Someone I Knew

November 30, 2016

I look across the dining hall and see her softly tapping the back of Mike’s hand as she leans close and whispers. I remember the first time she touched me, a playful shoving as we fought for the arm rest between us in the movies, our first date, such a high school choice. Walking out of the theater into the fall evening, I remember her slipping her arm around my elbow. I pressed it against my side, and she smiled up at me with her full attention.
I watch her sit back in the chair, now, and pat Mike’s forearm as if to comfort some confusion. I remember the first time she took my hand across the table and squeezed it gently to reassure me.
Months have passed since she last touched me. I sit at the table with my buddies, no longer eating cozy dinners sitting European style in a secluded corner. The tablecloths are still starched white, the cutlery battered silver, and the glassware foggy crystal, but the waiter talks and jokes with us. He’s no longer the daydreamer longing to replace me at the corner table.
“What time’s the game?” Nick asks, glancing at his wristwatch.
“Seats by seven-thirty for eight o’clock tip off,” Chip answers.
“Joining us, Phil?”
“I’m ready.”
Why she, a senior, ever culled me from all the freshmen, I never fathomed, but I certainly felt flattered.
She and Mike are done with dinner, and I watch them walk to the coat rack by the door. He holds her jacket for her, and I remember holding her camelhair coat, the one with wooden pegs and leather loops, as she slipped her arms into the sleeves and then, rather than step away and turn, she pirouetted in place. When we faced, she shared my personal space, and I could smell her shampoo. I smile, now, as she shrugs her spring coat up to her shoulders and steps away from Mike; saving her special pirouette, I speculate, to invite the evening’s last kiss outside the dorm as curfew falls.
Gone now, I shove my desert plate aside, the sweet memory lingering.
“Time to hit Cameron?” Nick asks, and the five of us stand and move off, looking forward to the noise and the frantic energy of the regular season’s last game, forty minutes of college sports greatest rivalry.
On the walk over, I remember our first time together, snow falling so thickly outside her dorm window that the street lamp cast only the palest light on our bodies as we lay on her narrow bed, and she reached for me again. But the sharp edge of memory is wearing smooth, the images fading, and the hollow in my chest only an echo of its former self.

Bargaining with God

November 29, 2016

With my rejection from Exeter, I saw how upset Mother was and how desperately she wanted me to attend boarding school.
Given my spotty attendance in the seventh grade—I played hooky as well as was suspended—at the beginning of eighth grade Mother made an appointment with the school guidance counselor. I don’t know if it was the guidance counselor who finally met a concerned parent, or my mother who finally met someone as interested in me as she was, but the two began regular weekly meetings. My flawless attendance and good grades to begin the year, somehow combined with Mother’s fear that I’d become a punk and surfaced the boarding school option. To my dismay, the possibility became Mother’s first objective in her long term plan for my success.
That night as I lay in bed, I couldn’t forget my mother’s disappointment, so I attempted a bargain. “Now listen, God, let’s make a deal. If I get into St. Paul’s, I’ll be a priest, an Episcopal priest.” I could marry, and Mother could have grandchildren. And while I’d be doing God’s work, not mine, I figured it’d be worth it. Mother would be pleased. “If I don’t get in anywhere, God, if I have to stay in public school, I’ll be a jazz drummer and smoke unfiltered cigarettes.” That would serve Him right! “If I’m accepted at Blair Academy, the deal is off.” I’d do something else, who knows, but Mother would still be pleased.
It’s hard to strike a deal with God, though. He never confirms his end. You just have to assume because you made a fair bargain, he bought in.
A week after we heard from Exeter, letters arrived from St. Paul’s and Blair. Mother immediately ripped them open. St. Paul’s said sorry. Blair said yes and offered me a generous scholarship package. Mother squealed with delight.
And so, without a vote and no real sign from God, I was off to join the best and brightest.

Object of Great Significance

November 21, 2016

Prompt – Write about an object of great significance to a character.

It sits by the side of my desk at home, a family heirloom and an another impediment to maneuvering around the stacks of travel books on the floor, in a den overcrowded with antique chairs, oriental rugs, and exotic wall-hangings, all souvenirs accumulated over two generations of reporting on the world’s crises. I inherited my father’s romantic restlessness, his ability to write a compelling sentence, and this pre-World War I spherical image of the world. Its sepia tones of camel hide, tanned, stretched, and glued over a wooden frame in Morocco, now require great care.
When the girls were growing up, they delighted in helping dad by sharing their saddle soap from the pony barn. These days, I’m increasingly reluctant to undertake the annual task of restoring the leather, carefully removing the small, red-headed pins that mark the seventy-eight countries and territories of our careers, carefully applying the white cream, gently rubbing it in tiny circles, vigilant not to disturb the frail, hand painted lines of diplomacy my father and I reported on, that wars and politicians redrew, and which no amount of honest, hard bargaining has yet to get right.
Some years it takes me months to replace those pins, slowed down by memories of accompanying my father to elegant hotels in bombed out cities and my own sojourns in the sorry shelters of deserts and jungles.
The brass stand tarnished a lovely, muted, golden brown, has held up much better than the world it supports, the engraved Insha’Allahs more truthful than we realize.

Wesleyan University

November 19, 2016

I’m enrolled in a short story writing course at Wesleyan University, my first step in pursuit of an MPhil in humanities, the only nearby equivalent of an MFA program in creative writing. Each week we write a one to two page response to a prompt, and before the course is over in mid-December, I’ll write two fifteen to twenty page short stories.
Just for fun, I’ll post some of my prompt responses and the two short stories on my blog under Uncategorized. As usual, any feedback will be appreciated. Thanks.

