Sunday, November 17, 2013

Interview with Author Claire Mulligan

I interviewed Claire Louise Mulligan, author of the collection “Reading Abigail and Other Stories,” and the novels The Reckoning of Boston Jim and The Dark. She is just back from the latest writing festival in Vancouver (her former home), where she read alongside such famous authors as Eleanor Catton, the 2013 winner of the Man Booker Prize.

How long have you been writing?

I wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a child.

Do you have a favorite author, one whose writing inspires you, or just an author you'd like to write like?

There are so many. But one is Rose Tremain, an English historical novelist. Her latest is Merivel: A Man out of Time.

So many novels today are plot-driven. The narrators are interchangeable. One-of-a-piece. But in Tremain's books, the character development is as important as the plot. Other than that, I love a poetic approach – a prose style that's distinctive without being overdone.

Are there any Canadian authors (besides yourself) that you'd care to name that Americans should be reading?

Definitely, more people should read David Adams Richards. He's very Canadian.

When readers become authors, they sometimes claim that they've lost the ability to enjoy reading. That is, instead of just reading for pleasure, they get involved in the mechanics of a story. Do you ever feel that way?

Sometimes, especially when I'm doing book club stuff. I tend to get very analytical. But that's OK – I'm in awe of great writing.

You've won or been nominated for many awards. Your first novel, The Reckoning of Boston Jim, was nominated for the 2007 Giller Prize and for the British Columbia Book Award. Once you've won or been nominated, is there pressure for to continue that with subsequent books?

Sure. Awards get you on the map.

Let's end with this: you've done many interviews. Can you tell us the stupidest question an interviewer has ever asked you?

My latest book, The Dark, has a theme of spiritualism. A radio interviewer once asked me “Do you believe in ghosts?” What does that have to do with anything? It's as if, if you're not a believer, you shouldn't be writing about ghosts.

Do they ask a writer who writes about zombies if he believes that zombies exist? Of course not. And they probably wouldn't ask if I believed in God – that's too personal. But they feel free to ask about ghosts. It's as if belief in ghosts lies somewhere between science and religion.

Another question I couldn't answer was “Why do Canadians support their writers more than Americans?” How would I know the answer to that? You'd have to do a sociological study to come up with an answer.

All I know is that it's true. Canada treats its writers like movie stars.

Thank you, Claire.

Claire Mulligan's website is She will speak to the Brandywine Valley Writers Group on Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 at 7 pm. Admission is free, but we meet upstairs at Ryan's Pub in West Chester, and the restaurant expects attendees to purchase some food or drink. For more information on this event, please go to

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Don't Hate Me

I'm cheating on my Starbucks this afternoon by writing in a BrewHaHa.

I know, I'm a rebel.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview with the Publisher of "Unclaimed Baggage"

To celebrate the publication of the anthology "Unclaimed: Voices of the Main Line Writers Group," I interviewed the book's publisher, Gary Zenker, who brought it out under his White Lightning imprint.  It is also available as an ebook from Amazon.

Gary, “Unclaimed Baggage” is a project of the Main Line Writers Group. You're the founder and leader of that group. How long has it been in existence?

The Main Line Writers Group has been around for five years now. It’s one of the most successful groups in the area. I attribute that to the writers themselves. They are really engaged and excited about welcoming new members. 

In most writers' groups, writers (and potential writers) meet, talk about writing, exchange tips, and/or do writing exercises. How did the Main Line Writers Group end up producing their own anthology?

In one word, talent, The writers that make up the Main Line Writers Group are extremely talented. We’ve all read each others’ work. I am in awe of the stories and story telling skills they have. Many of the writers have been published in a variety of publications: print collections, online collections, some have even published novels.
Since the group’s primary goal is to help the writers grow in all areas, we figured a collection of their work would be a great way to add to their portfolio and learn the details of producing a book.

And by book, you mean both a print version and an e-book, correct?

Absolutely. I have no doubt we will distribute ten times as many ebooks as print books. The printed book isn’t dead yet…some people prefer it. But ebooks are a necessity for almost any one publishing today.

Unclaimed Baggage” has a pretty low price, almost half what someone would expect for an anthology. Why is that?

This is a non-profit venture. We wanted to showcase the writers and give people exposure to them. As a group, we decided to cut out any profit from the sales. All of the authors agreed to this.

But most books are not group projects.

That’s right. There’s a huge value to the writers learning all of the steps and roles in the creation of a book. Over the next few years, many of them will complete enough work to create a book. And the entire publishing industry is changing so quickly. They need to understand ALL of the steps and options they have to make the smartest choice for bringing their completed works to market.

