Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace on Earth and Comfortable Socks

Okay, so one of the presents I received this year on Christmas morning was a pair of socks - actually, it was three pairs of socks - and I have to tell you, these socks are unbelievable.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Just how old do you have to be to get socks for Christmas and be all excited? What's next, a cane? A walker? Depends undergarments?

Believe me, I know just how ridiculous it sounds to be going on and on about socks, but still, these things are awesome. For one thing, they are suitable for work. Before the silly changes my employer mandated two years ago, all I ever used to wear to work were white athletic socks, since all I ever wore over them were jeans and sneakers.

Now, however, the geniuses in charge of my agency have decided that all air traffic controllers must dress "business casual," never mind the fact that we don't deal face-to-face with a single customer all day, and that we work inside a dark room surrounded by barbed wire fences and guarded by men with guns. "Business casual," whatever that means, is now the order of the day, and has been since September 2, 2006.

These socks I got for Christmas can be worn with my khakis, which are now all I ever wear to work, and they look great. Not only that, they feel great. I pulled them on for the first time and suddenly understood why all those Wall Street types lie, cheat and steal all day - So they can make enough money to buy socks like these!

Donald Trump probably wears nicer socks when he's just hanging around the house in his underwear watching football every Sunday, but for me, these things were like a little slice of heaven. Not only are they comfortable, they have little tiny holes all through them for ventilation. The holes are invisible to anyone admiring you in your new socks, but believe me, you can tell they're there. My feet stay nice and dry, even when I'm wearing shoes in the house, which, as most people know, is the kiss of death if you're stuck with feet that tend to sweat a lot, as mine do. (Sorry for being so graphic)

Unfortunately, I can't recommend them to you by brand-name, because I tore them out of the packaging and threw it away before I tried them out, and as far as I can tell, there is no logo on them or any sort of identification whatsoever, which I suppose must be another sign that they are really fancy socks.

All I can tell you is that they have a gold toe and are, in fact, called "Gold Toe" socks. Who manufactures them is anyone's guess, but if you happen to be walking around the mall and see socks called "Gold Toe" for sale, do yourself a favor and buy some immediately. You won't regret it if you're like me and you have to dress "Business Casual" for work. Whatever that means.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Litany of Christmas Thanks

As someone whose natural tendency is to see the glass as half empty - unless, of course, it's completely empty - I really appreciate the Christmas season, with its invitation to look inward and think about what is really important in life. When I do that, I realize just how blessed I've been.

Without further ado (That makes me wonder, if you really aren't going to have any more ado, why bother saying, "Without further ado?" Why not just get on with it?) here are a few of the things I am most thankful for during the holiday season, 2008:

1) My wife, Sue.

You've heard of marrying up? Boy, did I marry up.

I'm not talking about in terms of money or social standing or any of the other stuff that lots of people use to define success. I'm talking about goodness and caring and big-heartedness - the stuff more of us should use to measure our standing in the world. If we did, it just might be a better place.

I'm amazed every day that this woman agreed to take me on. It's been over a quarter-century and I still can't figure out why she did, I'm just glad she hasn't changed her mind. She makes me a better person in every way.

2) My three children and my grandchild.

It's really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day parenting stuff and lose sight of what's important. My kids are healthy, vibrant young people with bright futures. They care about others, they work hard, and most importantly, they are intrinsically good. I know they will all live productive lives, and for that I am incredibly thankful.

My little granddaughter is almost two now and she is a blessing in every way. Smart, cheerful, healthy and happy, she fills our little house with toddler noises that haven't been heard here in a long, long time.

3) My job.

I work for the FAA as an air traffic controller, and while I can never forgive the current management structure for what they have done to the career I've devoted my entire adult life to - cutting pay, slashing retirement benefits, poisoning working conditions - I still consider myself fortunate to have a well-respected, high-paying job. Hell, in this economy, I'm glad I even have a job.

My career has enabled me to raise a family and begin sending my children to college. I own my own home and, more importantly, can still afford to make the payments on it. I am blessed.

4) My writing.

I love to write, and while I haven't exactly begun making Stephen King money, I am steadily making inroads, like getting more short stories published and working now on finishing my third novel.

It amazes me to think anyone would be interested in what I write, whether it be my sports blog at Foxsports, my blog at or at Myspace, or any of the magazines and anthologies who have published or will be publishing my work.

Thank you so much to:

-Crime and Suspense editor Tony Burton, who published my very first short story, "The Road to Olathe," and then included it in the Ten for Ten anthology. He also took on "Independence Day," one of my all-time favorite stories. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

-Trei Magazine's C.L. Freire. Unfortunately, the ezine is now defunct, but she published "Regrets, I've Had a Few," and has now moved on to bigger and better things.

-Shroud Publishing's Tim Deal. His anthology, Northern Haunts, will be released any minute now and includes my story, "Heart and Sole."

-FlashShot's Esther Schrader, who has accepted "Ned and Helen" for upcoming publication.

-Twisted Dreams Magazine and editor Andrea Dean Von Scoyoc, who has accepted "The Bridal Veil" for publication in the June, 2009 issue.

-Mysterical-E and Joe DeMarco for accepting "Uncle Brick and Jimmy Kills," my 9000 word story which will be featured this coming summer.

-Anyone who has read any of my stuff. I so much appreciate you spending your valuable time in the little worlds I try to construct that I can't even begin to express my appreciation. Thank you, and hopefully I'll be seeing more of you!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and here's to a safe, happy and productive 2009!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Love Electricity

I've never been so happy to wake up before 5:00 a.m. as I was this morning. At 4:55 the lights blazed on in my bedroom, signaling the end of over one hundred hours without electricity. 101 hours and ten minutes to be exact, but, really, who's counting? Besides me, that is.

The power in my neighborhood had vanished like a David Copperfield elephant at 11:45 Thursday night, during the height of the ice storm that crippled the Northeast, plunging us into darkness and disappearing for more than four days. When the electricity finally came back, it did so with remarkably little fanfare considering how much it had been missed. One barely perceptible click and that was it - we had power again!

Some people in this area are still without light or heat and according to New Hampshire Governor David Lynch, could remain so until the end of next week, meaning, if true, a cold and dark Christmas for those still affected. An emergency shelter has been set up at our local high school and I'm told administrators will be holding a meeting tomorrow to decide whether to just forget about trying to get the students back to school until after the first of the year. You can probably guess where my kids stand on that issue.

Anyway, my thanks go out to all of the anonymous, hardworking individuals who have been, and continue to be, putting in long hours under difficult conditions, working day and night to get power restored, to clear debris from roadways and power lines, and in general to do all of the work that people tend to take for granted until they are affected by a situation of this magnitude.

Now, of course, forecasters are calling for an old-time Nor'Easter to strike the area on Friday, dropping six inches or more of snow. Normally that doesn't even qualify as a big storm, at least here where I live, but with so many people still unable to heat their homes it could make a difficult situation that much worse.

A week ago I would never have believed it if someone had told me we would be without power for well over four days. Now I'm just glad it's back. If you're so inclined, spare a prayer or just a good thought for the people who are still shivering or unable to return to their homes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Real Ice Queen

You know that cliche that says we usually don't appreciate what we have until it's gone? I'm getting a painful reminder of the truth of that statement as the fifty-first hour without power in my home has now become a reality.

I drove home from work at ten o'clock Thursday night as the ice storm was just hitting its stride here in New Hampshire. Striding into the house confidently, I told my wife, "It's really not that bad out there. The roads aren't even slippery yet." That was roughly an hour and a half before the power crapped the bed. It hasn't returned since.