Riff on House Hunting by Michael Chabon

November 18, 2016

Although sex was something we both regarded as wild and glorious, marriage, by contrast, seemed a confining house, voluntary incarceration in a world of big opportunities; the ultimate hell for two gregarious, daring souls. When we were single, this was what all the married guys told my husband-to-be. I’d even said it to tease my unmarried sorority sisters—don’t put on the iron maiden yet. It turned out, however, to be a lie.
Our house, our marriage set us free. Free from the embarrassment of being caught necking in front of our parents, free from unseemly public groping, and free from hurried, desperate moments in our favorite no-tell motel.
Free to do it in the bedroom with all the lights on. Free to do it in the kitchen standing up. Free to do it on the dining room table before it was completely cleared after the party. Free to do it in the den, behind the desk, hidden from the front window. In the back yard in the leaves, on the wet spring grass, in our parkas making flying snow angels in the ambient light of early morning, and naked in the pool on starry summer evenings.
And when the kids were conceived, we snuggled like spoons on the king-size bed. And after the kids were born, we added on, pushed them upstairs while we remained on the floor of our adventures, two steps down to the four seasons of outdoors.
We did it in front of our Polaroid camera. We did it in front of the bedroom mirror. We did it in costume. Under the rec room’s strobe light. Sober, intoxicated, or high.
Marriage freed us for all life’s adventures—exotic vacations, risky business ventures, and daring parodies. It was a house of stability and respectability within which our imaginations could soar.

Apologies to: Michael Chabon’s story “House Hunting,” and Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t.”

Evil In Murder Mysteries

April 1, 2016

I recently read Henning Mankell’s novel The Man From Beijing. Mankell is the author of the Detective Kurt Wallander mysteries, which my wife and I discovered on PBS.
Mankell has a remarkable ability to imbue his mysteries with a palpable sense of evil. This is not easily done. I’ve read several current murder mysteries that try to do this but fail. Not all murder mysteries strive for this mood, of course. But for those that do, I was intrigued to see how, and examined the techniques authors used to cloak their stories in a foreboding sense of evil.
My first observation is that the examination of motive must go beyond a simple psychological explanation. It must raise moral and even philosophical questions.
Second, the murder must be horrific in some way.
Third, the protagonist’s attitude must match, not disrupt, the mood. Brooding silence seems to work quite well. And certainly, the protagonist has to show a level of moral gravitas that counter balances the evil in the villain.
What are your insights?

When Is A Question Not A Question

March 7, 2016

I recently had copy editing done, and an issue came up about what punctuation (a period, question mark, or an exclamation point) is appropriate when a question is used to make a point rather than elicit an answer?
For example, my protagonist was thinking My God! That’s a miracle. Who would have thought Ruthie survived running away. How is she? I ended the third sentence with a period, and the copy editor suggested I use a question mark. Fair enough.
But the sentence Who would have thought Ruthie survived running away. means I find it hard to believe Ruthie survived running away. The sentence is not meant to be answered by anyone, not even the protagonist. In writing the sentence in the form of Who would have thought, I intended to state the miracle of Ruthie’s survival more universally than stating it just in the singular opinion of the protagonist, giving the fact of her survival more dramatic punch.
Using a question to make a point rather than elicit an answer leads us into the half-world of rhetorical questions, of which there are many varieties, some of which, I suggest, deserve ending punctuation other than the question mark.
The insinuation question. “Can’t you do anything right?” implying a lack of ability. For me, this sentence could just as well end with an exclamation mark. “Can’t you do anything right!”
The challenge question. “What has he ever done for us?” meaning that he hasn’t done anything for us.
The metaphoric question, when a simple question is followed by a metaphoric question that’s clearly answered yes: meaning the preceding question stated the obvious. “Is he a good musician? Is the Pope Catholic?”
The tag question. “Jason committed the murder, didn’t he? This is a declarative phrase followed by a question raising doubt about the truth of the declarative phrase.
The concluding question. “Why not?” This question infers that the writer has set forth his argument and is asking the reader for her response.
The polite request question. “Would all the men please remove their hats.” To me, this type of rhetorical question should end with a period.
So, I come back to the specific issue of what types of rhetorical questions should be (or could be) punctuated by periods or exclamation points. What do you think?

Find The Fourth Rule on OmniLit

Oak Tree Press has now made my thriller, The Fourth Rule, available through in multiple eBook formats including adobe acrobat, E pub, and Mobi pocket. The eBook price is $4.99.
To find The Fourth Rule go to Browse All Categories on the left panel until you find Suspense/Thriller and click on the tab to open. At the top of the page on the right, type in the title The Fourth Rule, and then search. Scroll down five or six books and you will find it.

The Fourth Rule Now On Nook

It has been just over a year since The Fourth Rule debuted in trade paperback on Amazon and through the Oak Tree Press bookstore. Early in 2015, it became available on Kindle, and then the paperback was available through Barnes & Noble bookstores and online. Now, OTP has made my thriller available on the Nook.
If you haven’t yet bought all the copies you want, you have another venue. Audio next? KOBO, maybe? Who knows?


June 23, 2015

I will present my novel, The Fourth Rule, at ThrillerFest’s Debut Authors’ Breakfast in New York City on Saturday July 11. The onsite Barnes & Noble bookstore will be selling the book, and the event program will feature this year’s debut novels. If you’re attending ThrillerFest, please join me Saturday morning for breakfast.