Monday, March 28, 2016

Life Imitates Art . . . ?

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

This past weekend I attended something called the Writer’s Coffehouse New England. It’s just a little get-together of writers who want to spend some time talking about writing with other writers—or, at least, with other people who won’t roll their eyes when someone starts talking about writing yet again. It moves about, being held wherever the guys putting it on can find space: kind of like a literary rave, but without the music, dancing, casual sex, social abandon, drugs, and drinking.
 . . . Okay, it’s really nothing like a rave, but we think it’s fun.
Anyway, though I have known where to find this gathering in the past, this time it was being held in a bookstore I’d never been to before:  Jabberwocky Bookshop, on Water street in Newburyport. Newburyport is a small coastal New England town where on-street parking is a little like eggs from the Easter Bunny: they only show up once a year, and, honestly, if you still believe in them at your age then you have a little growing up to do.
I’d followed my GPS into town, and according to the little virtual flag on the little virtual map, I was quite close to the store, which was good; if you know me, you know that, try as I might, I’m almost never on time. For anything. My plan was to locate the shop, then zip off to one of the paid parking lots in town—hopefully there was one within sprinting distance for an old, out of shape dude who’d just spent the better part of an hour squeezed into one of those shoeboxes with wheels they call Mini Coopers. Even though I was in a bit of a hurry, I was driving somewhat slowly—in Massachusetts, no less!—craning my head about, trying to spot the shop; in other words, I was being the exact kind of person I never want to be stuck behind.
I was ignoring the various horns blowing behind me, as well as the driver who was hugging right to my bumper so he could offer me the old one-fingered salute—and from the things he was yelling about my mother, I can only assume he had mistaken me for somebody else—when suddenly I saw, right there by the side of the road, an Easter egg—I mean a parking space!
I darted into the spot—that’s one thing Minis are good for, darting—while lowering my window to wave to the yelling man. I was in even more of a hurry now, so I only waved with one finger. I shouted to him about a business transaction I had engaged in with his mother, and he drove off as happy as any Massachusetts driver can be. I wound up the window—and then sat there looking around for the bookstore again. I still hadn’t spotted the damn thing, but if I found the place quick enough I’d actually be on time for once! I stepped out of the car to gain a little elevation in my search—that’s one thing Minis are not good for, seeing over things—and that’s when I saw him.
There were quite a few people ambling about, but one of them stood out to me: a writer I know, Patrick, was walking down the street. Hey, I thought, he’s not from Newburyport! I’ll bet he’s on his way to the Writer’s Coffeehouse!
It occurred to me right then that one of the authors I grew up reading, Douglas Adams, had a character named Dirk Gently, and Dirk had a particular method of navigation: if he didn’t know where he was going, he never consulted a map or asked for directions. He simply got behind the wheel and looked for someone who looked like they knew where they were going; when he found one, he followed them. He called it his Zen method of navigation, and though he hardly ever got where he wanted to go, he very often wound up where he needed to be.
This is perfect! I thought. I’m technically lost, but there’s someone who looks like he knows where he’s going. Hurrah! Life imitates art. Thank you, Douglas Adams!
So rather than wasting any time asking the people around me for directions, I simply hustled after Patrick. And I had to hustle, because the man was moving with alacrity. With speed. With purpose. This, I reasoned, is a good sign. This is a man who knows what he’s about!
Patrick, it turns out, did know what he was about: he was about to be late. He’d never been to Jabberwocky Bookshop either, and as I strove to keep up with him he led me all the way around the block and right back to where we started from—I’d parked smack dab in front of the place as he walked past, and neither of us had noticed.
Oh, yeah, I recalled as we slunk in late, to take seats in the back. Adams wrote fiction. I’ll be damned.
And late.

Talk to you later!

Monday, March 21, 2016


Hey there, WYMOP readers!

