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.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Okay, this assignment is due next Thursday, November 16th. The goal is to work on character development and dialogue. Here it is: You will write a seduction scene. We aren't talking graphic stuff here, although that's up to you. I was thinking more about subtlety and tension. Two characters, more if you wish. They come together and the seduction begins. It can take any twist or turn you wish. It can be dark or funny, sexy or not. One thousand word limit.

Besides the members of my writers' group, let me extend special invitations to Susan, Chuck, Jim, SQT, Charles, Sidney.... I will post all links to the completed assignment next Thursday.

Let's see what we can come up with. Above all else, have fun.


Monday, November 06, 2006

I Write...Don't Tell

At a family function a couple years back I accidentally mentioned that I wrote. A sister-in-law looked at me. "You write? What?"

"Stuff," I mumbled and hastened away.

Now anyone who knows me, even casually, knows I consider myself a writer. However, I seldom let anyone read my work other than my wife and other writers. Or editors. I just don't. I guess it's that I feel they will read my work out of courtesy and respond politely rather than honestly.

I hate talking about my writing with people who aren't writers. Why? First, because most people who aren't writers really don't care. And second, there is nothing more pathetic than a would-be writer babbling about his work. You know the type? He goes on and on about plot, all the while becoming more excited as he revels in his exaggerated self-concept.

A writer should write, not talk. Give the reader your work and walk away. Bang. That's it.

Want another reason why I don't tell people I write?

Me: I just sent a story out.
Uncle Gregor: You write? Ah. You should write about me. I can tell you things about my life that would really make a great book.
Me: That's great, Uncle Gregor. Thanks anyway.
Uncle Gregor: Maybe I'll write it. Maybe I'll write an autobiography. I'll start at the first day I went to work at the sausage factory and follow my climb to General Manager. It's a great story.
Me: Isn't that Aunt Shirley over there? She's not looking well. Maybe I should go and check.....

I've discovered over the last few years that there are a lot of writers who feel as I do. As I've had a chance to talk with people in different writers' groups, they too seldom share their work with family and friends. It's astonishing how few even allow their spouse or partners to read their work. Fortunately, I don't have that problem any longer. I married a woman who reads my stuff, comments intelligently, and actually helps me. She's even been working to help me find an agent. My ex-wife never read my writing, mutual agreement. I used to swear the dedication to my first novel would be:

"To my wife...who will have to buy this book at the store in order to read it."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Fairy Tale About Gamers

The following is a response to a friend of mine who is clueless when it comes to discussing wargaming. This is his primer.

Once upon a time a group of lonely college students with too much time on their hands got tired of mooning after all the women they would never get. One of these individuals, probably someone with glasses, said: "We know the geography of the battlefield. We know the weather. The troop strength. We know how different commanders were ranked and what sort of morale their troops had. We could probably recreate a battle on a map divided into hexes."

Another college student, who walked around without a shirt, and probably shouldn't have, shrugged his hairless shoulders: "Why would we want to do that?"

"Because it would be cool," said the first. "We could command great armies. We could change the course of history."

"But it would all just be in your head."

"What makes you think you aren't?"

The other lonely college students turned aside from the show they were watching: "Felix The Cat", and became excited. One gearhead who liked to wear nothing but green said:

"We could use minatures."

Another nodded: "Or little bits of cardboard with the troop strength written on them in marker. We could use ratings for defense and attack. We could roll dice."

And of course they all intoned: "Dice? Yeah. Cool."

And so the college students came together and between long discussions on such topics as 'Why can Goofy talk but not Pluto?" and "Did the diety intend that GOD backwards should spell DOG, or was it an act of man?"; they managed to create the first modern military strategy war games. Don't tell them that people had been playing such games for years and years; they like to think they invented it themselves. Just like Goth kids like to think they invented angst and pathos.

