Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween! The First Novel That Scared Me.

Welcome to All Hallows Eve, more commonly known as Halloween. A time to be scared and laugh about it, and if you’re under 12 years old, get some sweet treats for your trouble. I haven’t been trick or treating as a recipient since the 1960’s. But I have been plenty scared since then.

This blog will be a tale of the first novel I ever read that cost me sleep. Oh, make no mistake, I had seen many movies that had done so including The Exorcist in its original release, but had never read a novel that had ( I had NOT read the Exorcist at that point).

Until William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Just a warning here. I’m going to be giving away major plot points on this book. I have to do that to show how it affected me. Stop here if you want a virgin reading of Lord of the Flies.

Otherwise, I’m honored to have you join me.

In my July 11th posting, I mentioned an English professor I once had who assigned this brilliant twentieth century novel in a course on English Literature through the Restoration and Eighteenth Century. Her reason for assigning it? “I just read Lord of the Flies for the first time last summer and loved it! It is my privilege, then, to foist it onto you.”

Foist it she did, and frightened I was. Oh, my goodness. I had trouble reading about those wonderful boys degenerating into savages. Jack’s disgusting ego and cruelty. Ralph’s internal conflicts. Simon’s etherial goodness. Piggy’s whiney intelligence.

So what kept me up at night? Two things. One was the sow’s head and Simon’s vision of the damn thing talking to him ... the Lord of the Flies. The second thing, for some ungodly reason, struck me as cruel beyond belief ... when Jack’s hunters stole Piggy’s glasses.

I can tell you why.

I first read this novel thirty-four years ago, and I have had a few nightmares since. No more than most, I suspect, but a number of them featured the cruelty of taking my glasses off my face and stomping on them. It demonstrated how much that scene affected me. I’ve never forgotten the fat kid (Piggy) having his ability to see stolen from him. Anyone could see the cruelty in someone poking out his eyes. Doesn’t take a genius to see that. But stealing the poor boy glasses? Seems innocuous. Like a prank. Maybe even a good-natured prank depending on how it’s told.

Could anyone other than a glasses-wearer understand the real cruelty behind it?

Golding did, and showed it brilliantly.

Just like he showed so many things about the human condition and human frailty and how civilization is as sweet and as fragile as cotton candy.

Even in the age of Lasik, I still have those horrible nightmares of even my best friends stealing my glasses and stomping on them so that I can’t see.

My heavens. When I read what they did to poor Piggy, I wept.

If necessary, I could function without my glasses. I could recognize people within twenty feet or so.

Piggy could only see light and shadow without his. He was fat (like me). He needed glasses (like me). Call me crazy ... many have ... but damn it was cruel to steal the fat kid’s vision. I don’t care how whiney he was.

The smashing of the glasses has haunted my dreams a long time. The sows head speaking to Simon in that vision kept me awake. Simon was the one character who maintained his decency ... until he was brutally murdered, showing just how easily good can be overcome by evil.

So, that was the tale of the first novel that scared me to the core. Dracula didn’t do it. Frankenstein didn’t do it. Lord of the Flies did.

Happy Halloween, folks!

Check out my new blog featuring my writing. This first one is a short piece about my first heartbreak ... in second grade.

I gained a couple of pounds last week, coming in at 272. Damn, it’s looking like surgery next August.

Please, Lord, no!

I’ve also been outlining Catch a Falling Star, and have revised a couple of chapters. That’s so cool. I’ll keep working on that.

I’ll let you know next week, how I did.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The First Scattershoot

Former Dallas sports writer Blackie Sherrod, still kicking at 91, once wrote a Sunday column called “Scattershooting.” It was just that. Random thoughts about sports in no particular order ... kind of.

Today’s blog will be scattershooting, but certainly not on his level. Somehow he managed to organize his into an organic whole. But mine will include sports. In fact, I’ll start there.