We awoke Friday morning to a world of beautiful devastation, as a thick layer of perfectly clear ice coated every outdoor surface, reflecting the light and making it look as though the scene had somehow been dipped in crystal. All night long I had lain in bed listening to tree limbs lose the battle against the steadily increasing weight of the ice, falling to the ground with one loud crack! after another.

A look out the kitchen window revealed a string of good-sized trees and branches down in the back yard, but it was a couple of hours before my wife took a step out the front door and froze in mid-stride as she took in the sight of a full-grown hardwood tree lying on the ground in our front yard, split right down the middle by the relentless ice, one side falling to the east and the other falling to the west.

We're luckier than many in this area, though, as we are fortunate to have a generator, allowing us to maintain power to the furnace, water pump, refrigerator, and a couple of other circuits for lights, etc. Temperatures in New Hampshire tonight are in the low teens, meaning any people without the ability to generate heat in their home have almost certainly been forced to evacuate, many congregating in the local high school gym.

Some roads remain closed due to fallen trees and/or power lines making them impassable; it's an eerie sight driving around after sunset and seeing whole neighborhoods completely enveloped by darkness.

Slowly but surely power is being restored, but it could still be several days to as much as a week before all customers are back on line, according to the power companies. I very much appreciate my good fortune - we purchased our generator less than two years ago and it has become just about the most valuable thing we own right now - but still, I am more than ready for this big adventure to be over.

Just to be clear, I promise never to take Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, Georg Ohm, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, or any of the other people who have done cool stuff with electricity for granted ever again. Scout's honor. Cross my heart and hope to die. Well I don't really hope to die, but you know what I mean.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't Read This If You've Already Showered

How many times have you sat and watched a movie where the antagonist was a power-mad megalomaniac, brazenly flouting the law while doing power-mad megalomaniacal things, and you said to yourself, "That could never happen"?

Power-mad megalomaniacs (I love saying that) are the meat and potatoes of thriller movies and have been for decades. The James Bond franchise has earned millions, maybe billions, of dollars over nearly a half-century by having the super-spy beat back threats from one power-mad megalomaniac after another, every two years without fail since the early 1960's.

The one thing you know about these bad guys as you're watching the movie is that they are caricatures - guys so cartoonishly awful that they could never happen in real life. Until now.

Until off the silver screen steps a bad guy so unbelievable that even movie-goers might have a hard time swallowing his antics. A sitting state governor who attempts to extort upwards of a million dollars from potential candidates for the vacated U.S. Senate seat of the man who has moved onward and upward to the presidency. A guy whose every sentence uttered, at least privately, seems to be peppered with the sorts of expletives that would make Richard Nixon blush.

A guy like Illionois Governor Rod Blagojevich. A guy so brazen in his corrupt machinations that he is facing almost certain jail time. A guy who promised change to the state he governs and has delivered, well, more of the same in what is widely believed to be the most corrupt state in the union.

I grew up in Massachusetts and it's hard for me to imagine a more corrupt state than that, so Blagojevich has apparently been working overtime or something. Although, to be fair, Massachusetts is still in the running for the hotly-contested title of Most Corrupt, as only recently State Senator Dianne Wilkerson reluctantly resigned after being videotaped stuffing thousands in bribe money under her shirt and into her bra. And if you think that might be a sensual sight, you've never seen Wilkerson.

Anyway, my point is this: As a novelist and short story writer who is trying to get my books published, I would never dare write a character like Rod Blagojevich for fear that no one would buy such a cookie-cutter bad guy; that nobody could suspend disbelief to the point where they wouldn't just mutter, "That could never happen," and slam my book closed, never to open its pages again.

It's hard enough trying to get published without competing with these loonies in real life. Politicians like Blagojevich and Wilkerson should have a little compassion for people like me if they're not going to be concerned with their constituents or their integrity. They make a hard job even tougher. Jerks.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Twisted Dreams in These Northern Haunts

As I work on the first rewrite of my third novel, it occurs to me that my timing on this writing gig has been pretty much identical to my timing on just about everything I do - bad. The economy is in the toilet and getting agents and publishers to take a chance on a new and unknown novelist - never an easy thing to do even in the best of times - becomes darned near impossible in this economic climate.

Of course, I have considered the possiblity that maybe my books just aren't good enough; that they don't pass muster. I've considered that possiblity and rejected it outright. If I don't have confidence in my abilities, who will? So, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Anyway, even though I haven't had a whole lot of good news on the noveling front (Getting published, that is, the actual novel-writing is going along swimmingly), there have been a couple of encouraging developments in short-story land:

1) Northern Haunts, the horror anthology from Shroud Publishing, which just happens to contain a contribution from yours truly, will be taking the world by storm within the next couple of weeks. My entry, titled "Heart and Sole," takes its place alongside many other tales from established as well as up-and-coming authors, and I'm thrilled to have been included.

Many thanks to Shroud and editor Tim Deal. If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, Tim Deal might just be the hardest working man in the small publishing business, considering all the projects he is juggling.

I can't wait to see the finished product - If you have the chance to pick up Northern Haunts, please check out "Heart and Sole," and if you are so inclined to let me know what you think of it, I wouldn't object either.

2) I learned this past week that my short story, "The Bridal Veil," has been accepted for publication in Twisted Dreams Magazine. I submitted the story for inclusion in the June, 2009 issue, since February 2009 was already filled, but editor Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc told me that she might possibly include it in February anyway, since she liked it so much.

In any event, "The Bridal Veil" tells the story of a nocturnal visit deep into a cemetery by a trio of people who may or may not all be looking for the same things. As with "Heart and Sole," I would be honored if you checked the story out when it's published. I know it won't be coming out for a while, but don't fret - I won't let you forget about it.

The moral of this story? Even though my natural state of affairs is to consider the glass half empty, there is some good news to celebrate. I continue writing and submitting my short stories while I work on my third novel and tirelessly peddle my first two to agents and publishers.
Well, maybe not tirelessly, but you get the point. If I'm not yet at the point where I can give up my day job and write full-time, at least I'm making progress, you know?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Truly Black Friday

I made a vow a long time ago that I would never, ever go shopping on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, which has long been considered the busiest shopping day of the year.

I enjoy shopping almost as much as I enjoy trips to the dentist and doing my taxes, so it's not like that vow has required much discipline on my part over the years to keep. The thought of getting up at three or four o'clock in the morning in order to venture into the dark and cold of late-November in New England, strangely enough, doesn't strike me as all that tempting.

Who knows why?

Maybe it's just a personality quirk on my part, but I can give you two very good reasons right off the top of my head:
1) I hate crowds, and
2) I hate crowds.

My family, though, is another story. This year, my wife and oldest daughter, and even my fifteen year old son took part in the dubious tradition of Black Friday, all returning unscathed later in the day, something not to be taken for granted, apparently.

Undoubtedly you've seen the reports about the situation in Valley Stream, N.Y., where a crowd of jolly holiday shoppers celebrated the beginning of the season of giving by trampling to death the poor unlucky soul who drew the short stick and got the assignment of opening the doors of the Wal-Mart to let in the unruly mob waiting outside, some of whom had been camped in the parking lot since the night before.

Far be it from me to question the way anyone else spends his or her free time, but staying out all night in New York in November? To be the first one into the Wal-Mart? For the privilege of spending your hard-earned and increasingly hard-to-come-by money? Are you kidding me?

