of fiction; instead they should tell the story from just one character's perspective. This, I explained, made it easier for the reader to follow and also helped set the bond between the reader and the main character.

Another thing to consider is the purpose of the assignment. If the purpose was to focus on dialogue and character, as was this last assignment, then it might be appropriate to limit comments to just those two elements of fiction.

In even the worst story you may come across there is something positive. Hell, I think it's positive that people are brave enough to post their words on-line where people can hack away at it. I also think it is great that a sense of community can develop.

I think when I have more time, that I will do a blog or two on critiquing and rewriting.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I was going to wait until Thursday, but I've been getting so many responses...I thought I would start posting links now and add if any more arrive. It's been an interesting variety. Some people are just putting their toes in, working away at the craft as beginners or such. I confess, I actually went to different folk and solicited them to try their hand at the assignment. I applaud those brave souls. Others are grizzled vets. So, feel free to cruise through these different interpretations on a theme. You'll find many different levels of writing. You'll hear many different voices. Have fun. Please give feedback where you will, but remember to be constructive and offer suggestions. As for mine? Say whatever the hell you want. My hide's thick.

I do believe there will a few more stories coming this way. As soon as I get them, I'll be posting links to them.



You knew I wouldn't be writing a 'normal' exercise. Meet Mrs. Ebersol and her son, Adam. Jon will be happy that I included the use of food, he has a thing about food in fiction. I think I once heard him say: "'Grapes of Wrath'? Great book, needed more food." If this story makes people uncomfortable, then I can only say: "Welcome to my world". Adam, wherever you are, save me a piece of cake. Mazel Tov.

Mrs. Ebersol poured a cup of coffee for her son and leaned over him to set it on the table. Kissing him on the top of his balding head, she moved to the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of cream.

“What are you doing tonight?” she asked in a voice ravaged from years of smoking.
“What I do every night.”

“It’s Friday.”

Adam Ebersol nodded to himself and took the cream. He trickled some into the coffee, stirring slowly with a spoon.

“You’ve been sulking so much lately. What happened to that girl you were dating? What was her name? Jen?”

“It didn’t work out,” said Adam. His response was too loud.

“You’re too picky.”

“I’m not too picky,” he said. He wanted to put his face in his hands and scream himself raw. He wished the pause would become a long stretch of silence, but his mother wouldn’t, couldn’t let it go. She was killing him here.
“You don’t take care of yourself. You should do something positive with your life. Join something.”

“What should I join?”


“I’m not a joiner.”

His mother sat across the table. “Can I be frank with you?” she asked.

Adam sucked in air. No, please don’t be frank. Stab me in the eye with a fork, but whatever you do, don’t be frank. It was too late though; his mother smiled with good intention. His feet turned inward. Abruptly though, she stood and moved to the sink to start scraping off the remains of their dinners. When she didn’t say anything he wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but remarkably the phrase kept poking him. Soft at first, then harder. Can I be frank with you? Can I be frank with you? Can I be FRANK with you?
“What were you going to say?” he asked, trying to sound casual.

His mother lit a cigarette, sucking hard at it and then releasing a slow puff of smoke.
“Nothing. I just...”

“Just what.”

“I keep telling you, but you keep telling me I’m either interfering or nagging you. I don’t want to upset you. I just think you should change. Lose weight. Take pride in your appearance. Get a haircut. Buy some new clothes. Your brother knew how to dress.”

“I never had a brother,” said Adam. He turned in his chair and studied her. She shrugged and stuck her hands into a pile of soap suds. Bubbles climbed up her arms.

“What did I say? A brother. I meant your father, God Rest His Soul.”

"Adam turned back around and thought about his father, now dead four years. He didn’t miss the old man. When his mother went it would be more an inconvenience than anything else. He tried to imagine life without her and was startled when he found he couldn’t.

“You’re right,” he said. The words grabbed him about the throat and he slipped into himself, landing hard.

“You’re father never took care of himself, either. Look what happened to him. Dead so young. I used to tell him, too. Stop eating so much. Try a salad once in a while. No, he was always with the junk food and the fat. You should have seen him in his best days. Slender. Rugged. Then he let himself go and lost interest. I lost interest.”

She dried her hands on a towel and went to the refrigerator to pull out a large chocolate cake. Cutting a large wedge, she slipped it onto a plate and brought the plate to her son.

“Here, Sweetie,” she said.

Adam looked at the cake. The icing was thick, the way he liked it. His mouth watered a little. “I think I’m going to pass on cake tonight.”


“You know.”

She smiled and ran a fingertip along his jawline. Leaning close enough so that he could smell the residue perfume from the nape of her neck, she said: “Sweetie, have the cake. You can go without tomorrow.”

“I don’t know.”

“I know.”

She pinched his earlobe and leaned closer until her lips were moist on his forehead. “Eat for me.”

