Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It Sucks to be a Dinosaur

Two items that at first glance seem unrelated, but upon further review, go hand-in-hand, really grabbed my attention this past week.

1) Amazon announced that ebook sales outpaced sales of physical books on Christmas day, and,

2) Publishers' Lunch announced that "Much-admired Canadian indie McNally Robinson Booksellers has entered bankruptcy and will close two of its four stores immediately.

It's not like the closing of two bookstores should really come as much of a surprise to anyone, at least not anyone who has been paying attention. Bookstores all around the world have been closing faster than it seems possible for a couple of years now. The combination of a poor economy and the abundance of competition from the internet, television, movies and music for people's free time has seen book sales take a slow decline for years.

People who love to read will always make/find the time to indulge their hobby, and those are the people who have been served by the bookstores which have remained profitable enough to stay open.

Now, however, many of those hard-core readers, the ones bookstores have always catered to, have begun to make the journey into the brave new world of digital reading. The advantages are many: you can shop for your latest read without ever leaving the comfort of your home, you can carry your entire library with you wherever you go, you can adjust font size instantly to suit your particular needs, just to name a few.

The problem, of course, for bookstores is obvious. If I'm a hard-core reader, and I don't have to come into your store to support my habit, where the hell are your sales going to come from? And how will it be possible to make enough sales to maintain economic viability?

No less a writing giant than Stephen King estimates that by the end of the upcoming decade, electronic books will account for forty percent of fiction sales and twenty-five percent of non-fiction sales. Quibble with his numbers if you wish, but in only a matter of a couple of years the debate has changed from "Will e-books ever be a viable option for readers?" to "Just how much of the market share will e-books gobble up?"

Another question, maybe the most important question, to consider is this: At what point will it become un-feasable for brick-and-mortar bookstores to survive, economically speaking? Will it be when e-book sales are five percent of the total? Ten? Twenty-five?

I wonder if the dinosaurs saw the end coming, and if so, what did they think?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Top Ten Methods of Procrastination

Considering how little time I have for writing and how much I enjoy doing it, it's kind of surprising how much time I spend doing other things instead of writing. This thought occurred to me out of nowhere as I was busy taking a "Name That Movie Car" Facebook quiz.

I got an 87% on the quiz, by the way.

After a little diligent introspection - and more time spent not writing - I have determined that these are the Top Ten Ways I Spend My Time When I Should Be Writing:

10) Working.
This one comes in at Number Ten even though it is by far the biggest drain on my potential writing time because, well, let's face it, it keeps me and my family from having to surivive under a bridge abutment. If I had to support everyone on my author's income our lifestyle might be a little different. After all, it's hard to buy groceries with a complementary magazine subscription and two free t-shirts.

They are pretty cool shirts though.

9) Doing laundry.
This may not seem like a big deal and if you think that, then you've obviously never raised three teenagers, two of whom are girls. Doing the laundry is a way I can help with the running of the house without doing too much actual damage. Now, if you know me, you know one of my daughters is off at school, which cuts down on the laundry significantly, but we also have a two year old in the house, so it's kind of a wash. Get it, a wash?

8) Watching Sports.
I love sports. I love sports so much that I spend an inordinate amount of time watching them when I should be writing. In the summer I watch the Red Sox and then when that season ends I think about how much extra time I will have to write. Then the Patriots, Bruins and Celtics seasons are in full swing and I end up watching just as much sports as I do in the summer. What's wrong with me?

7) Texting my daughter at college.
I only learned how to text a couple of years ago and now it seems I spend half my life with my thumb up my . . . I mean with my thumb on my phone's keyboard. I'm not as good as my daughter's boyfriend, who can text without looking, but I'm good enough to waste plenty of time doing it.

6) Taking silly quizzes on Facebook.
I think I may have mentioned this one already. Suffice it to say, Movie Cars aren't the only subject I've proven knowledgeable about in quizzes. For example, just tonight I discovered I truly am an '80's kid.

Unfortunately I turned 21 in 1980. Yikes.

5) Checking my email to see if I've gotten any acceptances on short stories and/or novel queries and submissions I have out.
This one is almost the same as writing, since it involves my fledgling writing career. The problem is if I spend too much time doing this and not enough time writing, eventually there won't be anything for me to send out and then wait breathlessly to hear about. I believe this is called irony.

4) Cruising friends' Myspace and Facebook pages.
It's interesting to see how some people seem to update their status all the time - "Going to take a dump now, be back in a few!" - while others seem to have totally forgotten there are those of us who are living vicariously through them. It's interesting in a I-know-I-should-be-writing-so-why-am-I-doing-this kind of way.

3) Blogging.
I suppose technically this could be considered writing, but a novel it ain't. On the other hand, when I hit it big and write that blockbuster bestseller, undoubtedly everyone will flock to my blog to see what I was like before I became famous and turned into a huge asshole. The joke is on them; I already am!

2) Watching Castle on TV.
It's fun to see how a successful author is portrayed, tongue-in-cheek-wise, on this ABC series, and I have to admit it would be pretty cool to be Rick Castle. This is a guy wo knows how to procrastinate - by solving murders! Although I do have to wonder: After running around New York all day catching killers with Beckett, how does he find the time and the energy to write?

1) Playing Scrabble on Facebook.
I'm addicted, okay? I can admit it. My name is Al and I'm an addict. There, I said it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Now I Know How Sally Field Felt

I'm a winner! I'm a winner!

I'm picturing Sally Field's famous "You like me! You really like me!" line from her Academy Award acceptance speech as I write those words except, well, I'm an unknown male writer and not a world-famous female actress. Plus I didn't really compete against anyone except myself, which is a lot different than winning the votes of influential people in your profession, like Ms Field did.

Now that I think about it, there's really no comparison at all. Forget these first three paragraphs.

But I am happy to report I won NaNoWriMo 2009, by completing 50,000 words of a novel in the thirty days of November. Now the novel is not finished - if it's anything like my first three manuscripts it will end up somewhere around 85,000 to 90,000 words - and it's only a very rough first draft, but it's there and it's taking shape!

The actual, official number of words completed in November was 51,497 and when I look at that total it still amazes me, even though this is the third time I've managed to win the National Novel Writing Month competition. That's a lot of freaking words and even if only half of them make sense, that's pretty incredible. I mean, I can fix the other half on my rewrites and edits, right?

Hopefully it's not a situation where every other word is the one that makes sense, but I wouldn't be too shocked if that were the case.

Anyway, I'm going to celebrate my big victory by watching Monday Night Football in a few minutes, which is probably pretty much how Sally Field celebrated when she won her Oscar. Oh, and if I was supposed to do something this last month and it slipped through the cracks - okay, if I blew you off - please accept my heartfelt apology. I'll try to do better going forward.

Although I do still have a book to finish, you understand.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Now Take a Hike

I miss my dad more at Thanksgiving than at any other holiday. You might think it would be Christmas, or his birthday in July, or maybe the anniversary of the day he died, which was late in the month of January, 1998.

But no.

It's not that I don't think about him at those times of year, or all of the other times of the year, for that matter. I like to think we were pretty close and even though he's almost twelve years gone I still think about him a lot. I believe - or at least hope - I've become someone he would have been proud of, most of the time anyway, and it seems to me most young men (and women too, for that matter) look for the approval of their fathers.

I look back on most holidays from early in my marriage as kind of a blur. My wife and I moved around a lot; we called seven diferent places home in our first eight years as a married couple. Most of the holidays from that time were pretty similar, too - a drive either north or south, depending on where we were living at the moment, to southern Maine, which was where both my parent and my wife's parents lived.

