David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Category: Fiction

Kate Forest on Dyslexia, Tourette’s and Romance, Plus: How to Write Better

The Book Doctors are always drawn to books that break new ground. We love it when someone takes an established genre and tweaks it, twists it, then turns it on its ear. Kate Forest is making a career doing just that. She writes about romance, but she likes to make her characters have some kind of differently-able challenge. So when we saw that her new book, In Tune Out of Sync, is out, we wanted to get the skinny on what brave new world she’ll be taking us to this time.

Read this interview on the HuffPost. 

Photo of Kate Forest smiling in front of a brick wall

Kate Forest

The Book Doctors: What have you learned from writing your previous books that you could apply to writing In Tune Out of Sync?

Kate Forest: Everything and nothing. I feel as though I will never stop learning how to write a better book. I am constantly reading, going to workshops, and asking people for feedback. I strive to remain open in improving my craft. That said, I seem destined to write first drafts with unlikeable heroines and secondary characters that steal the scene. At least I know those mistakes are coming.

TBD: What is In Tune Out of Sync about?

KF: At the core, it’s about “inspiration porn.” This is the idea that typical bodied people watch videos or read stories about people with challenges doing everyday things and feel “inspired to do better.” As if they were to ask, “What’s my excuse?” People with disabilities are not there to inspire the rest of us. The two main characters in this book struggle with how to overcome, or use, their differences. Yes, they compete for the same jobs, but their real conflict stems from how they view themselves and how the world views them.

Cover of In Tune Out of Sync by Kate Forest; unseen man holding a violin embraces a woman

Ruby Basset Publishing

TBD: Why did you choose violin and dyslexia as such main elements of your book?

KF: I had a learning disorder when I was a kid. I couldn’t read until I was about 10. I didn’t have dyslexia, but I knew the pain that simply being in school could elicit. As a school social worker, I have worked with kids with dyslexia and wanted to bring those stories to a romance novel.

Violin? I chose something that seems counterintuitive to dyslexia and Tourette’s Syndrome. The violin, to me, seems delicate, requiring speed reading of music and total control of one’s body. Now put someone who doesn’t always control his body, and someone who can’t read quickly, in an orchestra. It was perfect for building tension.

An important thing to note about this book is that it will be available as an audio book. It’s important to make it accessible to anyone interested in dyslexia stories.

TBD: How did you get into the mindset of someone with Tourette’s Syndrome?

KF: I watched many documentaries. I interviewed people. I read. Tourette’s Syndrome is the one issue I have written about that I hadn’t had much experience with. I needed to be accurate and sensitive. I wanted my language to reflect how people in the TS community talk. Two resources I recommend are Jess Thom’s Touretteshero site and An Unlikely Strength by Larry Barber.

TBD: How did you manage to capture the world of the New York Philharmonic and high-end classical music? Did you do lots of research?

KF: Oh, I had to do tons of research. My music education ended in 5th grade with “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder. I love music, and admire people who make it. Luckily, I know professional classical musicians, and they were kind enough to read drafts of the story and answer my insane questions.

TBD: How do you devise plots for your romances?

KF: I don’t start with plots. Romance stories hinge on the characters. For me, the characters’ inner conflicts are what drive the story. I begin by developing the characters. What do they want? Why do they want it? And what is standing in their way? Layer on that, the two main characters need to have goals that are in direct conflict with each other. There has to be no possible way these two people can end up together. And then, they grow and change, and presto, they are together—happily ever after.

TBD: How do you not fall into cliché as you write books that are filled with so many rules?

KF: The only real rule to genre fiction is that there is an emotionally satisfying ending. I prefer genre fiction to literary fiction for this reason. The genre fiction author makes a promise to the reader on the first page: You will be entertained, we will go on a journey, and everything will be answered in the end. Whether you’re fighting an alien invasion, rooting out a murderer, or watching two people find love, there will be a solution. So clichés? There’s no reason to rely on them when there are no limits.

TBD: Do people who are differently abled ever contact you?

KF: These are my best reviews and letters. I get emails from parents of kids on the spectrum and people with different challenges who say my book portrayed the characters in a sensitive and accurate way. But I’m also happy when someone reads the story and says, “I learned something about this issue.” The more we see fictional characters with disabilities in typical situations, the more we will accept real life people with disabilities in all areas.

TBD: Does your writing fall into any single category? Do you try to fit into the romance genre?

KF: Some people have told me that my books aren’t strictly romance, since they tackle other issues. But the truth is that my books fit squarely in the romance genre. The Romance Writers of America defines romance as stories that “contain a central love story and the resolution of the romance must be emotionally satisfying and optimistic.” All of my books easily meet these criteria. There should be no reason that a story that portrays characters with disabilities should be outside of this genre.

TBD: What new advice do you have for writers?

KF: I’d ask what your goal is as a writer. If you’re writing for pleasure, or you have a single story you want to share, then have fun. Work at your own pace. Take some writing classes. Find a group of like-minded writers. If you have a goal of being a commercial writer, you must join a professional organization of writers. There’s one for each type of book. Writers can’t write alone. I have a team of critique partners who send back angry red comments, slashing entire scenes. I have a different team of beta readers (some writers, some for research questions, some who just like to read). Then I have a technical team of cover designer, formatter, and copy editor. I run a small business, and spend just as much time networking and marketing as I do writing. My grandmother was in a nursing home in her last days, after a lifetime of hard work. Her husband of over 70 years had just died. She said, “Life is not for sissies.” And all I can say is, “Writing is not for sissies either.”

Author Kate Forest has worked in a psychiatric hospital, as a dating coach, and spent a disastrous summer selling above-ground swimming pools. But it was her over twenty-year career as a social worker that compelled her to write love stories with characters you don’t typically get to read about. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two kids, and a fierce corgi. Visit her at www.kateforestbooks.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review

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Photo of Susan Wolfe smiling

Susan Wolfe on How to Get a Great Blurb, the Importance of Maternity Leave, and Reading to be a Writer

We first met Susan Wolfe when we taught a workshop at Stanford, where we were the least educated people in the room. We were struck by what a seasoned professional she seemed, even though she was a novice author. She asked all the right questions, she worked her ass off, and it didn’t hurt that she had actual bona fide talent. Her first book was a big success, and now that Escape Velocity, her second novel, is out, we picked her brain about transitioning from the world of law to the world of books.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Photo of Susan Wolfe smiling

Susan Wolfe

The Book Doctors: What were your favorite books as a kid and why?

Susan Wolfe: The first real book I ever read was The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I was in Mr. Adams’ second grade classroom in San Bernardino, and he gave me permission to read on my own while the rest of the class finished up something else. So I found The Black Stallion, settled into my chair, and the next thing I knew the class was laughing. Apparently, I had whinnied. I was so shocked to look up and see that I was back in that classroom that I still remember the way the light was filtering in through the windows.

I had just discovered that reading created a little room out behind my head where I could go to have adventures and be other people. That little room has been my solace and a major source of learning and pleasure ever since.

I also loved The Wind in the Willows (I wanted a yellow motor car!) and Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (Maybe a little low-tech now). And my sister Linda, who was three years older, read me entire Zane Grey westerns (Riders of the Purple Sage, Thirty Thousand 0n the Hoof) before I could read them myself.

TBD: What are you reading now, and who are some your favorite authors and books?

SW: I just finished Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which I found moving, funny and original. Now I am halfway through The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Some of my favorite books and authors so far:

  • Moby Dick
  • Madame Bovary
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. (I still love a good western!)

TBD: How did you learn to be a writer?

SW: First and foremost by reading a really wide range of fiction for years and years. For example, my two favorite authors of dialogue are Elmore Leonard and Henry James, for very different reasons. Thinking about these two helped me understand what I wanted my dialogue to accomplish.

Second, by writing. That’s what everybody says, so here are some specifics:

  1. When I decided to write my first book, I needed to get a feel for how much should happen in a given chapter. So I made a chart showing what happened in each chapter of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Then I made sure to have about that same amount happen in each of my chapters. That was hugely helpful to me in setting the pace of the book.
  2. I was lucky enough to have a good editor for my first book, and I tried out almost every suggestion he made. Some of them didn’t work out, so I ultimately rejected them, but I gave all the suggestions a real try.
  3. When I was writing my second book, I found a workshop at Stanford where all we did was listen to 20 pages of somebody’s manuscript and then comment. This was great for two reasons: first, some of the comments were helpful. Second, I learned that reading my own work out loud is a terrific way to figure out what works and what doesn’t. For some reason, I can hear things that aren’t right. I also tried two other workshops where the instructor gives little writing projects, and those felt to me like a waste of time. Could have just been the instructors, but I didn’t get much out of them.
  4. 4Finally, I am lucky enough to know two other writers whose writing and critiques of my work I respect. We have our own workshop and get to know each other’s work thoroughly. I can’t say enough about how helpful this three-person writing group has been to me.

TBD: How did you first get published?

SW: This will not be instructive to anybody else, but it is sort of interesting.

I was a lawyer on maternity leave when I started my first book, The Last Billable Hour (a murder mystery set in a Silicon Valley law firm). When it was time to return to work I told the partner at my law firm that I couldn’t come back because I was writing a novel. He said (among other things), “When you finish, you should show it to my old college roommate Jared Kieling, who is now an editor at St. Martin’s Press.” I thought “yeah, yeah” and kept writing.

One day while I was working away in my writing room, my phone rang and it was Jared Kieling of St. Martin’s Press. He said, “Mike said he’s never seen your fiction, but if it’s anything like the quality of your legal writing I should probably take a look.” A few months later when I finished it, I tied the printed manuscript with string and sent if off to him. He bought it, and the book went on to sell more than 100,000 copies and win the Edgar Award.

The only downside to this amazing and wonderful story is that it gave me very unreasonable expectations of how easy it is to get published. With my second book I woke up and joined the rest of humanity.

Cover of Escape Velocity by Susan Wolfe; sketch of Newton's cradle with a ball flying off

Steelkilt Press

TBD: What was the inspiration for Escape Velocity?

SW: Two-sentence synopsis: Escape Velocity is a wickedly hilarious* thriller about a reformed con artist in a Silicon Valley software company who decides to revive her con artist skills to straighten out her very screwed up company. She needs to get enough money to move out of her car and make a home for her little sister before it’s too late.

My inspiration for the book comes from my own work as a lawyer. I have spent most of my adult life practicing law here in Silicon Valley, partly in-house at several high-tech companies. I liked working in-house, but I sometimes got frustrated that a few people who worked for the company—from accounts payable clerks to highly paid executives—seemed unable or uninterested in doing their jobs. Due to incompetence or egotism or out-and-out self-dealing, some people just seem to burrow into a company like ticks on a tormented dog, and no amount of damage they cause ever seems to dislodge them. If you’ve every worked in a company, you’ve met these people!