Anyway, the man who got killed in the line of duty, a 34 year old immigrant named Jdimytai Damour, wasn't even a full-time employee of Wal-Mart, he was a temp, not that that should make a damned bit of difference, but seems to add an even greater element of tragedy to the whole situation, if that's even possible.

Making the scene even more bizarre was the reaction of the joyous holiday revelers, who according to witnesses became irate when store officials announced they were going to close the store due to the tragedy. Some of them screamed they had been waiting in line since ten the previous night and weren't about to let a little thing like some guy getting trampled slow down their bargain-hunting.

Unbelievable. Supposedly law enforcement authorities are reviewing store security tapes in an attempt to identify any or all of the offending people, but good luck with that. Anyone identified on the video can simply claim, probably with complete accuracy, that they were being pushed into Damour by the surging crowd. No one will serve a minute in jail for this man's death.

Maybe it's time to rethink the whole "Black Friday" thing. I'm no retail sales expert, but isn't it usually considered bad for business when people get killed at your establishment? Isn't there a better way to draw people into your store than to advertise outrageous discounts on products that are going to sell out within a few minutes, leaving all the overpriced stuff for the people who didn't trample a worker to death to pick over?

Or maybe it's just me.

I know this much, though. "Black Friday" is supposed to signify the day during the year that retailers begin to make money. In Valley Stream, New York, though, at least for this year, it means something completely different.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Did You Say Your Name Was Again?

My kids are now all at an age where they either are, or will soon be, dating, and when I see them going out it brings back a lot of memories; sort of like what I assume the survivor of a horrible car accident feels like when he first ventures back onto the freeway.

I was the King of the First Date in high school. Dinner and a movie, or sometimes movie and a late dessert if I wanted to change things up a little; I had that first date thing down. Getting past that terrifying First Date proved to be a little more difficult, though, as a lot of girls seemed to forget why they said yes to me that first time when I called them afterwards, always assuming of course that I decided to call them again.

One thing I discovered was that it's amazing how many families had to change their phone numbers in between dates. Either we had an incredibly large percentage of people living under the Witness Protection Program in the tiny town I grew up in, or else our phone service sucked, because it seemed like at least fifty percent of the girls I took out on first dates (Hereafter referred to as "victims") didn't have the same telephone number afterwards. Strange.

And of course way back in the Middle Ages, before there were things like IM's and text messaging and all of the other conveniences of the modern world that make it impossible to escape someone's unwanted attentions, if you couldn't get ahold of them by telephone, you had exactly two choices - write them a letter (Too time-consuming) or go to their house (Too scary).

So I ended up having lots of first dates but not all that many second ones.

Some of them were pretty eventful, too. There was the girl I took to the prom, who, although she wasn't technically a first date that night, still managed to make a Hall of Fame move when she asked me for my friend's telephone number after the dance. I can imagine how Jim's girlfriend of two years would have felt about him getting a call from my prom date. Needless to say, we didn't go out again.

Then there was the girl I went out with once who later turned out to be a lesbian. I've often wondered how much I had to do with that. I mean, how bad does a date have to go to turn someone off to an entire gender?

Fortunately the story has a happy ending. I met my wife long after high school, after college even, and I immediately clicked with her like I had with no other. She refused to date me for a long time, but I eventually wore her down with my charm and sophistication - or perhaps she just got sick of saying no; there's a lot to be said for persisitence, as I'm discovering with this writing gig - and after about six months she gave in and went out with me.

Roughly a year-and-a-half after that we were married, and it's been nothing but happiness and bliss ever since. By the way, if you know us, please don't ask her, just take my word for it.

I'm not sure how I managed to avoid my typical first date magic with her, but I think my bad first-date karma somehow transferred itself to the restaurant I took her to - it later burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Bad for the owner, good for me.

So anyway, watching my kids take part in that frightening dating ritual is bittersweet for me. Like all parents, I don't want to see my children get hurt, but I also realize that you can't ever find the right person if you don't ever look. I just wish they gave you seat belts or maybe crash helmets to protect you from the inevitable carnage that comes along with the whole dating thing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jewel of Denial

The things you see when you don't have a taser.

The absurdity of the fat-cat CEO's of America's "Big Three" automakers flying to Washington, D.C. from the Detroit area on their own private jets to beg for government handouts totalling roughly $25 billion - that's billion with a "B" - while their companies are circling the drain is almost too much to believe.

Maybe in order to rise to a position of power and responsibility in a corporation employing tens of thousands of workers and selling products at prices higher than my parents paid for their house requires an ego the size of Lake Michigan; an ego so tremendously huge that you either can't see or don't care what people think. But doesn't it seem as though some savvy marketing person in one of those three boardrooms might have suggested the public-relations benefit their company could have reaped from having the head man fly to Washington via - gasp! - scheduled airline?

Think about it. A phone call or two to the network news departments, and the cameras would have been rolling as the bigshot strides through Reagan National after stepping off the 9:00 a.m. business class flight from Detroit Metro, while the other two out-of-touch phonies land in their Gulfstream G5's. What a publicity bonanza!

The savvy company could have constructed a whole marketing campaign out of it, and maybe even sold a few more cars without having to use your money and mine to stay afloat.

Sure, it would have been a largely ceremonial gesture, but on the heels of the AIG lunacy, you would think it might have occurred to one of these geniuses that the extravagant outlay of company cash required to fly a business jet back and forth to D.C. ($20,000, according to ABC News) would have been headline news all across the country and would have done nothing to help their company get their grasping hands on their share of $25 billion, with a "B."

How much does an assembly line worker make in Detroit? Maybe $60,000, $70,000 a year? So yesterday, a guy making probably $20 million yearly used up three to four months salary for one of his workers in order to avoid having to - ugh - sit next to a commoner! Eww, the horror of it all!

I have no problem with these guys making bucketloads of cash when they are the stars of their profession, but to drain your company of money it doesn't have when it's about to go belly-up is inexcusable. Now all three CEO's look like exactly what they are: out-of-touch elitists who have become instant laughingstocks. Sometimes what you see is what you get.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Things I Wonder About

On my way to work tonight I stopped at Dunkin' Donuts as I usually do to buy my large coffee - or as I like to call it, my life-blood - and as I was sitting at the drive-through window waiting, I saw an interesting sign taped to the inside of the cold drink cabinet in the restaurant - you know, the big fridge with the glass front where you can buy milk or juice or whatever. This sign said something like, "Attention employees, Amp is now off-limits!"

If you're not familiar with it, Amp is one of those high-energy drinks that is so chock-full of caffeine that just thinking about drinking it makes my pulse race and my blood pressure skyrocket.

But here's the thing: Whenever I go to Dunkin's I always order the same thing - a large black coffee. Simple, right? I mean, really, what could be easier than pouring some coffee into a Styrofoam cup and handing it to the customer? But I can't tell you how many times I have ordered my large black coffee and driven off, happy and secure in the knowledge that I now have my life-blood to sustain me when I get to work, then opened it up and discovered my large black coffee has somehow morphed into a large regular coffee, which is fine if you like it that way but to me means only that I have once again wasted $2.15!

So, by my way of thinking, Dunkin's management should be making the employees drink at least one Amp when they come on duty, if only to get them to pay attention to my order. I mean it's not like I'm ordering a double-decaffeinated half-caf with a twist or something. It's a black coffee!

Anyway, that's something I wonder about. Here are a few other things:

- If those long, stringy things that connect muscle to bone in your body are called tendons, why in the world do they call it tendinitis when you irritate or rupture one of them? Shouldn't it be tendonitis? No wonder English is such a hard language to learn. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to me.

