Tuesday, August 4, 2015

R.I.P., Rob...No, Not That Rob! The Other One!

Here's an odd coincidence: two men with similar names, whose obituaries appeared just one day apart.

Rob Lukens died Saturday of cancer, at the young age of 42.

Bob Lucas died last Friday, also of cancer, at the age of 75.

I knew the first one. Rob Lukens worked his way up from intern to president of the Chester County Historical Society in Pennsylvania.

He worked at other jobs over the years, from head of collections at Philadelphia's Chemical Heritage Foundation to the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center in Washington, D.C. But he always came back to the Historical Society here in West Chester, PA.

I was one of those weird teenagers who did research in the Historical Society. Back in my youth, it was a dusty, underfunded mess. A lot of historical societies are like that.

Rob Lukens took that Historical Society and turned it into a vital, modern museum. He had an infectious energy that made you want to like him. He gave public lectures and wrote columns on history. He even hosted a weekly radio show on history on the local radio station.

And he left us much too soon.

Now, the OTHER Bob Lucas -- full name Robert A. Lucas -- I did not know. He ran a bar in Camden, NJ, called Donkey's Place.

They served a limited menu as well as drinks, specializing in cheesesteak sandwiches. The television show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown featured Donkey's, and claimed that their cheesesteak might be the best in the area.

Which is interesting. But I didn't know Mr. Lucas, or ever eat at his Camden restaurant. His family also owns a restaurant, Donkey's Too, in Medford, NJ. I might have eaten there -- I've eaten at a lot of places in my time, some of which friends brought me to -- but I don't think so.

While I've forgotten the names of dozens of the places I've dined at, if your name is memorable, I recall it. Chink's. Chubby's. Donkey's. These I'd probably recall.

By the way, Chink's Steaks in North Philadelphia finally changed its controversial name this spring. It's now Joe's Steaks. Which is a name I could certainly forget.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Siri Is Funnier Than You Are

I've decided I want a new job. I want to be a joke writer for machines!

Understand, I've been a stand-up comic and written my own jokes. I've also written jokes for others.

I even sold some jokes that I co-wrote to Jay Leno -- jokes he used in his monologue on The Tonight Show.

But I never imagined I could sell jokes to Apple.

The new iOS 8 has actually made Siri funny!

Yes, your phone and your iPad are now funnier than you are.

An article by Marlow Stern in The Daily Beast compiled these clever responses to the sort of inappropriate questions that users posit to Siri:   

If you ask Siri the following: “What’s zero divided by zero?” you’ll get one helluva response:
“Imagine that you have zero cookies and you split them evenly among zero friends. How many cookies does each person get? See? It doesn’t make sense. And Cookie Monster is sad that there are no cookies, and you are sad that you have no friends.”

This witty—and biting—rejoinder is only one in a long line of funny replies. Here are some other examples of questions/statements you can pose to Siri that will yield fun answers:

You: “Read me a haiku?” 
Siri: “Sometimes I wonder / What it would be like to say / “I’d prefer not to.’
You: “I’m naked.”
Siri: “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘naked.’ Or at least I’m going to pretend that I don’t.”

You: “I’m drunk.”
Siri: “Just don’t breathe on me.”
You: “Are you Her?” [Referencing the movie]
Siri: “I’m afraid not, [your name], but she could never know you better than I do.”

You: What’s your favorite animal?”
Siri: “Maybe a tauntaun. But only when I’m cold.”

You: “Can I borrow some money?”
Siri: “[Your name], you know everything I have is yours.”
You: “Who’s your daddy?”
Siri: “I know this must mean something… everybody keeps saying this.”
You: “Open the pod bay door.”
Siri: “Without your space helmet, [your name], you’re going to find this rather… breathtaking.”
You: “What are you doing later?”
Siri: “I’m working on some pickup lines.”

Now, all I have to do is figure out where I send my application....

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Four Anthologies, And Counting

In case you're keeping track, I now have works of fiction in four different anthologies.

I have two short, humorous works in Chester County Fiction.

I have a piece of historical fiction in Unclaimed Baggage.

I have a Young Adult Horror tale in Fear's Accomplice. This story was written under the tutelage of Jonathan Maberry, a multiple Bram Stoker Award-winner.