So I thought the malfeasance and nonfeasance (as we say in the law) were interesting, and even entertaining in a nice black kind of way. I thought other people might like to know about the chaos, or if they already knew about it, they might like to know that somebody else had experienced it, too. After all, as C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” I also thought people might enjoy seeing some incredibly annoying people get their comeuppance.

But then I needed a main character, and along came Georgia Griffin. She is young, inexperienced and from a completely alien environment, so she experiences the wonder that is Silicon Valley high tech right along with the reader. She is also highly intuitive and a little bit tougher than people around her might expect. She is blessed with a job that makes people underestimate her. She badly needs the company to succeed in order to realize her personal goal of finding a better life than the one she was born to, and she reluctantly decides to use her con artist training—sparingly—to help the company succeed.

The surprise to me was that Georgia’s moral and psychological complexities gradually became central to my story. Georgia wants to be a good person, but she does a few sketchy things. At one point I wrote out the fifteen points of Georgia’s moral code. She adheres strictly to her moral code, but it’s a little bit different from other people’s. (For example, “Point #13: Cause the least harm necessary to be effective.” ) So I ended up focusing on the question of whether Georgia succeeds in the effort to turn away from her con artist background.

*According to Hank Phillippi Ryan, award-winning author of Say No More

TBD: How has being a lawyer affected you as a writer?

SW: In some ways that’s hard to know since I’ve always been both. Here’s what I can say:

My books are shot through with my actual experiences as a lawyer. The most obvious impact is on my plots, but my experience also makes my dialogue authentic and helps me create a powerful sense of place.

I worried that my legal writing would make my fiction writing ponderous, but it turns out the two kinds of writing issue from different parts of my brain. So no recognizable impact of one on the other.

I do think being a lawyer has made me more precise, which creates a risk I will over-explain things “for the avoidance of doubt” as we sometimes say in contracts. I hope I fight this effectively.

Finally, I would say I’m a serious writer without being a literary one. I suspect lawyering makes me opt for clarity over poetry when a choice must be made.

TBD: How did you manage to juggle a legal career and a writing career, when both seem like ridiculously time-consuming jobs?

SW: Not. Very. Easily.

And you left out my third ridiculously time-consuming job, which was raising two daughters. For years I would lie in bed and look up at the ceiling thinking, “Baby, Book, Law. Baby, Book, Law.” I was determined to make them all fit.

There were times I did make them fit. I wrote my first book, The Last Billable Hour, when I had only my older daughter. I would write 15 hours a week with babysitting until we ran out of money, and then I’d go to work as a contract lawyer (by project or by the hour) until I had enough money to pay the bills. I got the whole book done that way, and it was a happy, productive time in my life.

The second book was more challenging. By then we had two daughters, and I had a much bigger job as the head lawyer of a company. I decided to go to Starbucks from 6am to 7:30am twice a week to work on the book, and my daughter Catherine, who was eight or nine at the time, decided to go with me. She would sit very quietly and focus on her homework so that I could concentrate. I loved those mornings, but then it turned out I didn’t have one single unstructured moment in my life and was going slowly berserk. So I gave up writing until I was ready to leave law entirely, which is when Escape Velocity finally got written.

TBD: How did you manage to get such great blurbs for your book?

SW: It’s interesting that you ask me that, because my editor Jared Kieling asked me the exact same thing regarding my first book. Answer: I asked people.

I asked them very humbly to consider this great favor for a fellow author.

I spoke to each author about why I admired his or her writing and why I hoped they would like mine.

I asked for three or four times as many blurbs as I actually got, and tried to remind myself not to take it personally if they refused or just blew me off. Writers (and professors and deans and chief lawyers of companies) are very busy people. Fortunately, many of them are also generous.

TBD: How does your title Escape Velocity relate to your story?

SW: In physics, escape velocity is the minimum speed a rocket ship needs to escape the earth’s gravitational pull. Here in Silicon Valley the term is used as a metaphor to describe the amount of money a start-up company needs in order to stop taking money from venture capitalists. The company’s founders try to achieve escape velocity from outside interference by becoming self-sustaining.

In my book, Georgia’s upbringing with her con artist father exerts tremendous pull over her, first because it’s the life she knows and feels competent to navigate, and second because she loves her father. As the story unfolds, the reader realizes she also rather enjoys the excitement. But she doesn’t want a con artist life. So a central question of the novel is whether she has the strength of character to achieve escape velocity from the only life she knows. I don’t think many people accomplish that, and I have been fascinated by readers’ varying opinions about whether she succeeds.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

SW: Elmore Leonard gave me the best writing advice I ever received, and I am happy to pass it along.

I had gone to his reading at a bookstore, and when it was time for him to autograph my copy of his book I asked him to wish me good luck with mine. He asked a question or two about what I was writing and then signed his book. After I turned to go he called after me, “Susan!”

I turned.

“Don’t let anybody else write your book. You write your own book.”

So there you are. Share your writing, read it out loud, listen to intelligent people’s advice, and then decide for yourself.

Susan Wolfe is a lawyer with a B.A. in literature from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Stanford University. After four years of practicing law, she bailed out and wrote her Edgar Award-winning first novel The Last Billable Hour. She returned to law for another sixteen years, first as a criminal defense attorney and then as an in-house lawyer for Silicon Valley high-tech companies. Her second novel Escape Velocity was published in October and just won the 2017 IPPY Gold Medal in suspense/thriller from the Independent Publishers Book Awards. She lives in Palo Alto, California with her husband Ralph DeVoe. authorsusanwolfe.com

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

Photo of Holly Kowitt smiling

Holly Kowitt on Cutting Good Jokes, P.G. Wodehouse, & the Principal’s Underwear (Which Is Missing!)

We’ve been fans of Holly Kowitt for longer than any of us care to remember. And now, our nine-year-old is a fan. And so it goes. When we heard the title of Holly’s new book, we howled, we roared, we had to have it! The Principle’s Underwear Is Missing! What more do you need in a kids’ book? Since she’s one of the funniest, most creative, and most successful writers we know, we thought we’d pick her brain on books, writing, principals, and yes, underwear.

Photo of Holly Kowitt smiling

Holly Kowitt

The Book Doctors: Why in heaven’s name did you decide to become a writer? And having made that decision, why did you decide to write books for kids?

Holly Kowitt: I first became a writer to get illustration work! My cartoon-like drawing style made me a tough match for most children’s books (this was pre-Wimpy Kid) so I had to create my own projects. Which turned out to be a good thing.

Part of ending up in children’s books was random– my first entry-level job just happened to be at Scholastic. Being there naturally made me focus on kids.

TBD: What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up, and why?

HK: Harriet the Spy was my all-time favorite. The characters were so alive to me—so real and quirky—and, like Harriet, I wanted to be a writer. I also loved Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, a low-concept, timeless coming-of-age story with the best first line ever: “Today I’m going to meet a boy…”

TBD: What books are you reading currently, and what books have you really enjoyed lately?

HK: Should be reading: Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Secretly reading: I Represent Sean Rosen, a middle grade novel by Jeff Baron.

Recently enjoyed: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and The Daily Show: An Oral History.

TBD: As an illustrator as well as a writer, how do you get these two parts of your brain to cooperate with each other? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to wearing both hats simultaneously?

HK: The cartoons give me an extra way to hook reluctant readers, and add a loose, fun energy. Plus, they’re a blast to draw. The disadvantage is sometimes the text gets robbed to let the illustrations shine. It’s hard to cut a good joke, even when you realize it works better as a picture.

TBD: I just did a Google search of your name and the wordunderwear, and I got tons of hits. Did you ever think your life as a kids’ book author would lead you down this dark path?

HK: Ha ha! Children’s Book Rule #8: Use the word “underwear” whenever possible.

Cover of The Principal's Underwear is Missing by Holly Kowitt; two students run under the title

MacMillan

TBD: The Principal’s Underwear Is Missing: That may be the greatest title I’ve ever heard. How did you come up with it? And what was the inspiration for the story? Have you ever had underwear go missing? Have you ever been involved with principal’s underwear?

HK: I tried to invent the most catastrophic scenario possible for my heroines—and I think I found it. My approach to a story is always: what’s the biggest problem I could give this character? No, it’s not torn from my own life!

TBD: How do you capture the voice of the kids so well?

HK: Obvi it’s, like, crazy-hard. Some combination of subway eavesdropping, The Urban Dictionary website, profiles of twelve-year old YouTube stars, Seventeen Magazine, and Shop Jeen on Instagram gets me in the ballpark.

TBD: What was your inspiration for the story?

HK: I got the idea from Jeeves, the P.G. Wodehouse series about a rich, dimwitted young man and his very smart butler. I thought it would be fun to set the story in middle school, where a ditzy, super-popular 8th grader teams up with a 6th grade nobody. The Queen Bee has a habit of getting herself into trouble, and it’s up to her brilliant younger friend to get her out.

TBD: What’s this story about?

HK: Becca, a bookish 6th grader, accidentally zonks the school’s most glamorous 8th grader with a volleyball. To make it up to her, Becca tries to do Selfie a favor. But she accidentally grabs the wrong shopping bag—one containing a very personal item. Even that wouldn’t be so bad, if Selfie didn’t immediately lose it.

It’s the story of a friendship that holds constant surprises. It’s about exploring an off-limits older world, and finding out how it’s better (and worse) than your own. It’s about challenging the unspoken rules of middle school, and doing what’s right. It’s about losing the principal’s underwear.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers and illustrators?

HK: Billy Crystal’s ex-manager once told him to “leave a tip” with his stand-up act—to go deeper and more personal. After I finish a chapter, I go back and try to squeeze in an extra ten percent to make it funnier, weirder, realer. So my advice is to always give your work that extra push. You won’t be sorry.

Holly Kowitt has written more than fifty books for younger readers, including the Loser List series. She lives in New York City, where she enjoys cycling, flea markets, and West Coast swing dancing. Find her online at kowittbooks.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

Inspector Croissant: croissant with eyes, mouth, arms, legs, wearing a hat and walking with suitcase

Josh Funk on the Wonders of SCBWI, iPhone Book Trailers, [REDACTED] & Stinky Stench

We’ve said it before, and will say it again: if you are writing for kids, or reading for kids, or ever were a kid yourself, it behooves you to be a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). That’s where we met Josh Funk. Until recently, he was in charge of the annual conference, so we got to know him in an intimate yet thoroughly professional way. Josh is a bundle of creativity, imagination and good fun. And since his new book The Case of the Stinky Stench is out, we picked his brain about kids and books, and the strange and wonderful intersection of those two things.