We would hit her parents home and my parents home and maybe one of our siblings' homes for good measure, in kind of a Thanksgiving or Christmas marathon of well-wishes, dinners, desserts, presents and then drives back north or south. Needless to say it was not exactly what you would call particularly restful or festive; mostly it was hurried and harried.

But one thing I actually do remember about Thanksgiving at my parents' house is the walks I used to take with my dad after eating dinner. He was a guy who loved being outdoors, and after enjoying the obligatory cup of coffee following dinner, we would grab the dog and head outside for a walk. Depending on the weather conditions that walk would take place either through the woods behind their house or on the road around the neighborhood.

Sometimes everyone would go, other times it was just me and my dad, but we always did the walk. It might be sunny with temperatures in the mid-fiftes, or it might be spitting snow and in the thirties, but was always went for the walk.

I'm not exactly sure why I miss that so much. It's not like we had any deep philosophical discussions or came up with the cure for cancer or even solved the problems with the Red Sox starting rotation. But it's what I remember, and it's what I miss. Most of the time we took the walks at Christmas too, but then it was usually too cold to enjoy as much as Thanksgiving.

Now that my kids are getting old enough to actually be away and return for Thanksgiving, I think I have a better understanding of how much it meant for my parents and my wife's parents to have us back, even if it was only for a few hours. The idea of everyone gathering in one place to commemorate a holiday is really special.

Happy Thanksgiving, and don't be shy with the hugs for the people you love.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Cat's Meow

There aren't many things a writer appreciates more than positive feedback. Well, okay, there might be a few I could think of, like say a three-book contract with a half-million dollar advance, or a single-digit number on the New York Times Bestseller List. Maybe a call for advice on a thorny writing issue from Stephen King or Dan Brown. A spot on Oprah's Book Club.

Okay, there are some things better than positive feedback, now that I really think about it. But for most of us who aren't Stephen King or Dan Brown but are just struggling along, writing deep into the night after getting home from work or early in the morning before the kids get up or frantically typing away on our lunch breaks, the prospect of a little positive feedback is pretty cool in itself.

I've been fortunate in that regard, having had my first-ever published story included in Wolfmont Publishing's Ten for Ten, a collection of ten of the top stories culled from the Crime and Suspense Ezine which was published in the summer of 2008. And having two stories simultaneously end up as finalists for the Best Short Story Derringer Award this past spring.

But sometimes you have to wonder whether anyone is really paying attention, especially if you're not particularly adept at marketing yourself in an age when anyone and everyone seems to be screaming "Look at me!" at the top of their lungs.

That's why it was gratifying to find out this past weekend that my story, "PussyKat," which was featured in the premier issue of the online magazine House of Horror, has been selected to appear in a three hundred page anthology titled House of Horror Best of 2009. This book will be packed full of stories from some of the top up-and-coming horror authors and I am pleased and gratified that Sam Cox from House of Horror has chosen to include my little tale of an extramarital dalliance gone wrong.

My understanding is that this book will be available shortly, and although I have some other short stories out on submission to venues that I am awaiting decisions on, this news is a very pleasing way to end what has been an exciting and productive 2009 for me. I hope to continue the progress I have made over the last couple of years in 2010, and would be humbed and thrilled if you wanted to come along for the ride.

Thanks for checking out this post, and if you have taken the time out of your busy life to read even one story of mine, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You rock!

Friday, October 30, 2009

If It's November, I Must Be Writing a Novel

A few years ago, I started a little sports blog at Foxsports.com, mostly as a way to combine my dual passions for writing and sports than out of any real notion that anybody might be interested in what I had to say.

It took a while, but eventually I built up a fairly decent following, not to mention discovering a number of very talented writers whose work I enjoyed reading. In October, 2006, one of those writers made an offhand comment on one of my blogs about something called "NaNoWriMo," telling me she was going to participate for the second year in a row and inviting me to join in as well.

I was pretty sure "NaNoWriMo" had nothing to do with sports, since I had never heard of it, but I had no earthly idea what it was. Honestly, it sounded vaguely menacing, in a science-fiction, aliens-taking-over-the-world sort of way.

When I asked this blogger what the hell she was talking about, she explained that "NaNoWriMo" was short for "National Novel Writing Month," where participants commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Just November. Seriously.

The concept sounded just crazy enough to be appealing and although I now knew it didn't involve aliens taking over the earth (Unless that's what I chose to write a novel about), it was damned scary in it's own way. Naturally, I decided to try.

I had been itching to try writing a book for a while - blogging about sports was a blast but writing fiction has really been what I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I was hooked when I discovered the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes.

So on November 1, 2006 I began writing a tale about a professional assassin who really wants out of the life but isn't quite able to escape it. His downfall is that he's simply a sucker for anyone who has been wronged and requires his special talents in order to right that wrong.

To my utter amazement, by November 30 I had written the required 50,000 words, and was thus a winner in my first-ever NaNoWriMo attempt! The story wasn't finished, however, so I kept going, and by the time I wrote "The End", I was the proud owner of the first draft for a 95,000 word novel titled The Fixer.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo every year since. I won again in 2007 with what ended up being an 89,000 word horror novel titled Paskagankee, and in 2008 I completed an 88,000 word thriller titled Final Vector. I didn't win last year because I had already started the novel, and when I finished writing it in mid-November, I had nothing left to write.

I won't make that mistake again, though. This year I am planning a thriller about a regular guy who happens onto the attempted kidnapping of a teenage girl. He breaks up the crime and saves the girl, but in doing so, puts his own family squarely in the sights of the unhinged criminal.

If you're a writer, and maybe even if you're a reader, you have probably by now heard of National Novel Writing Month. If not, think of it as the Olympics for writer-nerds. As they freely admit on the NaNoWriMo website, "The ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly."

When I completed my three previous novels, two of which I started during NaNoWriMo and the third of which I finished during it, all I had were very rough first drafts. All of them required extensive editing and rewriting before they ever reached the point where I would be comfortable having anyone else look at them.

But they all eventually reached that point and while I remain unpublished - at least as far as novels are concerned - I have received constructive criticism as well as encouragement from agents and independent publishers and remain convinced it is only a matter of time before I join the ranks of professional novelists.

If you're a writer and you are participating in NaNoWriMo 2009, feel free to add me as a writing buddy. If you're not a writer but have a morbid curiosity as to why anyone in their right mind would attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days, you are welcome to use this link and follow my progress.

I fully expect to pop up from under my rock and post the occasional blog, but just in case our paths don't cross for the next month, enjoy November! I'll have my nose to the grindstone, or at least my fingers on the keyboard, composing fiction and wreaking havoc on the poor people who populate my new novel . . . I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Freud Would Have a Field Day

I do some of my best thinking when I'm asleep, or nearly so.

Anyone who knows me would probably not be surprised by that admission, but it never ceases to amaze me. I can't tell you how many times I have been stuck on a plot twist, or have written my protagonist into a corner which I have no idea how to get him/her out of, or can't come up with an original idea for a short story or novel, and as I'm drifting off to sleep, something comes hurtling out of nowhere and smashes me over the head.

Sometimes, of course, it's my wife trying to get me to stop snoring, but just as often it's the kernel of an idea that helps me figure out where I want to go with my story or novel. In the beginning, it would catch me by surprise. I would have no conscious memory of even thinking about writing, and yet I would suddenly visualize the solution to my dilemma with a clarity which approached "vision" status.

