The Saga of the Adverb-Finder Thingy

Hey Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

A correspondent on a ListServ I used to attend regularly wrote that she was searching for the name of “a bit of editing software that would highlight all adverbs if you typed search adverbs or all verbs if you typed search verbs.”

Hackles rose on my neck. Here we are, back to the topic that won’t die: the dumbing down of America.

This is a writer’s slippery slope.

Searching for, finding, installing and using software that highlights all adverbs put the writer a tempting single click away from deleting all adverbs. And that’s just plain silly. I strongly advise against such software, even if you can find it.

If you believe perhaps you’re using too many adverbs, follow these two simple guidelines. The third point is a tidbit of important parenthetical information (and no, parenthetical information doesn’t have to be enclosed in parentheses):

  1. Never use an adverb in a tag line (the bit of he said, she said narrative that doesn’t make sense by itself and is most often attached to the dialogue with a comma). If the narrator has described the scene well enough, you won’t need adverbs in tag lines.
  2. Use only strong action verbs in your narrative sentences. This will cause all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives to fall away of their own accord. If you use only strong action verbs, you will consciously select only necessary adverbs and adjectives to modify the picture you’re placing in the reader’s mind. Again, this will occur naturally. It’s as easy as falling off a stack of platitudes.
  3. Despite what some folks say, not every word that ends in “ly” is an adverb. For example, the widely misused “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not an adverb that’s synonymous with “probably.”

English just isn’t a one-rule-fits-all language. DESPITE Mark Twain, who once wrote that when you find an adverb you should kill it, and DESPITE the felonious intent of wannabe writing instructors who tell their charges to use no more than three (or five or some other arbitrary number) of exclamation points per page.

I’ve heard similar advice concerning the use of em dashes (long dashes) and colons and semicolons. And of course we’ve all been taught that hunting season never closes on state-of-being verbs or “had” or gerunds (many alleged writing instructors call gerunds “ing words”) because those three word-types cause passive voice.

Uhh, no, they don’t, Grasshopper.

State-of-being verbs by themselves do not cause passive voice, and neither the word “had” nor those pesky “ing words” are within a thousand mles of having anything to do with passive voice.

Although it’s true that adverbs can clutter up your writing, some adverbs in some situations are necessary. And “necessary” is the key word. See item 3 above.

The secret to good usage is not to get rid of “all” adverbs, state-of-being verbs, instances of “had,” adjectives, or anything else, but to get rid of any unnecessary adverbs, state-of-being verbs, adjectives, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, narrative, and dialogue.

It is the Human Mind (yours) that should determine which words and sentences and paragraphs remain and in what sequence.

Okay, here are a few guidelines (flexible, not “rules”) you can apply to your own writing:

  1. The state-of-being verbs are am, is, are, was, were, be, being and been. When one of these is used in conjunction with a “by phrase” (e.g., The pizza was delivered by Harvey) you’ve written a passive construction (or passive voice). Passive constructions, unless you’re writing a service manual for a vacuum cleaner, are bad.
  2. Some state-of-being verbs are necessary. To describe the size or relative size (the state of being) of a city, you have to use a state-of-being verb.  But don’t allow your narrator to describe the state of being of a character. (Don’t let him say “John was angry” or “John was livid” or “Joaquin was frightened” etc.)
  3. Use Your Mind. Despite what your  father said, it’s a wonderful thing. The human mind is the original spell checker, the original grammar checker, and the original verb and adverb-finder thingy.
  4. As part of using your mind, Read Your Work Aloud. If it sounds good to you, it will sound good in the reader’s mind. If you hit a spot that sounds awkward or rough, that’s because it’s, you know, awkward or rough. Fix it.

Remember that you’re only in charge until the reader gets hold of your work. Only You can decide what to leave in or omit from your writing, but only the reader gets to determine whether it’s necessary or distracting.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at


Pearlized 180Y’know, I ain’t sure how it happened, really. I swear, Bobby and me was just talkin’ when some lady screamed. ‘Least it sounded like a lady. But I didn’t see her or nothin’.

Anyways, that screamin’, that made me look around right quick. So I did.

An’ I stared ‘cause I couldn’t believe it myself. Some maniac’s bearin’ down on me in a big ol’ truck. A truck! Here, y’know?

An’ I yelled, “Hey, what the hell?” y’know? Which completely chapped Bobby’s backside ‘cause he was right in the middle of a story about him and Jolene Murphy.

Yeah yeah, Bobby.

Robert? I guess. I always known him as Bobby. You know, since the old days when we was kids in school.

An’ Bobby, see, his best stories are about that time with Jolene Murphy, y’know? An’ I don’t like missin’ one’a them ‘cause Bobby, he’s pretty good at tellin’ stories. I mean, I was there, you know, but Bobby’s stories are the best. ‘Specially ones about him an’ women. An’ ‘specially ones about him an’ Jolene.

Hey, you don’t happen’a know Jolene, do you? ‘Cause, you know, I don’t wanna say anything about you people. I got Irish friends too, y’know. I don’t wanna say somethin’ you might take the wrong way.

No? Okay then.

So like I said, I looked around and yelled.

But the guy, he kept comin’, y’know? An’ he was leanin’ up in the seat, sort’a. You know.


Okay. Well, leanin’ up in the seat an’ kind’a back, y’know? Only it took me a second to notice, ‘cause when I looked around, all I could see at first was the front’a the truck.

It was huge. Like one’a them 250s or 350s or somethin’. Yeah, Ford I think. Yeah, ‘cause it had that little blue thing in the front. You know, like a long circle. An’ it had Ford in it.

An’ then I guess my eyes jumped upwards or somethin’ an’—

What? The grill? I’m tellin’ you this thing about what this guy done, an’ you wanna know about the grill?

Okay, okay. The grill was chrome. Prob’ly plastic, you know. ‘Cause that’s what they make ‘em out of now, but it was colored chrome. I mean, I couldn’t swear in court it was chrome or plastic unless I got to tap it with a fingernail or a quarter or somethin’.

But anyways, it was chrome colored. Okay?

So then my eyes kind’a—

What? Oh, the color of the truck. Right. Hey, wasn’t you listenin’? The thing was bearin’ down on me! I just now told you all I could see was the front at first, right?


Oh, the hood. Yeah yeah, okay. The hood is on the front, sort of. Yeah, I think the hood was white.

What? Whaddya mean, regular white or pearlized? I don’t know from pearlized. What’s pearlized, y’know? It was white, that’s all. Just white. Well, except for the bugs stuck on the front of it. You know.

Hey, what kind’a luck you gotta have to be one bug outta billions’a bugs an’ get stuck on the front of a truck, eh? That’d be a rough way to go, am I right?

An that’s what that guy was tryin’a do to me too, I guess. I guess he was tryin’a make me a bug.

Hey, you ain’t gonna wanna know what kind’a bugs was stuck on there are you? Or if they got wings an’ all that?

No? Good. ‘Cause I wasn’t payin’ that close attention.

Hey, c’mon. I’m just screwin’ with you, man. I knew you didn’t wanna know nothin’ about the bugs an’ all that.

But I tell you what. I was smart, I wouldn’a seen nothin’ ‘cause I’d’a been movin’ too fast to notice, y’know what I mean?

No? Hey, you ever had a truck bearin’ down on you, you’d know what I mean. You’d know then all right.

Bumper? Seriously? You’re askin’ me did the guy have a bumper? ‘Course he had a bumper. All trucks got bumpers, right?


Well, yeah. Okay, he had a bumper. Well, the truck, you know. The truck had a bumper. Prob’ly it had one’a them black strips across it, you know. Long ways in the middle.

Do I know for sure?

Whaddaya mean, did I see it or didn’t I see it? I been tryin’a tell you, haven’t I? You gonna do your job an’ nail this guy, or what?

Yeah, okay, okay. You know, whatever. The truck had a black strip, long ways on the bumper, a’right? Prob’ly more comfortable for whoever he was gonna bump off. Get it? Bumper? Bump off?

Aw c’mon. That was funny.

Sure it was.

Well, you know. Not for me at the time, but in general that was funny.

What? What kind’a headlights? Whaddo I know from headlights? It had headlights, okay? A’course it had headlights.

What? Round or square? You’re screwin’ with me now, right? Gettin’ me back for—

No? They make ‘em square now? You gotta be bullshittin’ me.

Yeah, you know. They might’a been square. I don’t know. Prob’ly they were round though.

No, I don’t know for sure. I told you that.

Look, you ain’t gotta like me, but if you do your job you gotta help me, right?

I wasn’t payin’ attention to the headlights or the bumper or the hood, y’know? An’ I only noticed the grill ‘cause I thought I was gonna be wearin’ it for a shirt.


Jacked up? The truck?

No, it wasn’t jacked up. It was on all four wheels an’ it was bearin’ down on me, a’right? Hey, earth to detective. You in there or what?

Oh, you mean like lifts? So you mean was it raised up. Why didn’t you say so?

Yeah, y’know. Come to think of it, maybe it was raised up some like that. ‘Cause the bumper, it would’a been at about my belt. Yeah, that’s why I said I might be gonna wear the grill as a shirt, see.