Photo of Josh Funk holding a stuffed monkey toy

Josh Funk

The Book Doctors: Welcome back!

Josh Funk: Thank you so much for inviting me back, Arielle and David!

TBD: What books are you currently reading, and why?

JF: If it’s okay with you, I’m gonna answer the ‘why’ first. I recently returned home from a two-week tour celebrating The Case of the Stinky Stench, during which I went to 19 schools, a couple of public libraries, and over a dozen bookstores. Because of that, most of what I’m reading is based on bookseller recommendations – and I couldn’t have made a better decision to go that route. Booksellers know their stuff! So here’s what I’ve got:

Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderly and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes – this one is so good, I often read a few of the poems contained within this book during my events (usually “How to Write a Poem,” “For Our Children’s Children,” and “Spin a Song”).

7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald – to me, this is a perfect picture book. It’s overflowing with cleverness, exactly my kind of humor, gorgeous illustrations, a well-crafted story, and frankly, a solution I didn’t see coming (but I’ll bet some clever kids could figure it out). With six stellar picture books under her belt, Lazar is one of my favorite picture book authors today.

Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani – this book makes me chuckle on every page. I bought it for my 8-month old niece, and almost kept it for myself. Absurdist humor at its best. And a counting book (as a software engineer, I do love numbers!).

Timmy Failure #6: The Cat Stole My Pants by Stephan Pastis – this series is fantastic! I’ve read each book aloud with my kids and there are at least 2 or 3 times during each book when I have to stop cause I’m laughing so hard (it was Speedo Steve this time). I can’t wait for the movie!

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small – so this has been one of my favorite books for a long time (one of four books that I credit with making me want to be a writer). But while at Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 5 minutes prior to my event, the proprietor of the store came over to me and whispered, “That’s Sarah Stewart and David Small.” Long-story-short…ish – they’re regulars and it was just a coincidence they showed up. Nevertheless, I shared my love of The Gardener with them, at which point Sarah asked me why I felt so strongly about the book. I gave her my reasons and she responded with a hug. Then they signed a copy for me and posed for a picture. Needless to say I was giddy with excitement during the event.

Some other books I bought based on bookseller recommendation (but haven’t gotten to read yet) are:

  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
  • The Lost Island of Tamarind by Nadia Agular
  • Bull by David Elliott
  • Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • The Highest Mountain of Books in the World by Rocio Bonilla
  • King of the Bench: No Fear by Steve Moore

TBD: If we’re not mistaken, this is your last year running the fabulous New England SCBWI Conference. What have you learned from all this, and are you ready to pass out?

JF: I was co-director of the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional Spring Conference in 2016 and 2017 – and yes, my duties are now complete. It’s been an incredible experience working with my co-directors Heather Kelly, Sera Rivers, and Marilyn Salerno.

The NESCBWI Conference is a three-day conference (Fri-Sun) that takes place annually in Springfield, MA in late April / early May. This year we had over 700 attendees for the first time ever (to be fair, last year was 699, this year was 703). Planning duties have included:

  • Selecting and scheduling 100+ hours of breakout workshops led by about 75-100 faculty members (each year we get well over 300 workshop proposals)
  • Arranging 3-4 keynote speakers and another 3-4 keynote panels
  • Organizing bonus activities like our Portfolio Showcase, Illustration Challenge, and evening activities
  • Arranging professional critique opportunities with over two dozen literary agents, editors, and art directors
  • Countless (but necessary) logistical arrangements with online registration databases, convention/hotel/AV staff, travel-related activities, and delegation of duties to over 100 volunteers
  • And probably a lot more that I’ve already forgotten

Everything went swimmingly.

Did a New York City subway power outage cause the charter bus carrying most of the agents and editors to arrive with only minutes to spare before critiques began? Of course it did!

Did it matter that the hotel overbooked conference attendees by 14 rooms? Absolutely not!

What have I learned? Two things:

  1. Relax, it will always work out.
  2. I never want to become an event planner.

I probably would have passed out for a month … but due to the unpredictable schedules of publishing, my aforementioned book tour for The Case of the Stinky Stench started just six days later!

TBD: Tell us about The Case of the Stinky Stench. Everyone wants to know, why is the stench so stinky?

JF: Have you ever opened the fridge and smelled something funny? Have you followed that up by taking out every item until you’ve found the stinky culprit, only to find that it wasn’t the obvious ‘spoiled cheese’ or ‘rancid meat’ – but it was the last thing you’d have suspected? Who knew an innocent zucchini would turn that color? Or so that’s what happens when you put mushrooms next to mustard! (That’ll teach me to organize my fridge alphabetically.)

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast was a race for the last drop of syrup. In this sequel, I wanted to keep the setting and characters, but change up the genre. Maybe if there’s a third one it’ll be an action-spy-thriller (wink-wink).

Cover of the Case of the Stinky Stench by Josh Funk; Characters are food with eyes arms and legs

Sterling Children’s Books

In The Case of the Stinky Stench, Inspector Croissant (Sir French Toast’s nephew) joins the team and they travel through the fridge chasing suspect after suspect. Is it Baron von Waffle in his evil lair (Onion Ring Cave)? Could it be a fetid fish in Corn Chowder Lake – or is the fish a literal red herring? I won’t ‘spoil’ the ending for you (but I’ll give you a hint – it is spoiled food).

TBD: How did you manage to make Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast such a great success?

JF: Thanks for the kind words about Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, but I really can’t take credit for most of the success that it’s had.

First off, it has incredible illustrations (thanks, Brendan Kearney) and the Sterling Art Department put together a fantastic cover design. When the art started making its way around the Sterling offices, it got the Marketing and Publicity teams excited enough to create a big promotional push – they even made tote bags to give out at BookExpo! All that helped the Sterling Sales Reps get the book into stores big and small across the country.

And let’s face it, I had absolutely no control over everything in the previous paragraph.

But I did what I could. I created a book trailer:

                                            

Yes, that’s me singing (I created the whole trailer on my iPhone using the GarageBand app and iMovie).

I spend a lot of time on Twitter @joshfunkbooks sharing writing tips, educators’ blogs, other people’s good news, and generally putting out positive vibes in the kidlit world.

I attended many other author events in the years leading up to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast’s publication. Not only did I learn a lot about what makes great events, but I met lots of authors, educators, and booksellers in the process.

I’ve tried to give back to the writing community. I co-directed the NESCBWI 2016 and 2017 Regional Conferences. I’m on the board of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA (if you’re in New England and you haven’t been – you MUST visit). I even created a 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books on my website – it’s basically a high level brain dump of everything I’ve learned about writing since I started.

But I think more than anything, what’s made Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast a success is the readers. Enthusiastic booksellers across the country who handsell it daily, like those at The Novel Neighbor in St. Louis and Octavia Books in New Orleans. Teachers and librarians who exuberantly share it with their students. And folks like you, The Book Doctors, who invite me to chat about it here.

TBD: How did studying computer science help (or hinder) you as a writer?

JF: I’d like you to imagine (because it’s true) that I’ve been sitting at my computer thinking about this for a very, very long time. I typed a few paragraphs, and then deleted them (because they don’t really answer the question OR have a point). I thought some more, typed some more, and deleted some more. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ultimately, the answer to your question is as follows:

I don’t think it’s helped or hindered me as a writer. I’ve been a software engineer for almost two decades. And I enjoy the day job. It’s possible that I’d had a lot of creativity bottled up over that time which is finally spilling out at a rate faster than one might expect.

So maybe the answer is that at first studying computer science hindered me as a writer, but now it’s helping? I guess it’s a wash. (Ha! Lather, rinse, repeat!)

TBD: How did you come up with all the cool extra stuff for kids: activity kits, character cards, etc.?

JF: Once again, the activity kits were all thanks to my publishers and illustrators. For Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and The Case of the Stinky Stench, Sterling’s Marketing and Publicity (and probably Art and Design) teams put them together. They’re incredible! Coloring pages, word searches, mazes, crosswords, and a whole bunch of other stuff – all free to download and print from my website on my ‘Stuff for Kids’ page!

The Case of the Stinky Stench Activity Kit; similar to book cover, but with activity kit written on the bottom

The Case of the Stinky Stench Activity Kit

Regarding the Dear Dragon and Pirasaurs! coloring pages, they were created by illustrators Rodolfo Montalvo and Michael Slack, respectively. I certainly hope that keeps going with my future books!

As far as the character cards, I was just about to order some bookmarks back in the summer of 2015 when I saw the option of ordering Collector’s Cards. At this point I realized two things:

  1. I write picture books, which rarely require bookmarks.
  2. Collector’s cards can easily be used as bookmarks.

So I began designing collector’s cards. And I had a lot of fun with that! For Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, I made one for each of the main characters. I made six different ones for Pirasaurs! (thanks to Michael Slack for his help designing those), and I made three more for The Case of the Stinky Stench.

Inspector Croissant: croissant with eyes, mouth, arms, legs, wearing a hat and walking with suitcase

Inspector Croissant collector’s card

Back of Inspector Croissant card; has information written about the character

Inspector Croissant collector’s card reverse

I even made an online quiz to determine Which Pirasaur Are You?! – I’m Bronto Beard, in case you were wondering.

Bearded Brontosaurus wearing pirate clothes

Bronto Beard collector card

TBD: What are you working on next?

JF: It’s interesting that you ask! I just spent a few hours revising [REDACTED] based on my editor’s comments. As you know, I’m very interested in the topic of [REDACTED]. And I’m excited to dive into [REDACTED], that’s gonna be fun to work on. I’ve seen some of [REDACTED]’s illustrations and they’re perfect.

In the near term, I’ve got a book called It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk coming out this fall (9.19.17), illustrated by Edwardian Taylor. It’s not just a fractured-fairy-tale – it’s a META-fractured-fairy-tale – one where Jack doesn’t want to do what the reader tells him to do. Trade his cow for five beans? That’s a terrible idea! Climb the beanstalk? But there’s probably a giant up there! This one will make for a hilarious reader’s theater – and it’s my first picture book that isn’t in rhyme. If you don’t follow Edwardian Taylor on Instagram, you’re missing out. He is an incredible character designer.

Cover of It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk; boy with climbing gear swinging off of a beanstalk

Two Lions

Then, in 2018 I’ve got at least two more books coming out. In the spring, it’s Albie Newton (about a genius’s attempt to make friends on his first day of school – and his classmate’s ability to accept his ‘quirks’). This one is illustrated by Ester Garay – and everything I’ve seen so far is beyond adorable!