Whose idea was it to create a book?

I remember it being a group idea sparked by  by another book. A local writer, Jim Breslin, created a book called “Chester County Fiction.” It was his personal project, not but directly tied to the writing group he attends. I thought it would be interesting to do a book for our writers group and the members jumped all over that. A couple of conversations later and we had a basic plan for producing the book.

Where did the title, “Unclaimed Baggage,” come from?

We didn’t set a theme that the submitted stories needed to follow. We were just going to use the title Voice of the Main Line Writers. But we started to rethink the theme as we were creating the cover graphics, looking for a visual presentation. We found this image and realized that most stories involve some kind of baggage, figurative or literal, that people are carrying. Sometimes it’s the core of the plot and sometimes it’s just the backstory. But it seemed to work, the image and the title.

Finally, what's next? Will the Main Line Writers Group come out with another anthology?

Well, it would be a shame not to leverage all this knowledge and experience we gained. But it really depends on the group.

One last question: if someone in the Philadelphia area wanted to join the Main Line Writers Group, how would they contact you or find out when the meeting are held?

The Main Line Writers Group meets in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on the third Wednesday of each month (unless that conflicts with a holiday). The best way to contact us is through Sign up (it's free) - you'll get information about meetings, you can RSVP, and you'll get email reminders. And I'm excited to say that we have a new website! It's still being developed, but, unlike the Meetup site, it will promote the individual members of the group.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interview with the Authors of UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE, Part One

Nineteen Writers from the Main Line Writers Group have put together an anthology of their short stories and poems. It's called Unclaimed Baggage, and it's being released by White Lightning Publishing of West Chester, PA.

The anthology is scheduled for release this Sunday, October 27, 2013. There will be a book release party at Nestology in the King of Prussia Mall, from 1 to 3 pm.

In advance of this book release, we interview some of the authors who have work in this anthology. (This is Part One of the interview.)

Let's start with a quick, easy question: Who is your favorite author, the one whose writing inspires you or the one you'd like to write like?

Sarah Cain: I'm a great fan of Shirley Jackson. “The Lottery” still gives me chills.

Tony Conaway: Among contemporary authors, Michael Chabon.

Sue Drummond: Oh, so many! I like Annie Proulx, John LeCarre, Amy Tan, Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Russo, Yann Martel, CS Forester. . . even got into Faulkner this year. I am a voracious reader. Presently reading Tea Obrecht. Just finished How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. So many good books!

Julie Duffy: My first favorite author was Douglas Adams (I could recite Vogon poetry at age nine...). Having been weaned on him, I went on to discovered Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and of course PG Wodehouse, Mark Twain, T. H. White. George MacDonald Fraser is another wonderful humorist. I really admire TV writers Joss Whedon, Stephen Moffat, Russell Davies and Jane Espenson for their storytelling and heartbreaking use of tension and humor. I've always been a fan of mysteries --- sneaking copies of my mother's Dick Francis horse-racing thrillers off a high shelf at a young age probably caused my love of page-turners. Recent favorites include Ellis Peters and Elizabeth Peters and (I know, I'm late to the party) Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. I fell in love with Arthur C. Clarke's use of the Big Idea as a teenager and that was my gateway drug into Stephen Jay Gould's non-fiction and John Donne's poetry as well as other sci-fi, including Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, H. G. Wells and Neal Stephenson. And I haven't even started on the historical fiction writers yet...

Joan Hill: My current favorite author is Elizabeth Berg, whose realistic fiction reaches some gritty truths. I am also very much enjoying Aimee Bender’s work. She is quirky and original.

Tom Joyce: Asking me to name my favorite author is kind of like asking me to name my favorite song or movie. It’s the kind of thing that changes on an hourly basis. But one name that comes to mind immediately is Elmore Leonard. A lot of people justly praise his quirky touches and arch tone. But I think his greatest quality was his solid craftsmanship. The man knew how to construct a sturdy story arc.

Walter Lawn: Every American who writes poetry does it in a constant struggle with Emily Dickinson. You may try to pretend she's not there, but she always is. More immediately, though, I love Paul Zimmer's poetry - affectionate, humorous, intimate - he has an amazing, light touch in his deepest moments. I want to be him.

Matt McGeehin: Mary Higgins Clark was the first fiction writer I remember reading.