Some of these modern wargamers would eventually create games for market. They formed companies. These companies had such names as SST and Avalon Hill. And while our modern wargamers played, their imaginations still carried them to wonderful places and allowed them to engage in such profound discussions as:

"I wonder what would have happened if the South had developed thermonuclear warheads?"

"Don't be stupid. What would Lee have done for a delivery system."

"Good point."

Eventually our gamers would spend months and months on a scenario. Often waging war for hours and hours at a time. It was rare to find a gamer with good skin or a tan.

Of course most of this changed when a computer geek said: "What if we keyed in information to the computer. instead of chits on a board..."

"We could have chits on a screen," said a friend, finishing his sentence.

And so the computer revolutionalized strategic wargaming.

If you are good...I'll tell you how another group of gamers from Wisconsin created something which would become known as: "D & D". If you want to read more about Avalon Hill and some of its games, try this site:


Friday, November 03, 2006

Make It Stop

I swore never to put anything political on this blog (of course Mao would have said that everything is political). However, I have to rant for just one second. Let me scream from the top of my roof: "MAKE IT STOP!!!"

It gets worse with each election cycle. Turn on the TV and there are seventeen negative ads in the course of one commercial break. Look at the mailman. He's got a hernia from all the negative junk mail he's been carrying. Go to a local website: a political pop-up ad tells you why one candidate walks on water and why the other candidate roasts dead babies. Sit in your easy chair and then run to get the telephone, only to be bombarded with a prerecorded message from God commanding you to vote for His candidate or roast eternally in Hell.

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.

I'm an intelligent person. I read several online newspapers (both domestic and international) and I never watch Fox. This means that I am fairly informed. I find it hard to believe that any person with any sort of discerning taste or discernable cognitive ability is ever going to watch a television attack ad and be moved to vote for or against anyone.

So make it stop.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Green Room

A few days back I published a picture and a new assignment for the Bay Area Writers' Group (we meet at the Chesterfield Libarary every other Thursday...this Thursday). The assignment was to write a one act play of about a thousand words. It had to take place in the green room pictured. One of my online friends from another state decided to accept the challenge. You can find the results of her effort by following this link: Also, Mr. Jon Zeck's assignment can be found here:

What follows though is my effort:

The Green Room:

A green room, sparsely designed with chair, couch, and table. A window overlooks the ocean. Offstage we hear the sounds of the seashore: a gentle washing of waves, the occasional gull. Two women enter from stage left: Nancy: a nineteen year old girl with an athletic build and a self-confident air. Carol: An forty year old version of he daughter, with a bit more to the hips and a conservative cut to her clothing.

Nancy: (looking around) I can’t believe we came all the way up here. Like what? He’s not going to know this is where we are?

Carol: We should have stopped at the market in town. (she takes tosses her keys onto the table)

Nancy: This is stupid. You’re just going to end up calling him. Or he’ll call you. You’re going back.

Carol: Not this time.

Nancy: Right

Carol: I said ‘Not this time’!

Nancy: You always say that and you always go back. (She walks to the window and looks out. A silence settles between them. She turns and heads back stage left, scooping the keys from the table as she goes.) I’m going to the car and get my stuff.

The telephone rings. Both of them stare at it. Carol slowly goes to lift the receiver from the cradle but before she can, Nancy swoops in and picks it up.

Nancy: (into the phone) Yeah? Yeah….No, we’re not coming back. She doesn’t want to talk to you. No, Dad. No. Don’t talk to me that way, I’m not afraid of you. I don’t care. No, I’m not putting her on. No. She doesn’t want to talk to you. You’re an asshole. I’m not listening anymore. We’re not afraid of you.(she hangs up)

Carol: (sounding frightened)You shouldn’t have done that.

Nancy: He’s royally pissed now. He says when he gets his hands on us, he’s going to hurt us both. He’s on his way up here, you know. He was calling from his cell phone.

Carol: Dear God.

Nancy: You should try standing up to him, you might like it.

Carol: You had no right to do what you just did.

Nancy. It’s my life, too.