Then, Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude is the first picture book in Macmillan’s partnership with the New York Public Library – and I got to write the story of the two lion statues (Patience and Fortitude) that guard the steps on 5th Avenue. When Patience goes missing, Fortitude must search the entire library to find him! I’d already been a fan of Stevie Lewis’ art, and when they told me she had signed on to illustrate, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

And yes, both Albie Newton and Lost in the Library are in rhyme.

TBD: How did you come up with your very entertaining live show? What have you observed that writers who present well do in common?

JF: Attending all of those author events before I released a book certainly paid off! I ‘spied’ on so many different author presentations! I learned what worked well with different ages and audience attention spans. And I definitely learned a thing or twelve from amazing performances by the likes of Ame Dyckman, Kate Messner, Tara Lazar, Bob Shea, Anna Staniszewski, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and many others kidlit stars.

But it really comes down to one thing: know your audience. I’m reading to kids ages 0-10(ish) and their caregivers. I’ve got to be entertaining and enthusiastic for those two groups.

Not all crowds are the same. Some jokes work better in one situation vs another. But I always try to have fun – and I hope that’s what lasts in the minds of the readers.

TBD: Why is Twitter your social media platform of choice?

JF: Twitter is a great way to interact with readers. I’ve become e-friends with many educators, booksellers, writers, illustrators, and booklovers of all sorts on Twitter. And in many cases I’ve ended up getting to hang out with these folks in real life because of Twitter. I schedule most of my classroom Skype visits with teachers and librarians in Twitter chats. Sometimes teachers tweet me questions on their students’ behalf.

I’ve even attended several conferences that stemmed from Twitter relationships. This summer, I’ll be attending my third nErDcampMI, a national literacy conference for educators started by the founders of the Nerdy Book Club. The Nerdy Book Club is blog with daily guest posts (mostly by educators and authors), but it is also an unofficial ‘club’ that is open to anyone who loves books (especially those written for children). These nErDcamps are popping up everywhere (New England, Long Island, Kansas, New Jersey, Pacific Northwest, soon in North Carolina) – and they’re an amazing place to for educators to connect with each other and with book creators.

Just like most of the kidlit world, the kidlit Twitter environment is incredibly welcoming and supportive.

TBD: We hate to ask this, but what advice do you have for writers?

JF: Most of my advice is in the Resources for Writers section of my website, comprised of my Guide to Writing Picture Books.

Outside of that, my best piece of advice is to keep writing new things – especially when writing picture books. This is for a couple reasons:

  1. The first story you write is unlikely to be the one that sells. Get it critiqued. Revise it. It’ll be a great learning experience. But don’t revise it to death. Take what you learn from writing that first story and write another.
  2. A literary agent will want at least 3-4 picture book manuscripts they think they can sell right now before they’ll sign you – which means you probably need 6-8 that YOU think are complete.

The more you write, the better writer you’ll become. Just like I tell students during school visits – it’s like playing sports and instruments – the more you practice, the better you get. The stories I’m writing today are better than the ones I wrote two years ago, which are better than the ones I wrote two years before that (at least I think so).

So keep writing!

Thanks again for having me! I wish you a wonderful summer of reading!

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Albie Newton, Lost in the Library, and more coming soon!

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find more information about Josh at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter @joshfunkbooks.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Photo of author Paula Priamos

Paula Priamos on Writing, Saying “No” to an Agent, and Being a Shyster’s Daughter

We were lucky to receive a stack of books from Rare Bird Books, a publisher we love. We fell for Inside V by Paula Priamos, who also wrote the memoir The Shyster’s Daughter. So we thought we’d pick her brain about writing, thrillers, memoirs, and how she got published.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Photo of author Paula Priamos

Paula Priamos

The Book Doctors: What kind of books did you like to read when you were a kid and why?

Paula Priamos: Well before kindergarten I taught myself how to read with the book Black Beauty. I started sounding out the small words first and then I’d read those same basically one syllable words to my mother and I’d fill in the rest, concocting my own story about a runaway horse, a plot that had nothing to do with the words on the page. Oftentimes I grew frustrated that I didn’t understand the bigger words. But my mother would patiently help me sound those words out and eventually I read her the entire book. As I got a little older I gravitated towards Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries because I loved having to figure things out.

TBD: What was the inspiration for Inside V?

PP: I always start writing with characters first before conflict and I conceptualized this couple in my head, a man and woman, who are in the kind of relationship that begins with infidelity and quickly winds up in marriage. Yet even with a couple of solid years spent as husband and wife their relationship remains intense – deeply sexually and emotionally connected – and sometimes it’s even dangerous because their passion for each other doesn’t level off or stabilize. They remain in the throes of that initial passion that first brought them together.

The threat to their marriage in the form of a seventeen-year-old girl accusing the husband of sexual assault came to me next, and the events and other characters in the book pretty much played out in my head. It felt as if I spent most of the time writing this novel rapidly filling up lined notebooks, then typing it all on the computer, just trying to catch up.

Cover of Inside V by Paula Priamos; "Inside" in small letters on top, a giant V takes most of the cover

Rare Bird Books

TBD: How did you approach writing a novel, as opposed to a memoir?

PP: I wrote my memoir with literary elements like a narrative arc, scenes and dialogue, so it wasn’t very hard to segue into a novel. There are some literary people who claim a writer can’t write in more than one genre, but I think that mindset is false and quite limiting.

TBD: What was it like to be the daughter of a shyster?

PP: I was the only one out of my two siblings who stayed with my father after my parents decided to divorce when I was a young teen. I’m actually proud to be a shyster’s daughter. My father, in his day, before he was disbarred for embezzlement, was a sharp criminal defense attorney. He was a clever showman who rarely needed to rely on notes when he gave closing arguments, and he angered more than one veteran prosecutor when he’d successfully get his clients off. Over the years he’d done some bad things, crossed legal lines he knew he shouldn’t, and essentially became as morally corrupt as the clients he was defending. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t know how to teach me morals. My father taught me how to read people, to question their motives and to stand up for myself when I need to. I know I’m a much stronger woman for having been raised by him.

TBD: How do you think growing up in Southern California affected you as a writer?

PP: Being a So Cal native is a great thing. I live in an area that is ethnically diverse and with that comes all kinds of intriguing people to write about, conflicts to be had. Geographically Southern California offers mountains, the ocean, deserts and all kinds of city culture, so there are fantastic places to set the backdrop of my scenes. In Inside V, the story takes place in LA, the Valley, Palm Springs, and in Newport Beach.

TBD: What draws you to the thriller category?

PP: I love thrillers, whether it’s books or films. There is nothing more satisfying than reading or watching a smart and unpredictable whodunit that deals with character and story in equal measure. I wrote my memoir in a way that leaves the death of my father a mystery up until the end of the book, so it only made sense when I decided to write fiction that it be a thriller.

TBD: What are you working on next?

PP: I’m more than halfway through another thriller, set in the LA area and with another Greek female protagonist. That’s where the similarities end. This protagonist is not as headstrong as “V” nor as confident, but she gains strength in other ways throughout the narrative. The plot is different. She is trying to move on from a failed first marriage, a former husband who isn’t ready to let her go, all while she attempts to find an old childhood friend who’s suddenly disappeared just hours after they’d been reunited.

TBD: How did you go about getting this novel published?

PP: I had a disagreement with the literary agent who was going to send this novel out to publishers. This particular agent wanted me to fatten up my lean novel and make it more of a typical “women’s mystery novel,” which I did not want to do. I feel that some of these bulkier books derail the tension lines with unnecessary details and languishing asides. Instead I had a person who’d worked PR for my memoir send it to the publisher at Rare Bird, and, as it turns out, she sent it to the right place. The publisher loved that it was the type of book a reader could finish in one day while curled up on the couch or on a long plane ride.

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

PP: I teach creative writing and one of the first things I tell my students is to be both humble and confident. Know that you’re not immune to criticism and helpful suggestions, but also know that you can’t please everyone nor should you try. Keep an open mind without losing your own creative vision. Try not to get frustrated with what may seem like a slow process of seeing your work to publication because, in the end, there’s nothing like the rush of holding your own beautifully bound book for the first time and knowing it now has the potential to reach countless readers.

Paula Priamos’ writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, ZYZZYVA, Crimewave Magazine in the UK, The Washington Post Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among others. She is the author of the memoir The Shyster’s Daughter and teaches English and creative writing at CSU San Bernardino. Visit her at paulapriamos.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

Cover of Oakland Noir by Eddie Muller

Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir, on the Importance of Finding Empathy in Darkness

If you live in the Bay Area, which we did for many years, and you have a penchant for the dark side that draws you toward the underbelly of noir, you know Eddie Muller. He’s a legend. Let’s face it, you don’t get to be the Czar of Noir for nothing. So when we found out he was editing the new Oakland Noir, part of the great noir series by Akashic, we jumped at the chance to pick his dark brain about Oaktown, writing and the book business.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Photo of Eddie Muller wearing glasses and a hat, very noir

Eddie Muller

The Book Doctors: What are your earliest memories of being interested in noir? What were some of your favorite noirish books when you were going up, and why?

Eddie Muller: I’m of an earlier generation, pre-VCR. I was first drawn to noir by movies I’d see on Dialing for Dollars, weekdays afternoons when I’d cut school. Stuff like Thieves’ Highway and Cry of the City and The Big Heat. I started combing TV Guide to find movies with “Big,” “City,” “Street” and “Night” in the title. There’s a title: Big City Streets at Night. I’d watch that. The look of the films and the attitudes of the characters resonated with me. I was at the epicenter of the hippie movement in San Francisco, but I was intrigued by this earlier generation’s style and attitude.

In high school I started reading Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and the die was cast. In that way, I’m like virtually every other crime fiction writer. It’s amazing the influence those guys had, especially Chandler. His prose was intoxicating. Reading Hammett’s short stories made you want to be a detective. Reading Chandler made you want to be a writer. After that, you just start devouring everything. At a certain point I began distinguishing between mystery writers and crime writers. And I became less interested in the detective whodunnits and more fascinated by the noir stuff: Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Charles Willeford. Their books don’t resolve neatly. Things aren’t going to end well.

TBD: What are you currently reading?

EM: I’m looking forward to a couple of days off so I can read Paul Auster’s latest, 4321. I’ve seen some discouraging reviews, but I read everything of this. He’s my favorite living author. I enjoy how his mind works and I like how he translates it to the page.

TBD: What are some of your favorite noir classics, and again, why?

EM: Derek Raymond’s Factory series books are pretty great, especially I Was Dora Suarez. He really turned detective stories into noir literature. Forgive me for touting the obvious touchstones: Hammett’s big three: Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and The Glass Key. Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Here’s the thing about crime fiction: you end up loving a writer’s body of work more than a single book. I like reading David Goodis, but I can’t say I like Cassidy’s Girl more than Nightfall. Same with Jim Thompson. Charles Willeford, The Burnt Orange Heresy. I like Highsmith’s Ripley novels. I like Highsmith in general. She still doesn’t get her due because, obviously, she was a woman writing in what’s perceived as a man’s genre. I had that bias once, as a younger and stupider man. Then I wised up. More guys should wise up.