It has gotten to the point where I now make a conscious effort to dwell on the problem I'm experiencing in my writing as I feel myself beginning to drift off to sleep. Now don't get me wrong; I'm not going to try to make you believe that it happens all the time, or even most of the time. But it happens often enough that I know I can rely on my subconscious mind to help me out a pretty fair percentage of the time.

At first I would have a hard time remembering my "vision" when I woke up the next morning. My wife told me to keep a pen and paper next to the bed and write down my ideas, but honestly I am so close to falling asleep when they hit that I'm really not able to wake up enough to write them down. I've even lost a few. Now, though, I have gotten to the point where I am usually able to recall my "visions" from the previous night with little or no trouble.

I have to admit it's equal parts comforting and disturbing to know my subconscious mind has so much control over me. I assume we are all in the same boat in that regard, although maybe I'm just telling myself that so I won't worry too much about how close I am to occupying a rubber room with my arms tied into a straitjacket.

Sometimes I wonder what Freud would say about this whole thing, but then again, maybe it's better if I don't know.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Groucho Marx Had It Right

I'm going to take a leap of faith here and assume you have a Facebook account. I tend to run roughly a half-decade behind the rest of the world in using the latest technological advancements, and I have a Facebook page, so I'm going to go ahead and assume you do, too.

So you know those little blocky ads that run down the right side of the Facebook page? I'm sure you've seen them, they promise a coupon a day to eat out cheap in [Insert name of the closest city to wherever your IP address is located here], or show some hot chick toting a machine gun in an attempt to get you to play Mafia Wars, or promise to teach you how to self-publish your book (Fifty marketing tips!)

As near as I can determine, they seem to run in a kind of rotation, depending upon some AI determination of what your interests are. Somehow the collective computer intelligence of the web determined that I'm a writer, so I get those self-publishing ones a lot. Or maybe they're completely random, I don't really know, although I doubt it - what would be the point of touting self-publishing to someone who doesn't even read books, much less write them?

Anyway, my favorite little blocky ad that shows up on the right side of my Facebook page every now and then is the one that advises me, "Authors Get Honored Now. Find out if you're eligible to be included in the prestigious Cambridge Who's Who Registry of Distinguished Individuals."

What an invitation! I can be "distinguished," perhaps even if I haven't actually done anything! Of course, if "Cambridge," whatever that means (Cambridge, England? Cambridge, Massachusetts? Some guy named Cambridge? Who knows?), is really willing to consider li'l ole me distinguished, isn't that sort of watering down the term to the point where it's damned near meaningless?

I've achieved a small amount of success placing short stories in print and online media, and I continue to write novels, feeling strongly that I will have success with them at some point, maybe even selling a few copies. But even I, as much as I like myself, find it hard to believe any of that makes me "distinguished."

Groucho Marx once famously said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." That's more or less how I feel about angling to get myself placed in Cambridge's Who's Who Registry of Distinguished Individuals. What's the point, really? If you asked anyone who knows me to give you fifty separate words with which to describe me, I'm confident "Distinguished" wouldn't appear anywhere on anyone's list.

Disingenuous, maybe. Disappointing, perhaps, depending on who you asked. Distractable, certainly. Distinguished, not so much.

So, to the individual or individuals tasked with the unenviable job of determining just who the hell is worthy of inclusion in the the Who's Who Registry of Distingished Individuals (Author Division), I humbly offer this small tidbit of advice. Maybe you should stop paying for that little blocky ad in Facebook, and instead start, you know, actually reading people's work.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Marred by Controversy

In a shocking display, President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech was interrupted yesterday by an angry outburst from singer Kanye West.

The man normally noted for his classy and graceful behavior at public events stormed out of the crowd gathered to hear the president's remarks, grabbing the microphone and ranting, "Barack, I'm really happy for you. I'll let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the most peaceful years of all time! One of the most peaceful years of all time!"

Security personnel rushed into action, escorting West from the podium and ejecting him from the Rose Garden. Witnesses reported hearing the furious hip-hop superstar mutter, "Jackass? I've got your jackass right here, Mr. President," as he was led off the White House grounds.

A few minutes later, Beyonce, on stage to accept some award or another, graciously ceded a portion of her acceptance speech to Mr. Obama, saying, "I remember when I was up for my first Nobel Prize and it was one of the most exciting moments of my life. So I'd like for Barack to come out and have his moment."

The remainder of the ceremony was uneventful, although insiders report that President Obama may not be done issuing Nobel acceptance speeches just yet. A member of the Nobel committee, speaking under condition of anonymity, said yesterday, "Our decision to award the peace prize to the U.S. President is based on our knowledge of just how badly the man wants peace in the world. So even though he has done nothing yet to actually, you know, achieve peace, we felt it appropriate to award him the prize. We have recently learned Mr. Obama feels just as strongly about eliminating cancer and other dread diseases in our lifetime, so we are seriously considering awarding the president the Nobel Prize for Medicine as well. Stay tuned."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Things I've Learned From Editing; or, "What the Hell Was I Thinking When I Wrote That?"

When I sat down to write my first novel, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to have happen. I knew who all the main characters were going to be, I knew what sort of trouble they were going to get into, and - more or less - I knew how the characters were going to extricate themselves from these situations and how the book was going to end.

So I wrote it.

It really was that simple. That's not to say I didn't realize it was going to be a lot of work, because I did. And it was.

But it was also one of the most gratifying feelings I've ever had when I wrote "THE END" after 95,000 words worth of murder, deception, kidnappings, plot twists and other stunning developments. "A roller-coaster ride of thrills and chills," as one reviewer put it.*

There was one thing I didn't realize, though, when I started out to write a novel. It's the dirty little secret that none of the wonderful writers I admire so much ever told me.** And it's this: When you write THE END after 95,000 words of murder, deception, and all that other stuff I wrote in the last paragraph, your novel isn't really finished. Your work isn't ending, it's just beginning.

You see, there's an unassuming little word in the English language called "edit." Look at it sitting back there in the last sentence. Easy to overlook, right? It's short, it's the Napoleon of words. But it's mean, and it hangs over everything you do as a writer.

Because after you write THE END, you now have to go back over your masterpiece and clean up all the crap. It's kind of like having a baby, only not in the obvious, cliched sense where I talk about the labor pains of the creative process, of writing as giving birth. Please, give me a break. I was there for the birth of my children, and I have to tell you, if writing was anything like that, I wouldn't go near it with a ten foot pen.

No, when I say writing a novel is like having a baby, I'm talking about once you get the little sweetheart home from the hospital. And you realize that, okay, yeah, sure, you love her with all your heart, but . . . uh . . . there's an awful lot of . . . you know . . . shit inside her. And it's up to YOU to clean it all up.

That's where the word "edit" comes in. All that stuff that seemed so witty, or ingenious, or clever at two in the morning or during your lunch break at work when you were writing like mad because it was the only time you had all day to get it done, suddenly looks lamer than Kanye West at an awards show.

That snappy dialogue you had your protagonist whip out that made the female main character go all weak in the knees? Boring. Dude, If you talked like that in real life you would never have gotten a date, which would have given you plenty of time to write, which maybe would have helped you avoid stale, goofy dialogue like what you wrote that you now have to EDIT!

That clever method you used to help the aformentioned stud wriggle out of the tight spot you put him in while having no clue how to help him escape? Ridiculous. Even MacGyver couldn't make a semiautomatic pistol out of a lock of hair and a tampon, not on the best day he ever had. Whoever said "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" was probably a writer editing something stupid he wrote.