- Doesn't it seem like the words "silent auction" are a contradiction in terms? I'm not sure why, but whenever I see those words, I instantly think of some kind of weird Monty Python skit, with an auctioneer gesticulating wildly over a product in front of an entire roomful of people, all of whom are jumping up and down trying to bid on it, but no one is making a sound.

And how would anyone ever know when the bidding is over? The auctioneer can't bang the gavel down, because he has to be silent. This is the sort of thing I wonder about.

- How is it possible for me to get a personalized rejection letter from one of the big New York literary agents - I mean, a biggie. I won't say who, but it's a biggie - that says stuff like "Your writing is smooth and commercial. Your descriptive turns of phrase easily set the mood and you consistently set up compelling conflicts in each chapter," and not be able to find a home for the novel I've been shopping around?

I'm conflicted. I am thrilled to read these encouraging words from - I know, I've said it already - one of the biggies in the agent world, but at the same time, encouraging words never got anyone a publishing contract. You know what I mean? I feel like the pitcher who strikes out everybody in the opposing lineup but the manager says, "Yeah, well, their star player wasn't in the lineup today."

There. I'm done complaining. I feel better now, I'm sure glad I got my large black coffee from the Amp-less people at Dunkin' Donuts a little while ago.

- How is it possible that I work in a federal government facility, built at taxpayer expense for something like forty million dollars, that opened less than five years ago, and when I go into the big, fancy kitchen to cook my lunch, if I use the toaster oven and the microwave at the same time, the circuit blows and I can't cook anything?

How is that possible? We're not talking a hundred and fifty year old building that was wired by Thomas Edison here. This is a state-of-the-art air traffic control facility housing equipment worth more money than you or I will make in our entire lives, and I can't cook a french bread pizza. Unbelievable.

Anyway, I'm done wondering about stuff for now. It's too stressful. Maybe if I had enjoyed a nice Amp tonight it would be one thing, but I didn't, so I'm done.

Thanks a lot for checking out my blog, I really appreciate it...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pssst - Hey You, Wanna Be My Friend?

I like to consider myself a social networking pro now. After all, I've been on Myspace and Facebook since July and in those four months have become "friends" with over 400 people, only a small percentage of whom I actually know.

When I decided to get serious about my writing, my wife, who always seems to be about three steps ahead of me - not that that's a shocking accomplishment - informed me that I needed to get online at the two networking sites, and within a day or so had me up and running.

Or in my case, crawling. I'm not so out of touch that I hadn't heard of Myspace and Facebook, but I honestly had never considered the possibility that I could ever have a page. I thought those sites were places where teenagers went to plan their weekends and creepy stalkers went to do the stuff you spend so much time warning your kids about.

Turns out there are lots of people just like me! Of course, most aren't quite as terminally square, but still, there are writers of all levels of accomplishment, most of whom are only too happy to let another person into the group. The best part of a virtual site is no one can see you standing off in the corner intimidated by everyone else - you're just there, proving the truth of the expression, "Wherever you go, there you are."

I spend most of what little time I have to go online on Myspace rather than Facebook, only because Facebook seems a little less intuitive to use for a Luddite like me. I suppose that makes sense. When I proudly told my seventeen year old daughter how proficient I was on Myspace, she responded breezily, "Oh, my friends and I mostly use Facebook; we hardly ever go on Myspace."

Figures. Even in the digital age, my kids have left me behind.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Privilege and Responsibility

I wasn't planning on voting today.

As a life-long conservative, who has spent the last twenty years or so as a member of the Republican Party, the prospect of voting for Senator John McCain has struck me as more than a little unpalatable ever since it became clear early in the summer that he would be the Republican nominee.

My dissatisfaction with the Republican Party has reached the point where I am seriously considering changing my pilitical affiliation to Independent, as it was in my younger days. The party of small government now seems to be filled with weak-willed men and women who refuse to make the fiscally responsible decisions necessary to ensure the financial stability of this country; instead making ill-advised choices that are based on something other than the best interests of this country.

You may or may not know I am employed as an FAA air traffic controller. What this Republican administration has done to the career to which I have devoted my entire adult life is shameful. It is hard for me to imagine any legitimate argument for air-traffic control as anything other than an inherently governmental enterprise, much like law enforcement and fire protection.

And yet, under this administration, the mantra of "Running it like a business" has been enthusiastically adopted, resulting in the trampling of employees rights, and the unprecedented (and I believe illegal) payment of COLA's which have the effect of drastically slashing my retirement income, among many other offenses. All in the name of "Running it like a business." A business that produces no tangible product - other than safety.

If you disagree, simply ask yourself this question: When I am flying to Disney with the kiddies for my vacation, and there are thunderstorms everywhere and the air carrier jet I'm riding in has lost an engine and dozens of airplanes are surrounding mine like mosquitoes at a spring barbecue, do I want the lives of myself and my precious loved ones in the hands of the lowest bidder? I wouldn't.

Anyway, this illustrates the depth of my disgust with the Republicans in Washington. On the other hand, could I really bring myself to vote for Senator Barack Obama, the man who has steadfastly promoted himself to an America sick of George W. Bush as an agent of change, without really specifying what sort of change he's talking about?

You see, Senator Obama has forged a record during his short stay in the United States Senate as the most liberal member of that body. More so than Hilary Clinton, more so than Edward Kennedy, more so than John Kerry. If you consider yourself a liberal, that's wonderful, but for a conservative like me, it provides no legitimate alternative to Senator McCain. The funny thing is, my disgust with the Republican Party is so complete that had the Democrats nominated a more centrist candidate I would most certainly have voted for him or her.

So I was going to sit this election out.

Then I began thinking about all the young men and women serving thousands of miles away in foreign countries most of them probably knew nothing about until they were assigned to go there.

I started thinking about the thousands upon thousands of Americans who have given their lives defending the Constitution of this country, oftentimes while disagreeing personally with the policies that led to their deployment.

I started thinking aout my own father, who served long ago in a war and saw things that, right up to the day he died, he refused to talk about. Ever.

I started thinking about all that stuff and I realized that it would be an insult to the memories of every single one of them for me to stay home today; that I would be disrespecting everyone who has spilled his or her blood in this or another land so that I could be guaranteed the opportunity to cast a ballot in a free election.

So I voted.

I voted with a reluctance that I have never felt in the twenty-eight years since I became eligible to do so. I voted because even though the choice in this Presidential Election, in my opinion, is between two campaigns who will both take this country in the wrong direction, I have discovered that I believe strongly in the notion of voting as a privilege as well as a civic responsibility. It is not just for those partisans who are rah-rahing their candidate on to victory, but also for those of us who maybe have to hold our noses this election cycle when we enter the voting booth.

I voted because I have a child who is participating in her first presidential election, and two more who wil participate in their first presidential elections next time around. I don't want them to look at their dad as a non-participant in the process that is so special and so important.

It wasn't easy, but I voted. And if you are a veteran, thank you. And if your father or mother or husband or wife or son or daughter or neighbor or cousin is a veteran, please thank him or her for me.

And whoever wins this election, congratulations. When the celebrating and crowing is over, come January, 2009, please, please, please put this country first.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cue the Music

You know what would be really convenient? If you had a sound track attached to your life, like the characters on TV and in the movies.

I was watching Mr. Deeds on DVD - hey, don't judge me, okay? - and it was nice knowing just beforehand when Adam Sandler was going to do or say something heartwarming; you knew it was coming thanks to the sappy music that started playing.