Okay, so the grill was chrome colored an’ the hood was white an’ bug colored an’ maybe the truck was higher up than some other trucks, y’know? So what? Look, is that it? Can I go now? ‘Cause I wanna get back to Bobby an’ that story he was tellin’ about—

Oh. Yeah. After I tell you about the driver. Right. Hey, I forgot.

Like I was sayin’, Bobby was tellin’ a story, y’know? An’ I think he was just gettin’ to the juicy part. Which I remember, ‘cause it was sweet. But I still like to hear Bobby tell it.

But then I heard the broad screamin’ an’ I turned around, see. An’ that’s when I seen the guy in the truck. Okay? You with me now?


Okay, so the guy was kind’a leanin’ up. Like he wasn’t sittin’ on the seat like people do when they’re drivin’, y’know?

He was kind’a leanin’ up an’—


No, he wasn’t leanin’ forward. Like I said, he was leanin’ up. Up! You know, like up off the seat. Like he was pushin’ his feet hard against the floor or somethin’.


Oh. Yeah, I guess he could’a been pushin’ hard on the gas pedal. That makes sense. Hey, that might’a been it. It definitely wasn’t pushed against the brake, eh? I’ll tell you that for sure. Guy was outta his mind, the way he was comin’ at me.

Anyways, it was like his butt was up off the seat, y’know? An’ he had both hands on the steering wheel, up on top, see. I could tell that too, ‘cause I seen his fingers an’ his knuckles.

Yeah, they was white. Like strained white, right? You know what I mean.

Hey, maybe his knuckles was pearlized, eh? Pearlized. I think maybe you made that up just to screw with me.


Yeah, well, that would’a been a good one. But I still kind’a think maybe you did. Hey, I got a dictionary back in the apartment, y’know? So we’ll see.

The guy? What guy?

Oh, yeah yeah. The guy in the truck.

Well, he had blonde hair, see.


‘Cause he wasn’t wearin’ no hat. That’s how I could see.

Yeah. So he had blonde hair an’ it was cut real short on top. You know, flat. Yeah, like a flat top. An’ he had on a t-shirt, I think. Just a white one, you know, like us normal people wear for a undershirt. An’ he—

What? No, no it had sleeves, but just real short, right? Like on a t-shirt. See, that’s why I said he was wearin’ a t-shirt.

Yeah, I guess maybe I’m gettin’ smart. But I guess one of us got to.

Whaddyou mean, whaddo I mean? C’mon, that was a stupid question, did it have sleeves. All t-shirts got sleeves unless the guy cuts ‘em off, right? An’ then that ain’t a t-shirt no more.

They call that like a wife-beater or somethin’ like that.

Yeah, I know it’s stupid, but I didn’t make it up. I’m just tellin’ you that’s just what they call ‘em.

Hey, wait a minute. Why you tellin’ me somethin’s stupid, eh? You’re a cop, right?

Okay then, detective. Whatever. The point is, cops ain’t supposed to go around tellin’ people things are stupid, right? You just ask questions. An’ then if the other guy says somethin’ stupid, you just ignore it. You don’t go around tellin’ a guy somethin’s stupid. That’s like Cop 101 or somethin’.

Yeah, right. Oh, maybe you was out that day, eh?

See? Now you’re crackin’ wise. Cops ain’t supposed to be crackin’ wise either.


Yeah, okay. Whatever. An’ whatever back at you.

So where was I?

Yeah, I know I was standin’ over there with Bobby. That ain’t what I meant an’ you know it. I meant where was I in the story?

What story? The story about the guy in the truck was bearin’ down on me an’ all that.

What story! You gotta lotta nerve, you know that? You drag me through all this stuff about the grill an’ the color of the hood and was the truck jacked up an’ all that, an’ the whole time you wasn’t even listenin’. What is it witchu? You get a free day from the asylum or somethin’?


What’d the guy look like? Whaddyou mean, what’d the guy look like? I was tryin’a tell you what the guy looked like when you started bein’ a jerk with all the “What story” stuff an’ askin’ me if t-shirts got sleeves an’ goats got teats an’ all that. Come’a think of it I don’t know you’re a cop at all.

Yeah, or a detective. Whatever.

For all I know I died back there an’ you’re Saint Peter, tryin’a keep me from gettin’ in. C’mon man, just knock off the—

What? Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, I can calm down.


Yeah, okay, I’ll focus. Whatever you say. You know. Hey, y’know, you got a pretty voice for a cop.

Okay, so what’d the guy look like. We’re back to that now.

Okay, he had that flat top blonde hair, like I said.

Yeah, an’ a t-shirt with sleeves. Okay? So we don’t have to go down that road again.

An’ he had on a pair’a them— whaddya call ‘em, like trousers but not really, y’know? Like dungarees or somethin’ like that.


Yeah, yeah. Blue jeans. Heh. But broads wear jeans, am I right? Men wear pants or trousers. Broads wear jeans.

But he was wearin’ them blue jeans an’ he had on a pair’a them big thick work boots, y’know?

Wait. Wait. The guy was wearin’ work boots.

How do I know that?

“Hey, how can I know that? How the hell can I know that?

“Hey, where you goin’? You gotta finish askin’ me questions, right?

“Hey, come back. Hey! Hey, officer! Hey, come back!

“C’mon, man, I was just screwin’ with you like you was screwin’ with me! Hey, c’mon man. You can’t just walk out on a active investigation, right? That’s what you call it, right? When you’re talkin’ with a witness who’s all tore up?

“Come back! Hey, come back! Can’t you see I’m hurt here? Can’t you see I’m all tore up? Hey!

The nurse touched the shoulder of the man on the bed. “Mr. Roselli? Mr. Roselli, can you hear me? It’s all right, sir. Just calm down.”

“Calm down? You say calm down? Hey, where the hell did you go? You want me to calm down, tell me where you went, eh? Where are you?

“Hey, you can’t just walk out on a guy and then tell’im’a calm down! ‘Specially when he can’t see you! Hey, c’mon back, man! Officer? Hey, c’mon back! You gotta help me! I can calm down! Hey, I’ll calm down an’ just finish tellin’ you, okay?

“Hey, I wanna get this over with anyways, right? I wanna go home an’ look up that stupid word you made up! What was it again? Pearlized?

“I don’t— Was it pearlized? Pearl eyes? Hey, was it pearl eyes?

“Hey, that Jolene, you know. Bobby said she got eyes like pearls an’ he was right. He said they’d pop. Said they’d pop like pearls, you know.

“Outta one’a them things. Outta one’a them— Whadda they call it? Whadda they call them things got pearls?

“Is that it? Hey, is that what you was talkin’ about? Is that it? Hey, is that—”

Is that what you was talkin’ about?

Was you talkin’ about that worthless little slut Jolene an’ her pearl eyes? Them things popped outta her skull like pearls’d prob’ly pop out of’a oyster.

Hey, that’s what’s got pearls, right? Oysters?

Hey, is that what you was talkin’ about?

Is that it?

The nurse looked up. “Doctor, he’s fading again.

“Doctor, he’s unresponsive. Shall I get the crash cart?

“Doctor? Sir, you know I need oral confirmation.


A long moment later, the doctor peeled off his gloves and tugged his mask down hard.

He looked at the nurse. “Yes, nurse, I know you need oral confirmation. No, don’t get the crash cart. Time of death: 6:34 p.m.” He turned to walk out of the room.

But he stopped just short of the door and turned around. He gestured toward the bed. “Do you know who that was, nurse?”

Quietly, she said, “Yes sir.”

“That punk piece of garbage was Vicente Roselli.”

“Yes sir.”

“Understand, we have no secrets here. You do whatever you feel is necessary. Let your conscience be your guide.” He glanced at the man on the bed. “He and that thug friend raped and murdered my niece.” He looked at the nurse. “Do you understand?”

He glanced at the body again, then back at the nurse. “They treated her like a slab of meat. They disfigured that beautiful girl for fun. And they walked out of court on a technicality.”

He paused and looked at the man on the bed again. “I wish my brother hadn’t run you down, Mr. Roselli. I wish it had been me.”

He looked at the nurse again. “As I said, follow your conscience. I thought I was okay. But when he said her name out loud—”

He threw the gloves in the trash can and walked out.

* * * * * * *

Creating Characters: Resources

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/12/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

Odd… I think I’ve never written a post on Creating Realistic Characters. I taught a seminar on the subject [in May 2013] in Bisbee, and I taught the same seminar in Tucson in February. Attendance was low on that one—meaning the market’s saturated—so I probably won’t teach it again for a couple years.

After the seminar in Bisbee was over, I realized it might be a good idea to bounce at least major characters—the protagonist and the antagonist—against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Doing so will help the author not only understand the character better, but it might also help the author assign particular character traits, quirks and eccentricities.

Certainly a character who still hasn’t mastered and moved beyond the Physiological level (his needs are only air, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion) would have different personality traits than one who had achieved any of the higher levels. The former character also would express those traits through different personality quirks and eccentricities than would the latter. Not really heady stuff, but something to think about.

After I shared the above bit of information with the folks at Bisbee via email, I received a response from one of my friends there (Thanks Lucinda!) who suggested a visit to the Human Metrics website.

At Human Metrics this particular link will open on the Jung Typology Test. Lucinda mentioned that her acting and communication students use it and find it interesting. I can add that it’s also a bit eye-opening, or it was for me. I recommend it.