The Texas Rangers are going to the World Series to face the San Francisco Giants! They have indeed, won the American League pennant. And I can’t be prouder of them, from the Manager of the Year (if there is justice) Ron Washington, to the newest pitcher on the roster. “Wash” thanked everyone including the “guys who sell the hot dogs,” after their fourth victory over the Big Bad New York Yankees, who will never be quite so big or bad again.

He must have been happy. Still ...


I’m really trying to gain stability while walking the high wire of the writing industry. Stability while walking the write is always a good thing. See the photo.

I’m looking forward to going to the San Francisco Writers Conference, but can’t seem to get that Scott McKenzie song out of my head. Honestly, I don’t have much hair to put flowers in.

I spent a good portion of this past week working on a new piece, one about my very first date, then promptly submitted it for my first long assignment in my online writing class. I just might change the real names and post it as my first piece for the new blog.

We’ll see.

Today, I’m continuing my outline of Catch a Falling Star.

Wow. I’m feeling that after my rant a couple of weeks ago that everything else in this blog must be boring.

Then again, I’m still a tad humiliated for having slobbered all over the page.

I’ve been to the movies twice to recharge the storytelling batteries and highly recommend both “The Social Network” and “Hereafter.” Got me to thinking about a number of story possibilities.

I saw “Secretariat,” a couple of weeks ago, and while I thought is was a good movie, it didn’t have a good story arch. It tells about a winning horse who kicks some serious ass. The conflict was in the financing, and whether the horse could take the triple crown. I thought “Sea Biscuit” was a much better tale, one about an underdog who captured the hearts of America during the Depression. Far more conflict.

Conflict in a story is good.

Note to self: Add conflict to Catch a Falling Star.

... and every other story I’ve ever written.

Why did ESPN not air their Baseball Tonight show after the Rangers clinched? They only mentioned the victory on Sports Center. Seems like the whole Network shut down because their beloved Yankees lost.

They chose to gush over a Lakers pre-season game.

Thanks for picking up your toys and going home, ESPN.

Bad sports. Bad journalists. Sore losers.

And regarding my choice of photo. The pictured group is part of the Flying Wallendas. My dad took us to see them two generations ago in Fort Worth circa 1963 or 64. Karl Wallenda, in particular. We followed his exploits until his death in 1978. The woman standing on the man’s shoulder is Aurelia Wallenda, Karl’s great-granddaughter. The man on the bike is Tino Wallenda, Karl’s grandson.

The circus is a dying art. Circus performers a dying breed.

Cirque du Soleil isn’t real circus. It’s a spectacle. A damn good one, but not those acts Cecil B. DeMille immortalized in his movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Then again, does anyone remember that movie?

I weighed in at 269 pounds last Sunday. I’m eating less. Now it’s time to eat healthy. I want to have Falling Star completely outlined this week. And ...


I’ll let you know next Sunday how thing went. Thanks for following.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

San Francisco

The pity party is over. I am myself again. But boy, it wasn’t easy. I don’t think I could have done it without private e-mails from three special people. Thanks to you all. You know who you are.

What hurt the most about the two comments? They were right. Something about having to go back from page 155 to page 72, conjured feelings of hopelessness. And I rarely feel that way. These days, MAYBE once a year for a few hours or so. MAYBE. Well, this year twice. My friend Cathy (with a C) knows about the other one.

I am ashamed of my reaction, but it was honest, and I realized fairly quickly, thanks to those e-mails and a couple of good nights sleep, that I would snap out of it. So I went right back to the drawing board (page 72 of Lucky 13) and started the re-outline. Excuse me, the re-re-re-re-re-outline.

The book will be better for it.

That’s why I love my writers group. They will tell me when it doesn’t work. It’s my job to take it from there. And, I’m doing so.

You read my meltdown. Now read me coming back with a vengeance.

I will NOT give up.

Storytelling is what I was made to do. And do it I will. And make a decent living at it.

To that extent, I have taken one helluva risk folks.

I’ve signed up for the San Francisco Writers Conference knowing that I will have to sell a story or two, possibly even the novel ... or create a book proposal of some kind that someone wants ... to pay for it.
I have just enough paid on those pesky credit cards to afford the conference and make the hotel reservation. I have to wait a few weeks to make the plane reservations, but I’ll be able to fly Southwest. Deficit spending. What a concept. Still, I am excited.