Robert Charles Mercer: There have been many authors that have inspired me. To name a few, there's George R. R. Martin, S. M. Stirling, Robert Charles Wilson, and Stephen King.

How long have you been writing?

Tom Joyce: A very long time or a very short time, depending on how you look at it. I worked as a newspaper reporter for nearly 20 years, and I did a lot of writing in that capacity. But I started writing fiction only a few years ago. I discovered that fiction writing is like newspaper reporting in the respect that it’s a frequently aggravating and nerve-wracking process, but ultimately rewarding enough to get you through the rough spots.

Martha Nawrocki: I have been writing since I was 12 years old but just for fun. In high school I had a really excellent English teacher who taught the fundamentals of writing. His lessons gave me the basic tools to produce well constructed papers. I was an English major in college but wound up in the computer industry as a programmer and knowledge engineer. I did a lot of technical writing along the way, so I really have been writing for most of my life.

Sarah Cain: I've been writing over 25 years, mostly non-fiction--speech-writing, video scripts, op-eds, brochures, etc.

Matt McGeehin: Fiction writing, I started in high school. Being a meek, nerdy type, that was my way of coping with all of the crap that comes from high school.

Julie Duffy: It sounds like a cliche, but as a youngest child I was 'writing' before I could write. I remember lying on the floor dragging a pencil over a sheet of paper in imitation of my siblings before I even started school. Once I could finally make the right shapes, I was off. I read and wrote incessantly...until they started to teach us to appreciate literature (around the age of 12) at which point my writing screeched to a halt. I didn't write creatively again until after I'd graduated from formal education. Since then I've been working on and off on my creative writing. Things really picked up when I launched the StoryADay May challenge in 2010 and discovered a lurking community of would-be writers online, desperate for 'permission' to write creatively again.

Walter Lawn: When I was 6 or 7, frustrated that there were no more sequels to The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, I wrote my own. I haven't stopped since. My penmanship has not improved.

And that's all we have room for in this post. Please join us this Sunday for the book release party of Unclaimed Baggage, and look for Part Two of our interviews with the authors!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

That's a Plan

I just don't have enough interest in sports to get involved in fantasy football teams. Instead, I think I'll join a fantasy boy band.

Friday, October 4, 2013


To show my solidarity with the furloughed federal workers, I'm not going to pay any bills until the government shutdown ends. That'll show them!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Four Questions for the Authors of This Year's Chester County Day Newspaper

Chester County Day is an annual charity house tour that benefits the Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA. It has been going on for some time - this year will be the 73rd time the event has been held!

To publicize the event, a newspaper is issued each year about six to eight weeks in advance of the event. Most of the stories in the paper are about homes that will be open on the tour, or about notable persons who lived in the tour area.

This is a panel discussion featuring four writers who produced some of the articles in the Chester County Day newspaper. This series of interviews was conducted via email about three weeks before the 73rd annual Chester County Day, which will occur on Saturday October 5th, 2013. The writers are Susannah Brody, Wayne A. Conaway, Jane E. Dorchester, and Catherine Quillman.

1)  Over the years, many different writers have contributed to the Chester County Day newspaper.  Do you consider yourself primarily a non-fiction writer or a fiction writer? Which kind of writing do you prefer to do?

Susannah Brody: I am primarily a non-fiction writer, especially if you are considering the Chester County Day Newspaper.  Often, my contributions have come directly from books that I have written on Chester County history.  But I actually consider myself more of a storyteller who accidentally became a writer.

Way      Wayne A. Conaway:  I've co-authored nine business books, so people think of me as a non-fiction writer. But I've successfully written everything – except poetry, which doesn't particularly interest me. I also ghostwrite blogs, articles and speeches for executives.

Jan        Jane E. Dorchester: I am a non-fiction writer.

Cat        Catherine Quillman: I'm a former Philadelphia Inquirer Arts reporter and so I'm primarily a non-fiction writer - but I prefer to write fiction! I have a MFA in creative writing from Temple.

2) H       2)  How did you come to write for the Chester County Day newspaper?

Quillman: Funny, but I don't remember.  (Editor) Eric Chandlee Wilson may have asked me in the early 90s because he knew I covered arts and history for the Inquirer. 

 Dorchester:  Eric Wilson asked me if I would be interested and I said “yes!”

Con      Conaway: My recollection is that I asked Eric if I could write for the paper. That's also how I got into the field of local history: I went on a nighttime Christmas tour of Church Street in West Chester. I wanted the tour data, but there wasn't a set script – it was mostly in the heads of the tour guides, with just some names and dates written down. So, if I wanted to get the data, I had to volunteer and learn the tour information from an experienced guide. I contacted the person in charge and volunteered. (This was in the early 1990s, before people started publishing walking tours of West Chester.)