Adam looked at the cake. He could smell the chocolate and he could imagine the taste on the tip of his tongue. Shifting uneasily in his seat, he shook his head again. As though reading his mind, his mother dabbed at the chocolate with her finger and stuck it into her mouth. She smiled as though remembering something.

“Go ahead, Darling.”

Adam eyed her lips and lifted the fork. The chocolate kissed his tongue. He kissed back. Mrs. Ebersol slipped behind him, her bosom hard against the back of his head. “Isn’t that good?” she asked.

He stuck another bite of cake into his mouth and leaned back against her.

Tousling his thinning hair, she shifted weight from one foot to the other. He heard her exhale and smelled the smoke. Stepping away, she started for the living room. In her absence, the room felt suddenly cold behind him. Adam looked after her.

“Aren’t you going to have any?” he called.

“I’m going out tonight, Sweetie.”


“I’m going out. I’m going to a movie.”

He heard her go through the living room and into the bedroom. The door closed. Adam looked down at his plate and rapidly began shoveling cake into his mouth. A clod of chocolate dropped into his lap. Without pause he scooped it onto his fork and into his mouth. When he was through, he licked the fork, then each finger. Without thinking, he rose and walked to the refrigerator to see what else he could find for desert.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Welcome Back

A few people have asked: "Why don't you ever write about your work experiences?" They figure that working for eleven years with teens dealing with sexual and physical abuse, drugs, and gang stuff and then another eleven years with alternative education (think Mr.Kotter and the Sweat Hogs) that I should have some pretty interesting experiences to share. I do...but. I've always shied away from that. Maybe I'm too close to what I do. Maybe I keep my writing seperate. Some people say that a lot of what I write is autobiographical. I just keep myself hidden so deeply under the words that it's hard to spot me.

Jon, of course, would argue that Rev. James Maloney is blatantly autobiographical. Of course, I would dispute that. I'll agree I have certain characteristics of the character in question, but Maloney is an evil son-of-a-bitch.
Anyway...I've decided to give in and share an experience. If you think it's worth doing this more often, then let me know.

Occasionally I become soft-headed.

I think: "Why not take the alternative education kids to the museum?"

At the moment that thought entered my head the little squirrels joined hands and danced around in circles, the bluebirds sang sweet songs, and the flowers bloomed. I almost went barefoot.

The kids went. It was a chance to get out of the classroom, and some of them felt it might even be interesting. Some of them went reluctantly.

"Boring," said one kid.

He scratched his shaved head. I found myself wondering if the bio-hazard tattoo was painful to have done. I also found myself nodding and thinking: and of course, I am sure you will want to put a list of all your tats and piercings on your resume. Especially the tattoo on the arm: Kill Em All. He should have been a Congressional Page.

We walked into an area that had relics from the turn of the century. "Try and relax for once. Sometimes it's good to stop and consider where we all come from," I was saying to him.

I was going to pontificate more, considering how much he was enjoying what was already flying from my lips, but I stopped to gape at the kid about to touch the original device that Thomas Edison first used to record the human voice. I hastened across the room and whispered: "no-no-no-no-no."

He looked at me and shrugged.

"I just wanted to see if it still worked," he said.

Another teen walked by with something sticking out of his pocket.

I stopped him.

"What you got there?" I asked. He pulled a piece of candy from his pocket and I relaxed. I had images of him pulling out Franklin Roosevelt's pen, or one of the WWI bayonettes that someone had stupidly put within reach of sticky fingers.

My spider-sense went off about then. I turned and looked toward the windows. My kids were rapping on the glass and shouting things. I strolled over and looked down at what had arrested their attention.

A SWAT team had gathered at the house across the street. The police were positioning themselves for a bust, some of them had rifles out, others were crouched near the bushes with handguns. My kids? They were trying to get the attention of the people in the house to warn them of the impending raid. They succeeded in getting the attention of the police. One of the cops looked up and raised his eyebrows. I am sure he was considering raising his gun as well.

I whispered to my wards: "You have three seconds to stand away from those windows. One-two-three."

My students hear me raise my voice a good deal. It is when I am soft-spoken that they become uneasy. I smiled at them and said inaudibly low: "Now, follow me quietly down the stairs and to the parking lot." The smile terrified them.

I nodded to the other teacher and instructed her to get the other students, who were no doubt somewhere getting ready to draw moustaches on important works of art. I then went downstairs and the students followed me in silence.

Before stepping outside, the spider-sense went off one more time.

A student of mine was squatting beside a Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala that had taken a visiting group of monks at least a week to set down. I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking: What if I touch it? That's when the rays coming from my eyeballs hit him. He stood, zombielike, and followed us out. Good thing, too...another two seconds and the lethal rays would have evaporated him.

I know. I know you've all seen "Dangerous Minds" and that made you gooey inside. I get gooey inside when I see films like that too. They make me want to throw up. I think the only film about teaching that gave me the warm fuzzies was the one with the teacher who ran around menacing people with a baseball bat.