And now I have a noir story in Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels, Volume III. This anthology was supposed to have been out last November. I just received my copies yesterday.

But publishing is an odd business. I've heard of much greater delays than six months.

All of these anthologies are available from Amazon. And I have several additional stories being considered for anthologies.

More to come!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings, Part Three

I gave a reading tonight at the Chester County Book Company in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It went well, but I learned a few additional tips to add to the previous two posts in this series.

First off, since I brought three different selections to read from, I've started adding an "approximate reading time" to the top of each piece.  One of the factors in deciding which piece to read should be how much time you have.

It's pretty obvious which choice to make.  If you're pressed for time, choose a short piece.  You should also pick a short piece if you sense that the audience is getting restless.

On the other hand, if the audience is definitely there to see YOU, then choose a piece long enough to satisfy them.  (Although it's always good to leave them wanting more.)

The other thing I'm adding to the top is where this piece was first published.  Maybe you've only published in a few places, and you're sure you won't forget.  But, if you're like me, you've published your work in many, many places.  Magazines, online sites, anthologies, and your own books - after a certain amount of publications, it gets hard to remember them all.

I also add the name of the publisher, as in: this story - Cute As a Speckled Pup Under a Red Wagon - was just published in the anthology "Locked and Loaded, Volume III," published by One Eye Press, best known as the publishers of Shotgun Honey.

I've also added amusing or relevant detail, like so: this piece of flash fiction - Relentless But Regretful - was just published in the online magazine Saturday Night Reader, for which I made a big $5. (But hey, at least they paid me, and did it when they promised they would!)

These may seem like small things...and they are.  But the better you prepare yourself for your reading, the more confident you'll be.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Observation

Damn, I'm going to miss David Letterman when he goes off the air.

I may have to throw things off the roof by myself.

(By the way, I co-wrote and sold some jokes to Jay Leno when he was host of "The Tonight Show." But writing for Letterman was the real goal, and I never made it.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What You Shouldn't Have Touched Your Lips to on New Year's Eve

Happy 2015, everyone!

And I hope you didn't catch anything while partying on New Year's Eve.

I spent New Year's Eve managing a comedy club. And, as usual, I handed out noisemakers to the customers when our late show ended, just before midnight.

I'm sure that many customers don't realize that many of the hats and noisemakers were left over from last year. You see, the profit margin in the club and restaurant business isn't great. If you can save a few dollars by picking up the hats and noisemakers customers leave behind, you probably do so. And you save them for next year.

I, however, don't recycle the horns. Once someone has put their lips on it, if they don't take it with them, it goes in the trash. I recycle the hats, and the manual noisemakers, like ratchet-spinners and those weird clapping hands that became popular a few years back.

But some restaurants and clubs recycle everything. Worse, they don't even store them hygienically.

I wrap my leftover hats and noisemakers back in the plastic bags they came in. Then I store the whole thing in a sealed plastic storage box, and put it away for next year.

But I've seen places that just throw them in an open box and stuff it in a storage room. Next to the sticky traps for rats and mice. I wouldn't want to put my lips on a horn that had been sitting in a dusty closet for a year where rats could crawl over it!

However, there's another issue.

We act under the assumption that the horns that come in a plastic bag are clean and hygienic.

That may not be the case.

It's probably true for things made in the USA. Nowadays. But for cheap horns made overseas? I wouldn't count on it.

And it didn't use to be the case even here in the States.

Years ago, when I was in college, I spent one summer working in a factory that made styrofoam cups.

It was an awful factory job. The company supplied each worker with earplugs because of the never-ending noise. And they had to hire four people for each open position. They knew that three of those four would quit before their first shift was over! THAT'S how unpleasant this job was.

To make matters worse, I was hired for the swing shift. One week on the morning shift, next week on the evening shift, next week on the overnight shift. And repeat. The factory was unheated and without air conditioning, so it was cold at night and blistering hot in the day.

I stuck it out for most of a summer. The pay wasn't great, but it was better than most jobs I could get as a nineteen-year-old.

My job was to stand at a machine, scoop up two stacks of styrofoam cups as they came off the line, and seal them in a plastic bag. (Over and over, for eight hours.)