Bro      Brody: Many, many years ago (I think when Beverly Sheppard was Director of Public Programs at the Chester County Historical Society) I was working on a resource book about (Coatesville ironworks pioneer) Rebecca Lukens. and was asked to write something on her for the Chester County Day newspaper.

Occa    Occasionally, Eric has seen a story of mine somewhere else and has asked if he could reprint it in the Chester County Day paper.

3)           3)  Has anyone ever objected to or disputed anything you wrote in your Chester County Day articles?  For example, it's not unusual for people to dispute descriptions of architecture styles - there are still arguments whether the West Chester Public Library is Romanesque or Queen Anne with Romanesque features.

Quillman: No, but I am surprised they haven't since I once tried to trace several forges and furnaces in northern Chester County. I think I also described how they worked. I have files of old literature from places like Hopewell Furnance. 

Dorchester: I hate to be boring, but as far as I know, no one has disputed anything I wrote for the Chester County Day paper.

Brody: If anyone has objected, no one has told me.

Conaway: I actually got hate mail about something I wrote in the Chester County Day paper!

Two years ago, I wrote about West Chester native Samuel Barber, a classical composer who is best remembered today for his “Adagio for Strings.” I wrote that, in just a few decades, the position of West Chester's most famous resident has gone from a composer of classical music to skateboarder/daredevil/media personality “Bam” Margera. (And I should say that, while I'm not a fan of Mr. Margera's antics, the only time I met him he was extremely polite.)

After that year's paper came out, I received an anonymous letter excoriating me for even mentioning “Bam” Margera's name in the same article as that of Samuel Barber! Truthfully, I was flattered that someone would go to the trouble of writing out an actual piece of snail mail, finding my address, and mailing it to me!

4) Fi     4)  Finally, do you have any interesting stories about doing your articles for the Chester County Day newspaper?  

Conaway: Most of the owners of the sites on Chester County Day are very pleasant.  But some of them are bosses or executives who are used to giving orders.  One year I interviewed a wealthy boss who tried to take over the interview.  He'd ignore questions, then tell me what to write. He'd even snap, "Don't write that down!"  I have a bad knee, but he led me all over his site, chiding me to keep up.  Since this whole interview took place in 95 degree heat - without air conditioning - it wasn't a pleasant experience.  But the article came out well.

Dorchester: The stories I have written for the Chester County Day paper either have been based on research that I conducted during my work or have been an extension of other writing assignments.  For example, I used to write a series of articles about the history of villages in Chester County for the Daily Local News (DLN).  I simply continued that assignment for the Chester County Day paper and for several years picked one or more villages in the given tour area to write about (I never duplicated any of the DLN articles).  I don’t have any interesting stories about specific articles.

Quillman: I believe I have to really delve back in time to answer that question - not just my own writing chronology but historically. I often wrote my pieces based on research that I gathered for one of my Philadelphia Inquirer pieces. But one time, I had a chance to visit the 18th-century mansion, Reading Furnace Farm in northern Chester County, once owned by the Pew family and restored by the famous architect Brognard Okie (the subject of this year's Chester County Day newspaper). 

Even after years of interviewing people in their homes, I rarely find that my preconceived notion of the owner is correct.  For instance, I was told that the owner of Reading Furnace  was a cosmopolitan "Ted Turner" type who owned several  radio and t.v. stations.  This was long  before the era of the big screen tv.   Still, I expected to see at least a "media" room or something else disconcerting such as a glowing red numbered digital clock sitting on a period dresser.  It turned out that none of that was true. The owner was a historian who filled the house with early furniture and even kept the 1920 look of many of the "Okie" rooms. 

The owner was first "historian"  I met who could claim the title without being a writer. Instead, he hired late Estelle Cremers, to research and publish a book on the mansion. She also helped to place not only the mansion but a tract of land straddling the French Creek (on the  boundary of East Nantmeal and Warwick Townships) on the National Register. It's now known as the Reading Furnace Historic District and includes, thanks to the owner I met, several restored and recreated 18th-century outbuildings. 

One more thing about the owner : he was not one to boast that "George Washington Slept Here."  That was partly because the Reading Furnace Farm may be the only house along the path of Washington's travels to have solid proof.  Washington wrote letters to General Anthony Wayne and to the Continental Congress, adding both the place, Reading Furnace, the date and the even time of his correspondence after the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777.  