Cover of Oakland Noir by Eddie Muller

Akashic

TBD: Having been published in San Francisco Noir, part of the Akashic series, I’m a big fan of these books. How did you become involved with Oakland Noir?

EM: Well, we were both in that San Francisco noir collection! I was sort of wondering when Johnny Temple, Akashic’s publisher, would get around to Oakland. I mean, seriously, how can you have Duluth Noir before Oakland Noir? As it turns out, Jerry Thompson, who’s a writer and bookseller in Oakland, had pitched Johnny on an Oakland Noir collection but hadn’t gotten a green light. Then Jerry approached me about co-editing the anthology—and I guess because Johnny and I had some history we got the go-ahead.

TBD: What was it like editing all these amazing writers?

EM: It was great! Jerry and I shared a vision of what we wanted the book to be—an accurate demographic reflection of the city. Meaning we wanted an appropriate gender/racial/ethnic mix to the stories. Which can be tricky. You want good well-conceived, well-written stories, not just stories featuring a black or Asian or Hispanic character. Let’s be honest: it’s a crap shoot. Jerry did the hard work of selecting most of the contributors, because he knew the literary landscape of Oakland; I pulled in a couple of my buddies, Kim Addonizio and Joe Loya. We had a vision of how the book should play out, but you can’t tell writers what to write. In the end, I was happy with the result. The reviewer for Publishers Weekly complained that some stories weren’t really noir, but the Kirkus reviewer understood completely: our mission was to reveal the city beneath the mainstream perceptions, to use genre fiction show sides of Oakland not usually seen.

TBD: What do you think separates great noir from everyday pulpy potboilers?

EM: Empathy. Great noir writing makes you feel and contemplate lives gone off the rails. That’s not entertaining for a lot of people, but to me it’s one of the purposes of art.

TBD: What exactly is a noircheologist? (Spell check really hated that word!)

EM: I dig through the past to rescue and revive this stuff. That’s the mission of the Film Noir Foundation, which I founded in 2006. We rescue and restore films, specifically noir, that have slipped through the cracks and disappeared. There are a lot of savvy small publishers who are noircheologists on the literary side, but I’m the guy when it comes to film. We recently resurrected a terrific 1956 noir film from Argentina, Los tallos amargos (The Bitter Stems), and preserved a sensational picture from 1952 called El vampiro negro; it’s an Argentine reworking of Fritz Lang’s M. I’m on a crusade now to show that film noir was not specifically an American thing.

TBD: You have one of the coolest nicknames around: “The Czar of Noir.” How did that come about? And how can I get a nickname that cool?

EM: A woman named Laura Sheppard, event coordinator at the Mechanic’s Institute Library in San Francisco, was introducing me one night. She was reading the far-too-lengthy bio I’d supplied—you do that when you’re young and trying too hard—and, frankly, I think she just got tired of it. So she said, “Hell, he’s just the czar of noir.” It’s been the gift that keeps on giving. If you want a cool nickname, I can put you in touch with Laura.

TBD: Will you ever get tired of noir?

EM: I don’t think so. Not once I realized there was far more to it than what was ascribed by the original scholars on the subject. It annoys some purists when you stretch the boundaries, but who cares? We sold out a week of shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York presenting virtually unknown film noir from Argentina. Akashic’s Noir series has been a fabulous way of getting new writers published and providing a valuable anthropological–literary experience. There’s been a long overdue rethinking of this terrain as strictly a male-only province. All good, as far as I’m concerned.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers in general, and writers of noir specifically?

EM: Understand that noir is not about the body count. It is often about violence—the psychological pressures that lead to it, and the inherent drama in trying to stem the tide. It bothers me when books and films featuring ugly people engaged in relentless killing are described as “noir.” It’s not. Those are just Tom and Jerry cartoons for post-adolescent boys. Not entertaining to me, and not of any significant value to the culture at large. I guess my advice would be “Aim a little higher.”

Eddie Muller is the world’s foremost authority on film noir. As founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation he is a leading figure in film restoration and preservation, and a familiar face and voice on the international film festival circuit, DVD special features and Turner Classic Movies, where he hosts Noir Alley every Sunday morning at 10am EST.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

Black and white photo of Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga on Freedom, Pizza, and Writing Dark Shit for Young Adults

We met Barry Lyga when we were waiting to sign books at the (thoroughly awesome) New England SCBWI conference. Turns out we are all Jersey-crowd–the Garden State representing! We had a funny chat, and then we checked out his books. This guy is a powerful writer. His new book, Bang, is out, so we picked his brain about books and publishing and whatnot.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Black and white photo of Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga

The Book Doctors: Who were your favorite authors, and what were some of your favorite books when you are a kid?

Barry Lyga: I had such eclectic tastes as a kid! I loved old classics like Poe and Milton, but I was also obsessed with modern sci-fi authors like Joe Haldeman, as well as comic books by the truckload. Paul Levitz and Alan Moore were two of my favorite comic book writers. I read Haldeman’s Dealing in Futures short story collection over and over as a kid — those stories really opened my mind as to what was possible in storytelling. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Ken Grimwood’s classic Replay. That book blew my mind. I re-read it every year, and it still knocks me down every time.

TBD: How did you learn to become a writer?

BL: I sort of figured it out on my own, really. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to tell stories, and I was manic in my reading. I read constantly. Every chance I had, I would have my nose in a book. So I sort of absorbed a lot of the lessons and the rhythms of writing and internalized them subconsciously. Which isn’t to say that I was a great writer the first time my fingers touched the keyboard! Hell, no! I still had to practice and hone my craft, which took literally decades. But no one ever really sat me down and taught me how to start — I figured that out on my own and then just kept iterating and trying until things started to click.

TBD: How did you find your first agent, and what was your road to publication?

BL: I met Kathy Anderson at a writers conference in early 2005. I had won the Editor’s Choice award at the conference, so she was looking for me. And I had seen one of her lectures the day before I won the award, so I was looking for her. And then it turned out I was scheduled for a pitch session with her! So, it was a fortuitous meeting.

She read the manuscript I had at the time, which was my first YA novel: The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl. After a couple of weeks, she offered me representation and I accepted. Then we talked about the book a little; she had some suggestions and I took ‘em. About five months later, she sold that book and my next one at auction. We haven’t looked back since!

TBD: Do you ever get pushback for writing books for teenagers that are so full of darkness?

BL: Not from anyone in the business. Occasionally there are people out there in the wider world who take issue with something I’ve written, but they are — thankfully — a minority. I think most people recognize that my books aren’t promoting the darkness or proselytizing for it; they just reflect it for the reader.

TBD: What did you learn about writing while working in the comic book business?

BL: I worked in comics on the distribution side, not the creative side. So honestly, the most important lesson I learned was that I wanted to be on the creative side!

But there WAS writing involved in that old job; it just wasn’t creative. It was a lot of marketing copy and so on. I did learn a substantial work ethic from that. I learned how to edit myself. I learned how to heed the sanctity of a deadline, which has stood me in good stead — in 12 years as a professional author, I think I’ve missed exactly one deadline. Thanks, comics!

TBD: Tell us about BANG.

BL: BANG is the story of Sebastian. Ten years ago, when he was four years old, Sebastian was playing with his father’s loaded handgun. It went off. And killed Sebastian’s four-month-old baby sister.

Now, ten years later, he’s still living with the guilt, the horror, the shame, and he’s decided he doesn’t deserve to live. How can you find forgiveness for something so unforgivable? How can you atone for a mistake you made before you even knew what a mistake was?

And there’s pizza. Believe me — the pizza is important. It’s a pretty dark book, so the pizza matters.

Cover of Bang by Barry Lyga; bullet hole in letter "A"

Little Brown Books For Young Readers

TBD: What are you working on next?

BL: I wish I could tell you! I have two projects in the hopper right now, but contracts have yet to be signed, so I’m not supposed to say anything about them. They’re both dream projects, for completely different reasons, and I’m so, so incredibly excited about them. Stay tuned!

TBD: What do you love most about being a professional author? What do you hate most about it?

BL: I love the freedom. I don’t mean the freedom of dictating my own hours and days (which is amazing; don’t get me wrong!), but rather the freedom of knowing that I am the one deciding what I do next. No one comes to me and says, “OK, your next book is about a kid who can talk to chickens…but he has a poultry allergy! Make it so!” I have the freedom to decide what stories I will tell. Some of them succeed; some of them don’t. But they’re all mine.

As to what I hate… I really hate the uncertainty. Which, of course, is the flip side of the freedom! There’s no way to know which, if any, of the stories I decide to tell will strike a chord with the reading public. If you made a graph of the sales of my books, it would look like a cardiac patient’s EKG. It’s all over the place. There’s nothing you can do about it, of course, but that doesn’t stop me from hating it!

TBD: You’ve written some pretty grim books on some really difficult topics. How does that affect you personally?

BL: Until recently, it didn’t! I mean, I wrote a book about child abuse (Boy Toy) and a whole series about serial killers (I Hunt Killers) and it never bothered me. I slept the sleep of the just every night, no matter what horrors I’d conjured during the day.

But BANG was different. Maybe because I was a new father. I was writing about a dead four-month-old baby while my own four-month-old baby was sleeping in a bassinet next to me. This book really, really got its hooks into me, and while that bothers me, I hope it will get its hooks into readers, too.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

BL: I always tell writers: It’s OK to suck. It’s OK to look at something you’ve written and not like it. That just means that you’ve grown as a writer, developed better taste and better instincts, in the interim. So, take that new perspective and write something new. Inevitably, you’ll look back on that in a little while and think that it sucks, too! But that’s all right. That’s progress. One of these days, you’ll write something that only half-sucks, and then you’re on your way!

Called a “YA rebel-author” by Kirkus Reviews, Barry Lyga has published seventeen novels in various genres in his eleven-year career, including the New York Times bestselling I Hunt Killers. His books have been or are slated to be published in more than a dozen different languages in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia. Lyga lives and podcasts near New York City with his wife, Morgan Baden, their nigh-omnipotent daughter, and their preternaturally chill son. His comic book collection is a lot smaller than it used to be, but is still way too big.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED. 

