Done And Done And I’m On To The Next One

Anton Chekhov never had a bad hair day.


This morning around 6:30 I finished the first revision of my new novel Fifty Cent Soul. I’ve been at this too long to think I’m done, but I’m closer. I went ahead and formatted it for print so I can get a galley copy  worked up. I like to do my corrections and edits on paper. It works better that way. I’ll get the book, sit down with some coffee and read through it to see if everything makes sense. Then another pass to arrange Ts and Is and make sure punctuation is handled properly.

But not right away. No, I’m going to do what I did when I got to this point of Hawser. I’m going to write some short stories.  Short stories are a totally different animal than novels, and in many ways allow a greater degree of freedom both stylistically and story-wise. There’s a shorter arc, and that gives you something to play with. In my story Your Friendly Neighborhood, I tell a tale of a somewhat creepy stalker-type who is more (and less) than he seems. Let me know if you want to read it and maybe I’ll send it to you.

When I look at writing short stories, though, there’s a lot to intimidate a fella. I love good short stories, probably because there are so very many bad ones. I can’t count how many times I’ve read a story in a major publication (or literary journal) and come away from it feeling like I wasted my time. It’s so, so easy to suck. I do it all the time.

So I try to read the great ones. Tim O’Brien’s war stories, Brad Watson’s dog stories, Peter Orner’s Esther stories and many, many more. It’s inspiring. It’s also hard to figure out why they’re so good.

The grand master of the short story is, for me, Chekhov. He achieved wonders that are hard to believe, such as taking 30 pages to show an entire year of a Russian family in his story Peasants.  Another fantastic Russian is Turgenev, whose Kassyan of Fair Springs stands in my memory as one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read.

In English, we have (of course) Hemingway, Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Alice Munro. I already gushed about Andre Dubus in another article, so I won’t give you another entry from the Department of Redundancy Department.

Instead, I’ll give you a bit of wisdom from a man more associated with creative non-fiction than stories (or even novels): Truman Capote.  His story Shut a Final Door is a great one indeed. But what endears me to him especially is this quote. I think he nails it:

“Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can’t generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has defined the natural shape of his story is just this: After reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.”


You and Your Goddamned Gerunds

Reblogged from Grapnel Books

by , under grammar, Rants, style

Your goddamned gerunds are driving me crazy. You’re taking a perfectly good sentence and castrating it. Removing all its power by putting the focus on the verb. And you might be messing up the POV.Plus, you are using to be way too much. You are responsible for that. You are using gerunds and to be and you are making your prose more flabby than you are intending it to be.You see that there? That’s irony.  In all seriousness, as an exercise I suggest you take a solid look at a couple pages of your novel, story, vignette, article or whatever. Go in with slaughter in mind. The mission? Kill every goddamned gerund. And while you’re at it, kill every goddamned is, are, be, am, etc. Death to gerunds. Death to to be.Yeah, you might sacrifice eloquence.

You might throw clarity in the garbage.

You may well change an elegant little speech into something resembling a medical textbook

To be or not to be,
That is the question.


To live or to die,
I ask myself this.

I like the first one better.

I know we’ve done this before with suddenly, very, probably and only.  I don’t tout this as a fix-all, never-break-it rule. Sometimes  a gerund and to be are exactly the things you want to be using.  I am talking an exercise here.

I firmly believe you have the right to break any goddamned rule you want. Sentence fragments, run-ons, comma splices. You just need to keep your awareness high so you know what you do and why.

Just remember two things:

1. Faulkner died a long time ago, and you aren’t his successor.

2. You should almost always omit that semi-colon and do something else.


Excerpt from Fifty Cent Soul

It is not my usual practice to share work in progress, but I wanted to post this to illustrate how research will often do far more than create believable filler for a story. My character, Hawser, finds himself back in his hometown of Tucson. He is back at the boarding house where he spent his high school years and has just finished a chess game with his old mentor Dr. Tartov. Dr. Tartov was mentioned in Hawser, as were my protagonist’s early years. I try here to expand on earlier material without repeating too much of it.