Imagine if you had the benefit of that advantage in the real world! As someone who has been involved in a couple of car accidents in my life, I can tell you it would have been really handy if that jagged music you hear on cop shows (You know, the tense background music that clues you in on the fact someone is about to get shot) had started playing just before I hit that patch of ice on I-95 or that lady came around the corner much too fast and smashed into the back of my car.

Or how about this: A laugh track? Anyone who has ever launched into a joke at a party before remembering that it wasn't really all that funny the last time you told it would appreciate the unfair advantage sitcom folks have from the canned laughter that reminds everyone at home that what they're watching is supposed to be, you know, funny. There's no such reminder at parties, which is one big reason why I don't like parties much.

Let's face it, it's really easy to be sensitive and wise when you have violins playing in the background to let everyone know you're about to say something profound, and it's a lot easier to be the life of the party when everyone is roaring at whatever you say, whether it's really worthy of their laughter or not.

Who knew there was so much to be learned from Mr. Deeds?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Keeping us Safe From the Sausage Menace

With all of the really big news - the presidential election just one week away, the continuing free-fall in the stock market despite the $700 billion bailout that you will pay for, not to mention your children and your children's children - it would be easy to understand how you may have missed this headline, from the Associated Press Monday night:

"Spicy Pork Sausage Found in 'Soiled Diapers'"

Maybe you have more willpower than I do. Maybe you could read that teaser and just move on to more stories involving the mudslinging between the two guys running for president, both of whom have taken the art of negative campaigning to new depths. But I'm just not that strong. As soon as I read that headline I had to learn more.

You see, I'm something of an expert on diapers. My wife and I raised three children and now I babysit my granddaughter five days a week, so it would not be a stretch to say I've seen more "soiled diapers" than anyone should. Sometimes I think I might be suffering from Post-Traumatic Diaper Disorder, also known as Baby Battle Fatigue. Plus I'm rapidly approaching the age where I'll be back in diapers myself.

So when I read that, shall we say, descriptive headline, my first thought was undoubtedly the same as yours. How much would you have to pay me to dig through some kid's dirty diapers? I have no idea how much money a U.S Customs and Border Protection Agent makes, but I guarantee it's not enough for me to perform that dirty deed.

Reading the story, though, it turns out the diapers weren't actually "soiled," they just looked that way. What appeared to be...well..."baby soiling" was actually chorizo, or spicy sausage! Score one for the forces of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Who knows how much damage could have been done to the fabric of our society had these wily sausage menaces been allowed to waltz into this country?

Don't you wonder about that conversation at the border though? "Do you have anything to declare, ma'am?"

"Why yes. Yes I do. I'd like to declare these soiled diapers."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm declaring my baby's soiled diapers."

"That's a load of crap!"


Wow. I'm afraid we're in know.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Time Has Come to Make a Choice

It is becoming increasingly obvious that we, as Americans, are on the verge of making a choice that is going to affect us for generations. The repercussions of the decision we make will reverberate like the ripples a pebble makes when tossed into the water of a pond - relentless, with consequences potentially unimaginable.

You have listened to each party make its' case. Sometimes they both make sense; sometimes neither. Each one looks palatable, but the fact of the matter is that the time is rapidly approaching when you must choose sides; when you must come down firmly in one camp or the other.

The battle has been brewing for a long time. The stakes are high. I'm talking, of course, about the choice every American is faced with every single day, as we go off to work or to school, or even as we relax after a long and difficult day: Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts?

In a perfect world, the two could coexist peacefully side by side, but of course nothing is so easy. Each one covets the coffee-swilling patrons of the other; each wants to lure the caffeine-addicted souls of America into their camp for the long haul.

As a coffee drinker myself - a coffee addict, I suppose would be a reasonable description - I am faced with this dilemma every single day. I love Dunkin' Donuts, have been a loyal patron for decades. You know how their commercials say they serve something like one hundred million cups of coffee a day? Ten million of those are to me.

But here's the problem - Starbucks patrons seem to look down their noses at those of us who go to good old Dunkins. A co-worker of mine says Dunkin' Donuts coffee tastes like ass. The obvious question would be, "How do you know?" but who wants to hear the answer to that?

So I've made my choice; I made it a long time ago in fact. I hate to be viewed as somehow square or behind the times, but I accept the fact that that will be the case regardless of what kind of coffee I drink. I take solace in the fact that I don't have to try to remember the difference between a "vente" and a "grande" - at DD, they don't do any of that highbrow foreign language nonsense. It's large and medium, just like the coffee gods intended. Even Joe Plumber can understand that.

Where do you fall in this debate? Remember, the future of the world as we know it is hanging in the balance. The choice is yours; the responsibility is awesome and frightening. Good luck.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why You Should Write That Book

I read an interesting blog post a couple of days ago about how it's really not a great use of your time to write a book. More specifically, this post listed reasons why it's a waste of time trying to get a book deal.

Basically, the blog author stated the following (I'm paraphrasing her points here):

1) If you think you have a lot of good ideas for a book, you should write a blog instead, because there are very few new ideas.

2) A book is not a good way to gain authority.

3) Books lead to speaking careers, but speaking careers don't necessarily lead anywhere.

4) You'll make more money per hour flipping burgers than writing a book, since the odds against your book becoming a bestseller are "absolutely terrible."

5) When you're feeling lost, a book won't save you.

I cheerfully admit I'm not exactly Albert Einstein, okay? I'm no kind of a genius. But none of those five reasons is even in the same neighborhood as the reasons why I write - Hell, I'm not sure I even understand some of them. Please stay with me as I examine each one individually. Thanks, mom.

1) The post's author seems to be saying that if you have a lot of ideas, none of them would be good for a book, so you should just write a blog.

Has anyone broken this news to Stephen King? He is one of the most prolific authors of this or any other era, and whether you like his style or the genre he writes in, his success is indisputable. How many enjoyable hours would his millions of fans have been deprived of if Stephen King had simply written a blog? The same statement can be made of dozens of authors in every genre. I don't get the point.

2) I don't write to "gain authority," I write to entertain. Period.

I have to laugh when I read the old nugget of wisdom that says, "You should only write what you know." If everyone followed this advice, only serial killers would write about serial killers, you know? And as far as Stephenie Meyer's critically acclaimed vampire series is concerned; well, unless there is some really strange stuff gong on in the Meyer household, those books would never have been written if she followed that advice.

3) Speaking careers? Who the hell writes a book to launch a speaking career?

If a speaking career follows the release of a successful book, that's cool, but most of the people I have met who are successful writers - and I'll grant you it's a pretty small sample, but still - would much rather be pounding away on a keyboard than standing up on a podium talking at people anyway.

4) This might be the best point of all five. In my opinion, it's the only one that even makes any sense. If you're writing a book with the expressed intention of creating a bestseller and gettting rich, it's almost certainly not going to happen. Of course, every single author you know and love had to start out unknown, too, so it could happen.

But even if not one of my novels ever sells, even if I end up making not one red cent off of them, I won't have considered the hundreds of hours I spent writing and rewriting and editing and rewriting to be wasted time. I am happiest when I'm writing - in those magical times when a world I have created is coming to life on a page, and characters are doing things that are extraordinary and surprise even me - no amount of money generated from flipping burgers could ever compete with that, not even if I turned into Dave Tomas and Ray Kroc combined. Especially now, since they're both dead. But I digress.

5) I'm not even sure I get what the point of this one is. It seems to be that writing a book won't give your life direction; but what if the direction your life needs is writing that book? What is so hard to understand about that?

So write that book. No, you probably won't get rich from it; you may not even ever sell it. Perhaps no one but your closest confidants will ever see it. That doesn't make it a waste of your time. Not by a long shot.