Portrait photo of Anna Staniszewski smiling

Anna Staniszewski on MFAs, Writing, and Not Teaching Kids Stuff in Your Kids’ Book

Anna Staniszewski is one of our daughter’s favorite authors. Our daughter is nine, with great taste in books, so we always pay very close attention to who she’s loving as a middle grade reader. We were all lucky enough to meet Anna at least year’s New England SCBWI Conference and had the chance to pick her brain after about writing, writers, MFA programs, kids’ books, and whatever else spilled out of our collective heads.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Portrait photo of Anna Staniszewski smiling

Anna Staniszewski

The Book Doctors: I’d like to start with the MFA programs, because we hear such conflicting things, particularly for children’s book writers. What are the benefits of going to a program like the one at Simmons College where you teach?

Anna Staniszewski: I hear that question a lot. For me, I think that it comes down to two things. If you want to be a published writer, you have to put in the work. Some people need a structured environment like an MFA program. I know I did. For other people, they can do it on their own. Another benefit of having an MFA program is the community aspect of it. You have this network that you’re part of—people with similar interests and goals. Some say you can’t be taught to write. While I think ultimately the actual storytelling voice is hard to teach, I obviously believe that you can teach someone to write, because I attended an MFA program and I teach in one.

TBD: What kinds of things do you actual teach in an MFA program for children’s literature?

AS: When the students come into the MFA program at Simmons, we really break down the basics. We look at character, plot, structure, setting, all those things, which seem really basic because we do so many of them by instinct, because we see how they work in other people’s stories. But if you really break down how they work, then you can take them and use them in your own story. The more aware you are of the different building blocks of fiction, the more consciously you can use them to benefit the story that you’re working on.

TBD: What was the transition like going from student to published author to teacher?

AS: When I first started at Simmons, I originally went for the MA of Children’s Literature. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to go into publishing. But my first semester there they were just launching that MFA program–this was over ten years ago–and so I thought that’s exactly what I want to do, I want to do both those things. Once I knew that, I was really focused throughout that program on wanting to be published when I graduated, and then when I finished, I actually applied to the Writer Resident Program at the Boston Public Library and, miraculously, got it the next year. Right after I graduated I was a writer-in-residence at the BPL, which was amazing. I think that really gave me such a boost of confidence that writing could be a real job for me! Right after I finished at the BPL, I went to teaching. Originally, for the first year that I taught, I taught all over the Boston area. I was really lucky when an opening popped up in Simmons, where they needed someone to teach in the MFA program, so I was able to do that right around the time that I got my agent. That was interesting to go through the submission process all while I was teaching other students who were trying to get to the same point.

TBD: One thing that we run into all the time is that people think that it is easier to write a children’s book than an adult book, particularly when it comes to picture books, and what I find amusing, in terms of length of time, is that it takes longer to publish a picture book than it does any other kind of book that I’ve ever seen.

AS: Absolutely! I sold my first picture book in 2011, and it is coming out in 2017. It was a long process! (Even though book publishing is a slow process, it’s rare for a book to take this long.) I think because there are so few words, you have to pick the exact, perfect words for every spread. And then there’s this whole other element if you’re not the illustrator and you just have to wait and hope that it all comes together! Writing picture books is such a specific craft, I was actually a little bit intimidated by it for a while. For me, writing a novel somehow feels less scary.

Cover of Dogosaurus Rex by Anna Staniszewski; boy walking a T. Rex on leash

Holt Books for Young Readers

TBD: For those writers out there who really know nothing about the craft of picture books, do you have a few tips?

AS: I would say the big thing is thinking about what would you like to see illustrated because I think a lot of times you’ll have a certain idea of “wouldn’t this be cute” and “wouldn’t this be fun,” but then you really have to think, “Can I get several illustrations out of this?” Then there are the parts of your book that not only could be illustrated, but also are begging to be illustrated! That’s why you need to find an idea that doesn’t just resonate with people, but that’s demanding to be illustrated.

The other thing I often tell students, because this is true of my own experience, is that an idea is not a story. The picture book I mentioned that’s coming out in 2017–the one that took six years–that was one where it took me a good year to find what I was actually trying to say. I came up with the idea, “Oh, wouldn’t it be fun if a boy turned a dog into a dinosaur?” And so I kind of played around with it, and it just wasn’t really working. I think part of it was because I wasn’t really thinking about the illustration potential. But I think a bigger part of it was that while it was a fun idea, it wasn’t really a story. And so I had to really dig into it. It took me a while to find what it needed to be about, which was the relationship between the boy and what turned out to be just a dinosaur.

Probably the most important thing in a picture book is the emotional component to the story. Because picture books are so short, there’s so little time to get the point across. You need something readers can really connect to on an emotional level because otherwise it’s just a fun story and you forget about it. But if there’s that deeper emotional layer, then readers will come back to it over and over.

TBD: We love that last one! We do a lot of work with writers to try to help them figure out how to pitch their books, and many writers have tremendous difficulties doing this. We get so many pitches where we don’t see an emotional connection with their main character. They just have an idea, there’s no actual plot or story there.

AS: It’s true, because by the time you finish reading a story, if there’s no emotional component and there’s no real plot, you find yourself asking, “Why did I just read this?” There has to be something there, even if it’s not a traditional story arc. My picture book, Power Down, Little Robot, is not a traditional story arc. It’s about a robot that doesn’t want to go to bed. It tries out all these different things to prevent going to bed, so it’s more like a list-type story. But I really try to highlight the mother-son relationship there. I hope, by the end, readers feel changed by the story, even if it doesn’t have a traditional beginning, middle, and end.

TBD: It’s confusing to many people who are starting out in the field what the category Middle Grade even means–the age range, where it diverges from early reader, how it stretches up to YA but doesn’t cross over into it. Can you give us your thoughts on this?

AS: I get this question all the time as well. I think people define it slightly differently, but this is how I think about it. I think the characters are typically between the ages of eight and twelve or thirteen. There are also early chapter books, and I do include those in early middle-grade, so in early chapter books, the protagonist can sometimes be in second grade or age seven. But a lot of early readers of chapter books are very much riding that line between picture book and novel. So I look at early chapter books on a case-by-case basis to know where exactly those fall. I feel like once you get into high school, that’s where it gets tougher. In my novels, most of my characters are thirteen or fourteen, which is at the upper end of middle-grade, often referred to as “tweens.” And even fifteen years ago, those would have been published as YA. Because YA has aged up so much, middle-grade has had to expand a little bit and the characters have become a little older.

While part of the way I define middle grade is by age, part of it I define by focus. It’s not only the content, but also how you deal with the content. So in middle-grade, if it’s younger middle grade, you might get away with a little bit of romance, but there are a lot of kids who don’t want that in their books. Whereas if it’s upper middle-grade, you might see a little bit of romance and you might see some darker things like war and death. With the latter, they tend to be handled a little bit more in the background or off-screen, so they are certainly there and they’re impacting the main character, but not in a direct way. For example, if there’s a character with something very serious going on in her life, maybe that’s not happening to the main character, it’s happening to the main character’s friend or somebody else in the family. In middle grade, you’re still kind of discovering what the world is like, whereas in young adult, I’d say it’s “Now that I know what the world is like, how do I fit in?” In YA, the focus is more inward, where middle-grade is more outward.

TBD: In your bio you write, “When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch.” We thought this was so funny, and it’s just the sort of thing our nine-year-old daughter would love. Speaking of our nine-year-old daughter, she loves your books so much and just had the experience where she sat down with The Dirt Diary and couldn’t get up until she finished. You captured something that felt grounded in reality yet she could fantasize. How do you come up with your stories? Are they things that just come to you, or are they things you’ve been thinking about since you were little?

AS: I feel that I never have a lack of ideas. I feel like my brain is open, that it’s always asking “What if this happened?” I’m always kind of twisting the things that I notice, and thinking about “What if I told it this way?” Then it’s just a matter of figuring out what am I most excited about, and that’s what I decide to write about. But sometimes I feel like the process is a little bit mysterious. With my first book, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, I was working on something completely different. I was working on a sort of depressing book that ended up not going anywhere, and I needed something fun to work on. So I sat down and I just thought “Okay, I’ll just write a fun scene, just for myself,” and I wrote a scene about a girl who came home from school to find a talking frog sitting on her bed, and if that was me, I would have screamed and run out of the room, but she was so annoyed at the sight of the frog, and she actually grabbed that frog and she threw it out a window. I thought, “Who is this character? I need to know more about her!” I would write a chapter or two every once in a while, just for my own amusement, and that’s how that book came about. With my book The Dirt Diary, I heard a story on the radio about a girl who used to work for her mom’s cleaning business and a bell went off in my head. So for me, the premise comes first a lot of times, but it’s not until I connect with the characters that I go with it.

I feel that what you were saying about being rooted in the real world with a little bit of fantasy or magic, those are the kinds of stories I’ve always loved the most, and so I feel like that’s what I most enjoy writing as well.

TBD: We were impressed with how you dealt with class issues in The Dirt Diary. Our daughter happens to be in a public school that is very mixed, class-wise, from the very top to the very bottom. We were happy to see her reading a book that made her think about class. Speaking of which, your dedication may be our favorite ever: To anyone who has ever had to clean a toilet.

AS: I always thought I’d write fantasy. I wasn’t sure I had realistic fiction in me until I started writing it. For me, I guess what helped me was that I felt like my entire middle school existence could be summed up in the word “embarrassed.” I was nothing but embarrassed all the time. I also needed to know “Where do I fit in?” So a lot of those class issues are things that I experienced in school, where there were kids who lived in the big fancy houses and their families had big fancy cars, and then there were the rest of us. There was a lot of pressure no matter where you were on that hierarchy, and I thought that was something worth exploring. It also felt very true to my character because of the situation I put her in, and it also felt very true emotionally for me. A lot of people ask me how much of that story comes from my personal experience, and it’s very little. I did not clean houses for a living. I try to avoid cleaning houses at all, even my own. But I feel the emotional element is very true to life, and so I feel like I took a character who is very shy and very awkward, and took those qualities from myself when I was her age and amplified them by ten.

TBD: Something we run into every day with clients trying to get children’s books published is the desire tell us what their book is trying to teach. I would love for you to say something about the didactic nature of children’s books, and what do you advise on that?

AS: I think the important thing is telling a good story, and if there’s something that comes out of that for the reader, that’s fantastic, but if that’s the aim–if you go into it looking to teach something—it will show. The story always has to come first. When I set out to write a book, I’m not thinking what I want the reader to learn, or what do I want the character to learn, I just focus on something much more simple, like how does the character change. I try to think of it in a very specific way. With The Dirt Diary, for example, it’s about a character finding her voice. Though that may imply that maybe she learned some things along the way, that’s not what the story is really about. I think about: “Where does she start?” She’s shy, she can’t speak up for herself. “Where does she end?” She comes out of her shell a little bit, she speaks up for herself, at least when she really needs to. I’m not just trying to hit the reader over the head with a lesson or a moral. As a reader, I like to be able to think about the book myself and also feel like I have grown and changed along with the character; that’s more valuable than having a very obvious and concrete lesson.