And how about the paragraph you wrote in which you cleverly inserted the one clue that, when discovered, will break your whole mystery wide open? You already did that twenty pages ago, you idiot.

There might be writers out there who are so good, so talented, so goddamned savant-ish that they don't need to edit. The lyrical prose just flows out of their brains, through their fingers, and onto the page, or in this case, the computer screen. Their first draft is also their last draft.

But I don't want to know about it if there are. I find it comforting to think that somewhere out there right now, Lawrence Block is scratching his head, going, "Crap, I can't remember how I spell 'Dortmunder!'"


*The reviewer was me. I haven't managed to find anyone to publish this masterpiece of fiction yet. Still, I stand by the review.

**Of course they never told me; I don't actually know any of them. It doesn't make my point any less valid, though.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Girl on the Graveyard Shift

She was sixteen when we met. She hated me, and why wouldn't she? I was older, a college kid, and every time I came into the restaurant where I had worked the previous two summers my friends would hang out with me in the kitchen and when that happened she had to run around like a crazy person in the dining room trying to get everything done.

So I suppose it's not entirely accurate to say she hated me; she didn't even know me, and most people don't hate me at least until after they get to know me. But she sure didn't like the extra work she had to do when I showed up.

After I graduated college - in an economy more or less similar to the one we've been saddled with the last couple of years - and couldn't find a real job, I went back to the restaurant to earn a few bucks there while I searched. She was a high school senior by then, working overnight shifts on the weekends. Graveyard shifts, we called them.

As it so happened, those were the shifts I was working, too. I got to know this slim, pretty brunette on those long nights in the nearly empty restaurant on the Maine Turnpike. We would sit at a booth drinking coffee for five hours or so and then work like mad to get everything done before the day shifters came in.

I decided this was a girl I wanted to date - unfortunate because although she no longer hated me, she certainly didn't want to date me. I didn't consider that a big deal, though; I had been convincing girls who didn't want anything to do with me to give it a shot for quite some time.

Eventually I wore the girl down and she agreed to go out with me, more to get me to stop bugging her than anything else, probably. About a year-and-a-half later we walked down the aisle together, an almost twenty-four year old groom and a bride who had just turned nineteen.

I would have loved to have superpowers for just that one day, to be able to read people's minds. How many people in the church and the reception hall whispered their suspicions to each other that the girl must be pregnant? (She wasn't) How many people shared cynical grins, convinced we would last maybe a year; two at the most?

I don't blame them, I would probably have done the same thing in their shoes. But what they may not have realized was that we were two people who knew exactly what we wanted out of life and were lucky enough to have found it at a young age.

That was twenty-six years ago today, and it hasn't all been easy. There have been plenty of bumps in the road, as there are in every relationship. But every bruise and every scar has added a little depth to our relationship, and we're still going strong.

So this is for the girl who has believed in me when no one else did; who has given birth to my children; who has moved all over New England with me as I pursued my career. Thanks for twenty-six wonderful years. Happy Anniversary to my wife Sue...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Invisible Victims

Imagine, for just a moment, that you are the father of a young family. The oldest child in your family is a girl who, by the time she reaches her teen years, has begun growing into a smart, pretty, outgoing young woman. Like young women everywhere, your oldest child eventually falls in love, and like fathers everywhere, you don't particularly approve of your young daughter's choice.

Imagine that from the earliest days of the relationship, you see a disturbing trend developing. Your young daughter's boyfriend tries again and again to separate her from her family; to isolate her, while at the same time treating her poorly, cheating on her with other girls, playing the sorts of games boys play in high school every day.

Still your daughter stays with this boy. She has known nothing but love and encouragement from her family; it never occurs to her he might be different.

After a couple of years, imagine that you discover your smart, pretty, outgoing daughter is pregnant. She is a junior in high school by now. When this young "man" finds out the news, he dumps her like the proverbial hot potato, only to take her back later, unfortunately for her.

Imagine that nine months later your granddaughter is born. By now your daughter and the young "man" are seniors in high school. During the delivery, the "father" continues his controlling behavior, refusing to allow anyone else in the delivery room, including the young woman's mother.

A few months later, imagine that your daughter and this young "man" graduate high school. Your daughter has had a child during her senior year but has missed just two weeks of school, earning honor roll grades and admission to an outstanding college. She will have to live at home but she has a future. On graduation night, the "father" of your daughter's child cheats on her. Twice. With two separate young women.

Imagine that this is the last straw. Finally your daughter sees the light. She sends the young "man" packing, relationship-wise, while still allowing him to see his child. You allow this young "man" into your house almost daily, even though he no longer is in a relationship with your daughter, because you want your grandchild to know her father, regardless of your feelings for him.

Now imagine that you discover this young "man," who has been in and out of trouble with the law, is being charged with a felony sex crime. On a thirteen year old girl.

The case is not as open-and-shut as it may appear to most people. This girl, who clearly has serious problems, has been obsessed with this young "man" for years, but in New Hampshire the law is clear: This thirteen year old girl could sprint naked across her yard and throw herself at this young "man," who is now twenty years old, and it is up to him, as a supposed adult, to stop the girl.

Unfair? Sure. Still, it's the law, and it makes sense. A thirteen year old girl, by virtue of her age and immaturity, is unable to give consent for sex. Period.

Imagine that this young "man" will face a criminal trial in the near future and if he is convicted, will face jail time, meaning of course that he will lose his job, making him incapable of paying for the child care that your wife provides daily. Without this money, your wife will be forced to go back to work - you have two children in college and tuition bills mounting.

But if your wife returns to the workforce, there will be no one to care for your granddaughter, meaning your smart, pretty, outgoing daughter may be forced to drop out of college to care for her child. Imagine that the only positive contribution this young "man" has made to his now two-and-a-half year old child's welfare will disappear.

Imagine that this young "man's" supporters - Incredibly, he does have some! - have blamed your child for his woes. If she had only stayed with him he wouldn't be in this trouble, the argument seems to go. I know, there's not a lot of logic going on there.

Imagine that your innocent little grandchild caught a glimpse of this young "man's" mug shot in the newspaper. "Daddy looks mad," she says, when she sees the photo.

Just imagine.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Coolness Gap - Musicians Versus Writers

Have you ever noticed that musicians seem a lot cooler than writers? Picture a successful musician, say, Bruce Springsteen. I mention Springsteen because:

A) He's from my era and plays the kind of music I listen to,

B) He's still successful after thirty-five years, and

C) He's from my era and plays the kind of music I listen to.

But if you're younger and hipper than me - another way of saying that would be "if you're reading this" - feel free to substitute the musical artist of your choice, but it has to be someone who has been very successful for a long time.

Now, take Springsteen (or your appropriate substitute) and compare him to, say, Stephen King, a writer who is also from my era and who also has been successful for around thirty-five years.

When you think of Springsteen you think of four hour shows in front of packed houses filled with screaming fans, sweat dripping, guitar chords ripping through the night, Big Man Clarence Clemons wailing on the sax.

Now picture Stephen King, and what do you see? A guy who has become arguably the most successful American novelist ever, at least in a commercial sense, but a guy typing away in his attic, hair falling down over his glazed, manic eyes while he conjugates a verb or something.*

Let's face it, musicians have really gotten this public perception thing down while writers have a long way to go. For example, a musician says, "I laid down a couple of really hot tracks today." A writer says, "Great day today, I wrote fifteen hundred words! First draft, of course."