Of course, if you answer the questions as your protagonist or antagonist would answer them, it will help inform (and form) those characters. It will help assign or explain character traits, personality quirks and eccentricities, and even  help the author initiate or resolve character arcs.

Why do I believe it will help? Because according to the site itself, having taken the test, you will

  • Obtain your 4-letter type formula according to Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typology, along with the strengths of preferences and the description of your personality type
  • Discover careers and occupations most suitable for your personality type along with examples of educational institutions where you can get a relevant degree or training
  • See which famous personalities share your type
  • Access free career development resources and learn about premium ones
  • Be able to use the results of this test as an input into the Jung Marriage Test™ … to assess your compatibility with your long-term romantic partner

How could that not be a good tool for creating a well-rounded protagonist or antagonist?

I don’t doubt that there are other online personality assessment tests out there. If you have discovered any that you found useful, please share those in a comment in the form below. That way anyone who chooses to check back will see the information as well.

That’s it for this time. Until later, happy writing!


Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at

As Long as We’re Wishing

Wishing 180Early on Friday morning, Johnny Flynn puffed on a cigar and eyed the Facebook entry. His daughter had written, “Man, I wish it was Saturday.”

As he watched, his son wrote a response. “I just wish it was 5:30 Friday afternoon. LOL.”

Johnny grinned and shook his head.

Ah well. He really should leave such things alone. Stay out of the conversations fueled by youth. What harm would it do to let the young wish away time? Especially while they still had it to wish away.

But he couldn’t leave it alone.

He couldn’t do that anymore than he could build a rocket and fly the hell off this silly little planet.

He put his fingers on the keyboard and wrote, “As long as we’re wishing, I wish it were November 20, 1952 and I knew then what I know now.”

He hit Enter, then sat back and grinned.

* * *

As he opened his eyes on November 20, 1952, Johnny Flynn had a feeling he knew a great deal more than he should.

But that didn’t make sense. How could he possibly know more than he should?

He wasn’t a spy or a double agent.

He wasn’t a significant player on the world stage in any way.

Or the international stage for that matter.

Or the national stage.

But he also had a feeling this wasn’t anything to do with external things. Well, situations or people external to him. It had to do with himself.

Hmm. An enigma. If there was one thing he enjoyed, it was an enigma. A puzzle.

Well, there’s an exaggeration. There were many things he enjoyed.

He was 63 years old, after all. He’d been around awhile.

So there were many things. Whiskey. Horses. Women. In whatever order.

Doing the right thing. Well, deciding on the right thing in the first place and then doing it. All that while living in the moment.

And thinking. His old man constantly said, “You think too damn much. You know that?”

No. He never had known it. Thinking too much came from the same box of hand-me-downs as knowing more that you should.

And trust. He’d known way too much of that. Trust was the currency of friendship. It was anxiously sought after, carefully given, and freely accepted. And most often snapped off at the knees and tossed on the garbage heap of experience.

And interpersonal dynamics. The psychology—or lack of psychology—of the human experience. Especially the dynamic of friends and enemies. How one could become the other in half a heartbeat and without warning.

That one was better learned through observation than experience.

In his mind he puffed on a cigar, a 5½” 50 gauge 5 Vegas Gold, then keyed that thought into his laptop. But he didn’t have his laptop handy. Or his cigar. Later maybe. If he remembered.

His mind offered a wry grin.

His face translated it into pursed lips and a bit of saliva seeping from the left corner of his mouth.

Another enigma. Another puzzle.

Why would such a benign thought cause him to drool? It had nothing to do with women, whiskey or horses. Maybe it was the thought of the cigar.

But cigars didn’t make him drool.

His mind frowned.

He wrinkled his little brow.

Well, that felt different.

What was that luscious scent? It was perfection itself.

Heady in a soft, gentle way. Could a scent be soft? Even warm?

But that’s what caused the drool. He was sure of it.

Back to the enigma. Where’d the saliva come from?

Okay, start with the facts.

So what did he know?

He shifted a bit so he could think more clearly.

Well, something definitely wasn’t right.

The mattress didn’t give way beneath him in the familiar way it always had.

And his pillow was gone.

Probably fell off the bed. That was bound to happen. He always slept on the edge of the bed.

Okay, so that was solved. And at least the covers were— No, there were no covers.

But there was something.

His mind frowned again, and again came that annoying sensation of a “little” brow.

Talk about your enigmas!

Take inventory, Johnny. Start at the top.

Okay, his hair hadn’t wrapped around to threaten his eye. Check. That was good.

His chest was bare. Check. That was normal.

And his waist was nak— No. Huh. Something bulky was strapped around his waist.

Did he keep his shorts on last night? He never kept his shorts on.

Well, “never” was a heavy word, but hardly ever.

Anyway, something was there.

It wasn’t his shorts though. Well, not the gym shorts he wore around the house in the evenings. The shorts he sometimes didn’t take off when he collapsed into bed. Rarely.

What time had he gone to bed? He didn’t remember going to bed.

Weird. Another enigma.

Well, it could blamed well take its place in line. He’d get to it when he got to it. Back to the inventory.

Let’s see. Head. Check.

Torso. Check.


Ah, yes. His waist. There was something there, and it wasn’t his shorts.

It was something thick but not heavy. And tight around the waist. So, like tighty whities. But this was a half-inch thick, minimum.

Okay, back to that later. If whatever it is was still there. Probably this was all in his mind.

Or there was some sort of mind-body disconnect. Like smiling in his mind and drooling from his mouth. Or frowning in his mind and a weird sensation on his forehead.

Anyway, to continue.

Nothing on his legs. Nothing on his feet.

And definitely no covers.

He raised his feet to verify there were no covers.

But of their own accord, his right foot, then his left, kicked up and straight out. Like he did sometimes when he woke up with a cramp.

Then up and out again. Almost gleefully.

Then again.

What in the world was that?

In his mind, he said, “All right. That’s enough!”

Both legs dropped and lay still. But again, the mattress didn’t respond like it always had.


And the skin on his legs. His feet. His torso.

It was different somehow. Clean.

No, it was clean after a shower.

It was fresh. Newly driven snow and all that.

As if the years and all that had come with them had dropped away.

He had to think this thing through.

He raised his right arm, an automatic reflex, to run his fingers through his swept-back brown hair. Well, what was left of it. He’d trained himself not to feel the bald spot on his crown.

But his arm didn’t rise like it always had.

It jerked as if suddenly released from gravity.

And the back of his own hand smacked his  forehead. It didn’t hurt like maybe it should have. It was soft on soft.

But still. What the hell?

Then the same hand, still soft on soft, dragged itself down over his forehead.

Had his eyebrows fallen off? They weren’t shaved. No stubble. Even with his rough palms the bristly hair of his eyebrows felt like fine steel wire when he rubbed his forehead.

But not this time.

And the back of his hand didn’t wait to be explained. It slipped off his forehead, balled into a fist and ground into his eye.

Then his other arm raised, his other hand curled and did the same to his other eye.

Had he lost all motor control?

Then his left fist shot up above his head somewhere.

His right fist dragged its way from his eye down along his nose to his mouth where he attempted to devour it.

That was no good. He had to regain some control.

He rolled his head to the right. The room was huge.

The rippled corduroy fabric of whatever he was lying on pressed into his cheek and the right side of his forehead. His right ear was folded forward beneath him. It wouldn’t stay like that, would it? Given that it was young and pliable? Or at least it felt young and pliable.

No reason to take a chance.

He rolled his head back to the left.

Oh, now that’s nice. Soft. Creamy. Fleshy.

Whatever it was moved the slightest bit, slowly, rhythmically, as if paced. The movement was magnified by his proximity to it.

He was too close. Focusing too closely. The muscles around his eyes were fatigued.

Ah. His eyes were crossed. That must be it.

He slid his head back a half-inch or so. To refocus, he blinked.

Ahh! Everything went black for an instant!

Then the light was back. That was a relief.

And the flesh stuff. The flesh was back.

Why did the sudden darkness frighten him for that instant? That was a silly reaction. That’s what happens when you blink, moron. Well, except usually without the flesh.

He was still focusing too closely.

He rolled his head slightly back to the right. But only slightly.

Good. A good angle. Now focus.

What’s that?

It was still flesh, but darker.

Instinctively, he felt it was a target.

But he knew things. He should be able to remember.

Wait. Is that a nipple?

It was a nipple! He was lying alongside a breast. And that was a nipple!

Well, no need to let all that go to waste.

A bit of saliva slipped from the left corner of his mouth.

His mind was torn between disgust at the drool on his cheek and a lecherous grin.

His more practical mouth simply formed an O.

Well, maybe I ought’a just— But when he strained to raise his head from the corduroy, nothing happened.

Was he paralyzed?

Then the flesh shifted.

For a moment, it covered his lower face, his nose and mouth. He couldn’t breathe.

His legs kicked again, and his arms flung themselves upward and outward.

He saw his hands. In the air above his head, his fists clenched—his tiny fists—then pulled back toward his body.

The flesh shifted again. Then the surface shifted.

For a second he was alone. Then something squeezed lightly beneath his arms and whatever he was lying on fell away rapidly.

His head lolled forward and he saw a couch. Ribbed cushions. He’d been lying on a couch alongside the flesh.

A massive hand cupped whatever was covering his buttocks and another slipped up along his back to his head.