Monday, October 13, 2008

If You Don't Worry About a 105 Temperature, When Do You Worry?

To say it's been a while since I've had a baby would be an understatement. My kids are 20, 17 and 15, so you can do the math, right?

But now that my granddaughter is running around this little house (and that's not just a figure of speech, she's twenty months old and just about her favorite thing in the world to do is run), it's all come rushing back - the diapers, the little tiny forks and spoons and dishes, the baby smiles and the baby cries, the toys scattered all over the living room floor.

One thing I had forgotten about having a baby is how difficult it is when the baby is sick. My granddaughter is twenty months old and has some sort of viral infection. Her temperature is spiking close to 105 degrees and she alternates from feeling okay and being close to her normal self to being weak and lethargic and very ill.

The last two days have seen her make two trips to the emergency room and two more trips to the pediatrician's office. The medical professionals say that there's nothing they can do for her and not to worry, that this will pass eventually and she will be fine. I'm no doctor, I don't even play one of TV, but how can you not worry about a temperature of nearly 105? This baby is tiny and that's a dangerously high fever!

Being a grandfather, you would think that I would be removed from most of the worry that goes along with having a very young child. In this case, though, she lives in our house in her mom's room while her mom goes to college. Right now she is at the hospital with her mom (my daughter) and her grandmother (my wife).

I'm sitting here with the phone next to me waiting for some word about how she is doing. It's not easy.

Don't get me wrong, I believe the doctors have a handle on what she is going through and that she really is going to be okay, but it's hard to watch your baby suffer, and I have to watch my baby watch her baby suffer. It sucks.

If you're reading this, spare a prayer if that's your thing - or at least a thought, if prayer's not your thing, we're not fussy - for a little tiny girl who doesn't even understand what is happening to her. I'm sure she would appreciate it. I certainly do.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pass the Nyquil Please

Winter is here.

I know what the calendar says, that we're barely more than two weeks into autumn. I know what the leaves say, the ones that are turning all those beautiful shades of red and brown and yellow, the ones that draw people seemingly by the millions into my state to look at them before they fall to the ground. I know what the temperature says, with probably the nicest weather we will see around here for the next seven months.

I know all that, I just don't care. Take it from me, winter is here. I am deep into my first cold of the winter season, and I have been sniffling, suffering from a sore throat, and hacking like a cat trying to cough up a furball. Therefore, winter is here.

It's only a matter of time before I have to go out in the middle of the night to fire up the snow-blower and clear off the driveway (it's a long one, complete with a hill) in the middle of a raging blizzard because the kids have school and my wife and I have to work in the morning, with the wind whipping snow down my collar, making me sweat and freeze at the same time.

It's only a matter of time before I get out of work at midnight and trudge out to my truck with temperatures pushing zero, scraping the ice off my windshield while my fingers go numb even though I'm wearing gloves and I question why I don't live in Arizona.

It's not that I don't like winter, it's just...well...actually it is that I don't like winter. The older I get the less I like it, in fact. I'm not a skier or a snowboarder or a snowmobiler, so the long winter months don't really hold any appeal at all to me. If you take away winter's obvious charms, things like frozen digits and ice storms and losing your electricity and getting into a car that feels like a walk-in freezer, what are you really left with?

That's right, a cold. A head-pounding, cough-inducing, sniffle-making cold. And I have one. It's going to be a long winter.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Trapped In a Cell

I've often wondered if maybe there wasn't some massive cosmic mixup when I was born, that perhaps I was supposed to have existed a half-century or so before I did.

I say this because there are a lot of things I don't get about life in 2008; things that seem to be of extreme importance to other people but don't matter at all to me. Example: cell phones.

I will be the first to admit I'm not the most social person in the world. That's not to say I'm not friendly when you see me on the street; quite the opposite, in fact, I hope. But by "non-social" I mean given the choice between going to a party on a Saturday night and staying home reading, writing or watching television with my family, I will always pick the latter.

That, combined with the fact that I have three children, means when the phone rings it is rarely for me anyway, so most of the time I simply ignore it - the telephone is nothing more than a necessary evil to me. I carry a cell phone so that if one of my kids runs out of gas, he or she can call me and I can come pick them up; or if the plumbing under the kitchen sink springs a leak, my wife can let me know and I can rush home and crawl under the sink and pretend I know what I'm doing.

This makes it all the more amazing to me when I see people with cell phones pressed to their ears all day. Shopping, walking, driving down the highway, eating dinner - it seems there is a certain portion of the population to which the idea of doing anything without describing that activity while they do it to some disembodied person on the other end of a radio wave is unthinkable.

First off, I can't imagine having that much to say. To anyone, including my wife, who I think would agree my conversation is not so scintillating that listening to me jabber on all day at the other end of a cell phone would be her idea of a good time. Or even bearable.

And secondly, how is it possible even to have that much to say? I like to think I'm reasonably creative and at least marginally intelligent, but most of the time when I'm driving down the road, I'm thinking about...driving down the road! Does anyone really need to hear me talking about it? Giving a play-by-play? "I'm turning on to Route 102 now. It's beautiful day here in New Hampshire, folks, and - Hey! A bird! A bird just flew by!"

Cell phones are a wonderful invention, don't get me wrong. I can't imagine one of my kids being broken down on the side of the road, alone, at night, without being able to contact me or someone else for help. Beyond that, though, who needs it?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Should Have Tried Dry Cleaning

As part of the division of labor in our household, I have been delegated the task of doing most of the laundry. It's not something I really mind, in fact as a chore it has a lot to recommend it: Laundry requires very little brainpower or thought, putting it right up my alley. Laundry is something that can be done at all hours of the night and day, making it perfect for my availability between shift work at my paying job and writing, which I consider my real job.

Plus, and this is probably best of all, you can fold laundry and not miss a single play of the Red Sox or Patriots game on TV. Beyond that, though, you have to be careful. I've found through bitter experience that attempting to fold while watching Heroes or Lost is a pointless exercise in frustration. You end up with your wife's bras in your underwear drawer while having no freaking clue why Jack just punched out Sawyer.

But back to my point, which is this - As the designated laundry-doer in my family for the better part of the last ten or twelve years, I'm something of an expert on the subject; at least as much as someone can be who knows nothing about fabrics, etc. But I discovered something last week that I want to share with you, just in case you are as ignorant of it as I was.

IPods aren't washable!

Explanation: My middle child, who's a senior in high school and a cheerleader, came home from a football game last Friday night and hung her warmup jacket over the kitchen chair. I did a load of laundry the next day and threw it in, without checking the pockets. I know, I know, rookie mistake, but what can I say? My head wasn't in the game, I can admit that.

So there you have it - I washed my daughter's iPod.

Uh, excuse me, isn't this supposed to be the twenty-first century? Technological revolution and all that crap? I grew up listening to record albums pressed out of vinyl discs, and I'd be willing to bet that if I had accidentally put one of them through the wash, I could still have listened to it afterward. Sure, Bob Seger might have sounded a I'll bet he would still have sung for me.

Not that iPod. One little trip through the wash and spin, and now it's worthless for use as anything besides a paperweight. And it's not very good at that either; it's so small and light a good breeze would blow it away along with the paper it's supposed to be covering.

I offer this as a warning to anyone else out there who might get a wild hair and try to wash their electronic devices. Don't do it! I tried an iPod, but I doubt you would fare much better washing your cell phone or your BlackBerry either. Just Say No.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Few Simple Things

Maybe it's because I'm getting older or perhaps I'm just a boring individual, but I've discovered I don't need to experience thrills and chills in my life to be happy. Give me a good book or a quiet conversation every time.