Now you tell me: Which one sounds like he's going to go out for drinks in his leather jacket with a different chick on each arm, and which one sounds like he's going to relax by getting out his trusty Singer sewing machine and stitching up that pesky hole in his LARPing costume?**

This is not to say that being cool is the most important thing in the world; at least I hope it's not because if it is, I might just as well hang it up right now. And we all know there are much more important things in this life than your coolness quotient, at least once you graduate junior high. But still, wouldn't it be kind of, I don't know, cool to be viewed by people as cool?

And as a general rule, I think it's safe to say that when most people think of musicians, they think, "Hip, maybe just a little dangerous." You know, cool. When most people think of writers, they think, "When was the last time that guy took a shower?"

I'm not sure what the solution is, or even if a solution is possible. And guys like Stephen King could care less whether you think they're cool as long as you're willing to purchase their books. Stephen King's got so much money he could buy the Merriam-Webster company just to eliminate the word "cool" from their dictionary if he wanted to.

But as a struggling writer, it would be sort of cool (there's that damn word again) if people pictured me like I was a struggling musician instead. Unfortunately I don't know how to play an instrument and my voice sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, so I had better get back to my manuscript now. I really should take a shower, but I'll just get to that tomorrow. Maybe. I'll need to bang out my fifteen hundred words first.

*Note to Mr. King: I know I'm not even on your radar, but if you should ever happen to see this post, please don't crush me like a bug. When I said "glazed, manic eyes," I meant that in the most positive, admiring way possible. And remember, I did call you "arguably the most successful American novelist ever." Don't forget that part.

**This is not meant to imply that there's anything wrong with LARPing. Or that it's weird in any way. Everyone should be free to relax in whatever manner they choose, and when you can't get a date it leaves you with a lot of empty time to fill.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Of Foul Balls and Typing Monkeys

I've been watching baseball for over forty years, since the late 1960's. Not continuously, of course, although my wife might argue otherwise. I'm a huge sports fan to begin with, but baseball was my first love as a kid and it remains my favorite sport today, barely edging football and anything with cheerleaders for the top spot.

As a long-time Red Sox fan, I've pretty much seen it all: No-hitters and thirty-run games, World Championships and epic collapses, pitchers throwing no-hitters and batters hitting for the cycle, miraculous comeback wins and debilitatingly depressing defeats.

But in all the time I've spent watching professional baseball, I have never seen what I saw during the Red Sox-Texas Rangers game today in the steamy afternoon heat of Arlington, Texas.

In the fifth inning of a game in which the Rangers were leading the Red Sox 3-2, Texas' Josh Hamilton fouled a pitch from Junichi Tazawa in the air down the third base line. The ball ended up in the second deck,where it was caught for a souvenir by a kid who looked like he was maybe ten or twelve years old. Nothing special there; the kid had come prepared, wearing his glove, ready and waiting for the exact opportunity that presented itself.

On the very next pitch from Tazawa, Hamilton again fouled a ball in the air down the third base line, in the exact same spot as the previous ball, where it was caught by the exact same kid!

I'm no mathematician, so I have no idea what the statistical odds against that situation occurring might be. I have seen, on very rare occasions, the same fan get two balls hit to him or her in the same game, but on consecutive pitches? Never. Not even close.

The stadium the Texas Rangers play in holds close to fifty thousand people, although there were not that many people at today's game. So if you can imagine a structure large enough to hold that many people, and then imagine an object the size of a baseball being thrown at around ninety miles an hour to a batter trying to hit it with a stick, and further imagine that ball ending up in the same spot on two consecutive pitches, you don't even have to be a sports fan to appreciate the sheer unlikelihood of that happening.

Not to beat a dead horse (why would you want to do that anyway?), but I just can't wrap my mind around what I saw in that game today. Maybe it's just the oppressive heat getting to me, maybe nobody else cares about two August foul balls in a Major League Baseball game, but that was the sports equivalent of the old theory that if you let a monkey type random letters on a keyboard long enough, eventually you will get Shakespeare.

His work, that is, not the actual guy, who as we all know is long dead. That would just be gross. And boring.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Broken Hearts and Haunted Houses

One thing I discovered when I started writing short stories and trying to find places to get them published was that there are plenty of outstanding writers who toil in relative obscurity, and not all that many places for them to showcase their work. So when I learned of a new online magazine called "House of Horrors" that was looking for horror/dark fiction stories to include in their first issue, I didn't waste any time submitting a story, which was eventually accepted and included in that debut issue.

Now, House of Horrors editor Samantha Cox has compiled a charity anthology called Mausoleum Memoirs, a book which includes twenty-nine scary stories involving the theme of haunted houses. Included in this book are efforts from talented authors like Charlotte Emma Gledson, Sarah Basore, Gayle Arrowood, LB Goddard and S.E. Cox herself. Oh yeah, and me.

The best part? Not only do you get to scare yourself silly reading this nearly two hundred page compilation, but by purchasing the book you are helping children who could really use your assistance. All profits from the sale of Mausoleum Memoirs are being donated to the official charity of House of Horrors, the Birmingham Children's Hospital Intensive Care Unit in Birmingham, U.K.

In the Acknowledgements page prefacing Mausoleum Memoirs, Samantha Cox describes the issue she wants to help fix: "At present there are a lot of children being born or developing heart problems and there aren’t enough intensive care beds and neo-natal care beds to hold these children. Because of this, a lot of them are on long waiting lists to get the treatment they need. Some even die. I too have had a taste of this terrible affliction on our children. Both of my daughters were born with heart defects. I am lucky enough to say that we have come out the other side with them alive and well. The same cannot be said for some families."

If you'd like to earn more about Birmingham Children's Hospital, check out this link.

Wanna scare yourself and help out sick children? Follow this link to purchase Mausoleum Memoirs. The two hundred page trade paperback is available for $14.04, or is available as a download for just $3.51.

Yeah, times are tough financially, and if you're a reader, you probably need to seriously consider what you will be spending your hard-earned cash to buy. But if you do select Mausoleum Memoirs, as Sam Cox says in the Acknowledgements page of the book, "Birmingham Children's Hospital thanks you from the bottom of their broken hearts."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Good News and Bad News

As a short-story writer and aspiring novelist who has been trying, without any measurable level of success, for the last roughly eighteen months to get the attention of a literary agent and/or small/independent publisher, I am a subscriber to and loyal reader of Publishers Lunch.

This is a daily (more or less) email that is free and is packed with news to make a writer:

A) Jealous - There is a section called "Deal News" that is, well, exactly what you would think. It gives details on some of the contracts that have been signed for work to be published, as well as the agent(s) involved in many cases.

B) Informed - There is a section that deals with trends in the marketplace. Unfortunately in this economy, more often than not the news is bad. Bookstores that have been around for decades closing, pubishing houses consolidating, you know the drill.

C) More informed - There is a "People" section that details the comings and goings at publishing houses, literary agencies, the big bookselling chains, etc.

If you're like me and you are trying to get your foot in the publishing door in order to kick it open and you haven't yet subscribed, you might want to reconsider. I've learned a lot since I started reading my daily "Lunch," and it has two really cool things going for it.

1) It only takes a couple of minutes to read, especially since you can scan through the stuff you don't care about and only concentrate on what you are interested in, and

2) It's FREE!

If you're interested in subscribing, just follow this link.

Anyway, I mention all of this because included in today's issue of Publishers Lunch is the "Good News, Bad News" (at least for me) that I mentioned in the title to this post.