He was adjusted, shifted, and lay on his back at an angle.

He blinked.

Darkness, then light.

And a huge face came into view. It grinned, showed its teeth. “Come on,” it said.

It wasn’t an it. It was a woman with dark hair, the breasts covered again in something white and loose.

What the hell is going on?

Who am I?

“Mama’s gotta go to the bathroom.”

And the scene changed. The room swept past in an arc at first, then slowed to a rhythmic motion. It remained mostly linear, then curved around into another smaller room.

No, a hallway.

Then another curve. A door jamb.

Then a smaller room swept past as she turned around, and the world rose as she sat.

There was a tinkling sound of water on water, then she shifted him again, onto one arm this time.

His face lay in the crook of her neck, her hand firmly on whatever was on his buttocks.

He blinked.

Darkness, light.

Something shiny.

A mirror.

A shoulder, part of a back.

A tiny head. A tiny wrinkled brow.

Who’s that? Who’s that baby?

He frowned in his mind.

The little forehead wrinkled again.

Oh no! No!

And the tiny eyebrows arched.

* * * * * * *

Writer vs. Author

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 4/10/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

I think all of us can agree that being a writer is a wonderful, if sometimes exasperating, predicament.

For writers, especially if we must pursue a day job in order to enable our writing habit, there really is nothing like making the time to sit down to write. If you need help in that regard, I urge you to check out Dean Wesley Smith’s classic workshop, Productivity. (When you get there, scroll down).

I’ve heard often that writers don’t want to write; they want to have written.

In my experience, nothing could be farther from the truth.

All of the real working writers I’ve known write as much for the process itself (and to entertain themselves) as for the eventual result of the process, whether poem, short story, essay, play or novel.

So what’s the difference between an author and a writer, other than the sense that an author is something better, somehow, than a mere writer?

My American Heritage College Dictionary (Fourth Edition) defines writer as “One who writes, esp. as an occupation.” Period. That’s it.

On the other hand, it defines author as “1a. The original writer of a literary work. b. One who writes professionally. 2. An originator or creator. 3. Author God.” Seriously, that’s what’s in the number three slot: Author God. Goodness! No wonder everyone wants to be known as an author instead of a writer!

But frankly I believe American Heritage missed the boat. Certainly writer and author aren’t exactly the same thing, but the difference is broader in some aspects than the American Heritage hints, yet I can promise you neither has anything to do with divinity.

Writers are folks who write and who are serious or passionate about writing, as outlined in the Thirteen Traits of a Great Writer. (You can read the original post for yourself.) They take great pride in the study and application of the craft, and very few things, if anything, are more important to them than their writing.

But more important to this comparison, writers are those who have the freedom to write and who exercise that freedom at every opportunity.

Authors, first of all, are writers who have written. But the author is a writer and a publicist and a marketer and a salesperson. In some cases, the author is also a publisher.

Now, if you happen to be Stephen King, you can be extremely successful and retain your just a writer status because other people are falling all over themselves to publicize, market, publish and sell your books. If you’re a highly successful author or are otherwise wealthy enough to hire publicists and marketing folks, you can also pretty much remain just a writer.

But if you’re anyone else, once your work is published, you have to be an author too. You have to be not only the creator but the manager, the marketer, the publicist, the guy who checks the coats and the guy who gets the coffee.

Now whether you bring a baggie full of Folgers and a coffee maker or just swing by Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks is up to you. Me? I’m a make my own kind of a guy.


Update: Since I originally wrote this post, indie publishing has bloomed. The best first thing you can do to promote your work comes in three parts: create a great cover, write a great beginning, and write a great ending.

The cover draws the reader to browse the book. The beginning sells the reader on the current book. The ending sells the reader on your next book.

The best second thing you can do to  promote your work is Write the Next Story.


Authenticity 180Well. That was uncomfortable at best. All of them gathering around my bed to see me off. Uncomfortable and prolonged, like a slow-acting poison.

For one thing, their being here forces me to look at them.

Not that I don’t want to look at them. Some are the issue of my loins, after all.

But their being here and my being forced to look at them also brings into my periphery that damned countdown machine with the little tick marks running across it. It’s bad enough that I have to hear the little boop, boop, boop twenty-four-seven without having to watch that damned line peak with every boop. One more heartbeat gone. That’s all I see when it makes that little peak. One step closer to being the hell out of here.

And that annoying bag of whatever it is, and the smaller bag below it hanging on little silver arms coming off that silly chrome pole.

I know the damned tubes coming out the bottom of those things lead directly into me at one place or another, even though I can’t feel them.

I know the morons who run this place believe they have a moral duty to keep me around as long as they can. What I’d give to live back in the time when a “living will” meant something. When DNR meant Do Not Resuscitate instead of Do Not Rush. Or whatever the hell it means now.

I wouldn’t have to see the windows that annoying nurse insists on opening every morning after she shoves the curtains aside and sings, “Rise and shine! Wakey wakey!” I can only hope someone will do the same for her someday.

Why in the world do they put windows in hospital rooms anyway? The one time I actually enjoyed having a window was the day before the paralysis set in and took my arms.

Nurse Cranston, now that was a real nurse, a real caregiver. She moved a chair out of the way, then move my bed over next to the left window. That was so the smoke from the cigar she brought me would go out the window and she wouldn’t get busted for being humane.

I suspect they nabbed her anyway. For some other act of compassion if not for that one.

After all, as my doctor told me, “The medical industry doesn’t exist to be compassionate. It exists to make people well.”

Bullshit. He was half-right. The medical industry exists to make money. I’m only in the hospital now because the guy wants to buy a new boat. I could lie under the shade of a mesquite tree out in the middle of the damned Chihuahua desert and do exactly the same thing I’m doing here. Except there it would be over sooner and more honestly. Plus I’d serve a final purpose, feeding the coyotes and cougars and buzzards and rabbits.

No, rabbits aren’t carniverous. But what’s left after the others finished would go to nutrients in the ground. And eventually that would come up in buffle grass or something. And rabbits damned sure eat that.

Anyway, I’m glad the children have stepped out for awhile.

Not that I don’t like them.

Well, not that I don’t like all of them.

I like some of them. A few.

Really, to be technically accurate, I guess I don’t actively dislike any of them.

I do pity some of them their need because it isn’t real. Those have confused need with want.

And I pity some of them their greed. Those few must be uneasy around mirrors. I mean, knowing themselves that they aren’t here to witness the process or to say goodbye. Their sad looks and utterances and wailings are only necessary façades. And the fact that they’re only façades is as starkly obvious as a stool in a pitcher of lemonade.

I’d probably move the greedy ones into the “liked” category if they dropped the façade altogether. I’d almost be proud if they came in anxiously wringing their hands and asking the others, “Is the old coot gone yet? Well?”

But no. Despite the ridiculous veneer, they’re here only to verify that my last will and testament is finally in effect.

Odd how “need” and “greed” rhyme so readily.

Let’s see. So those are the ones I pity.

No real need to go into detail about any of them. Is there?

No. Well, except maybe their names.

I wonder if I can remember all of them.

Let’s see, there’s Twirl. That was a mistake. It was also my dear, departed wife’s only shot at naming one of our children by herself.

Then there’s Kimberly, then Arston. That was my fault. And seriously, I should have named him Arsehole. If you knew him, the reason would be apparent.

Then there’s Trent, Margaret, Winston and Chelsey.

Maybe I shouldn’t divulge those things, divulge those secrets, like about Twirl and Arston. They say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.

None of them are dead, of course. Just my good fortune, I’m sure. But I’m equally sure that rule probably also applies in reverse. That the dead—well, the near-dead—shouldn’t speak ill of the unfortunate living.

Okay, so no more about them. Poor little timid twits.

It bothers me to no end—well, figuratively speaking—to know they will breathe for however many years the good lord and the fates give them and then expire without ever having known what it is to actually live.

But I can’t think about that. After all, good, bad or indifferent, exciting or blasé, their life is their life. I can’t live it for them. More’s the pity.

But what about the ones I do like? Why do I like them?

Well, Roger is straighforward and authentic. Not a fake bone in his body. Melanie’s the same. And Jasper and Kent and Amilie, really.

They’re upright citizens, those kids. And upright is not a matter of degree. You’re either perpendicular to the self-serving bullshit of acting solely for the sake of appearances or you aren’t.

When those kids weep, they weep because they’re sad. Not because someone might be watching.

When they become angry, it’s because they’ve been grievously harmed. And I don’t mean “offended,” but harmed. They learned the old rhyme about sticks and stones and broken bones at an early age, and they took it to heart. As a result, they don’t spend a lot of time fretting over the opinions of people who would suffocate if breathing weren’t an automatic reflex.

And when those kids strike, it’s not to punish an imagined enemy or wreak vengeance, but to remove a threat. Period.

Oh, and they speak their mind.

Not that they’re cruel.

Well, Jasper can be a little cruel sometimes, but I don’t believe he means to be. He’s more blunt than cruel.

I’ve observed that some of the others believe him too spontaneous. That perhaps he allows his emotions to run away with him. That when he’s baited, maybe he responds without thinking.

But that simply isn’t true. Jasper is very calculating and very articulate. Very precise. Although it’s true that sometimes his utterances themselves aren’t as surgically perfect as the thought that went into them.