I’ve laid over in San Francisco a couple of times, but have never seen the city. I’m going to now. I don’t have much hair left, but I’m damn sure going to wear flowers in the remaining strands.

I won’t be flying back in time, but I will. When I walk the streets, eat the magnificent seafood and sourdough bread, my cousin Charles, one of the early AIDS victims nearly thirty years ago, will be on my mind.
He danced with the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male ballet troupe. They were good. He was good. They were legit, and funny, and one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. And it was both amazing and amusing watching males dancing female roles en pointe.

Random thought – my heart just overflowed watching my cat walk, sit, and start licking his front paws. Saw it coming a mile away. Now, if I can only tell when he decides to lick where his gonads used to be. :-)

My online writing class started again yesterday, and I’ve already posted my quick write. I’ve already revised two chapters of Catch a Falling Star, and am working on a long assignment for my group.

Damn! I’m feeling pretty good.

I weighed in at 270 pounds last Sunday, a total of fifteen pounds down since August 1. Not a lot, really, but I certainly haven’t been starving. It’s probably time to cut back just a little more.

And, one more thing. The length of these blogs is getting a little our of hand for my taste, so I’m cutting them back to less than 600 words. This will be just over that. Suffice it to say that I am writing, and am enjoying it again.Perhaps the meltdown was inevitable.

I’ll let you know next week how I did. Also, stay tuned for my new blog coming later this month.
BTW – If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend “The Social Network.” It’s the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Have I Done?

I stated at the beginning of these blog entries that I would write about everything. Things that excited me, and things that made me cry. It’s been building these last weeks with a couple of boring entries, but the dam just broke. I cried today. Big time. On my way home from my writers group meeting. I wondered all the way home whether I had it. Whether I’ve been spinning my wheels all of my life.

At fifty-three years of age, and decades of working from my imagination, which Einstein said was more important than knowledge, I wondered on that trip home whether my life has been worthless. I thought for a time that it just might have been, folks. And, let me tell you that at my age, that’s a debilitating thought.

Makes you feel your life has been worthless.

And, maybe mine has been.

It’s possible that I’ve been walking day to day from the light of the living world into oblivion. I have to look into the mirror and decide that. And I’m scared. Oh, my God! To look into my heart and mind and through my eyes into my soul? Do I have to? Really? To see the gray in my beard and in what’s left of my hair? Can’t I turn the other cheek and pretend that I’m just beginning my life instead of being ... oh, let’s face it ... more than half way through. Maybe even two-thirds. Heaven help me, I could die tonight. Do I have to face that having accomplished NOTHING worthwhile in my life?

People like me. I know that. But the question is, if I died today, how many would attend my funeral and drop a tear or two rather than just sending flowers and feel like they’ve done their part? Hmm? I’d say six people, including my estranged brother who would carry on quite a bit and focus the attention on his loss rather than my demise.

Hemingway swallowed the pipe. I have no such intention. So no one should concern themselves about my immediate health.

And ultimately, maybe this is a good thing. It just doesn’t feel like that now. When you read new material from a novel and you’re told that it doesn’t belong in your book, whoa! Even when someone tries their damndest to tell you how to fit it into your book and fails valiantly ... you just have to ask those deep, dark questions.

When you write a short story and are told it isn’t a short story, whoa!

You have to look into your eyes and ask. Has it been worth it? Or perhaps the better question would be ...

Will it be worth it?

I don’t know. I have to see how it plays out, but right now, I just feel like I’ve sacrificed everything for a single lottery ticket that, if I win, will result in a stoning. “The Lottery” you see, was a short story about the secret society of small town America. I think we can expand that. Look at corporations. Look at the various industries, including the entertainment industry and the publishing industry. So, if I succeed, it might just kill me. Thank you, Shirley Jackson (pictured), who herself died at the age of 48. At least she was married. Created a partnership with a person she spent the rest of her life with.