The Good News: From the Wall Street Journal comes news that some Borders superstores in Michigan have "created expanded sections...focused on teen shoppers, providing graphic novels, fantasy and young-adult books together along with non-book merchandise focused on teens, and expects to roll-out the concept throughout nearly all of their superstores nationwide in August."

Great news for anyone who looks at the BIG PICTURE! If the printed word is not to simply survive but to flourish in the coming decades, it is critical to get and keep the attention of the youngest readers. I'm not even fifty years old yet, but I remember a time when the only real competition for reading a book on a rainy day was television - and we only got four channels, even though I grew up just thirty miles outside Boston!

Now there is HDTV with limitless channels to pick from, there are video games so real you might think you stepped inside a movie set, there are CD's and DVD's and iPods and iPhones and Blackberries and...well, you get the idea. So devoting more space to teen books and merchandise can only be a good sign for everyone who wants their words to be read.

The Bad News: I don't write young adult books! From my (strictly selfish) perspective, a much better plan for Borders and every bookstore would be to expand the spaces in their stores devoted to the categories of Thrillers/Suspense/Horror Fiction. Then, more books in these genre would be required, leading to more opportunities for, well, you know, me.

But anyway, I like to think it's a reason for optimism that the biggest corporate chains are opting to try to develop the interest of the people who might make or break the literary world over the next half-century or more, as all of the changes that are coming in the world of publishing begin to take place. They wouldn't be doing it if they didn't think they could make money at it, which I view as a good sign for authors everywhere...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Letters I'd Like to Receive

As someone who spends a lot of my time - too much time, some would say - stringing words together in interesting and (hopefully) entertaining ways, there are some combinations of words I never seem to see. Here are a few of those combinations in the form of emails or letters that would really appeal to me:

1- "Dear Mr. Leverone,
After reviewing the submission of your full manuscript titled [The Fixer/Paskagankee/Final Vector/Hard Target - any of them would be fine, I'm not that fussy], we here at [take your pick of any reputable literary agency, I've queried most of them and as we've already established, I'm not that fussy] are pleased to offer representation to you. We believe strongly that your work offers nearly unlimited sales potential, and look forward to working closely with you..."

2 - "Dear Mr. Leverone,
We here at the IRS have completed an exhaustive review of our internal record-keeping procedures, and have determined that you have consistently overpaid your income taxes by several thousand dollars per year over the last twenty years. After adding interest and the penalties we are charging ourselves for not catching our record-keeping error, we have determined that we owe you $500,000. We have included a check for the appropriate amount and will be in touch if we discover you are owed more..."

3 - "Dear Mr. Leverone,
As a high-ranking member of FAA management here in Washington, I would like to personally apologize to you and all air traffic controllers in the FAA for our shabby treatment of you over the last three to five years. The way we handled the contract 'negotiations' three years ago - refusing to give in at all on any issue and then imposing the highly restrictive and unfair work rules which we laughingly insisted on calling a 'contract' when we walked away from the table - was insulting and juvenile on our part.

The way we bullied a group of hard-working professionals over the most ridiculous issues (forcing people who work inside a dark room surrounded by barbed-wire fences and protected by armed guards to dress in 'business casual' clothing, refusing to allow controllers to leave their facilities during the work day even to get food or coffee, arbitrarily changing the pay structure and rules on training and time off) was short-sighted and wrong.

We adopted the mantra of 'Run It Like a Business,' even though most of our managers have little to no business training or experience and couldn't be trusted to manage a lemonade stand. Plus, as we all know, air traffic control is not a business but a service enterprise in which safety should be valued above all else, including cost-cutting and bullying employees.

We have learned our lesson and hereby pledge to end the autocratic management style we have employed for the last half-century or so. We will work in a cooperative manner to accomplish the changes this agency so sorely needs to make..."

These are just a few of the emails or letters I would love to receive. Of course, I'm not exactly holding my breath, but you never know, right?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Twitter? Me? Really?

I'm not someone that you would ever consider to be on the leading edge of the world's technological advancements, okay? I know how to use my computer, sort of, at least for the things I use it for: Writing, researching, maintaining my website, and getting my daily dose of Myspace and Facebook. But it's not like Stephen Jobs is ever going to ring me up and ask my opinion on anything.

So maybe it only makes sense that I don't understand the latest sensation, the Twitter craze. Maybe the light bulb will go on with me someday, typically a couple of years after everyone else, and I will begin tweeting like mad, updating my thousands of followers on every facet of my fascinating existence.

But the problem with that is, what the hell am I going to tweet about?

I guess I can kind of understand normal folks following the every move of famous people in our celebrity-crazed culture. It seems there are plenty of people who want to be updated the minute Britney buys a new pair of panties or Tyra Banks throws another camera at someone or any Hollywood superstar says something vacuous and stupid (Any time, in other words).

Sure, there's a market for that. Who doesn't want to be informed when Brad and Angie are going out the front door to attend a $10,000 fundraiser in support of some nutty politician or the latest PC craze?*

But that doesn't mean anyone wants to hear about my life.

"Getting ready to eat lunch. Should I go with the fish sticks or the mac and cheese? Hmm. Can't decide." Or maybe, "Saw 86 vanity license plates on my drive to work today! A personal best!" Or I could blow my followers away with this one: "Feeling a little gassy after that lunch of fish sticks and mac and cheese - clear a path to the men's room!"

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating what it would be like a little bit. I don't even like fish sticks. But still, who is going to follow my Twitter updates? I can admit it, I'm a pretty boring guy. I work forty hours a week at a job I've done for twenty-seven years, I try to raise my kids the best I can, and I write. I love to write. Exciting, isn't it? I know, it's sending chills up and down your spine.

Oh well, like I said, maybe I'll get the attraction of Twitter in a few years. When I do, watch out; you're going to learn my every waking thought. Yikes.

*I admit it - I have no idea whether Brad and Angie are even still together or whether they have ever attended a $10,000 fundraiser to support some nutty politician or the latest PC craze. I was just playing the odds.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Things I Wonder About

- Why was Michael Jackson known around the world as the "King of Pop," when he hadn't produced a bona fide megahit in, what, twenty years?

Shouldn't someone else have been given that title eventually? Say, when he started being accused of doing inappropriate things with young boys? That might have been a good time for a palace revolt. Or is Michael going to be like Elvis, another King given the royal treatment even after his death?

Has anyone stopped to think maybe that's why Prince gave up his moniker, preferring to be known instead as a symbol? Perhaps he realized he would never ascend to the throne so he gave up his position in the royal family. Then he reconsidered, and decided being a prince might not be so bad, after all, given the alternatives.

No offense intended to Michael Jackson fans, just wondering.

And when Michael named his son "Prince," was that because he was a big fan of the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince? Or was it because he was known as the "King of Pop," and so now with his death, his son should be renamed "King?"

Again, just wondering.

- Why was it such a big deal when the news came out that American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert was gay?

The "American Idols" tour got under way this past weekend, and it made me think about the breathless coverage that was given to Lambert's admission concerning his sexual orientation a few weeks ago. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed kind of, I don't know, obvious.

And who really cares anyway? The guy can sing, that's for sure, and he's a natural showman, so he's got a bright future, it seems. It's not like you were going to date him anyway.

- Is it really true that you're as young as you feel?