And that concludes our panel discussion. Thank you all for participating!

The participants:

Susannah Brody is a retired learning support teacher, as well as a storyteller and author. She earned a Masters of Arts in Oral Traditions from The Graduate Institute in Connecticut. She has researched, written and shared stories about local history in southeastern Pennsylvania and has developed living history portrayals of some important nineteenth century women.

Wayne A. “Tony” Conaway has written hundreds of articles for a variety of publications. He is the co-author of nine business books from such major publishers as McGraw-Hill, Macmillan, and Prentice Hall.  He also ghostwrites blogs and speeches for executives. He can be contacted at

Jane E. Dorchester is an Architectural Historian and Historic Preservation Consultant who has been working in the preservation field and has been writing about history and the preservation thereof for nearly 30 years.

Catherine Quillman is a former Arts journalist with the Philadephia Inquirer and  has written extensively about Chester County's history and its artistic hertitage. 

She is the author of several regional books including 100 Artists of The Brandwine Valley (Schiffer) and three walking tours of West Chester detailing the lives of 19th century black entrepreneurs and former slaves. More information about her books can be found at

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So What Have You Published Lately?

As I mentioned in my last post, last month I had an unprecedented number of stories and articles published.

I had three works of fiction published.

And I had three articles published on local history.

But that was then, this is now.  Today is September 3rd, and there's nothing on the horizon for this month.  I have a story in an anthology that might be out next month.  And that's it.

So today, I sat down at my computer and sent out ten new submissions.  (Not ten new stories, mind.  I sent out four stories to a total of ten markets.  That's called simultaneous submissions in the writing business.)

But getting those ten submissions out took me all day!  I worked on this from 1 pm to 9:30 pm, and got nothing else accomplished.  I did no new writing today!

Oh, I revised some of those stories.  One had been rejected several times, and I'd already decided it needed a different opening line.  One flash fiction market only accepted stories of up to 900 words, so I had to cut 25 words out of the story I wanted to send them.

But that's rewriting, not writing original material.

Why did it take so long, even using a good tool like ?

Well, in addition to the rewriting, I try not to send stories out that are inappropriate for the market.  So I had to actually read some of these publications online.  It also takes time to read the submission guidelines.  And any interviews with the editors, in which they express their preferences and peeves.

So it takes me about 45 minutes per submission.  Ten submissions = 450 minutes.

Add 60 minutes for coffee, dinner, interrupting phone calls and bathroom breaks, and that comes to 510 minutes.  Or 8-and-1/2 hours.

Yes, I had a productive day.  I did necessary work.  But it doesn't feel satisfying.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Record Month for Publishing My Work

I haven't earned much money this month, but August has been a good month for getting my work published.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how a flash fiction story I wrote called "Potemkin" went up on THE RUSTY NAIL website on July 29th. But I'll include it here because I didn't get a hard copy of THE RUSTY NAIL until mid-August.  This story always gets laughs when I read it at bookstore and library events.

The first story of mine to actually go online in August was a mystery called "Murder and the Muse" in DANSE MACABRE.  Writing this story proved to be a challenge, since it's entirely in the second person.  (Using "you" instead of "I" or "he/she," like the Jay McInerney novel Bright Lights, Big City.)  Even more challenging, I never revealed the gender of the narrator!

Next, a comedic flash fiction piece went up at a site called LINGUISTIC EROSION.  It was called "Bustles Went Out of Fashion by 1905."  For some reason the editor/founder of LINGUISTIC EROSION puts his name up beneath each story title, giving the impression that every piece is " by E.S. Wynn."  (I suppose he justifies it by putting the pencil icon before his name - so, if you read it like a child's rebus, it becomes "EDITED by E.S. Wynn."  But I know some friends who went to the site, and assumed that my story was missing because everything seemed to have been written by E.S. Wynn.) 

It was also a good month for non-fiction writing.

Our local medical center, the Chester County Hospital, has had an annual charity event for 73 years.  It's called Chester County Day.  On that day, people who buy a ticket can visit selected homes throughout a designated quadrant of Chester County.  It's an exciting event, since it's the only opportunity most folks have to see the inside of historic houses that are not usually open to visitors.  There are more houses open to visit than anyone is likely to get to each year, so you can pass by the ones where the lines are too long.  (I've waited outside for over an hour, waiting to enter a particularly popular site!)