If I were an amusement park ride I'd be one of those little canoes that float in six inches of water at an excruciatingly slow pace in a circle so four year olds can have something to do while their older brothers and sisters ride the roller coasters all day long. Anyway, here, in no particular order, is a list of what I believe to be the best of life's simple pleasures:

- Ice-cold water on a swelteringly hot day. After you've had your water you can switch to beer or iced tea or whatever you enjoy the most, but don't even try to convince me that if you were lost in the Sahara for three days and someone placed a table filled with cold drinks in front of you that you wouldn't reach for that glass of cool, sweet water first.

- The smell of freshly-mown grass on a summer day. Maybe it's your next-door neighbor out working on his lawn or maybe you're just driving down the street with your windows open when you get hit with this, but is there anyone who doesn't like this smell? They say the olfactory response is the strongest of all the senses and I believe it.

- Seeing your children do the right thing when faced with a difficult choice. You do most of your teaching when they're young and then sit back with your fingers crossed, hoping at least some of what you tried so clumsily to impart was absorbed. Then you see your child do the right thing - not because you told them to, but because it's the right thing, and you realize they really were listening, even when it didn't seem like it.

- A completely unexpected twist in the book you're reading or the movie you're watching. You thought you had a handle on who did it and why, then you suddenly realize you were so far off base that you weren't even in the ballpark! What a delicious feeling.

- Nineteen-month old arms hugging you around the neck, squeezing with all their might. The total trust and innocence of a baby can never be duplicated in life - ever - and is one of the most awe-inspiring feelings you can ever have. Even if you don't have or ever want children, you should borrow a friend's or relative's baby just to experience this sensation at least once.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Top Ten List - Things People Ask When They Find Out I'm a Writer

Even though I have yet to snag an agent or find a publisher for either of my completed novels, there is a fairly predictable list of questions I get when people discover I'm a writer, or after they read any of my material. Fortunately, most haven't told me they regret the time they've spent reading my stuff, at least not to my face.

So, without further ado, and since I'm not really sure what "ado" is in the first place, here is my Top Ten List of Things People Want to Know When They Discover I'm a Writer:

10) "Do you think I could write a book?"

My answer - How the hell do I know? I'll tell you this, though. Everyone has a story inside them which would be fascinating reading. The hard part is developing the discipline to get it down on paper, but if I can do it, so can you.

9) "How do you spell [Fill in the blank with some obscure word no one has ever heard of]?"

Everyone figures since you spend so much time writing you must be some kind of spelling wizard. In my case, that happens to be true; I'm a great speller, even though I did get eliminated from the fifth grade spelling bee when I choked on the word "you." Don't ask. That was a dark time in my life.

8) "What's your favorite book ever?"

It's actually a tie between The Fixer and Paskagankee, two books you may never have heard of. Actually, unless you know me, I guarantee you have never heard of them. They are my two completed manuscripts - my two babies, so to speak, which have yet to be seen by anyone outside of a very small circle of friends and family. Eventually they will be, though.

7) "Where do you get such twisted ideas?"

Anyone who has read any of my work, whether my two completed novels or any of my short stories, seems shocked to discover how dark my mind really is. The really shocking part is that the stuff I have written so far is only what I've been comfortable putting out for public consumption; the truly strange stuff is still knocking around inside my head trying to get out.

6) "Did you get an agent yet?"

Sometimes the question is phrased as, "When are your books coming out?" So far, the only answer I can give to either question is that your guess is as good as mine. I'm one hundred percent convinced that it's going to happen, but it's definitely not happening tomorrow or next week or even next month.

5) "Will you still talk to me when you get famous?"

Of course not. What's the point of being famous if you can't blow off all the people who hung out with you when you were just a regular guy? I'm kidding, by the way.

4) "Do you know [Fill in the blank with the name of the person's favorite author]?"

Everyone assumes you are on a first-name basis with guys like Stephen King or Lee Child or Dean Koontz when they find out you are writing a book. An awesome thought, but so far none of them has returned any of my calls.

3) "How do you deal with rejection?"

Great question. I just pretend it's happening to someone else. Actually, many of the rejection letters I have received from agents have been quite complimentary and although none of them have yet offered me representation, they haven't actually told me to unplug my keyboard and throw it away, either. At this point, I consider that a major accomplishment. I remain convinced that the next one I hear from will be the one who is salivating at the prospect of representing me as the next great debut novelist. I believe that's called self-deception, but whatever floats your boat, right?

2) "Can you use my name for one of your characters?"

This one mostly comes from my middle child. My seventeen year old daughter is bound and determined to be a star in one of my novels, and I've told her a thousand times that I'm not killing off my own child, but when a good part comes along for a young woman who is perfect and loves her dad, she's in.

1) "Can't you write about stuff that's not quite so dark?"

This question mostly comes from my wife, who can't be pleased to know that so much of my creative juices are focused on murder and chaos and mayhem. The answer, of course, is "no;" I can't help how my mind works. On the other hand, one of my favorite short stories is called "Uncle Brick and Jimmy Kills," and is a little more light-hearted than my typical fare, although it involves murder and the mob. I wrote this one specifically because she seemed so concerned about the dark tint to most of my stories. So far, no one has seen fit to publish it but I'm going to keep flogging it around until someone does - it's really good.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What's in a Number? Or, Pass Me My Spectacles, Sonny

Okay, so I turned 49 a couple of days ago. Not a big deal, right? Age is nothing but a number, anyway, right?

Here's the problem I have with that theory. Have you ever noticed that the only people who say things like, "Age is just a number" are old? Really, when was the last time you heard a 23 year old go, "Yeah, I'm 23, but age is just a number. I feel like I'm really 80."

So I'm 49 now and the decades are flying by at an alarming speed that I wouldn't believe if I wasn't living through it. I remember how bummed out I was when I turned thirty. Man, I was depressed. Not only wasn't I a teenager anymore, I had already lived through my twenties! That day happened nearly two decades ago now. Yikes.

Then all of a sudden I turned forty and I wasn't exactly thrilled, but it didn't seem to bother me as much as the thirty thing had, ten years earlier. I guess I figured, what the hell, you're over the hill now anyway, what difference does it make whether you're a few years or a few decades over it?

But now that I've embarked on my final year before I become eligible for my AARP card I find that I'm dreading turning fifty. As much as I'll enjoy the discount on my large coffee at Dunkin' Donuts every day on the way to work, I find I really don't have any desire to be in my fifties, you know what I mean? Getting up three times a night to pee, trimming hair out of my ears, trying to avoid the prostate cancer that took out both my father and grandfather - As much fun as all of that stuff sounds, it's an adventure I'm not quite ready for, especially when I still feel like I'm 22 or something.

But what the hell; age is just a number, right?

Friday, September 5, 2008

How to be an Instant VIP

I enjoy the sport of golf, and really do appreciate the amazing ability of the guys who play on the PGA Tour. If you've never played the game, you probably think it looks pretty easy - Hit a little round ball with a stick until you get it in a hole in the ground.

The ball isn't moving when you whack at it, the hole is perfectly stationary, there is no goaltender protecting it, nobody is trying to separate your head from your shoulders while you're swinging; how hard could it be? Then you actually step on to a golf course and try to play and instantly get a lesson in humility. It's almost impossible to hit the damn ball straight and sure, you'll get it in that little tiny hole eventually, but in three or four shots? Not freakin' likely!