What surprised me was that no one washed their hands. To stack them quickly, you put your dirty fingers or thumbs inside the cups. And the factory bosses didn't care as long as your hands weren't so grimy that you left dark fingerprints on the white cups!

I knew that no one washed a styrofoam cup that they took out of a sealed bag. They assumed it was sterile. These weren't.

Well, that factory is long gone now. (Last I heard it was a superfund site, from the chemicals they used!) Regulations in the USA have improved, so I assume sealed-in-plastic cups are clean now.

But items made overseas? In countries like China, which have seemingly-endless scandals about lead paint and other pollutants in products?

I wouldn't count on it.

So I'd recommend grabbing a noisemaker that you don't have to put your lips on, next New Year's Eve. Or buying one of your own, beforehand, and cleaning it yourself.

As to whose lips you put yours upon at midnight...well, that's up to you!

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I've Learned About Giving Public Readings, Part Two

In Part One, we covered the importance of having several different selections ready to read, in order to appeal to your audience.  Now we'll examine the physical aspects of your reading.

There's always a temptation to read straight out of a copy of your book.  Don't do it.  It's much easier to hold a few sheets of manuscript than an entire book.  Furthermore, you should make notes and changes to your piece, and there's little room to do that in a book.

Print out your selection, preferably on white or ivory cover stock.  Actual paper can blow away if there's a breeze.  Yes, you're inside...but a stiff breeze can scatter unsecured paper when someone opens the door to enter.  If you don't want to use cover stock on your home printer, print it on plain paper and take it to a photocopy shop.  Have them transfer it to the cover stock – their photocopy process will probably be better, anyway.  Your home printer may use water-soluble ink.

Of course, number your pages.  If they do get mixed up, you want to be able to quickly get them in the correct order.

At the top, I include the word count, and include a note as to how long it should take me to read this piece.  If I only have five minutes to read, I don't want to select a piece that takes ten minutes.

Assuming the piece has already been published, I include the information as to where it was published. If there's a website link, I add that.

Underneath that is my “key” - my guide to the different characters.  I put it in color, like so:
Waldo - blue
Victor – green
Bartender – black/boldface
Pirate Queen – red
When I read, I'm going to do different voices for each character, and the different colors remind me which character is which.  (Yellow doesn't show up well, so I print black in a different typeface instead.)  If I wanted, I could add a vocal characteristic, like “gruff,” “strong,” or “fearful.”

In the top center, I put the title of the piece, followed by my name.  No, I don't think I'll forget my name, but I might lose the manuscript.  If my name is on it, it might get returned to me.  But the current title is something I MIGHT forget, so it's good to have it on the page.  (I often change titles, so they're not fixed in my mind.)

The type is double-spaced, of course.  And, because you can't guarantee that the lighting will be good at a lectern, I bump up the point size from my standard 12 point to 14 point. 

In the body of the manuscript, I add diacritical marks to remind me of what I want to do.  If I want to emphasize a point, I put it in ALL CAPS.  I add a slash  /  where I want to pause.  (Technically, it's called a bar, but I've never heard anyone call it anything but a slash.)  A long pause gets two slashes, like so:  //.  And, since eye contact is important, type LOOK UP to remind myself that I want to to look up at the audience at that point.  The LOOK UP note also keeps me from losing my place when I go back to looking at the page.  I pick a spot with just a few words (easy to remember).  After all, I'm not just looking up at the audience - I'm also continuing to speak.  The punch line of a joke is perfect for this.

Then I put all the dialogue in the appropriate color, and delete most of the attributions.  You don't need me to say, “Victor said” when I'm doing Victor's voice.

Finally, I look at the text.  Are there any words I might stumble upon when I read?  Or words that might be obvious to a reader but can be confusing when heard?  (Homonyms, like whine and wine, for example.)  If there are any in the text, I change them.

Remember, you're there to entertain the audience – not confuse them.  You didn't take an oath that the version you're reading is identical to the one they would purchase.  Deliver the best reading you can, even if you have to make minor changes to the text.  And, like any other art form, you must practice, practice, practice!  Read the piece out loud, timing yourself.

Thanks for reading this blog post.  I hope it has been of help to you.  Please comment below – do you agree or disagree with the points raised?  And feel free to comment on your own experiences.