This annual event is promoted through an annual newspaper, also called CHESTER COUNTY DAY.  Although it doesn't pay its writers (it is for charity, after all), I've enjoyed writing for it.  I get to go to some interesting sites and interview the owners long before the actual tour.  No hour long waits!

Each year, I've written one or two stories for this publication.  This has been going on for over a decade.  This year I interviewed the owners of a house on the site of a former iron forge in the northwest part of the county.  It's a fascinating site, and I enjoyed doing the interview.  I also took some photos of the site and, for the first time, posted them on Pinterest.

I had two surprises when I first saw this year's newspaper.

1)  I had not one, not two, but THREE articles in this paper.  My new story about the iron forge house was there, as well as two old ones.  Three stories in one issue of this paper is a record for me!

2)  There was no mention of the photos I took, nor was there the link to the Pinterest site!

Now, the CHESTER COUNTY DAY newspaper is a volunteer effort, and the results are unpredictable.  One year the layout made a mess of my article.  Sidebars might or might not appear.  So dropping my Pinterest note was not a big surprise.  But it was still a disappointment. 

And finally, a blog post I was paid to write for a Spa website went up.  It's called "The Perfect Entrepreneur," and it's not half bad.

All of these sites could use some more hits.  So please, if you're so inclined, go to any or all of them and post a comment.  I'd appreciate it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tips on Working a Room

While discussing how to have a successful convention with some other writers, I suggested these basic tips for "working a room."  Most of the other writers had never heard these.  So here they are:

1) At most of these events, you will be given a name tag.  Which side do you stick it on? Answer: your right.  When you hold out your hand to shake hands with someone, that person has to look at your hand.  By putting your name tag on your right side, you allow their eyes to travel easily upward from your hand to your name tag.  It's a subtle effect, but a real one.

2) If you are holding a drink, keep it in your LEFT hand. (I'm assuming you're not a Muslim or in a part of the world where the left hand is considered unclean.)  Shaking hands with someone who has a cold, clammy, damp grip is unpleasant - and it really doesn't matter if your hand is wet because you're nervous, or because you just had a cold beer in that hand.

3) Finally, to insure you don't get stuck talking to just one person in a room full of people you should meet, try this old politician's trick: have the bartender fill your glass just one-quarter full.  Then, if you get buttonholed by a bore, you always have an excuse to leave.  Just down the liquid in your almost-empty glass, then say, "excuse me - I need to go refill my drink!"

Have a successful convention experience.  And remember - you're not there just to have fun.  There's a reason it's called WORKING a room - unless you're a natural-born gladhander, it really is work.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ready to Play Some Hnefatafl? It's Hneat-O!

Some years ago, I co-wrote a quiz which ran in every issue of an airline in-flight magazine.  Not only did the quiz have to be interesting, but (in theory) each of the ten questions had to relate to one of the destinations the airline flew to.  Plus a bonus question!

This was back before the internet came into its own.  In fact, it was so long ago that the magazine actually employed a fact checking department.

Yes, children, once upon a time there were learned men and women who made sure you didn't fabricate your articles.  They checked every fact, every single time!  Life was more difficult back then.

The editor also had to approve the topic for each quiz.  One of the quizzes was to be on games.

Matching the countries to which the airline flew with unusual games proved to be difficult.  I was dredging up games little-known in the USA, such as senet (Egyptian) and tablero de Jesus (Andalusia, Spain).

Tonight on the PRI radio show The World I heard of another game, called hnefatafl.  The name apparently translates as King's Table.  Supposedly, it dates back to the Vikings, although the hnefatafl world championships are now played in Scotland.

It's a board game, of interest because it's a two-player asymmetric game.  One side starts out surrounded  and outnumbered two-to-one.  That side's goal is for it's King to escape the encircling horde.  The encircling side wants to capture the King.  Interestingly, it takes two soldiers to kill a single opposing soldier, which is a rarity in board games.

It sounds interesting.  And it sounds like a perfect game for zombie fans.  Can you escape the ravening horde of encircling zombies?  Practice your moves with a round of hnefatafl!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Good Writing, Bad Week

Last week wasn't fun.  My mother was in the hospital, and my car needed a new starter motor.

But at least it was good for my writing.  I had two short stories accepted for MAIN LINE VOICES, an anthology set in the Philadelphia area.  And a story of mine, "Bustles Went Out of Fashion in 1905," was accepted by LINGUISTIC EROSION.