His retorts always are directed at a particular antagonist, though sometimes he expresses them without regard for who else might be affected. Hence, he occasionally causes some collateral damage.

My daughter Margaret is a case in point.

Now Margaret is not pregnant. She never has been, and probably never will be. Even if that milquetoast husband of hers dared inseminate her, I suspect she’s too stingy to share nutrients with another living being. Even one growing inside her.

But she looks as if she’s carrying five soon-to-be newborns: one in her abdomen, one just above each hip, and two across the back.

So say Margaret makes a snide comment about her brother’s tie. Maybe the front is hanging an inch lower than the back. And maybe then she elaborates with something like, “You MIGHT want to pay closer atTENtion to your personal apPEARance. If not for the sake your PERsonal pride, at least as a sign of resPECT to FAther.”

And of course, whatever she says is always delivered in a whiny, nasaly voice and with all the snobby intonations in all the right places. Including her drawn-out pronunciation of FAAAHther. I still have a difficult time believing I sired such a pretentious snot.

Not to denigrate her mother. Her beloved, sainted mother would never do anything like that.

Jasper is likely to eye her rotund, grossly obese form, then smile and utter, “I tied it that way in case I suddenly balloon up, dear. Like you. But yes, I can see that you would know a thing or two about personal appearance. Trying to keep up with Thatcher are you?”

Unfortunately, he’s just as likely to say that whether or not Thatcher is in the room. Even though Thatcher is a decidedly good guy and we’re all still wondering what he ever saw in my daughter.

So like I said, collateral damage.

I tell you, if I could trade Margaret for Thatcher as a creature that issued forth from my loins, I would do so in a heartbeat. I’d even use one of the remaining few hearbeats I have left.

Melanie is turned much the same way as Jasper. The girl speaks her mind, that’s for sure. And I don’t think she would lie under any circumstances.

Well, except with that chump Nelson she’s been seeing. But that’s a different kind of lie. You know what I mean. What she ever saw in that guy, I have no idea. Maybe I should have Jasper run him off. The girl could definitely do better.

Or Roger. Roger would run him off just like that.

Well, damn it. I’d snap my fingers here for effect, but the damned paralysis has them. No matter. You get the idea. Nelson’s as much a mamby-pamby mama’s boy as they come. A waste of breath in a flesh sack.

Roger will take over as me after I’m gone. I’m proud of that boy.

He’s a distinct improvement over the original model too.

Unlike me, Roger thinks things through carefully. No charging into thunderstorms for him, not without a plan. But once the thoughts have come and gelled, and once he’s determined a need for action, and once the plan is set in concrete, that boy could defeat a kraken with a paper clip.

Not one of those cutesy plastic paperclips either, but a real one.

Then again, he wouldn’t use one of the larger ones either. He wouldn’t even use the large elongated oval, much less the big, thick one that looks like someone jammed three triangles together. If Roger has a flaw, it’s his overdeveloped sense of fair play. He’d want the kraken to have a chance.

Hell, if he could, he’d give the kraken some sort of kraken shotgun and load it for him. And he’ still beat him with nothing but a paperclip.

Otherwise it wouldn’t be sporting.

Then there’s Kent.

Everyone thought Kent was going to be a lawyer. Well, an attorney. The law has nothing to do with it. Including me. My dear, departed wife and I paid for college and law school for Kent.

Six months into his final year—yes, before he’d even graduated—he took the bar exam and passed it.

Then he dropped out and moved to Chicago to pursue a career as a drapery designer and interior decorator with his soulmate, Kevin.

I and his mother—and as you might have guessed, Roger, Melanie, Jasper and Amilie—applauded him.

Oh, I did have one question, and I put it to him one time over Thanksgiving Dinner at our place. That was the last time we were all together. The year before my dear, sweet wife left us.

I had a mouthful of stuffing, gravy and turkey when the question occurred to me. I remember I put one hand to my mouth so I wouldn’t spew anything and said, “Kent, why in the world did you take the bar exam?”

He squeezed Kevin’s hand, then smiled at me and said, “To prove I could pass it. I didn’t want you and Mother to think all that money went to waste.”

Kevin immediately burst into a glowing grin and patted his left palm repeatedly with the middle three fingers of his right hand.

Of course, the Needy Greedy gang—Margaret, Winston, Raleigh, Twirl, Kimberly, Arston and Trent—burst into applause as well. I suppose they wanted to show their “solidarity” or some such nonsense. Or maybe because they hadn’t applauded back when Kent and Kevin announced their intention to move in together. I suspect they were trying to impress me.

That bunch have always been a hundred and eighty degrees out like that. All I ever wanted from them, or for them, was honesty. Authenticity.

Meanwhile, I, my wife and the others (Roger, Melanie, Jasper and Amilie) nodded solemnly. We understood.

Oh, and speaking of Amilie, she and I have a great deal in common.

I spent a lifetime in the construction trades. In my time I did it all. Framing, pouring concrete, hanging drywall, painting. You name it, I did it. I did all the interior stuff too. Wiring, plumbing, all that. Well, everything but the design stuff. But once he was old enough, Kent took care of a lot of that for me.

But Amilie.

Amilie never liked dresses.

Her mother, bless her sainted soul, couldn’t keep that girl in a dress.

She’d wear it just long enough so her mother would lose interest and go on to something else. Then she’d spirit herself away to the room she shared with Melanie and Margaret and slip into a pair of jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and a little pair of workboots I bought her.

I had to get them for her. For five years before that she’d been stomping around the house in mine.

She was so cute with those little toddler feet in those size eleven steel-toed Caterpillar boots. Her little legs were swallowed up to the mid-thigh.

Anyway, her preferences finally came home to us when we were standing down on Main Street one cool, bright morning watching the Easter Parade.

She managed to slip away. It was no easy task for my sainted wife, keeping twelve kids corralled on a busy street on a spring morning.

When she noticed little Amilie was missing, my precious wife practically lost her mind. She told Roger and Melanie in no uncertain terms to keep a close rein on their brothers and sisters. She had to go fetch Amilie from wherever she’d wandered off too.

I’m sure she had visions of that kindly old gentleman who used to hang out in front of the Rexall Drug Store on the corner of Main and First. He was always passing out candy kisses to the children he saw.

Of course, being a careful mother, my sweet, devoted wife always kept the possibility in the back of her mind that maybe he was hoping for the opportunity to do something devious. And when Amilie went missing, that thought sprang to the forefront.

So she spun away from the curb like a whirlwind to go find her baby.

And there was Amilie, for all the world to see, hand in hand with Chief O’Brien. She was leading him to our pack in response to his gentle question regarding the whereabouts of her “mommy.” And she was in her altogether.

Well, she was wearing her little panties—the ones with the little yellow ducks on them—and her matching little yellow socks.

But her pretty little yellow and white-lace Easter dress and the accompanying bonnet was gone. We never did find it.

So from then on we allowed Amilie to dress herself and wear whatever she wanted. She never got naked in public again. And she never wore a dress again.

She and her life partner, Shaniqua, took over running my construction business a few years ago. And man are they good. Shaniqua is the business manager and CFO, and Amalie is the construction manager.

I’m really tired. I wonder whether it’s typical to feel so tired. I would think after all this rest, I’d feel energized as I crossed over into the next big whatever it is.

Anyway, that’s the lot of the kids.

Roger, Melanie, Jasper, Kent and Amilie over here.

Margaret, Winston, Raleigh, Twirl, Kimberly, Arston and Trent over there.

And never the twain shall meet.

At least they didn’t all come in at once.

The Needy Greedy gang came in two groups to see whether I was still around.

That isn’t very nice, is it?

Calling them that, I mean.

Of course, I never would call them that to their face. Well, or in public. I wouldn’t want to hurt them. It’s been a good life, I guess. Interesting, at least.

And they have a right to be needy or greedy. Not a right, really. It just is what they are.

Live and learn. That’s what they have to do. Like all of us, just live and learn.

I was glad to see them, I guess.

No, I was. I was glad to see them.

All of them want their own bit of time, I suppose. With the soon-to-be deceased.

I just smiled at that thought.

Will that be my last smile?

I could smile again, but it would be just as forced as all intentional last things are. An intentional last thing isn’t. An intentional last thing is a way of wishing you’d been aware of the actual last time.

I don’t do intentional last times. It would be unauthentic.

And I’ve spent an entire lifetime eschewing things that are not authentic.

And people.

I don’t care for people who haven’t the courage to at least try to live an authentic life.

Well, except for my kids, I guess.

Roger, Melanie, Jasper, Kent and Amilie have the courage. They’re doing it. I’m happy for them. They’ll be all right.

And Margaret, Winston, Raleigh, Twirl, Kimberly, Arston and Trent. Well, they aren’t doing it. They have other priorities. They seek approval of someone other than the person in the mirror.

My approval, I guess.

They all want something, and that’s all right too. That’s only human nature.

And none of them want to ask while any of the others are around.

But how do I know what they want? How do I know what to give them?

It can’t be the money. There isn’t that much anyway. And Roger, Melanie, Jasper, Kent and Amilie will see that the others are covered.

They’re good kids. Especially Roger. With Kent’s help.

Kent didn’t finish. He isn’t a lawyer. But he knows all the stuff.

Other than that—I think they call it an estate—other than that, I have very little left to give them.