She suffered, I know. Untold issues. But she didn’t die alone.

Tonight, I suffer.

What do I do? Where do I go?

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Probably not. This is quite an intense blog entry. But I did promise to report the good and the bad.

All of this, and I’ve still managed to hold a skeleton or two in my closet.

I guess the bottom line here is, can I tell good stories? I’ve said a thousand times that I’d rather be a mediocre writer telling great stories than a great writer telling mediocre stories. It appears that I’m doing neither.

And I’m doing neither while desperately alone.

Call this an extra entry. And it’s beddy bye time.

As always, I’ll let you know how I did next Sunday, even if I feel differently about this entry.

Go, Rangers!

I am like the Texas Rangers in a number of ways. The major league baseball team that morphed from the second incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1972. Anyone remember Tom Vandergriff? He was a hero to me. Brought major league baseball to my part of the world. I went to see a double header against the Minnesota Twins that year with my dad. He took me. Harmon Killebrew hit a homer, but the Rangers salvaged a split. That was about the time I decided to make a living via stories, and the year I became a Ranger’s fan.

I wish I had done that with my dad a little more often.

I watched the great Ted Williams (our manager) conduct batting practice, giving pointers here and there, then hopping into the batters box himself and putting on a show at the age of 54 basically telling his players that if he could do it at his age, then they should do it. Wayne Terwilliger (Twig), our third base coach, actually ran the game with Williams’ blessing. I still think the world of Twig. The man just can’t retire, and at 85 is still coaching minor league baseball.

Williams really should have managed the club. But it was so cool to see such a legend live and in person.

At the time, I thought that teaching was my calling, getting students to read the great tales with me as their guide. Just like my teachers had been to me throughout school.

I really should have been writing my own stories. But it was so cool to see such great teachers live and in person.

The Rangers have had great players over the years. I have read great writers. One of the greatest of the Rangers, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry (pictured), cheated by throwing the illegal spit ball and the (at the time) legal puff ball. But you still loved the guy!

I cheated by chunking the teaching and writing and becoming an actor. And met a number of my life long friends that way. So I can’t regret it. How could I when I enjoyed it so much more than even watching the Sultan of Spit. And I really did love the Sultan of Spit.

He cheated, but he was always fun to watch.

Bringing the ship into port on this one, the Texas Rangers are in the baseball post season. They’ve never won the World Series. I’ve published nothing since I started writing in earnest in 1994. Yet on both counts. They’ve now won twice as many playoff games in two days (this past Wednesday and Thursday) as they did in the previous 37 years.

I’m hoping I can be as fortunate.

Too bad they lose yesterday, but there is today!

The Rangers have been patient, done the right things, had a break here and there. They’ve had confidence in their manager, players, and ... yay! ... are under new ownership.

I’ve been patient, am learning the right things to do, and am renewing myself in many ways. Coming under new ownership, one might say.

Just as I’m sure the Rangers will break my heart in the future, so, too, will the publishing industry. But oh, when the excitement hit ...

I can’t wait.

Having the Rangers winning the World Series would be like me being on the New York Times Bestseller like. Neither has been done, but there’s always the first time.

This entry will be shorter than most. Oh, well. I weighed in at 275 last Sunday, a gain of two pounds. That, though, was residual from the reunion. I’m confident that my weigh-in later this morning will some progress.

And I’m looking forward to posting writings on the new blog starting somewhere around All Hallows Eve. And, of course, I will be working on Catch a Falling Star, and my short stories.

I’ll let you know next week how I did.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Lesson From George

George Blanda (pictured) died on September 27 at the age of 83. Of all the pro football players I’ve seen in nearly a half-century of following the game, he was my favorite. A man among boys. Craggy ol’ George’s year of 1970, perhaps the most memorable season a football player ever had, turned my mother into a fan of the game.

And to make my mother a football fan took some doing, folks. Let me tell you.

Then again, she was a mere thirty-five at the time.