Because, I have to tell ya, that sounds like a lot of happy-crap bullshit to me. I think it's the sort of thing old geezers tell other old geezers when they don't want to own up to the fact that they have to get up six times a night to pee and it takes thirty minutes every morning to limber up enough to climb out of bed. After all, it wasn't a twenty year old in that commerical screaming, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"

I only mention this because I turn (shudder) fifty in a couple of months and I'm not quite sure how to act. On the one hand, I will become eligible for my AARP card, and we all know what kind of political power that special interest group wields. Plus it will be kind of cool to get my Dunkin' Donuts coffee at a discount.

On the other hand, I remember how bummed out I was when I turned forty, and now forty years old seems practically like a teenager. Granted, that was like ten years ago, so I barely remember it, but still, I figure I'm going to be plunged into an even deeper abyss of depression at being fifty. After all, if a picture of health like Billy Mays can't survive past fifty, what chance does a couch-potato slug like me stand?

These are just a few of the things I wonder about. Undoubtedly there are others, but with impending old age staring me in the face, I seem to have forgotten what they are, which I suppose could be a good thing. Don't worry, though, I'll fill you in on the others when you're standing in line behind me at Dunkin' Donuts. I'll be the elderly gentleman with the confused look on his face.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Death of an Angel

When the news of Farrah Fawcett's death broke a couple of days ago, it was all the media could talk about - for a few hours. Then we learned Michael Jackson had passed away and Farrah was more or less relegated to secondary status in terms of coverage, miles behind the "King of Pop."

But for me personally, the fact that Farrah Fawcett was dead carried much more weight. While it is undeniable that Michael Jackson being dead at fifty is a tragedy, I've long viewed him as a tragic character anyway. The endless plastic surgeries, the seemingly desperate attempt to hold onto his childhood decades after it ended, the scandalous allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with minor boys, the fade into pop music irrelevence after dominating the charts for years; all these things added up to a figure that was sad and kind of pathetic to me.

Maybe Jackson was on the verge of a huge comeback; we'll certainly never know now. Hopefully he can find the peace in death that he never seemed able to find in life.

So when Michael Jackson died it didn't even really surprise me that much. But Farrah Fawcett, that's a different story. My first thought upon hearing the news was, "How in the hell could she possibly have been 62?" Time really does move faster the older you get.

When I was a kid, I had the famous Farrah Poster hanging on the wall in my bedroom, like probably every other teenage boy at that time. You know the one - a mid-twenties Farrah is sitting in a bright red one-piece swimsuit, smiling into the camera lens with her perfect dazzling teeth, blonde locks tumbling over her bare shoulders. She was everyone's image of the All-American Girl, America's Sweetheart in a one-piece, oozing an innocent sexuality. That poster is still the best-selling poster ever.

She took the world by storm in 1976, starring in the Charlie's Angels TV movie in the spring and then, in the fall, in the series of the same name, along with Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. The show was a huge hit, and even though Fawcett's stint on it lasted just that one season, it is Charlie's Angels that she is most closely associated with, even now, 33 years later.

But to consider Farrah nothing more than a sex symbol is to do her a great injustice. After leaving Charlie's Angels, she went on to star on Broadway and in numerous movies, including a made-for-TV picture titled "The Burning Bed," which I will never forget.

By the time "The Burning Bed" came out, in 1984, I was married, and my wife talked me into watching it with her. I had no desire to see this movie - I figured it was some chick flick without a single car chase or gunfight or anything making it worth my time. But from the first few minutes until the shocking final scene I was transfixed.

Gone was America's Sweetheart, gone was the eye-candy I remembered from her Charlie's Angels days. That relic of an innocent time was replaced by the haggard, harried housewife she played; by a woman suffering from the ravages of spousal abuse, bruised and battered, both spritually and physically. I sat with my wife and watched this broken woman regain control of her life in the most shocking way imaginable. This Farrah Fawcett could act.

I've never really bought into the notion that a beautiful woman can be a "victim" of her good looks. In my opinion the pretty people of the world gain a lot more than they ever lose. But if there was ever a case which might convince me to rethink that theory, Farrah might have been it. She could have played the most serious and in fluential roles available and to many, she would never have been anything more than the chick on the wall to be leered at.

In many ways it's a shame that the one thing Farrah Fawcett will be most remembered for is probably one of the most forgettable things she ever did - pose for a picture in a swimsuit. But she was a multitalented woman who was much more than a picture on a wall; or even a picture on hundreds of thousands of walls.

Rest in peace, Farrah Fawcett.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Giving my Keyboard the Finger

Considering how much time I spend pounding (And believe me, I mean this literally, not figuratively) on a keyboard, you would think my life would be much easier if I could actually use, you know, all of my fingers to type. Instead, I am a two-finger man, relegating the other eight digits on my two hands to the role of useless cheerleaders as I weave my webs of thrillers, suspense and horror.

I actually took a typing class years ago in high school, when home computers were still the stuff of science fiction. We practiced not on laptops or desktop keyboards, not even on word processors, but on old-fashioned typewriters. They were electric typewriters at least, as I recall, but then again my memories may be distorted by all the time that's passed since then.

The point is, though, that at one time I did know how to type correctly, sort of. But in the decades since leaving high school that I spent earning a living and raising a family, what little typing talent I had - and it was very little - completely disappeared from my muscle memory, undoubtedly never to return.

And I'm not even a normal two-finger typist. A few years ago I broke the index finger on my right hand and was forced to compensate by typing with my middle finger. Typing with the index finger of my left hand while using the middle finger of my right was way too confusing for me, so I ended up learning to type with the middle finger of both hands. Eventually my broken finger healed, sort of, but I never went back to using those index fingers when I was writing.

So now I might just be the only person in the world who writes on a regular basis using the fingers most people reserve for flashing at motorists who piss them off when they're driving. I'm pretty good at it too, from all the practice, but it still seems I could save a lot of time or get a lot more done if I really knew how to type properly.

On the bright side, I don't think all that fast anyway, so my relatively slow typing skills almost always keep up with my relatively slow brain when I'm writing a story. I guess I'll just continue muddling along. I hope Mrs. Sanderson, my old typing teacher, is still alive, because if not, I guarantee she's rolling over in her grave.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'm Baaaad, I'm Nationwiiiide

I walked into Barnes and Noble yesterday on my way to work and picked up the latest issue of one of the coolest up-and-coming dark fiction magazines on the market - Shroud Magazine. This was a big moment for me for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that this particular issue of this particular magazine has one of MY stories in it!

Big deal, right? I've had short stories published before; I'm happy to say that my short story career seems to be gathering momentum. After having one story published in 2007, and then three in 2008, I have been fortunate to break through this year, with six publishing credits already in the first six months of 2009, with more to come. This one is special to me, though, because yesterday marked the first time I've been able to walk into a bookstore and see work I created sitting on a shelf waiting for people to read. It's an unbelievable thrill!

But enough about me (unless you'd like to hear more about me - if so, feel free to contact me and we can talk about me for hours), back to Shroud. In a down economy, where publishing entities seem to be circling the wagons, with periodicals and publishers folding and downsizing, and opportunities for authors drying up, Shroud has burst onto the scene with a flourish. In just one year, this "Journal of Dark Fiction and Art," as it says under the banner at the top of the glossy cover, has grown from the dream and vision of publisher/editor Tim Deal into a nationally distributed force in the dark fiction world.

Issue #6 of Shroud, the first to be distributed through hundreds of Hastings and Barnes and Noble stores across the country, features over 150 pages of creepy material from authors like Steve Vernon, Dan Keohane, Jeff Strand and L.L. Soares, as well as...well...me.