The house, the cars. An old pickup. None of them will want that. Except maybe Amilie. That old pickup is as old as I am in pickup years.

Mostly what they want is a connection, I think.


Maybe all they want is to hold my hand. Or maybe touch me as I’m on the way out.

That’s okay.

That would be okay.

Here. Bring them in.

Bring them all in. It’s okay now.

I figured it out.

I know what they want.

Bring them all in.

I will be wonderful at dying.

Dying is the world’s most authentic act.

Nobody can do it for you.

What other people think about it doesn’t matter.

And I am the most authentic man I know.

* * * * * * *

A Phoenix

Hi Folks,

This morning as I conducted some routine maintenance on my website, I got curious. I checked the “Uncategorized” posts.

Those marked Uncategorized were not sent to any list by MailChimp. Not even the Pro Writers blog, for which I wrote them.

I found forty-three such posts, all of which should have gone to the Pro Writers list.

So I’m beginning the arduous process of perusing, updating and rescheduling those posts. Those that are still valid as-is, I will schedule to post. Those that are dated, I will either not post or add a note to the beginning, then post.

These posts will pop into your email in box every Tuesday at 8 a.m. (Arizona time).

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at

The Daily Journal is free, and you’ll get a great deal more valid information out of that than anything else you can find around the Internet. Plus you get an inside view on the life of a professional fiction writer.

‘Til next week, keep writing.


That Ain’t Right

That Ain't Right 180In the wings, the speaker adjusted the almost invisible headset.

Only the thin, fleshtone-painted bit of plastic that held the fleshtone-painted mic in position near the corner of her mouth was visible at all.

She glanced down, smoothed her pantsuit, and waited as the band completed the final strains of their third song. It was lively and upbeat, a musical call to action.

A disembodied voice reminiscent of a ring announcer introducing a much-anticipated heavyweight fight thundered through the hall. “And now. Laydeeeze and gentelmennn. Right here in your town. On this auspicious night. On this very stage. The champion of the poor and the downtrodden. The absolute center of her own universe. The monster of the midway. Please give a warm Chicago welcome. To the undefeated. Undeterred. Unperturbable. Marvelous Mallory Clanton!”

The last few syllables of her name were drowned out by a crescendo of applause.

As she crossed the stage, she smiled smugly out across the audience. Now and then she nodded as if she recognized a long-time friend. The first time she pointed, then flashed a thumbs-up sign with the same hand. The next time and the time after that, she pointed, then wagged the fingers of that hand in a friendly wave.

“It’ll show ‘em you’re friendly,” Bill said in that friendly, semi-gravelly voice one night last week when they were talking strategy. Then he bit his bottom lip for a second. His eyes took on a glimmer as he said, “You might even say it’ll show ‘em you don’t actually eat your young.”

“Ha ha,” she said. “Very funny.”

He nodded gravely. “But seriously, Mallory. One point and thumbs-up, then two points and finger waves. You can also fold your thumb inside your fist and point with the second knuckle on your pointer finger.”

“Index finger.”

He frowned. “What?”

“It’s called an index finger. Not a pointer finger.”

“Oh, right, right. You could also show your sincerity by biting your bottom lip, but that won’t work for you.” He grinned broadly. “Seein’ as how you could eat an apple through a picket fence.”

“That isn’t funny, Bill. And it’s getting old.”

He bit his lip again. Past his boyish grin, he growled, “Yeah, well, ain’t we all. An’ by ‘we,’ I mean you.”

“Bill, that was just mean.”

“I’m sorry baby. I didn’t mean it. Really. You’ll do fine.”

“You really think so?”

He bit his bottom lip again, then released it and nodded. “You’ll knock ‘em dead.” He paused. “Well, not like Vance Foster.”

“You know full well no charges were ever filed.”

He flashed a thumbs up at her. In that same quiet growl, he said, “You’re welcome.”

They both burst out laughing.

But he was right. She was going to knock them dead.

She stopped at center stage and looked out over the audience, bobbing her head and smiling as the applause droned on. The flesh-toned apparatus was discernable only to those nearest the stage.

As the applause quieted, she pointed vaguely and flashed a thumbs-up to someone on the left. Then twice more, once in the direction of the center of the audience and once to the right, she pointed and curled a finger wave.

She scanned across the audience again, her head still bobbing, the smile still in place.

Then suddenly, she struck a pose, her right fist raised, her index finger pointing at the ceiling, and shouted, “Control!”

The applause thundered to life again, and again she settled for bobbing her head and pointing out imaginary acquaintances.

As it abated again, she said, “The Washington elite would have you believe liability is important.”

Some members of the audience began to boo.

“No really. The Washington elite would have you believe what matters is liability.”

The boos increased.

She held up her left hand, extended the fingers, and ticked them off. “Liability. Responsibility. Even accountability.”

The boos grew to fill the hall.

When they began to abate, she said, “They would have you believe what matters is not that lives are lost, but who’s liable. They would have you believe that what matters is not who has nuclear weapons or what they might do with them, but who’s responsible. And they would have you believe, my friends, that what matters is not what’s in our future, but the erroneous decisions of our past and who should be held accountable for those decisions.”

More boos were forthcoming, though not as many and not as loudly.

She pressed on. “They would even have you believe, in a world that is filled every day with completely incredible events, that what matters is not what lies were told for the good of the nation, but who is or is not credible!”

The audible exclamation point elicited more boos, and again they grew to a crescendo.

She bobbed, the smile absent, and assumed her best look of incredulity.

When the audience began to grow quiet once again, she tucked her right thumb into her fist and pointed with the second knuckle on her index finger to the mezzanine. She yelled, “But I’m not here today to point fingers.”

Light applause and a few whistles came from the mezzanine.

“I’m not here to talk about liability.”

The applause began to spread across the audience.

“Or responsibility. Or accountability.”

The applause grew louder.

“And I sure as hell—” She extended her index finger and pointed vigorously at the ceiling. “Am not here to waste your time talking about who’s credible and who isn’t!”

As the applause rapidly increased in volume, she shouted, “We don’t care!”

As the applause continued, the audience picked up the cry. “We don’t care! We don’t care! We don’t care!”

Again she waited, soaking up the applause. She bobbed her head, smiled broadly, and again pointed out imaginary friends around the auditorium.

As the applause began to wane, she pointed her finger toward the ceiling again and yelled, “My friends. My friends, I’m here. To talk about. Control!”

As the applause died down, she moved to the front edge of the stage and spread her arms as in supplication. “And really, ladies and gentlemen. Really, isn’t that what we all need?” She paused, took a few steps back, and said more loudly, “Don’t we need control” and she pumped her fist, “of our own” another pump, “lives?”

The cheers were resounding, and again mixed into overwhelming applause.

At the top of her lungs, she shouted, “Is that too much to ask?”

Through the applause, several people yelled, “No!”

She bobbed her head, pointed at them, smiled. Over the applause, she yelled, “Don’t we deserve something? Or someone? To help us bear the tiring, wearisome burden of our lives?”

The applause fed on itself and continued unabated.

She shouted, “Don’t we need someone to help us?”

The same few people pumped their fists in the air and yelled, “Yes!” and “You tell  ‘em, Mallory!”

She grinned and yelled, “Don’t you need someone to deflect the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?”

The applause fell off as if someone had shoved it off a cliff.

Many in the audience nodded, uncertainly. A few raised their hands in acknowledgment and agreement. Several turned to their neighbors and exchanged questioning looks.

Oops. “Don’t you need someone to defend you against those who want to make you responsible? Those who want to hold you accountable?”

Again the applause began, respectfully. Many in the audience began bobbing their heads, ala Mallory, their fists pumping in the air as they shouted, “Yes!”

Those with a propensity for checking with their neighbors did so again, this time with nods and quiet affirmations.

“Sounds right to me.”

“Truer words ain’t never been spoke.”

Like a benevolent mother figure, the speaker shook her head and smiled. “After all, we’re only human.” She raised her eyebrows and nodded encouragement. “Aren’t we?”

Again, many nodded or raised their hands. Several said, “That’s right” or “Yes, we are only human” as if the thought had never occurred to them before that moment.

“Sure,” she said more quietly, her head bobbing. “Sure, we’re only human. And in the course of being human—in the fullness of our imperfection, in the extent of our inadequacy—we make mistakes, don’t we?”

The audience responded, mostly to each other with knowing nods.

Some mumbled, “Oh yes. Yes, we make mistakes.”

A few flashed a proud, toothy grin in the direction of their neighbors. “I’ve made some doozies in my time. And you know that’s true.”

And the speaker said, “So now it’s time for the important question.” She paused to allow anticipation to build. “I ask you—all of you, because I’m nothing if not inclusive.” She smiled broadly. “Imperfect creatures that we are, is it inherently fair that we should be held strictly accountable for those mistakes?”

Imperfect? Inherently? Strictly accountable?

Unsure of what she expected of them, very few in the audience responded. Those few muttered, “Prob’ly not.”

The speaker suddenly took a step forward and spread her hands as if beseeching angels to come forth. More forcefully, she said, “Well, is it?”

The crowd understood. Many more responded, and more loudly, “Nah, that ain’t right.” Some turned to their neighbors again. “That ain’t right, is it?”

Arms still raised as he turned slightly on the stage, the speaker yelled, “Is it?”