This is a trick I learned from Patrick O’Brian and John D. MacDonald, two of most successful creators of serial characters (their books masquerade as genre fiction, but really they are about characters. Robert Parker and James Lee Burke are also excellent at this). You give bits and pieces of information about your heroes throughout the various books. It’s a sop to loyal readers, a special reward for the True Fan. My personal experience is that this technique has led to a richer understanding of the characters. They become far more real to me, and because of this I feel invested in what happens to them. Plot almost becomes secondary, though my favorites of any series also have strong individual stories.

The research for this particular piece more or less fell out of the sky. It tells  a truth far stranger than fiction. It also brought me in mind of a piece I read by my former neighbor Jen Percy about a female Afghani warlord.

Whether this propels the story forward is anyone’s guess, but I like it. I hope that it’s details such as this that will make Fifty Cent Soul a more enriching experience than your everyday LA noir detective novel.

All this stuff below this: Copyright 2015 by J Hardy Carroll and Grapnel Books, shared by permission.


Cover Illustration Copyright 2015 J Hardy Carroll

“Did I ever speak of my own military service? No? I thought not.” He took a slim cigar from his vest pocket, snipped the end off with a tiny gold clipper he kept on the end of his watch chain. Of all Miss Deeds’ boarders, he alone had had the privilege of smoking in the house.  Man that old deserves to do what he likes at home, she had told the others. You live that long maybe I’ll let you smoke too.

He took his time with the match, rotating the cigar in the flame to light it evenly. When it was going well, he leaned back and gave me a faint smile. “You are surprised I was a soldier, yes? I came by it honestly. My father had been general in command at the Battle of Mukden in 1905. 340,000 Imperial soldiers were defeated by a force two-thirds its size. Various factors, of course, were blamed, but I came to see the cause was chiefly my father’s ineptitude. His Manchurian troops had little respect for him. My father was an ineffectual, dandified man who had achieved his position largely by political flattery and compromise. Indeed, I had little respect for him myself. I had completed my medical studies and considered myself above him. Yet when war came, he asked me to serve the Czar. So I did.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because, young Hamlet, he was my father. A man must first do his duty to his country, then to his family and lastly to himself. Or so I believed.”

“Do you still believe that?”

He smiled, gray teeth jagged in the downy white beard ringed with nicotine. “Now? No. Illusions of duty and even family will not survive war. Perhaps you have already found this to be true.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Ah, of course. I forgot you came unto this house as an orphan. Fleeing the Church, if I do not mistake?”

“You do not mistake.”

“Yes, the Bolsheviks at least got that part right. Down with the Church and all its certainty! There is nothing as dangerous as a certainty, especially the certainty of being rewarded in the next world for your actions in this one. But I tell of my own service. When hostilities were declared—finally, and after much deliberation, on the side of the Entente Powers—my father arranged for me to be in command of a battalion. I entered with a major’s commission. My battalion was called the First Battalion of Death. It was supposed to be an insult.”


“Because it was comprised exclusively of women.”

“Not a combat battalion, then?”

“On the contrary, the battalion was an elite fighting force led by a highly decorated woman sergeant. Many decorations for valor and patriotism were earned. More, in fact, than any other regiment of its size in the entire army. Perhaps this was because the women felt that they must always prove themselves, but I believe it was more the love of adventure, the need to bury sorrow, pure patriotism and love of country. That was the case with their leader Maria Bochkareva, in any case.”

“I thought you were the leader.”

He smoked, thoughtful. “In name only. Women have always been allowed to serve in the Czar’s forces, though it was not officially condoned. Maria Bochkareva had petitioned the Czar himself, and when he allowed her to serve openly she proved to be among his most daring soldiers. When the Czar abdicated in March of 1917, the Bolsheviks continued to fight against the Central Powers. There was much desertion in the lines. Maria Bochkareva suggested that a battalion of women be created to serve alongside the men. She told the Ministry this would shame the men into fighting.”