Anna Staniszewski is the author of several tween novels, including The Dirt Diary and Once Upon a Cruise, and the picture books Power Down, Little Robot and Dogosaurus Rex. She lives outside of Boston and teaches at Simmons College. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. You can learn more about her and her books at www.annastan.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

Jamie Mayer on Screenplay vs Book, the Garden State and the Power of Pain

Since David was a screenwriter for many years, he’s fascinated by the difference between writing for the screen and writing for between the covers. He’s also quite fascinated by pain, how we use it, how we avoid it, and what we can learn from it. So when he came across Jamie Mayer’s wonderful new novel Painless, we decided to pick her brain about books, screenplays, and pain. Which all seem oddly related somehow.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Photo of Jamie Mayer sitting and smiling

Jamie Mayer

The Book Doctors: What were some of your favorite books as a kid and why?

Jamie Mayer: I think some of the books that make the biggest impression are the ones that help you learn about things you really want to know but no one is telling you, so stuff like sex (Judy Blume, my parents’ old hippy-ish copy of The Joy of Sex), magic (Half Magic, Dragonsong), or the mysteries of older, cooler kids (The Outsiders, Judy Blume again – my friends and I had a well marked-up copy of Forever, her “adultiest” one).

I also loved stories about kids who did things they weren’t supposed to be able to do, like living in a museum (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), or solving mysteries (Harriet the Spy, Encyclopedia Brown).

TBD: How did you learn to be a writer?

JM: I always wrote short stories for myself, but never really considered writing as a career. In college I studied film, photography and documentary film. I later decided that if I wanted to direct films, no one would let me unless I also wrote them, so I started writing screenplays – and then it turned into my primary career.

Cover of Painless by Jamie Mayer; silhouette of a person kneeling

Rare Bird Books

TBD: What was the inspiration for Painless?

JM: I read a newspaper story about a young boy with the same disorder as Quinn, the main character in Painless. It’s a neurological condition where you literally can’t feel pain, and his parents were beside themselves trying to live with this kid who had no natural fear of pain and thought nothing of doing things that would hurt himself or others. And I wondered what living like this would do psychologically to this boy as he grew older – if he grew older, because lots of people with this condition don’t survive to adulthood.

TBD: Why did you choose to write a Young Adult novel?

JM: The story of Painless originally took the form of a screenplay, one of the first I ever wrote. I came close to directing it as a film, but when that fell apart, I put it in a drawer and tried to forget about it – but the story still wasn’t done with me somehow. My mentor Holly Goldberg Sloan, the screenwriter/director-turned-best-selling YA author, suggested I try writing it as a YA novel. And that idea just breathed new energy into it – as I expanded and developed it into novel form it took on a whole new life!

TBD: We live in New Jersey, and we wonder what it was like for you growing up in the Garden State?

JM: I always like to stick up for New Jersey, which is really such a beautiful place but gets a bad rap!

My parents lived in New York City before I was born, but when I was still a baby they hit the suburbs of central New Jersey. It was a great place to grow up, just an hour’s train ride from New York – and we visited often to see family, go to museums or theater, etc. – but it really was this smallish town, where kids wandered freely, disappearing into the woods to play and collect tadpoles or whatever for hours without grownup supervision. At the time I thought it was a little boring, but in retrospect, it was pretty awesome. Plus Jersey corn and tomatoes. Plus Springsteen. Plus Jon Stewart. Come on.

TBD: Why did you pick someone who can’t feel physical pain to be your book’s hero?

JM: There are upsides to feeling no pain, but obviously there are downsides too. Around the time I wrote the original story, I was dealing with the long illness and death of my father (who was a wonderful guy, by the way, nothing like Quinn’s dad!). And like anyone who’s experienced the death of a loved one, or a terrible romantic breakup or even unrequited love, I thought to myself, “Wow, this feels horrible. Maybe if I just never care this much about anyone ever again, I’ll never feel this bad again!” Of course, that’s a terrible idea if you want to be even remotely human – if you want to feel the good stuff, you’ll also be vulnerable to feeling the bad. So this physical condition struck me as a perfect metaphor for how people sometimes close themselves off from connection and love, becoming emotionally “painless”. And I wanted to write a story about someone who comes to realize that to make life worth living, he has to open that door a crack.

TBD: How does your process for writing a novel differ from writing a screenplay?

JM: Screenplays are so much about structure and clear character arcs – which are also really useful in writing a novel. But where screenwriting style is usually very spare and external, only describing what you can see, a novel can be more descriptive and internal, so I needed to consciously remind myself to widen the palette, and that was really fun and liberating! Also, in a screenplay you don’t have to choose between first and third (or second!) person POVs, so that created a whole new facet to the process as well..whose POV are we in when, and why, and how?

TBD: What are you working on next?

JM: I just wrote and directed a short coming-of-age film called Crowbar Smile that you can watch on TheScene.com. I’m hoping it will become a full-length feature film soon. I’m also writing several new film and television scripts. There may be a new YA novel brewing as well, but it’s too soon to talk about it!

TBD: If time had split and you were living another, parallel life, what would it be?

JM: I would be a large animal veterinarian. As a kid, I loved biology and animals and was always bringing random animals home. I wanted to go to vet school and interned in high school with my local vet, where I even got to scrub in and assist in the surgery to spay my own kitten! In college, I discovered a love of film and photography, and somehow never got around to all the pre-med classes I would need for vet school. So in my alternate timeline I am a horse doctor, driving from farm to farm with my muddy boots on…

I know it seems unrelated to my current career, but my interest in biology and things medical makes me especially interested in story ideas like the one underlying Painless!

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

JM: Write – which seems obvious, but lots of people don’t do. There are a lot of bad drafts that have to happen on the way to accumulating 10,000 hours of practice! And learn to re-write – which I think is a different, and in lots of ways harder, process, which involves evaluating and incorporating criticism and notes and being willing to tear up things that you might be very attached to! These things are simple to say but not necessarily to do – and I think every writer grapples with both these processes every day.

Screenwriter Jamie Mayer is venturing into prose with her debut YA novel Painless. Born in New York City, Mayer grew up in New Jersey and graduated with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard University. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son and a neurotic-but-good-hearted rescue dog. More info at www.jamiemayer.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

Cover of Standing Up by Kate Forest; two hands touching

Kate Forest on Amputee Romance, Learning to Write, and the Superpower of Empathy

We’ve known Kate Forest for many years, and it’s been a joy to watch her come into her own as a writer. She has an unusual book out now, and we wanted to pick her brain about how she came up with this fascinating twist on the classic romance.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Photo of Kate Forest smiling

Kate Forest

The Book Doctors: Why did you do something as silly as decide to become a writer?

Kate Forest: I wish I weren’t a writer. I’ve always been the storyteller of the family (some of the stories were even truthful). I felt compelled to write them down a few years ago. I didn’t have plans to publish at first. But I’m also too ambitious for my own good.

TBD: What are you reading these days? What were your favorite books growing up, and why?

KF: Growing up was tough in terms of books.I didn’t learn to read until I was about 11 years old. Not only did I miss out on all the Judy Blumes, but school was a very painful place. I had the fortune of getting some extra help in 6th grade. One day I looked around the reading group I was in and noticed I was with the smart kids. I immediately went to Sherlock Holmes (still some of my favorite stories).

Now, I love reading romance of any kind. Devouring Amanda DeWees, Veronica Forand. And I love non-fiction. Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson is on the top of my Kindle now.

TBD: How did you learn to be a writer?

KF: Trial and error. My sister, Andrea Pyros, is the real writer of the family, and she was kind enough to not laugh too hard when I said I was going to write a book. I took classes at my local community college, read books, and attended conferences, online classes, and workshops. I came from a place of knowing that I didn’t know anything and felt no shame in starting from scratch at 40 years old.

TBD: What drew you to romance writing?

KF: I need a happy ever after in my fiction. Because of my work as a social worker, I’ve never been able to read those wonderful weepy Oprah Book Club books. When Precious came out, I couldn’t look at that as entertainment, since foster care was my day job. Fiction, for me, needs to be an escape. And I’d better be emotionally satisfied at the end or I’ll hurl the book at the wall. For non-fiction I can be forgiving.

Cover of Standing Up by Kate Forest; two hands touching

Ruby Basset Publishing

TBD: Tell us what your new book, Standing Up, is about.

KF: It’s the classic nerd/jock story but with a twist. Mike was the star football player in high school. A car accident lands him on crutches in excruciating pain, and he elects to have his legs amputated below the knee. Jill is a woman determined to get to NASA but finds it hard to stand up for herself in a man’s world. It’s more a story of finding your identity than a straightforward romance.

TBD: They say, “Write what you know, but you’ve never had an amputation. How did you get into the mindset of someone missing a limb? There’s so much attention being paid to ensuring that genuine experience dictates the content of books like this. How did you make sure that your writing was real?

KF: If I only wrote what I “know” all my characters would be middle class Jewish cis-gendered women. I am in complete agreement that representation matters. We need diversity in books, not just in the characters depicted, but also among the authors. That said, I think I did my due diligence. I interviewed amputees and people with disabilities. I met with a prosthetics expert, had sensitivity readers, and relied on my professional experiences. This story is not going to be true for everyone with limb loss because not everyone with limb loss has the same experience. But it could be true for some. And not everything the characters think and feel will sit well with everyone. Just because one of my characters says something insensitive doesn’t mean that it’s my personal belief. I hope people see the evolution of the characters.

TBD: It’s unusual to see an amputee in a romance novel. What prompted you to write something like this?

KF: I was tired of all the “perfect” characters in romance. Their only flaws being they are “too smart,” “too wealthy,” etc. I meet people all the time who find true lasting love, and they are far from perfect. We all need love stories. We all deserve a happy ever after.

TBD: How did being a social worker impact how you wrote this novel?

KF: I’m a storyteller, but I’m also a listener. If I had a superpower it would be empathy. It takes a lot out of me to sit with someone through their pain. To be present and hold them in that space. That’s the job of a good social worker. To offer the non-judgemental support and advocacy. I’ve been telling people’s stories through court reports, case files, and hospital notes, always with the conviction to get the person what they need.

TBD: How long does it take you to write a book?

KF: Too darn long. I am a painfully slow writer and an even slower editor/reviser. I can’t plot a book at the beginning. I have some vague idea of what will happen. Mostly, I have a clear idea of who these characters are. I just let them play on the page. I end up deleting many, many wonderfully written pages that are absolutely useless.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers? For romance writers?