I have no idea what to write about this week. As I sit here behind the keyboard, though, wracking my brain for an idea, I find myself staring off into space. You know what I’m talking about; we’ve all done it. And as so often happens when we stare mindlessly off into the distance, it turns out there is something right there that I’m looking at. I don’t realize I’m looking at it, but I am—all I have to do is change the focus of my eyes, and this blurry nothing I thought I was staring through resolves itself into a Christmas box with a snowman on the lid.

A snowman. Huh.

Odd, that box still being out with all the rest of the Christmas stuff put away in the basement, under the stairs. Is that why he’s smiling, this snowman on the lid? Because though the other decorations are all shut away in a dank, moldy space, this little guy with the top hat and green scarf gets to stay up here in the sun? Watching everything that goes on, week after week, month after month? He keeps me company as I sit here at the table, in this little space I’ve staked out in the house as my own, and I’m not even aware of him, watching as I write and edit, maybe even watch a movie to review.
I review monster movies—sometimes just watching horror movies on my own, because no one else in the house will watch them with me. Is his little smile even littler sometimes, his cheerful grin a bit forced, from some of the things he’s watched with me? When I walk away from the Chromebook—taking a shower, or doing some chore about the house—is he reading what I’ve written that day? Is he limited to what he can see on the screen, or does he scroll through the whole document, reading my stories from start to finish?
And what’s he doing up here, this little snowman on the box? How was he forgotten, left behind, separated from the rest of his Christmassy little clan? Why was he left alone on the table, rather than, say, a stuffed Rudolph, or maybe an animated singing Santa who belts out a tune while swinging his hips in an almost obscene little hula? Dirty Prancing, starring Patrick Swayze and old Saint Nick, Swayze delivering the awkward line, “No one puts Santa in the corner?”
Or would that be too obvious?
Maybe he was supposed to be unobtrusive? Perhaps he wanted to be left behind? Maybe they all wanted him left behind, the light-up Rudolph and sexed-up Santa catching our eye and holding our attention so the sneaky little snowman could hide upon the table—but why? As some sort of seasonal spy? A pair of coal-chunk eyes to watch us through the rest of the year, when the bulk of them are consigned to the darkness below stairs? Santa has his Elf on the Shelf; what if the decorations have their own Snowman with a Plan?
Do they have a plan? What do they want?

Hey, I may have a story here . . .

Talk to you later!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Ballad of the Bucket