He drew on his cigar and laughed. “But Maria Bochkareva surprised everyone! She created the finest military force in the war, truly capable of anything. Time and again, her battalion performed impossible feats. The great general Aleksei Alekseevich Brusilov took notice. He himself was an innovative tactician, fearless and intelligent. The Nazi General Rommel adopted many of his tactics in his desert fighting, I have heard.  He petitioned Minister Kerensky to create fifteen such battalions. The minister agreed, but only on condition certain appointments be made. Minister Kerensky detested my father, and so appointed me to command the First Battalion. And so with no training whatsoever I found myself on the battlefield with three hundred women under my personal command.

“My duties were non-existent. I sat on a horse from time to time, but usually I was in a tent playing chess with my adjutant, Vanya. The summer weather was glorious and he was a pleasant companion. On July 7th, 1917, my battalion defeated a thousand German soldiers at Smorgon. When the German commander found he had suffered such humiliation at the hands of mere women, he tried to shoot himself! We had to take his sidearm! I allowed him to take consolation that they had actually been under my leadership. That made it easier for him to accept.”

He stared down at the board, his eyes far away. “I spent the battle drunk, myself. You see, that morning Vanya and I were playing chess beneath a tree. He sat just as you do now. It had been a heated game, but he had just carried off a most risky gambit. I was going to have the devil to pay to fox my way out of it! His gray eyes, laughing with triumph at his surprising tactic. His mouth smiled with a remark he was forming in his mind. This moment is, for me, forever frozen, trapped in the ice of what came next.”

He was silent for a long time. I mused on some of my own moments. I had seen so much death during the war it was hard to remember when such sensations were fresh enough to register. There were some visions, though, indelible as though they had been carved on my eyes. They often returned in dreams, vivid and gruesome, to rip me from sleep, raw-throated and panicked.

“His head simply disappeared. In its place was a fragment like a ceramic mask, covered by the barest tatter of bloody flesh that flapped from the neck of his tunic. A great jet of blood spurted from the torn throat like a broken water hose. He tumbled toward me, spraying me in the face with his blood. It was very hot in the cool morning air, and his body seemed to fall over the board with elaborate slowness. He tumbled into the trench the men had dug for us beside the tent. I remember his arms flailed about as he lay there, the white knight held tight in his fingers. Even in death he did not let go. Perhaps I screamed, but it may have been the first whistle of cannon shells falling around me as the Germans began their barrage. It was eternal, the earth shaking, trees above shattered to matchwood. I curled in that trench with my knees about my face and closed my eyes.  The world was ruined around me. When the barrage passed over me and continued down the line, I opened my eyes to see the white knight in a fist. I crawled into the tent and drank an entire bottle of kvass in one long swallow. I was insensible during the battle, which was won by the Captain Bochkareva. As her superior, I received a decoration. Then came the orders to attack the Czar’s winter palace. Captain Bochkareva refused the order, since they came from the Reds. She was herself a white. She was arrested. I was indifferent to politics—and everything else—but I was arrested as well. After some unpleasantness we were allowed to leave the country.”

“So you fled to the States?”

He smiled. “It was so much more than flight, my Hamlet, And so much less. Suffice to say that the young officer died in the trench that day. The man who stepped onto the quay in New York was quite different, though only a year and some months had passed. It was as though the other had never existed. The notions held by the young man had vanished along with him. Duty, country.” His eyes twinkled. “Even love.”


More Ancient History

It’s pretty fun (an a little embarrassing) to look back on my first forays into the impenetrable jungle of fiction writing. I was like a guy on vacation in the tropics who wanders off the path from the hotel to the beach, takes a wrong turn and finds himself in a stew pot surrounded by cannibals (where did they get this huge pot, anyway?).

The circumstances behind these vignettes have been discussed elsewhere on this blog, but even the knowledge that much of this creativity was spurred by a combination of loneliness and intoxication does little to ameliorate the strangeness of some of them.

Without further adieu , this week’s Überhaus Diary:


October 14, 1998

I keep waking up and finding these bruises on me. I’m not talking about little ones from minor knocks. No, these are mammoth purple bruises which are so dark as to be black in the center, huge dark violations of my skin that look like the bones beneath have been crushed.

And they don’t hurt. Not at all.