Finally, my flash fiction story called "Potemkin" just went online today on THE RUSTY NAIL site. I've read that story to audiences at several bookstore and library events, and it's always gotten laughs in the right places.  So I'm glad to finally get it published.

But I'm not sure the victories balance out the defeats.  Or maybe that's just my anhedonia talking.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dead Flight

I knew about what is called "white flight."  And "black flight."

But "dead flight" was a new one on me.

Today in The New York Times, on the op-ed page, there is a piece by former New York Times correspondent Charlie LeDuff.  The piece, Come See Detroit, America's Future, is about Detroit's dire financial straits, and how other American cities may face the same problems.

In the article, he notes that Detroit suffers not only from white flight and black flight, but dead flight as well. He defines dead flight as when "people routinely disinter their deceased and relocate them in the suburbs."

Amazing.  Of course, I'm not the kind of dutiful son who visits the graves of his ancestors.  I do enjoy visiting a graveyard occasionally, but - as long as it's pretty - I feel that one graveyard is as good as another for a visit.  So I never would have imagined that Americans would do this.  (At least, I didn't imagine that non-Chinese Americans would do this.  I know that people whose traditions include what we blithely call "ancestor worship" will move the graves of the departed.)

But it's an interesting phenomenon, and I'd like to write a nonfiction article about it.

And, though I'm generally not interested in writing vampire or zombie fiction...if someone's willing to PAY me for it, I'll happily write a story titled Dead Flight. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Different Opinions

Last night, I had 3,500 words (about 15 typewritten pages) of my latest work in progress critiqued.  Eight different writers read my work, and the comments were generally favorable.

The interesting parts were the places where they disagreed.  Not just sections that some readers liked and some readers hated.  No, what's interesting is where readers drew wildly different conclusions from the same paragraph.

For example, in one section, the protagonist (a homeless youth) slips a five-dollar bill out of the wallet of a drunk, hung-over lawyer.  Then he goes and buys donuts and milk and brings them back so both of them can have breakfast.

Some readers didn't like the fact that the protagonist stole money, even though he spent part of it on breakfast for both of them.

Another reader felt that the fact that the protagonist only stole five dollars (when there was more in the wallet) showed the protagonist's depth of character.

But this work takes place in 1963.  Five dollars went a long way back then.  You could buy an entire sit-down meal in 1963 for a dollar, let alone a few donuts and a bottle of milk.

What I'd intended to show was that the protagonist stole enough money that he'd have several dollars left over, even after he purchased breakfast.  He knew he had to deal with this lawyer when the man sobered up, and he didn't want to alienate him by emptying his wallet.

Ah, well.  That reader was too young to have known what prices were like in 1963.  I was a child back then, but I remember getting a five-spot most years for Christmas or my birthday.  When comic books were only 12 cents each, a fiver could buy a lot of comic books!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Only Writer I Know....

Photo by Liars Club member Don Lafferty

At today's monthly meeting of Philadelphia-area writers - an event known as the Writers Coffeehouse - local writer Jonathan Maberry announced that he and his wife are leaving the area to move to San Diego.

Now Jonathan (in the above photo, he's the big bearded guy sitting underneath the red-and-gray poster of The Sound and the Fury) is the driving force behind the Writers Coffeehouse.  They grew out of meetings he started, and he chairs them better than anyone else.  He's not the only one who does so, of course.  The Writers Coffeehouse meetings are the responsibility of a group of professional writers called the Liars Club of Philadelphia.

But the meetings won't be the same without Jonathan.

And he's an inspiration to the rest of us.  He writes 10,000 words a day.  He comes out with three novels a year.  Most of the professional writes I know need a second income to survive.  But Jonathan is not only a full-time writer, but he the only writer I know who makes a good living at it.

I consider him a mentor.  Earlier today, when I mentioned that I'd been offered the chance to do a movie novelization for $2,000, he told me, "Tony, Tony, Tony.  Don't work for that kind of money.  You can't make a living at it."  He's right.

So we're all going to miss not seeing Jonathan once a month.  Our loss is San Diego's gain.

If you're interested in his work, please visit his website.

Two of his recent books are pictured below.  I've read them both, and they're a lot of fun.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Almost 30 years ago, I heard someone ask Czeslaw Milosz, "What's the best thing about winning the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature?"  Milosz, who taught at the University of California at Berkeley, said it was getting his name on a parking space at the university!

Today I listened to the show "Science Friday" on WHYY-FM.  The host, Ira Flatow, asked guest Saul Perlmutter what was the best thing about being co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics.  Perlmutter, who also teaches at UC Berkeley, said essentially the same thing as Czeslaw Milosz: the best thing about being a Nobel Laureate was that he got a personal parking space in the middle of the campus!