I mention all this because the PGA Tour comes to this area once each year; on Labor Day weekend, for the Deutsche Bank Championship, and for the second consecutive year, my son and I traveled an hour and a half down to TPC Boston to watch the professionals play. By the way, TPC Boston is nowhere near Boston, it's located in Norton, Massachusetts, which is a lot closer to Rhode Island than it is to Boston.

Anyway, the way they do it is you park in the huge lots at the Comcast Center (Formerly known as the Tweeter Center, and before that it was called by its original, pre-corporate sponsorship name of Great Woods, which for my money is a lot cooler name than either Tweeter Center or Comcast Center, but that's another blog entirely) and they bus everyone via huge motor coaches to the site of the tournament, which is like two minutes away.

I paid ten bucks for one day's parking, which seemed a lot better than the forty dollars it would have cost to get "VIP" parking. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time.

So there we are, my son and I, walking around the course with thousands of other spectators, watching the best golfers in the world do their thing, when we pass by a table set up under a big tent, where an old lady is handing out brand-new baseball caps with the Tiger Woods "TW" logo on them. My son says something like, "Those are awesome." to which I reply, "Let's get you one!"

We approach the table and I see people handing the old lady cards which they've filled out, which obviously contain information like their email address. So the tradeoff to getting a Tiger Woods hat is having to be bombarded with spam for the rest of your life. I start to get a sinking feeling.

But I told my son we'd get him a Tiger Woods hat, so I approach the lady, smile, and say, "How do we go about getting a hat?"

She looks down her nose at me, no mean trick considering she was about five feet tall and sitting down, while I'm close to six feet and I was standing. I don't know how she did it either, but she did. She looks down her nose at me and says, prunely (Yes, I know "prunely" isn't technically a word, but there's no other way to describe how she answered me, so there it is), "You go back out to VIP Parking and ride over in a Buick."

She then erased me from her consciousness and went on to the person behind me, who apparently WAS a VIP. So there you have it: Had I only spent an extra thirty bucks to ride ninety seconds in a Buick (A Buick, for chrissakes, not a Mercedes or even a Lexus. A Buick!) I too could have gotten a free Tiger Woods hat.

Are you kidding me? A Buick? Sheesh.

I learned two things from this experience:

1) I will never, ever buy a Buick, just on general principles, thanks to this old lady and her snotty attitude, and,

2) Nobody does class distinction like the sport of golf.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Climbing Mount Everest

Tomorrow's a big day; a scary day; a wonderful day. Tomorrow is the day I begin writing my third novel, and it's such a huge project staring me in the face that I'm terrified.

It's what I imagine it would be like to know you're scheduled to start climbing Mount Everest the next day, but for now you're sitting at your base camp staring up at this huge rock towering over you and wondering how you will ever manage to accomplish your goal. Minus the physical exertion, of course. And the cold. I hate being cold.

But you get the point, right? Tomorrow I begin another 100,000-word adventure and I have only the vaguest notion of how it will turn out. Oh, I know I can do it; after all, I've written two novels before, so it's not as unsettling as the feeling I had before I started the first one.

That was truly an unknown. Prior to two years ago, the longest thing I had ever written was about fifteen pages in length, and that was a research paper I churned out in college, which was, well, let's put it this way: the idea that anyone could have their own computer to write on - in their house! - was simply ludicrous. I banged that bad boy out on my portable typewriter, that's how long ago it was.

So anyway, thanks to my recent history I know I can write this book that I will be starting tomorrow. I've even written a full outline, which by the day after tomorrow will undoubtedly be forgotten as I go off in thus far unforeseen directions. But it's still hard to get started; the task seems overwhelming until you have at least put a little bit down on paper that you can look at and say, "Ah, I'm partway done!"

I've discovered that writing a novel-length manuscript is like tobogganing down a hill in the winter - It takes a really good, strong push to get started, but once you've established a little momentum, you get going faster and faster until it becomes impossible to stop, unless of course you hit a tree. Hopefully I won't hit a tree, but who really knows?

Okay, I'm all done with the outdoor metaphors - the Mount Everest climbing, tobogganing stuff; at least for now. It's time to start thinking of my first sentence. I know, "It was a dark and stormy night." There, I feel better already - I'm partway done!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Blank Canvas

No, I'm not talking about my brain, although some people would argue that I could be. I found out tonight that one of my short stories, "Regrets, I've Had a Few," has been selected to appear in the premiere issue of TREI Literary Magazine, a Webzine debuting on September 1!

This story tells the tale of a man who has lost just about everything that made his life worth living - job, family, self-respect - thanks to a terrible tragedy that occurred years ago. His only solace now comes from what he calls "Mining for miseries," a routine where he buys drinks for strangers he meets in a local tavern and compares tales of woe. Eventually, he meets a stranger who tells a story that may just change the course of his life...

I'm really partial to "Regrets, I've Had a Few," because it reminds us just how close we all are to the edge of darkness, no matter how successful we may be, or how successful we think we are. We can be going along just fine in our insulated little worlds, and all of a sudden everything we have is taken away and all that we think we know about the world, all of our notions about life and fate and fairness, are turned upside down.

I am excited about my inclusion in TREI because I have no idea what the magazine is going to be like, nor do I have any clue what the other short stories are going to be about. I expect some suspense/horror/dark themes; all the stuff, in other words, that makes life interesting and keeps us on our toes when we get a little too comfortable.

Anyway, many thanks to C.L. Freire, Editor-In-Chief of the new magazine, as well as Editor M.R. Green for considering my work. Here's to a long and successful run for TREI Literary!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Front Page News

This whole big writing adventure began about two and a half years ago, in February, 2006, when I decided to start my own blog at and see if anyone in the world might be interested in what I had to say. I called it "Half-Baked Ravings" and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that, yes, people were in fact interested in my somewhat off-kilter take on the various happenings in the world of sports.

While calling into question the judgement of these people, this discovery fueled my writing jones and by October of 2006 I had begun writing fiction as well as my sports blog, all of which led, in kind of a meandering, roundabout way, to where I am now - the author of two as-yet unpublished manuscripts and many short stories, hustling and searching for an agent to represent me.

I mention all of this as background for my exciting news - I made the home page at! I wrote a blog at Foxsports on Tuesday night, August 19, titled "Top Ten Most Beautiful Things in Sports," which was featured Wednesday at the Fox Funhouse page and which was picked up by MSN Wednesday night and made into a photo essay which they ran on their front page!

This exposure earned me nearly six thousand hits on my Foxsports blog Wednesday (5,802 to be exact). This number is by no means a record for me - I wrote a piece last November in which I poked fun at Terrell Owens of the Dallas Cowboys, and set my personal record with that one - over 13,000 views in one day.

Nevertheless, six thousand hits on my blog in one day is pretty cool, even though guys like Lee Child and Lawrence Block probably get that many on their websites every day before they're done drinking their morning coffee. Of course, it doesn't get me any closer to snagging an agent or a publishing deal for either of my books, but still, it is extremely gratifying to know that the people at MSN found my writing good enough to use to try to draw people into their site.

It makes me wonder how many hits my piece got when featured at MSN for several hours last night. I have no way of knowing, of course, but it had to be in the hundreds of thousands, based on the number of comments it drew and the fact that I looked at it myself at least a hundred thousand times.

If you're curious as to what the ten most beautiful things in sports actually are, at least from my perspective, you can check out my Foxsports post here, minus the photos of course because I had nothing to do with those and the piece has now disappeared off

It was an incredible rush seeing my words featured so prominently, and comes as validation for me that, yes, all of this work might actually pay off at some point. I wonder how many agents read