It’s really weird because when they first started showing up I thought I was sleepwalking and jumping off bridges or getting run over by taxis. I asked a couple of my friends about it and they didn’t believe me, thought I’d covered myself with permanent markers or paint or something.

I can’t explain it myself. See, they fade like regular bruises. In two weeks they are yellowish and you can see the cells healing beneath the skin. Then a new one appears, sometimes on my abdomen, sometimes on my arms. The worst was one which was on my back, a huge purple lesion which covered one whole shoulder and part of my neck. You could see it through my shirt, it was so dark.

People at work thought I was a drug addict or something. They’re like kids, really. When they see something they don’t understand they usually say it was drugs just like their ancestors probably blamed things on witches.

I wish it was that easy.

Amazon Changes The Rules (Again)

Here’s an informative and insightful post from the uber-talented Karen Rawson. 


It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

Writers, are you sitting down?

Okay, here’s the bad news:

Amazon has discontinued their Breakthrough Novel Contest. So if you’ve spent the last eighteen months polishing your novel in anticipation of competing along with 9,999 others for that $50,000 prize, well—it ain’t happening.

More bad news? They are replacing it with the Kindle Scout program. Okay, maybe it’s not bad news, I guess that all depends on what you want to write. And what you want to read.

What is Kindle Scout?

You can learn all about it here, but to sum-up, writers are invited to submit their unpublished novels for nomination for review by a Kindle Scout Team. If the Kindle Scout Team selects your book, you win an Amazon publishing contract. Authors will know within 45 days whether or not they’ve been selected, and winners receive a $1,500 advance.

By submitting, writers agree to Amazon’s contract terms which offer 50% royalties (yay!) and the option to back out of the deal if the book hasn’t sold $25,000 in 5 years. Even after a careful reading of the publishing terms, I’m not clear if one can ever escape Amazon’s clutches if the title proves popular (boo).  Amazon captures all rights to the book, with the exception of print, which stay with the author.

Books need to pass muster with their gatekeeper, and they strongly suggest professional editing and cover design. I don’t know if you’ve priced either of these things, but done right, it will easily eat up that advance.

Still, it may be hard to resist the opportunity to earn -.27 cents an hour. On the plus-side, copy editors, cover designers, and of course Amazon, will profit.

Jane Austen, you can go home now

Writers of historical literary YA fiction need not apply. Neither should Faulkner, Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, JK Rowling or even Stephen King. Because as of now, Kindle Scout seeks only submissions in the following categories: Mystery/Thriller, Romance or Sci Fi/Fantasy.

It’s no coincidence that those categories constitute their greatest share of ebook sales.

Why did Amazon do this?

What Amazon has accomplished is to recruit their customer to filter the slush pile. And there is a lot of logic to that—who better to tell you what the customer wants than the customer themselves?

But will it work? Amazon selects candidates based upon customer nominations. So if you are a social media darling or promotional guru, you have a chance of getting elevated to a Kindle Scout Reviewer without anyone reading a single word of your work.

I can’t help but wonder if this came up because they found that books that garnered the best editorial reviews didn’t necessarily sell. Publishers Weekly reviews factored heavily in later rounds of the last ABNC.

Instead, Amazon is quite frankly asking the customer: what will you buy? And, when you’re in business to make money, I guess that is the most important question.

Writing About the Good War

World War Two is making a comeback. Look at the movies. Unbroken, The Imitation Game and Fury, all within this last year. Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, The Pacific, not to mention the upcoming Mighty Eighth. Books, too. The Book Thief, Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys, In Harm’s Way.

World War Two has long been considered a good war, a just war. Evil was defeated. It was black and white, easy to understand.

Typical WW2 view of the Japanese. This helped fuel the unprecedented savagery of the war in the Pacific.


We enjoy World War Two because we need a good war with none of the ambiguities of Korea, Vietnam and  the more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. (I’ll leave out Reagan’s glorious little forays into Panama and Granada, since they hardly count. Ditto Kosovo and Somalia. Damn, we fight a lot of wars in this country).