Previous issues over the past year have included names like Tom Piccirilli, Michael Laimo, Ken Bruen, Kim Paffenroth and many others. Without belaboring the point (unless I already have), this is a quality publication, from the stunning cover artwork right through the heartfelt introduction from publisher/editor Tim Deal to the first story from Natalie Sin which made the hairs on my arms stand up (I don't have any hairs on my head, otherwise they would have stood on end too), right on through all 152 pages.

I'm proud to be a part of this rapidly growing success story and grateful to fellow Granite Stater Tim Deal for deeming "Suspicions" worthy of inclusion in the first nationally distributed issue of his baby. The cost of a single issue is just $6.99, a bargain if you love dark/speculative fiction. Check it out at your local Barnes and Noble, or if you'd rather shop right from where you're sitting, you can follow this link and order a copy of this issue or any of the previous five, direct from Amazon.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Me (Or Care)

10) I was born on a military base even though my parents were civilians. The hospital at Moore Army Airfield in Ayer, Massachusetts was the closest one to our little town in 1959, so I was literally "Ayer-born."

9) I had never been on an airplane until I flew to Oklahoma in 1982 to go to air traffic control school.

8) I truly admire people who have the ability to stay grounded after achieving success. Likewise, I can't stand those people who seem to think they're better than everyone else just because they make more money or are more gifted in some way than most people.

7) I'm a sucker for sob stories. Movies, books, real life, it doesn't matter. If it's a tear-jerker of a story, I'm probably going to cry. I hate that about myself but there's nothing I can do about it. I especially can't take people crying in front of me. Jeez, what a wuss.

6) My father and grandfather both died of prostate cancer at exactly the same age, so I already have a pretty good idea when I'll be exiting this mortal coil.

5) I'm continually amazed at the number and quality of authors who, like me, are struggling to break through and get not just published but recognized for their ability. There's a lot of talent out there creating outstanding material in a lot of different genres.

4) Writing for me is like some sort of addiction. If I go too long without doing it, say more than about a day, I start to feel edgy and uncomfortable and begin to get grouchy. Er. Than usual.

3) I once made the front page of MSN.com with a Top Ten List I did for my Foxsports blog about my favorite things in sports. They ran it with a photograph connected to each item. It was an unbelievable rush to know that literally hundreds of thousands of people were enjoying my work.

On a related note, I couldn't believe how many people seemed truly pissed off about the items on my list. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but a lot of people took it personally that I included an item about golf, say, rather than about their favorite sport. Sorry folks, I just don't get synchronized swimming. But, hey, to each his own.

2) Most of the people I work with in my Evil Day Job had a passion for aviation their entire lives, but I never really did. To me, the career I've spent virtually my entire adult life doing was never really much more than a way to make a decent living and support my family. That said, there is no better feeling than getting off Boston's Final Vector position after working an hour-and-a-half of busy traffic and knowing you did a kick-ass job and actually made a difference.

Aside from actually working position, though, the bureaucracy and red tape that I see every day in the federal government is staggering.

1) My wife and I have been married for over 25 years now. She was just barely 19 and I was almost 24 when we got married and I know a lot of people figured it would never last. We've had the last laugh, though. Hah.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dream a Twisted Dream of Me

I've mentioned this in the past, but things seem to move with glacial slowness in this writing gig. That's what makes the occurrence of this past few days so magical. I found out a three or four days ago that the first nationally distributed issue of Shroud Magazine - you know, the one with MY story in it - will be available at Barnes and Noble stores around the country in about two weeks, and then last night I discovered that the Twisted Dreams Magazine June-September issue - you know, the one with MY story in it - is available now!

Twisted Dreams is an independent horror/dark fiction mag published four times a year, featuring deliciously twisted (as the magazine's name implies) short fiction as well as reviews, artwork and poetry. At over one hundred pages, this issue is packed full of stuff to keep you awake at night, wondering if that noise you heard in the basement is really just your house settling, or if it might actually be something...else...

My entry in Twisted Dreams is titled "The Bridal Veil," and tells the story of a frightening legend and a midnight visit to a creepy cemetery by three teenagers, whose motivations for the visit may or may not be what they appear. Here's a little teaser:

"By now our nerves were threatening to get the best of us. I flicked my flashlight up to Cassie’s face and she seemed pale and washed out, although that might have been a trick of the light. A similar look at Wade revealed a horizontal slash of a mouth, his lips pressed together so tightly they were almost invisible. “Get that light out of my eyes,” he snarled.

I went first. It seemed only right; after all, it had been my idea to come out here in the first place. I knelt in front of the crypt’s door and shone my light through the half-inch seam at the hinges, while simultaneously pressing my eyeball against the keyhole-sized crack under the cold iron doorknob. I sucked in a short breath, gasping at what I saw, before leaping backward and falling flat on my back.
Cassie took my place at the door, moving quickly; as if afraid she might lose her nerve if she didn’t go NOW..."
I received an advance copy of this issue, and believe me when I tell you it's well worth your money if you're into things that go bump in the night. It's available in two different formats - a digital download for just $3.15 if you want to read it right on your computer or Kindle or similar device, or a hard copy at the bargain basement price of $6.50 plus shipping. Click here to order.
I want to pass along my thanks to editor/publisher Andrea Dean Von Scoyoc for including "The Bridal Veil" in this outstanding collection. Check it out; you won't be sorry!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Violent and Messy Miracle

I always find it amusing when some well-meaning soul talks about what a beautiful, life-affirming miracle childbirth is. I heard a lot of that stuff a couple of decades ago when my three children were being born, and then again a couple of years ago, when my own daughter was having her baby.

Having been privileged to take part, even if in only a peripheral way, in the birth of my kids, I can testify that, while it is in many ways a miracle - a life comes into being where before there was none - the word "beautiful" doesn't in any way describe the process accurately. Childbirth is a violent, messy and frightening process, the end result of which is beautiful. But the process itself is incredibly scary.

I mention this because, with Mother's Day upon us, I have been giving a lot of thought to the mother-child bond. A lot of people look at Mother's Day as one of those Hallmark, Made-For-Corporate-America holidays, invented largely to sell cards and flowers and contribute to various successful commercial enterprises.

But if there was only one single human relationship that could be celebrated wih its own "Day," I believe Mother's Day might just be that one. All of us have a mother to whom we owe our very existence. Mothers put their lives on hold for their children, give up careers and often their own dreams, do untold damage to their bodies carrying and delivering children, and the good ones put their kids' needs ahead of their own for a good solid two decades.

The bond is not just a mental or emotional one, but a physical one as well. A mother's children are literally a part of her in ways that a father can never know. I believe completely that a strong father-figure is essential to the well-being of a developing child, but the mother-child relationship goes to the deepest cellular level. At one time, you were a part of your mother.

What's the point? I'm not sure, other than that as a writer, I like to try to investigate human relationships; to take them apart and try to discover why they work or don't work. Suspense and drama are, I believe, developed not from situations, but rather from how characters react to those situations and how those reactions affect the people around them.

I know my wife loves me deeply; there is no question about that in my mind. But I also know that, hypothetically, if there was a situation where she could either save me or her child from the attacking aliens, I would be on my way to the mother ship, no pun intended. See you later, it's been great, thanks for the twenty-five years, good luck and hasta luego. Again, I know my wife loves me and is totally committed to me. But she is connected to her children in a way that goes far beyond anything else.

Mother's Day isn't about flowers or chocolates or Hallmark cards or going out to dinner. It's about the violent, messy and frightening miracle that occurs in that delivery room. To my wife Sue, to my daughter Stefanie, and to my own mom, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate that miracle. Happy Mother's Day.