Carol: We need to get out of here. He’ll put us both in the hospital this time.

Nancy: Not me.

Carol: You think he won’t hit you?

Nancy: He can try.

Carol: You’re going to get us both killed. Give me the keys. We need to get the hell out of here. There’s no saying where he was calling from.

Nancy: I’m not running away.

Carol: He’s going to do something horrible.

Nancy: Then I guess you better do something to get ready for him.

Carol: What are we supposed to do? You and me? We better get out of here. He’ll kill us. He’ll kill me this time.

Nancy: (strolling by the window) You can see the road from here. You’ll be able to see him a good five minutes ahead of time.

Carol: And what good will that do?

Nancy: (She opens the window and the sound of the ocean and the gulls is louder. Her back is to the audience. We can see her jerk her arm)

Carol: (with concern) What did you just do?

Nancy: I just threw your keys out.

Carol: (raising her voice in panic) You had no right!

Nancy: I had every right. Just because you’re not taking control of your life doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take it control of mine. You’re the one who put me in this situation. We’re not running.

Carol: (angry) I put you in this situation? What did I do? You’re just like him. You’re just like him.

Nancy: (calmly) Yeah? Then you’re really screwed, aren’t you? (she turns back to the window and watches the shore)

Carol: (She picks up the telephone and dials.) This is Carol Murtry. I have a cottage on the shoreline. Yes. Number 189. North of that. I need help. I’m stranded here with my daughter. My husband is coming and he’s threatened us. He has a history of violence. Yes, I’ll hold.

Nancy: Better tell them to hurry up, then. I can see Daddy’s car.

Carol :(starting to lose it) He’s coming. He’ll be here any minute. Hello? Hello? Hello?

Nancy: (stepping away from the window) I’m going into the kitchen to get a knife.

Carol: (still holding the phone) We’ve got to get out of here now.

Nancy: We don’t have car keys (she exits stage right)

Carol: (talking into the phone) Yes. I’m here. My husband’s violent. He’s had a history of it. He’s been arrested before. I need someone here now. Right away. I can’t start my car. I’m stuck here with my little girl. I need someone now! Not in twenty minutes from now! He’ll be here any second!

(She gasps as Nancy enters from stage right with a butcher knife in her hand. The telephone falls from her as she rushes forward. )

Give me that!

Nancy: Not on your life.

Carol: You’re going to get hurt.

Nancy:(Nancy walks to the door and stands to one side of it.) You stand there. He’ll see you and come into the room. He won’t notice me. As soon as walks by, I’ll get him from behind.

Carol: You’re crazy.

(Sound of a car approaching. The engine shuts off.)

Carol: I’ll do it.

Nancy: What?

Carol: Give me the knife and I’ll do it.

Nancy: You won’t.

Carol: We don’t have time to argue. Give it to me.

Nancy: (suspiciously) You’ll do it?

Carol: I’ll do it. I’ll have to. I’ll have to.

(Mother and daughter stare at one another)

Carol: For Gods’ sake, we don’t have time to argue. Give me the knife.
(The sound of a car door opening and closing)

Nancy: Stab him hard. Don’t fool around. And don’t just do it once. Stab him and keep stabbing him. (Nancy hands her the weapon)

Carol: Oh God (she looks at the knife and steps back)

Nancy: Don’t stand there like that. Hide the knife. Get ready for it. Wait. I’ll go outside and stall. I’ll apologize to him for talking the way I did. He’ll believe me. I’ll divert his attention. Stab him when he comes through the door. I’ll get his attention and make sure he comes in first.

Carol: (She appears stunned. She nods dumbly.)

Nancy: Okay. (she quickly touches her hand to her mother’s face and moves quickly through the door. We hear her offstage) Daddy!

(Carol walks to the window and tosses out the knife. She turns and comes back to the couch. She sits. The lights dim until she is illuminated by a pale spotlight. She remains unmoving, her face melting from despair into blankness. The spotlight fades.)