We seem to need solid enemies like Tojo and Hitler, egregious evil acts like the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust, not to mention the many smaller travesties such as the Malmedy massacre and the horrific treatment of POWs by the Japanese

World War Two is easy to understand. They attacked us, a good country just minding its own business. Sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and our islands, not to mention our territories in the Philippines.

Wait. Our islands? Our territory in the Philippines? And how did we get a base in Hawaii, anyway?

Here’s the truth. There is no good war. World War Two was every bit as complicated and ambiguous as any other conflict. The Japanese killed around 300,000 civilians in Manchuria, but the US dropped thousands  little pipes that shot napalm-filled bean bags on the residential areas of Tokyo, burning a hundred thousand people alive. The Nazis ruined Poland, but the Soviets were even worse to the natives.

Every side thought that they were doing the right thing. Hitler was reclaiming German dignity after the crushing humiliation of Versailles. Japan was just imitating the United States by taking resources it needed to be a modern world power.

History is a tangled mess, and the more you look into it the more tangled it becomes. War compounds this, because the emotional stress of combat distorts memory. The trauma of merely surviving can be more than many people can bear. How can you write about this?

Well, I’ll tell you.

My approach was to research the hell out it. I wanted readers of Hawser to walk away from the book knowing almost as much as any historian, with the added bonus of a veteran’s first-person experience. What was it like to fly combat missions day after day in a four-engine bomber twenty thousand feet above a hostile enemy? How would you feel in that situation? How would you act?

First things first. It needs to be accurate. Totally accurate. I needed to have all the facts at hand. Small stuff like whether the knobs on the Norden bombsight were above or below the viewfinder, what a Fairburn knife looks like, what it was like to run out of oxygen at altitude are all elements of the overall experience. So was eating horsemeat in a fancy London restaurant (albeit horsemeat with a French name), using food to bribe an English girl to have sex with you, watching a Bob Hope USO show, etc.

There are other stories that have factual backbones. All the London art museums were closed during the war, but the Imperial War Museum wasn’t (though it was bombed.) The facts of the war, the tiny stories, are fascinating. You can find them everywhere. You don’t need to use them, but you do need to know them. You need to be immersed. The language, the culture, all of it. I went so far as to see what movies were playing in London in August 1943, and even to watch them!

The  tesserae of tiny facts don’t reflect the overall story of the war itself, the big story that historians are always after. You don’t need to write what the generals though about strategic bombing (though it’s important to know it.)

B-17 hit by a bomb dropped by another B-17



Sure, the 8th Air Force had 60% casualties in 1943, but that fact by itself is meaningless. It only comes to life when you are placed on a bomber flying one of these missions. You have numerous close calls (all accurately described with the correct planes and guns, etc) and when you land you see that six of your ten buddies don’t come home. You do what an average 21-year-old American would do. You go out to the nearby town and get drunk. When you get drunk, here’s an opportunity to show what life was like in Britain during the war.

There are still plenty of opportunities to invent things. I created a hardware store owner who supplies free bikes to the men at the base. I took a factual thing–OSS training–and adapted it into a story element. Intertwined with this were many actual occurrences, many of them more fantastic than anything I could have made up. One of these involved the Royal Air Force Air Transport Auxiliary. My only female character (sorry about that) is a pilot with the ATA, and her experiences supply a new and unexpected element to the novel.

An ATA crew delivers a new B-17 to a USAAF base in the Midlands, 1942



I guess my point is that when writing about war (or any historical fiction), it’s important to keep the history as accurate as possible. Use the history to serve your story rather than the other way around.

If you do it right, the real events will lead you in places you never imagined. It also can help you build an audience. World War two enthusiasts are known for being extremely picky about details, and the more knowledgeable they are the more they are likely to appreciate your hard work.


Choose Your Own Adventure

In the early days of the Überhaus site I liked to experiment with format. I came across a post I did sometime in 1998 that was constructed of framesets that randomly linked to one another. For those who don’t remember, a frameset was an HTML hack that allowed multiple web pages to display on the same page. We still have a limited version of that in the form of <iframe>, but for the most part frames have gone the way of the blacksmith. Good thing, too, since they caused more problems than they solved (like booze).