Blanda played quarterback and kicker for twenty-six seasons starting in 1949, and, in his early years with the Chicago Bears, he played linebacker as well. More importantly, though, he just loved to play. Mike Ditka, who knew him well, said he was the one of the toughest competitor he ever knew whether it was on the football field, the golf course, or playing gin at the dining room table.

But you never heard a bad word about him. He was gracious, kind and adored his family and friends. Len Dawson, former quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, said that off the field, “... he was a gentleman.”

Hmmm. Competitor. There’s a lesson to be learned here. I think I found it.

As a player, George’s goal was to beat the other team. To knock them out of the playoffs. To get to the playoffs himself by knocking the snot out of them.

Craggy ol’ George did it better than all but so very few.

So how does this apply to me? I’m not trying to knock other writers off the shelf. As if I could. Or even want to. I’m a reader as well as a writer. I wouldn’t want to knock good writers off the shelf because I want to read them.

But I am trying to get on the shelf.

Hmmm. Competitor.

Maybe that means that I’m competing with myself to write something worthy. So maybe we’re not talking real competition here. Maybe we’re talking determination, and not just in the writing. Maybe it’s the determination of getting my book in the best shape it’s ever been in and start sending it around. ‘Cause it is headed for good shape.

What would The Grand Old Man do? He’d throw a touchdown pass or kick a field goal. Hmmm. So, in addition to the short story submissions I’ve been making, it’s time to throw Catch a Falling Star out there again. To go ahead and finish Lucky 13 and to move on, just like George moved on to the next game and the next for twenty-six seasons.

Oh, to hell with these analogies, I have to get some doggone determination. I got a little off track with my 35-year high school reunion, and the wonderful visit from Brent and Michelle, and I just went on loan to another department at work which will change my schedule for awhile. Now, I have to get back on track. Bum glue. Determination. Competitiveness. Whatever-the-hell it takes, I’ve got to do it. Time is running out.

The lesson to be learned here is that in the world of professional football, George Blanda was an old man at forty-three. I’m now ten years older than that, and my career as an author hasn’t even begun. He died at eighty-three. That age is only thirty years in front of me. If I plan to be an author, and I do, then I need to snap it up.

For more reasons than just authorship.

The stories in my mind are changing, you see. I don’t view them the way I did ten years ago. Lord knows Catch a Falling Star has changed in that time, significantly. It’s taken on a real seriousness instead of the faux seriousness I gave it in the first draft back in 1998 and 1999. There’s more pathos now. The humor is a little more refined.

Better? Definitely, but ...?

There’s those other stories I desperately wanted to write back then. They’re either long gone or have mutated dramatically. Maybe that’s a good thing.

So, maybe a goal should be that I want to get stories on the page as I originally conceive them. I know I’m going overboard here, but I am convinced that some of those stories I conceived of back then but didn’t write were damn good. Losing them was bad.

Then again, Blanda was a first ballot Hall of Famer and in 1962 threw 42 interceptions, a negative NFL record that will probably never be broken. He’d say let it go, Rock. The past is the past. Over and done with. Just write your stories now. Throw the next touchdown pass. Kick the next field goal. Onward.

One last story about George Blanda. The TV show Happy Days was set in the mid-fifties. In one episode, Richie (Ron Howard) and Malph (Donnie Most) are watching a Chicago Bears game with George Blanda as quarterback and he’s just getting creamed. Malph said that Blanda is finished, washed up. Richie says, “Naw, I think he has a few years left.”

The joke was that at the taping of the episode twenty years after the show was supposed to take place, The Grand Old Man was still playing.

Rest easy, George. Thanks for all the memories.

I weighed in at 273, only gaining a pound during the reunion period, including Brent and Michelle’s visit.

Starting tomorrow, I’m on a Monday – Friday schedule working until 5:00 in the afternoon. I won’t be nearly as tired after an individual day as I am now from a ten hour shift. I’m looking forward to that, as I am to hopping back on my healthy eating regimen.

I’m also looking forward to starting the new blog. ETA Halloween. Stay tuned. As for this next week ...

I’ll let you know next Sunday how I did.