Apparently the parking in Berkeley hasn't improved in the past 30 years.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Where There's Smoke....

I'm driving South through Brookhaven, PA.  Suddenly, fire engines and emergency vehicles appear behind me.  I pull over and let them pass.

Traffic is usually two lanes each way on this stretch of Edgemont Avenue - plus a central turning lane.  It was evidently built for just four lanes, so it's very tight.

Evidently, the emergency vehicles are blocking two or three lanes ahead, because traffic is down to a slowly-moving line.  But eventually I get up to where the fire trucks are, at the intersection of Edgemont Avenue and Brookhaven Road.

And the in...the smoke shop!  The big Rebel Indian Smoke Shop on the corner.

I assume that qualifies as irony.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Be Prepared

It was 89 degrees Fahrenheit in Philadelphia today.  That's 27 degrees above normal, a record. 
So, do you think it's time yet to take the snow shovel out of the trunk of my car?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Opening Day

Our first game of the season: Atlanta Braves 7, Philadelphia Phillies 5. 

One day into the season and we're already in the cellar. 

Sigh.  Yeah, that sounds about right.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Say

There was an interesting article in the Sunday Review section of today's New York Times.  (At least, it should be interesting to writers and linguists.)

Henry Hitchings wrote the article, titled "Those Irritating Verbs-as-Nouns."  In it, he notes the trend towards using verbs and adjectives in place of nouns.  The term for this is nominalization.

Examples include "I have a solve" in place of "I have a solution," and "That was an epic fail" instead of "They failed to an epic degree."

Of course, this process has been going on as long as the English language has existed.  As Hitchings points out, "ask" has been used as a noun for a thousand years, although we often add a modifier, like "the big ask."  I seem to recall several characters in James Clavell's Noble House (published 1981) referring to "the ask" - in this case, was part of a debt that the founder of the Noble House had incurred over a hundred years previously.

And how many newspaper or magazine columns have you seen titled "My Say" or "Having My Say"?

Just another tool for writers.  If nothing else, you can use it to make one character's speech different from that of another character.

Happy Easter!

I had a good day today.  At least, it was as good a holiday as I can have when some of the most important people in my life are not here.

But the ones who were here enjoyed each others' company, and that's as much as we can ask for.  Or expect.

I hope you had a good day as well.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Daytime TV Hell

I'm back at the car dealership, having my vehicle worked on.  Consequently, I'm once again trapped in their waiting room with a TV on.

Years ago, a sports fan said that he assumed that if he turned on the TV off-season, it would just show an empty ballpark.  That's how I feel about daytime TV: there should be nothing except a test signal until 5 pm.  (Maybe 7 pm.  You want news, listen to the radio or read a newspaper!)

But here I am in the waiting room.  Of course, I don't need the reading matter the dealership provides - I have my laptop, and a book, with me.  But I'm always on the lookout for new markets for my writing, so I always check out the magazines.

This dealership waiting room has: Landscape Management, Mushroom News, Western Horseman, and LP Gas ("The Propane Industry's Premier Information Source").  No lie!

I don't think I'll be writing for any of these magazines, since I don't know anything about these subjects.

Now excuse me, I have to learn how to teach my horse how to ground-tie.  (Whatever that means.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saint Valentine's Day

So, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will be resigning from the Papacy on February the 28th.

I have very low expectations for most things, including organized religion.  All I want from a new Pope is that he decides that Saint Valentine really existed after all.  (Back in 1969, amid doubts that there was a single martyr named Valentine, he lost his Feast Day.  Valentine was once a very common name, and there were lots of dead Valentines.)

The Catholics should follow the lead of the Anglicans, who kept Valentine as an official saint.  Even if they decide that Valentine was some weird, floating, bow-wielding cherub.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Waiting for Snow

The snow from Nemo the Nor'easter is due to begin within an hour.  (Actually, it will be a change of light rain to snow - just a drop in temperature.)  Waiting for snow is always an odd sensation.  Sound carries differently over snow.  Even before the snow begins, I imagine that I can hear sounds from far away.

Thankfully, I live near Philadelphia, which is often near the dividing line between rain and snow.  North of us they are expecting up to two feet of snow; the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have ordered everyone off the road.  But here in the Philadelphia area, it's business as usual.

Around here, tonight is expected to be just another night.  Only with an inch or two of snow.