The result was a meandering story in no particular order. What it says or means is anyone’s guess. It used different typefaces and colors, so the result was a strange-looking mess.



Since I can’t replicate the frames without breaking WordPress, I’ll just paste the various bits and pieces in random order. It seems to be comprised mostly of ruminations on the Taft Hotel, a state-funded old folks home located above the Portland bar where I worked. It’s grim, but that’s how that place was.


Here you go:


-You see, the race is so obsessed by youth that they sequester the old to die alone.

-It would seem to me that the things which are so sadly lacking in their “culture” are found…

-Yes, yes. It’s very obvious, of course. The best we can seem to inspire is pity.

-Pity. So ironic. If only they knew.

-Yes, yes.


The Taft Hotel was built as the Franklin in 1905. It was designed by Edgar Lazarus, the famous Portland architect who designed the Vista House at Crown Point overlooking the Colombia Gorge. Architectural details include exaggerated lintels, Chicago-style windows, rusticated brickwork and classical colonial revival ornamentation. It was constructed following the Lewis and Clark Exposition, a boom period for the region.


The old people would be there one day and gone the next. Some you’d see for years, long since you’d think they’d died and gone on. I guess they feed them during the day, but that doesn’t keep them from grinding on you for change every time they’d see you. It was a pretty pathetic spectacle most of the time, some cancerous old bag standing out on the street corner in all weathers dressed in a nightgown and filthy flannel robe, holding out a string of pink plastic pearls in her withered hand and barking out at passersby, “CHANGE?”
I’d say “I’m trying, lady. I’m trying.”


Shakes would come in sometimes in the afternoon when it was slow. He was a painfully thin man with crazy bright blue eyes and  shaky hands. Sometimes he’d shake so bad when he was trying to get out a cigarette that the whole pack would jerk out of his hand onto the floor. Rather than watch the pathetic spectacle of his uncontrollably tremulous fingers try to pick up his runaway smokes, I came out from behind the bar and picked them up. I gave them to him. He was so grateful. His Parkinson’s was getting real bad and cigarettes were like gold at the Taft.

He held up a dollar bill, told me they were coming to get him. He pointed to the picture of George Washington, tapped it with a yellow nail. “See there?” he said, eyes burning like some demented bird. “My name. Right there. HUDLER.”
He nodded. certain. He asked me for matches. I gave him matches every day. I gave him matches now. As he left I saw somebody had taped a paper sign to his back.


Mary was coughing up a lung in the dining room. It was bad for business, and the lunches were slow enough, thank you. I mean, it felt like I was kicking her when I asked her to go, but she was a liability. A woman that fat, that old, it’s bad enough, but with that phlegmy cough it was just disgusting. She didn’t even cover her mouth, for Christ’s sake.


Wednesday they wheeled out the old lady. She was strapped down to the gurney, screaming bloody murder. Word was she started screaming as soon as she saw the men on the scaffold. They were repointing the brick on the old hotel, but she didn’t know that. She had looked out the same window every day for sixteen years, the same patch of bald sky. She never got out of bed, doing all her business in and out via tubes that led from an IV stand through her body, out her holes into big jars on the floor.

She saw men outside her window.

They had come. Ever since the days in the barn when she’d lie in the hayrake listening for the heavy booted footsteps clumping up the ladder she’d known it was only a matter of time. She’d hear it and know that there was no hiding; sometimes he’d even stab at the pile with a pitchfork, not caring if it went into her chest, doing it so hard that the tines would clang into the boards of the barn floor, splintering the coarse wood. She’d rise up then, dripping hay from her back and hair like a sea-monster. She’d smile shyly into his cold dark eyes and  quiver.

When she saw the scaffold she knew. She started screaming. As far as anyone knew she was screaming still.


Chuck, you got your diamond horseshoe ring stolen. By god, that ring musta cost you a hunner dollars. What, somebody jerk it off your finger?

I was at that fantasy video. I set it on the sink. She took it, the woman.

At the fantasy video?

I was wiping out the sink. She took it. I was wiping it out, the sink.