And as one, the audience shouted, “No!”

In the back of the room on the left, a small group stood and began shouting, “That ain’t right. That ain’t right. That ain’t right.”

The speaker glanced in their direction and beamed a smile while bobbing her head. As she lowered her arms, she laughed and wagged her hands, gesturing for them to take their seats.

But pumping their fists into the air, they continued more forcefully. “That ain’t right! That ain’t right!”

Soon the chant spread throughout the auditorium as more audience members stood. Some raised their fists rhythmically. Others pointed toward the stage, their index fingers protruding from their fists. Over and over again they chanted, “That ain’t right! That ain’t right!”

Still smiling broadly, the speaker took a step back on the stage, as if that difference in vantage point would give her a broader perspective.

She bowed her head for a moment, as if overcome with emotion, then raised her head again and gazed out over the audience. She nodded like a mother might at an adoring child. Her head bobbed as she said quietly, “That’s right. That’s right. You’ve born enough burdens in your life, haven’t you?”

Almost everyone nodded. They began to take their seats.

As the shouts of “That ain’t right” diminished, the hall was filled with variations on “Mmmhmm” and “Yes we have” and “You know that’s right.”

Those utterances mixed with the dwindling shouts of “That ain’t right.” Beneath it all lay the rippling undercurrent of audience members affirming to each other that this woman truly knew them.

As the crowd began to calm down, the speaker shrugged. Quietly, she said, “So what are we gonna do about it?”

Her quiet utterance had the desired effect as the audience grew silent.

Again, throughout the audience, many turned to their neighbors. “Wha’d she say? I didn’t catch that.”

The speaker nodded. “What can we do about it?” She paused. “No, seriously. I’d like to know.”

She allowed her gaze to rake slowly across the audience nearer the stage, left to right. Then farther back, right to left. Then up to the mezzanine, left to right again.

Quietly, with overtones of sadness, she said, “We’re all in the same boat here, you and I.”

She looked down at the stage for a moment. When she raised her head, she looked up at the mezzanine again, then shifted her gaze lower. In the most heartfelt tone she could muster, she said, “We’re the same, you and I.” She paused.

“In fact, we’re exactly the same.” She paused again, then lowered her head and spread her arms as if to embrace them. “Just like you, I’m only human.”

The audience waited.

She repeated that. “Just like you, I’m only human. Just like you, I’m not perfect.”

Several in the crowd yelled, “No!”

She bobbed her head. “Oh yes. Yes.” She paused. “And just like you, I’ve made my share of mistakes.”

Laughter rippled through the audience.

She nodded, a wry smile on her face. “No, it’s true. Really.” She forcefully said, “That. Is why. I’m here with you today.”

Applause began rippling through the audience again.

“That. Is why. I can relate.” She bobbed her head again. Then she yelled, “And that. Is why. I am firmly on your side!”

The applause picked up, accompanied by nods and shouted affirmations from the audience. “That’s right, girl!”

“You tell ‘em, Mallory!”

“You get us!”

“My friends, I’m on your side in this war.

“I know where you live; I’ve lived there.

“I know what it’s like; I’ve been there.

“And I’m the one person who can deliver what you need!

“I’m the one person you can trust!

“I’ll lock up those who speak against you!

“I’ll lock up those who would foist responsibility on you!

“I’ll lock up those who would try to hold you accountable for your actions!

“Ladies and gentlemen, I will take control of your lives and you’ll never have to worry again!”

Then a house fell on her and the toes of her pumps curled all the way up to her pantsuit.

The audience fell silent.

They gawked at the stage.

Eyebrows raised and eyes grew large with disbelief.

And a murmur began and eventually worked its way around the auditorium. The most often expressed question was, “What will we do now?”

And the most often expressed response was, “Wanna go get a Coke?”

* * * * * * *


There Will Come Hard Rains

Hard Rains 180Shortly before 4 a.m. the rain began.

As is usual in the high desert, it came with a gentle westerly breeze. It started as a drizzle in the valley and a light rain along the Sandia Crest. But the volume and velocity of the raindrops steadily increased. That too was not out of the ordinary.

But the rain itself was far from ordinary.

The fourth casualty was Officer Rafael Sanchez.

* * *

At 3:15 he pulled into the Owl Parking lot.

He shifted his cruiser into park, then waited for a moment, listening.

The engine raced, refusing to back down. He punched and release the gas pedal lightly, and the engine dropped back into a gentle idle.

He made a mental note. When he got off at 7, he’d try to catch the captain coming in and let him know.

Sometimes the captain was a little late. If that happened today— well, he’d wait around.

He didn’t know enough about engines. Maybe the sticky throttle was a warning. Maybe it was indicative of a larger problem. He didn’t want to be in a situation where an unresponsive car might dull his chances of survival.

And probably it was a quick fix anyway. Probably the guys down at Hayes Automotive would make the adjustment and have the car back before his next shift.

He switched off the engine, opened the door and got out.

But he’d forgotten to call in.

He checked to be sure the door was locked, a habit. And as he walked across the parking lot, he reached up to key the mic on his shoulder. “Two-seven, PD.”

“Go ahead 27.”

“I’ll be 10-6 at the Owl with a burger.”

Light laughter crackled over the radio. “Tell Rosie hello from me. Personally.”

Rafael grinned. Miranda was such a flirt. She always called herself his number one fan, and she was jealous of Rosalie Gonzales. “Ten-four. Out.”

“PD out.”

The smile still on his face, he opened the front door of the café and waved to the manager. “Hey Burt.”

“Rafael. Imagine seeing you here.” He grinned, then glanced at his watch. “You’re a little late tonight.” Then he gestured with one hand. “Back corner, main dining room.”

Rafael nodded. He already knew which section of the restaurant Rosie would be serving tonight.

He’d been coming here every morning for a burger and fries. In the topsy-turvy world of graveyard shift, 3 a.m. was his lunch time.

The place was almost empty. At this time of the morning, most of the citizens were home in bed. Of those hangers-on who barhopped the night away, most stopped into the lesser-known cafés off the main drag. Either that or they hit the drive-through joints.

But three places in the main dining room were occupied. Two tables and a booth.

At one, two kids in jeans, t-shirts and baseball caps were talking quietly. Air Force boys from Kirtland, the nearby base, from the looks of it. Each had a beer in his left hand. Bud Light and Coors Light. They were young, and they had trim physiques and conservative haircuts.

After four years in the Marine Corps—Rafael jokingly called it his civilian-appreciation course—he found it easy to recognize military types.

At the booth, a man and woman were leaning across the table, arguing. Well, he was arguing. He was dressed like a mechanic or maybe a carpenter. Jeans and heavy boots, a grey work shirt hanging open over a white t-shirt. He wore a ball cap too, tipped back on his head. The Albuquerque Isotopes.

She wore dingy white shorts halfway to her knees, a loose blouse and a harangued look.

He hoped they’d keep it civil. Or civil enough, at least, so he could enjoy his burger.

The last occupied table was also the last table short of Rosie’s section.

A Mexican man, dressed much like the man in the booth, was dining with two younger ones. Probably his sons.

Maria, the other waitress on the floor, stood over him. Her ticket book was in her left hand, her pen poised for action in her right. “How do you want your eggs?”

“Shprise me, baby.”

Maria leaned forward. “Boo! Now how would you like your eggs?”

The man leaned back in his chair and laughed. Obnoxiously. “Hey, that wash purty good. Joo ought’a be a comeed- comeed— Joo ought’a be down at the improv.”

Maria nodded. “Uh huh. I’ll probably have to if you don’t tell me how you want your eggs.”

He wagged one hand, an exaggerated motion. “Ah, jus’ make ‘em over eashy.”

As she started writing, one of the boys said, “Papá, the whites are runny in those.”

The man raised his hand again. “I mean, make ‘em over medimum.”

She started writing again, and he said, “Ah hell, just scramble ‘em.”

“Scrambled. Yes sir.” Then she quickly turned away and walked into Rafael.

He looked down and grinned. “Maria, how’s it going?”

“Grr,” she said quietly, and headed toward the counter to place the order.

The older man at the table noticed Rafael and raised one hand. “Howdy, offisher.”

Rafael nodded. “Howdy. How’re you guys doing tonight?”

“We ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong, offisher. We’re jus’ gettin’ some breakfas’.”

“I heard.” He turned to the younger ones. “You guys doing okay?”

The one who had warned his father off the over-easy eggs glanced at his brother, then looked up. “Yes sir.” A bit more quietly, he said, “I’m eighteen and I only had one beer tonight. I’ll be driving when we leave here.”

Rafael nodded. “Smart man. Be safe, all right?”

“Yes sir.”

He headed for the corner table, his usual when Rosie had the back section.

She came bustling out of the kitchen, a grin on her face. At five-four and in the neighborhood of 125 pounds, she was dynamite with a very short fuse. And it seemed always lit.

Her black, floor-length skirt swayed around her as she swiveled past tables and chairs. Her perfect breasts pressed against her white blouse. The wide mother-of-pearl comb in her raven hair completed the ensemble. He’d never seen her shoes.

“Hey Rafael. What’s shakin’?”

“Quiet night, Rosie. The way I like it.”

“What’ll you have, officer?”

He frowned. “You got a menu in this place?”