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
This week, let me tell you a little story about bullying.
I think this was my first year of high school—though it may have been somewhere in later junior high, I’m thinking back quite a ways here—I knew a boy named Bucket. His first name was Scott, but everyone called him Bucket, so I just followed suit: I didn’t really know Bucket well, and I had other friends who went by their last names, so it just made sense; it was something boys of that age did at that time.
To be honest, I wouldn’t think much of it today, either. In my workplace there are quite a few people who are referred to by their last names at least as often as their first, and I am one of them. At one point, and for quite a few years, there were three Bobs and a Rob (that’s me!) working on the same floor, and for a while there was another Bob and yet another Rob. If you shouted out “Hey, Rob!” you were likely to go down under a stampeding herd of Roberts, so the whole last name thing just makes sense.
But I digress.
I can recall making a sort of connection in my head between Scott Bucket and the Charlie Bucket we meet in Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, a movie I had been watching my whole life—still one of my favorites, I love it when those little bastards get exactly what they deserve—and thinking it was actually pretty cool. But, as in my work example above, there was at least one more Scott in the mix that I can remember, so maybe that was why I was so accepting of calling Bucket by his last name. Whatever. I spent the better part of the school year referring to Bucket as Bucket.
Then came the day, toward the end of spring, when, for some reason lost to me over the years, I wanted to tell Bucket something. He was sitting in the front of the bus on the way to school, and I was lurking somewhere in the back. If you’ve ever been on a bus chock-full of teens on its way to anywhere, then you know their “quiet” mode is only slightly lower in volume than sitting front row at a heavy metal concert.
Getting his attention was going to be a challenge.
“Scott?” I called, somewhat like a young lady at her first school dance trying to ahem her way to a boy’s attention.
Yeah. Right.
“Scott!” I shouted, but all I did was add to the general cacophony around me. The boys sitting in the seat directly in front of me didn’t even turn around; how was this going to catch Bucket’s attention, a dozen seats away?
I inflated my lungs like I was about to take down a house of straw the old fashioned way, cupped my hands around my mouth like I’d seen them do in the movies, focused all my will, my energy, hell, everything I had, and bellowed “Scott Bucket!
Silence. Expressions of disbelief swiveled my way, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Way up at the front of the bus the driver’s eyes filled the huge rear-view mirror, but for once he wasn’t yelling at someone to sit down and shut up or they were walking; instead his silent stare was fixed on me. Scott himself was looking back at me over his shoulder, mouth agape beneath his glasses like a wrestler had fishhooked him to drag him away from his conversation. Suddenly I was the absolute center of attention in this little world of bus.
A hand fell upon my shoulder. I turned to the hand, my eyes following the wrist and arm up to their owner, my friend John, who wore a wide grin.
John shook his head. “His name’s not Scott Bucket.”
Already stunned at my success in getting everyone’s attention, I said the only thing that came to mind:
His name,” he pointed to the dark-haired boy currently rearranging his gape into a grin, “isn’t Bucket. It’s—” and he told me Scott’s last name, which didn’t even sound like Bucket.
“Well . . .” My words sounded quite small, tumbling into that huge silence that had filled the bus near to bursting. “Well . . . then why does everyone call him Bucket?”
“Because he looks like a bucket of shit,” said John.
My mouth hanging open now, I turned to Scott up in the front of the bus, who smiled big and gave me a thumbs-up that caused the rest of the kids to burst out laughing.
Nowadays that would be referred to as bullying, but—and this is what I want you to take away from this—that busload of kids wasn’t laughing at Bucket; they were all—and by all I mean all, including Bucket himself—laughing at me in my confusion, and because I hadn’t known about the joke.
Some neighborhoods had a fat kid named Chubbs, or Skinny, or maybe someone with some prominent teeth called Buckey—hell, even Bill Cosby had ol’ Weird Harold and Mushmouth. We had a kid named Bucket, who, as far as I could tell, embraced it, answering to it so naturally I spent a year thinking it was his name. No one was sued, or required counseling, or was expelled from school, nor did Bucket go on a revenge spree ending in tragedy and bloodshed. In fact, he made such little a deal out of it, he ended high school as Scott, not Bucket, and it happened as naturally as the changing of the seasons or junior high kids outgrowing their clothes.
What the hell happened to us?

Talk to you later.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Stick to the Plan!

Hey there, WYMOP readers!