She took it?

They said I shouldn’ta taken it off. I was wiping it out. Looked like a macdonalds icecream, there in the sink. I was wiping it out.







Story Dare

Story Bandit: We dare you to write a 99-word poem using the following words: cleaver, thorniest, disapprove, committeeman.



God sweet Jesus I wish it was as easy as television
Andy Griffith, worn out at thirty
his thorniest problem


the deputy might goddamn well use that one bullet
when he finally gets around to eating his gun


the office of Mayberry Sheriff
dreamed up by some committeeman
stood up in council saying
  I disapprove of the lawless

Damn but he was smug, set Barney to digging into that pocket
prove he was worth his salary. This show is nothing


if not depressing. Guess I’ll wait until four
when I’ll flip the channel
check on Beaver Cleaver once again.

A Word From My Publisher

He’s a rat bastard, but that’s why we like him. Like Lou Grant, but meaner.

Lifted from Grapnel Press

Do Us A Favor and Don’t

by , under Rants

“Writing is not about self-expression; it is about putting words on paper.”

— Gordon Lish

Listen. I am a son of a bitch. When I wear my editor hat I am deeply, truly unpleasant. I am nowhere near as big a son of a bitch as Gordon Lish, but he is a great editor. I am a putz. And a bastard.

But even a putz like me gets sick of every goddamned jackass in the world telling me they know how to write but they just don’t have the (time, idea, motivation, skill or whatever).

But they just know they can do it. They JUST KNOW.

Producing a book used to be an enormous undertaking. Expensive. It took a big team to get it done. They guarded the door fiercely to keep out the riff raff. Some got in anyway, and despite having zero talent sold a few million books. Yeah, Dan Brown, I’m talking to you. But it was the exception rather than the rule.

No more. Thanks to Amazon and the burned-to-the ground publishing industry, they can. And the success of Fifty Shades of Gray, the Hunger Games and that Mormon Vampire Erotica nonsense, it’s a regular gold rush.

Except not it isn’t.

You want to write?  Don’t. That’s my advice.


Oh sure. You’ll see dozens of encouraging blogs. They tell you to put down the scotch. Close Facebook. Do what Papa said and write the best damn sentence you can. Then write another one. Keep them short. Make them long. Don’t revise while you’re writing. Revise everything. Try to think of a joke you know and write it as a story. Tell about that one time your aunt almost got arrested. Do writerly exercises. Don’t waste your time with exercises. Read everything. Only read the classics. Only read the moderns. Avoid genre fiction. Write what you know.  Do your research.

And so on.

The big things I know:  don’t write to get noticed. You won’t be. Don’t write to make money. Not gonna happen. Don’t write to “be like” anyone.

Don’t write for a reason. The best reason and the dumbest reason are still just reasons.

I am serious.  Do yourself and everyone else a favor and quit. You can still tell everyone you’re a writer. You can buy a long-billed hat and a typewriter, carry around a Moleskine and talk about what a genius Flannery O’Connor was.  You can tell everyone about your Great American Novel, whatever the hell that is. And stay the hell away from me.

If you’re having problems writing, stop.

Nobody will notice. I swear to God.

You won’t be missed.

I hope I have sufficiently discouraged you.  Now get the hell out of here.



You still want to write?

You want to write because you have to?  Because you can’t conceive of a life without doing it?

Then for God’s sake, try to get good at it. Get to work.


When you write, put everything you have into it. Get as good as you can.Never be satisfied.

But don’t have any expectations.

They’re just resentments waiting to hatch.

Work your ass off and get back to me.

New Old Comics

For many years I drew underground comics. Some of them were published in various papers around Portland and beyond. This particular one features Boig & Bitty, and ambiguous couple largely based on myself and my then-wife Polly (an ambiguous couple if ever there was one).

I like this one because it takes a simple gag and stretches it out over a few panels. Some of the individual drawings still crack me up, too.

The best thing for me was that this was the first time I let the characters really become themselves. The dialog rang true to my ear.

(That means cursing. A lot of it. Because, well, that’s how we all talked. Real potty mouths.)

What do you think?