She laughed. “One burger and fries, comin’ up. Actually it’s already cooking. I saw you talkin’ on the radio on your way in.”

He nodded. “Miranda said to say hi.”

“You know you’re gonna have to bed her down, right?”

“Not in this lifetime.”

“Well, get it done before you ask me to elope. I don’t wanna start a new life with a stalker chasin’ my man.”

He laughed. “Will do, Rosie. And I am gonna ask you, y’know.”

She cocked her head. “Yeah? Well you better make it quick.” She gestured down along herself with both hands. “Hey, all this won’t be on the market much longer.” She laughed.

She wagged one hand at him. “Your burger ought’a be close to ready. Back in a minute.”

“Okay, Rosie.”

She turned away.

He watched as she headed to the kitchen, maintaining as straight a line as possible, despite having to swivel here and there to get around a table. She slowed only twice, both times to reposition a chair under a table.

Girl works all the time. But she was a pleasure to watch, working or otherwise. Of course, a man could always do much worse than Rosie Gonzales.

She disappeared through the right side of the swinging doors into the kitchen.

Had she ever picked up his burger at the window? He didn’t think so. He wouldn’t be surprised to find out she was cooking it herself. Despite the manager, she pretty much ran the place. That was her personality.

A moment later she was back. She set his platter on the table, heaped with the burger and a mound of well-done French fries. Next to it she put a small bowl with his personal mixture of catsup and Tabasco sauce. Next to that she placed a tall glass filled with ice and a bottled Diet Dr. Pepper.

She stepped back, put her hands on her hips and smiled. “Anything else?” More quietly, she said, “Dessert maybe?”

“Depends. Hard for me to eat dessert right after the main course. How about 7:30 at my place. Will you still be awake?’

“You’ll bring the whipped cream?”

He shook his head and grinned. “I’m lactose intolerant, Rosie.”

“Aw. That’s too bad, Rafael. You don’t know what you’re missin’.”

Then she laughed, turned and headed for the kitchen.

Good ol’ Rosie.

With minor variations, the routine was the same pretty much every night.

And he’d yet to enjoy dessert.

When he was halfway through his burger, the drunk man and his two sons got up and headed toward the cash register.

The old man was swaying pretty hard, but the boys, one on either side, seemed to have control of the situation.

They made it to the cash register, where Maria met them.

Rafael was too far away to hear the conversation, but he watched as Maria talked with them. Then she smiled and wagged one finger at the old man. Probably telling him to behave himself.

She glanced at Rafael and nodded slightly, signaling him that the men seemed all right to her. She didn’t want a dead drunk on her conscience anymore than he did.

Then the men headed toward the door and Maria went to check on her other two tables of customers.

The Air Force boys nodded and smiled as she came up, then seemed to be discussing whether to order ice cream off the menu. At least that’s the part of the menu where one of them was pointing.

While they were deciding, Maria moved to the booth.

The man had stopped yelling even under his voice. He’d moved into the contrite stage.

His wife was leaned forward over the table, holding his right shoulder with her left hand. She appeared to be telling him it was all right. Whatever ‘it’ was.

Didn’t matter. Probably it was a different ‘it’ every time they went out.

Suddenly the front door burst open and the other son, not the one who had reminded his father about the eggs, burst through the door. He threw his hands to his face and screamed. “Please help! Please!” Then he collapsed.

Rafael got up so fast his chair fell over behind him.

The kitchen door to his left squeaked as Rosie came through it into his periphery.

He jerked his left arm up, palm out and yelled, “Rosie, stay there!” as he ran toward the figure near the door.

Maria reached the man before he did, so he ran past and out the door, his 9mm Glock drawn.

The old man and his son were on the ground. Both were face down.

A shooter? But he hadn’t heard any shots.

He ran toward them, quickly scanning the area. Nobody else was around, armed or otherwise.

The gentle rain was still falling, albeit a little harder.

He holstered his Glock and knelt next to the younger man. He yelled, “Are you okay?”

The rain beat a pattern on his head. He’d left his hat inside. His captain would have his ass if he knew.

No response.

He grabbed the boy’s shoulders and rolled him over, then gasped. “Son of a bitch!”

Dark half-circles were under the boy’s eyes, and they grew darker as he watched. Around the edges of those, the boy’s skin was turning green.


He leaned forward, grabbed the older man and lifted his shoulder. Same thing.

He pressed two fingers against the boy’s carotid artery.

No pulse.


Just like that. Whatever the hell’s going on, I have to warn the others. Then I’ll call it in.

He started to rise, but a wave of dizziness washed over him. He staggered and sat down hard.

Behind him, the door to the restaurant opened.

He swiveled around and looked back.

It was Rosie.

He raised both arms as if to shove her away. He yelled, “No! Stay inside, Rosie! Stay—”

And a surge of nausea came, then another.

Something lodged in his throat, then filled his nose.

He fell onto his left side. His squad car was right there. No. He had a radio on his shoulder. He reached for it and keyed the mic with his thumb.

But his arm never moved.

And Rosie was kneeling next to him. “Rafael?”

She faded into vision, then back out.

Her voice got louder. “Rafael? Rafael!”

He frowned.

She’s screeching. Why is she mad at me?

She faded back in, but blurred.

And she slipped into the darkness.

* * * * * * *

Regarding “Freelance Editors” Who Do More Than Copyedit

Hi Folks,

If you are fortunate enough that a professional writer who is much farther down the road happens to offer a critique of your work (most won’t, and I don’t), consider carefully what he or she has to say. Then decide whether to apply it to your own work. Apply it or discard it. Up to you.

However, if you receive any free critique of your writing from anyone else, my advice is to nod, smile, say thank you and go back to writing the story you want to write.

The thing is, nobody else knows your story. Period. They know only their version of your story.

And that goes double for so-called freelance “developmental” editors who offer paid critiques.

The paid critique is nothing more than a tool they use to stroke your ego, then upsell you on other services.

Recently I studied a critique (meaning I read it twice) for a friend. The critique was written by a “freelance developmental editor” whose training consisted of being asked by visitors to her husband’s bookstore years ago to look over their manuscripts and see what she thought.

Turned out she enjoyed telling those writers her opinion and has turned that into a living.

She has never written a novel or short story that I can find. On her website, she wrote, “[A]lthough I have the know-how to write a book, my real passion is helping other writers bring their books out into the world.”

In other words, “I could easily write a novel. I’m sacrificing my art to help others. Umm, for cash.”

Uh huh. They have a term for that sort of thing in Texas, and the term refers directly to bovine excrement.

As I said, I read the critique. The first three-quarters of it was how she would have written the story.

And remember, folks, this woman doesn’t have the ear of any particular publisher. She doesn’t work for a major publisher in New York. She’s just another non-connected reader with an opinion. You might as well pay your neighbor to read your novel and give you an opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. All readers have opinions, and they should have opinions. But they should not foist those opinions on writers as to how the book should have been written. And they should definitely not charge people money for that disservice.

  • She talked about characterization and character arcs, but she has never developed a character or written an arc of any kind.
  • She talked about deepening scenes (she didn’t call it that) but thought the writer could do that through the characters. (Uh, no.)
  • She listed specifics, like wanting in one case to make a character work by herself when the character preferred to be teamed up with another character. (Again, no. The characters are IN the story. Let THEM decide.)
  • She talked about weaknesses in the plot, apparently never having heard Bradbury’s quote that “plot is the tracks characters leave as they run through the story.”

Sigh. This sort of stuff washes over me with waves of weariness.

Look, you’re the writer. You get to choose.

  • You can either be the Great Writer On High, directing everything the characters say and do (THIS is where writing becomes drudgery), OR
  • You can resign as General Manager of the Universe, toss off all that responsibility, get down in the trenches and run through the story with the characters. That’s where the fun is.

This “editor” probably is a very nice woman. But she charged my friend $300 for this “critique,” which was only a little over 4 pages long. And remember that upselling I mentioned earlier? In the last several paragraphs, she recommended three different “levels” of editing:

  • a “developmental edit,” during which she would go through the manuscript and note in the margins what the writer should do in each instance (um, developmental editors work in New York for big publishers, and I wouldn’t even let THEM touch my work);
  • a “line edit,” “to ensure everything is in the best place [what?] for the flow of the story, that all the character reactions are in good shape [huh?], and that all those plot issues have been addressed.” (She wouldn’t do that during the “developmental” edit?); and finally
  • a copy edit to “address all the wording and sentence structure concerns, as well as most of the grammar, punctuation, etc.” (Really? Just “most”?)

And yes, of course, she would charge a different fee for each level of edit.

Now, here’s some of that free advice that you can accept or just chunk on the junk pile. At least it won’t cost you anything.

As I told my friend,

  • Write your story.
  • Then have a good First Reader and/or copyeditor go over it to find wrong-word usages, typos, inconsistencies, and places where the story is confusing.
  • Then do your “second draft” to correct What You Agree With that the first reader or copyeditor finds.
  • Then publish it and write the next story. Don’t look back. Look forward.

Please. You’ll be a much better (and happier) writer.

I welcome comments on this post.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Note: This is one of very few remaining “instructional” blogs at this location. I write those, almost daily, over on my Daily Journal now. If you want to continue getting advice from this professional novelist and short story writer, visit and subscribe! It’s free.