So . . . I have this book.
I know, I know. You’ve heard about it, seen the cover—you’re sick of hearing about it. I’m actually a little tired of telling people about it myself. And you see, the joke’s on me.
I’ll explain.
Many writers are introverts, preferring to work on something alone, eschewing the company of other people for the most part. It isn’t necessarily that they don’t like people, but sometimes they don’t need them. Not all the time.
I’m like that.
Oh, I can be all talky-talk at work. Sometimes. But when I’m not, I just plug in my earbuds and listen to an audiobook and get to work. That’s what I’m there for, after all. Days can go by where I don’t talk to anyone in my office unless it’s something work-related—usually they’re interrupting me to ask a question or (in the case of my boss) give an order. I’m good with that.
In social situations it’s the same deal. I can be in a room full of people, all having conversations around me, and I can pass the time just observing them—and not in a creepy “Hey, that dude’s been staring at me for the past half-hour; can somebody call the cops?” kind of way. Well, not after that one time . . .
So writing seems to be the perfect thing for me. I love telling stories, but I’m not very comfortable with an actual audience. And I can tell you a story that I made up, no sweat, but talking about myself? Christ, why do you think I write fiction? If I thought I was interesting, I’d be tits-deep in an autobiography by now, giggling maniacally as I typed “ . . . and then I turned five, and it was all whew, watch out, world!” But I’m not, and I can’t imagine I ever will be. I just don’t like talking about myself. I mean . . . what is there to say?
Thus the joke being on me regarding this book I have out. It’s all me, one hundred percent me, and written by no one but me. Hell, I didn’t even ask anyone else to do the introduction, I just kind of winged it. Nearly every other book I’ve been in was an anthology: a collection of short stories from a few different authors. When I did an event or show, I might not have been flogging my wares to all the passers-by, but if they did stop and ask, then at least I had something to say: I’m pretty good at talking up my fellow authors.
“But what will I say about Echoes?” I asked my publisher. Whined, actually. With that dragging-stomping feet thing that little kids do—it might not be dignified, but at least it’s a little eye-catching in a 200 lb man.
“Flag people down and talk about the book,” she said, over-enunciating slightly, like I’d just stepped off a short, yellow bus.
“But it’s all me!” I was twisting back and forth now, letting my arms just flop loose. It looks bratty on a five-year-old girl, but I maintain that my forty-six-year-old-manness gives the move a little . . . okay, I got nothing. It still looks bratty.
“Then you’re going to have to talk about yourself,” she said, in a very end-of-the-conversation-and-don’t-give-me-any-backtalk voice. Male readers out there will know what I’m talking about. Every. Single. One.
Anyway, it looks like now at these events I’ll have to start engaging the crowd myself, and trying to sell them my book, with nothing to talk about but me and my own writing. So, in a panic situation, I did what any somewhat shy, socially inexperienced introvert would do: I Googled it!
From what I managed to piece together from my own, in-depth research on the subject (thank you, Wikipedia!), there are three things I’ll need to do:
  1. Choose a single person out of the crowd, and speak to them
  2. Make a connection with my audience
  3. Interact with my audience
Well cool! I can do all that, right? No problem. So I’ve come up with a plan.
1. Choose a single person and speak to them
This makes sense to me: I mean, if the crowd is what’s bothering me, I don’t have to deal with the whole crowd, right? They can listen in if they want, but I only have to talk to a single individual—and to do that, all I need to do is get their attention. To this end, I’ve been practicing something I like to call The Attention Getter. I stand in front of the mirror and look myself in the eye (pretending it’s someone in the crowd, I have a good imagination), brace myself for a second, and then shout “HEY!” at the top of my lungs. I can’t imagine anybody ignoring me after that little maneuver!
2. Make a connection with my audience
Okay, this was the easy one to figure out. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (one of my dearest friends, by the way), a connection  is “ something that joins or connects two or more things,” or “the act of connecting two or more things or the state of being connected.” So I have to connect, or join, with my audience . . . or, at least the single person I’ve chosen to speak to. All I have to do is get a good grip on their arm, or shoulder, or maybe I can get them to shake hands—and then not let go until they buy my book.
3. Interact with my audience
This one was a little harder to figure out. I mean, interact? That means they’re acting while I’m acting, and vice versa, and how the hell am I supposed to do that while I’m trying to choose a person to put a wrist lock on? Then it occurred to me that the same “choose a single person” rule would apply here as well. And maybe . . . maybe I can try the whole interacting thing if The Attention Getter fails. That clinched it for me: if I shout and they don’t stop, I’m chucking a book at their head.
It’s perfect! See, not only does that mean they’re dodging while I’m throwing—acting at the same time!—this covers what would have been the fourth thing on my list if I wasn’t running out of time tonight and had to get this blog posted pronto: introducing your audience to the product.

So there’s my sweet plan, and if you time it right, some weekend soon you can see me throw the whole caper into action as a huge, bookselling combo plate: hurling a paperback at someone’s head while screaming “HEY!” and diving across the sale table in a cross-body tackle.
 . . . Of course, if you time it right in a different way, you could watch one of the officers put his hand atop my head to guide me into the backseat of the cruiser. In which case they’ll be putting me in a nice cell, far away from all the crowds . . .which is where I kind of wanted to be in the first place.
See? Foolproof!

Talk to you later!