KF: A good story has terrible conflict. You can’t be afraid to put your characters through hell. They should be at the place where everything is hopeless. It’s really hard to go there. None of us want to think about being hopeless. But that’s the desperation the characters need to feel. Otherwise, the story isn’t compelling.

Author Kate Forest has worked in a psychiatric hospital, as a dating coach, and spent a disastrous summer selling above-ground swimming pools. But it was her over 20-year career as a social worker that compelled her to write love stories with characters you don’t typically get to read about. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two kids, and a fierce corgi. Learn more at kateforestbooks.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

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Photo of J.K. Knauss smiling

J. K. Knauss on Bloody Cucumbers, NaNoWriMo, Bagwyn Books, and Violence

We first met J. K. Knauss when we did a Pitchapalooza at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, one of our favorite bookstores in the world. We loved her idea for her book, but we were also impressed that she actually wrote a blog post that was very entertaining and formative about the event itself. Subsequently she bought one of David’s books and noticed that the metadata for the e-book was wrong. It was these impressive displays that made us become big fans. Not only of what a professional J. K. is, but also how generous a person. And now that her new book is out, we wanted to pick her brain about writing, publishing, and all that jazz.

Read this interview on the HuffPost.

Photo of J.K. Knauss smiling

J.K. Knauss

The Book Doctors: What made you decide to become a writer? What were some of your favorite books as a kid and why?

J. K. Knauss: I’m not sure there was a decision involved. I have no memory of ever wanting to do anything else. My favorite books as a kid were the many by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Willo Davis Roberts. Not only did they write lots of great books, but I also got to meet them at an author fair near my hometown. Seeing that authors were real people, like me, I hoped that someday, somebody might pay me for my writing.

TBD: We noticed that you use Goodreads. Could you explain to our readers how you work with that website and what some of the benefits are?

JKK: Goodreads is a wonderful way for readers to get in touch with authors because the site is entirely dedicated to books. I encourage readers to use the “Ask a Question” feature on my profile, and to join groups that interest them. With so many books out there, sites like Goodreads can help with one of life’s toughest questions: what to read next?

Book cover of Seven Noble Knight by JK Knauss; silhouettes of knights on horseback

Cover of Seven Noble Knights by J.K. Knauss

TBD: Could you describe your process of writing Seven Noble Knights? How did you come up with the idea? What is your daily writing practice like?

JKK: Seven Noble Knights is based on a legend I encountered in graduate school. Don’t let that turn you off! I read my advisor’s paper about the possible meanings of the bloody cucumber incident and decided I had to read everything I could about such a bizarre story. It had much more to offer—knights, ladies, Spanish pride, Moorish civilization… I let it marinate for a few years, then wrote the big travel chapters, the giant battle, and the last three chapters during two consecutive NaNoWriMos. During November, writing was the first thing I did every morning. Otherwise, I stealth wrote, fitting in sentences and scenes wherever I could between my paid editing and copyediting projects. I’m still a stealth writer today.

TBD: Do you use beta readers? Are they valuable in the editing process?

JKK: The first time I lived in Tucson, I had the kismet to join a writers group worth its weight in editorial comment balloons. They’re talented writers who gave me fresh perspectives on how to build a medieval world without bogging the reader down. Most importantly, they’ve stuck with me through some exaggerated highs and lows, even though I had to leave Tucson not once, but twice. Thanks, Low Writers!

TBD: Did you work with an editor at your publishing house? If so, what was that like?

JKK: I worked with a couple of professional editors as well as my critique group, got feedback at the 2013 Naperville Pitchapalooza and the 2014 Grub Street conference, and sent Seven Noble Knights through my own editing mill before I sent it out. Bagwyn Books makes historical accuracy their highest priority, so my editor and I focused on presenting a well-rounded picture of medieval Spain.

TBD: This is such an epic, how did you approach keeping all the storylines and characters afloat and helping your readers not get confused?

JKK: Buried in a tote bag with a flamenco dancer on it, I have a folder that’s thicker than the paperback is going to be with research notes, fold-out maps, character lists, chapter outlines, and a handwritten translation/summary of a few chapters of a thirteenth-century history book. There’s nothing like the benevolent authority of King Alfonso X, el Sabio, to keep a writer on track.

TBD: There’s lots of violence in Seven Noble Knights, but none of it feels gratuitous. Could you give us some of your philosophy about violence in stories, particularly violence towards women?

JKK: Medieval Spain was a society in a state of perpetual warfare for more than 800 years. Everywhere you looked, there was a border to attack or defend. So while it surprised me to be so drawn to such a violent story, it’s important to present the context accurately. I hope readers will come to their own conclusions about the appropriateness of violence in the Middle Ages and today.

There’s so much else going on in Seven Noble Knights, violence against women only occurs during Doña Lambra’s punishment. This is a female character who hasn’t hesitated to wield violence against others as one more tool for getting ahead. In the sequel, there will probably be some nongratuitous violence against innocent women characters. Much as it pains me to consider, again it’s a question of historical realism.

TBD: So, we have violence and odd uses of produce. Do the passions of your medieval characters come out in any other way?

JKK: As fiercely as they slay the enemy and seek revenge, so do the characters in Seven Noble Knights defend their families and fall in love. The hero, Mudarra, finds no meaning in his life until he meets a forbidden love. The seven young title characters will do anything to keep the peace within their beloved family. Don Gonzalo is deeply devoted to his wife, the mother of the seven noble knights, and will do anything to return to her—even betray her with another woman. Doña Lambra loves her cousin, but has to marry some nobleman she’s never met before. Lambra’s maid falls in love with the stable boy and hopes he can help her escape her servile life. Love arises all the stronger in hopeless places.

TBD: We checked out your story collection Rhinoceros Dreams. David also loves rhinoceroses. Why are you drawn to the rhinoceros?

JKK: All five species of rhino are soulful creatures, the gentle giants of the savannah or the rainforest. I had the opportunity to pet a pair of white rhinos at Southwick’s Zoo in southern Massachusetts, and it was the most Zen moment of my life. I highly recommend petting a rhino if you can! And I hope people will stop desiring them for their horns, which are worthless to anyone who isn’t a rhino.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but do you have any advice for writers?

JKK: You might think a field dedicated to bringing the dreams of sensitive writers to an eager reading public would be all daisies and unicorns. But the publishing world has more of the brutal about it than the subtle. When you least expect it, something about the publishing process will break your heart. It’s the price authors pay for loving to write. If you have what it takes, you’ll keep going. So my advice is: “Brace yourself.”

Born and raised in Northern California, J. K. Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in medieval Spanish literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. Seven Noble Knights, an epic of family, betrayal, and revenge in medieval Spain, debuted December 2016 in ebook from Bagwyn Books. The softcover edition came out January 16, 2017. Tour dates, fun, and prizes are still being added to the Seven Noble Knights Grand Book Launch Blog Tour. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list or visit JessicaKnauss.com for castles, stories, and magic.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

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Author Charlie Jane Anders with a fake raven in her hand

Charlie Jane Anders on Writers Building Community, Smushing Genres, & Being an Outsider

It’s hard to be a writer in the Bay Area and not know Charlie Jane Anders. Besides being a prolific writer, she is an incredibly generous networker and runs an absolutely awesome reading series called Writers With Drinks. So we thought we’d check in with her and pick her brain about novels, writing, reading, and all that jazz.

Read on the Huffinton Post.

Author Charlie Jane Anders with a fake raven in her hand

Charlie Jane Anders

The Book Doctors: In some ways, your book defies categories. To us, it felt like magic realism, but it has elements of fantasy, cyber-steam punk, and coming-of-age. When you sat down to write this book, did you think about what category it would be in? Did this make it more difficult to sell the book and find an audience?

Charlie Jane Anders: When I started to write All the Birds in the Sky, I was attracted to the idea of smushing together fantasy and science fiction by having a witch and a mad scientist in the same story together. I thought of the book initially as sort of pastiche or spoof. I would have all these standard fantasy tropes and these science fiction tropes, and they would be colliding in a funny way. That turned out to be very, very boring. Instead, I had to think more about what these two genres meant to me and how I connected to each of them personally. I was terrified that this genre confusion would make the book a hard sell — but it turned out the bigger problem was the fact that it starts out with the characters as little kids and then we see them grow up about 100 pages in. It seemed like some people could not quite wrap their minds around the idea of a book that feels like a young-adult novel at first but then becomes an adult novel. I was so grateful that my agent and publisher were willing to roll with it and didn’t try to get me to restructure the book, with flashbacks or whatever.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders book cover; flock of birds all over the title

Book cover for All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

TBD: David has, because of many personal experiences, felt like an outsider most of his life. So he especially related to the main characters of this beautiful book, and we wondered if your experience as an outsider helped shape these characters, who are fighting against a world that sees them as different, unusual, bizarre, and ultimately, threatening.

CJA: The theme of feeling like an outsider kept coming up in this book, in part because of the decision to start out with the main characters as kids. I think a lot of people can relate, one way or another, to the sense of not fitting in or being misunderstood. I had a rough time in grade school and middle school for a bunch of reasons, and I felt like writing honestly about growing up meant that I had to capture some of that emotional and physical insecurity that so many of us have lived with. And yet, having the kids grow up and live as twentysomethings meant that we got to see them as powerful adults, with control over their own lives and agency and all that goes with that. They can’t escape from being shaped by their childhood experiences, but they can choose how they deal with it.

TBD: You have put a lot of time and effort into reaching out to a community of writers. We suggest this to our clients all the time. How did you do this, and has this helped you in your writing career?

CJA: I can still easily remember when I felt totally isolated as a newbie fiction writer, and how hard it was to find people to connect with. Whatever point you’re at in your career, writers really need to stick together, to help deal with the pressure and insanity of the creative process and the publishing biz. I’ve had a blast curating Writers With Drinks, the reading series that I organize and (usually) host in San Francisco. I have gotten to meet a whole bunch of amazing writers — including David! — and hear them read. And it’s been a thrill to expose people to a new audience, especially since Writers With Drinks usually has as many different genres and styles as I can fit into one event. So you might come to hear the science fiction author, but discover a new favorite poet. But just as valuable has been the social aspect — an event where we’re all creating something together and nobody’s competing has been great for helping me (and hopefully others) make friends. I think being around these awesome, talented people has helped me raise my game as a writer, because I get to hear/read some of the best examples of the craft every month.

TBD: David has read several times at the fantastic reading series called Writers with Drinks, at the deliciously named Make Out Room in San Francisco, and he always has a blast. What have you learned by watching the hundreds of writers that you have wrangled into this wildly successful series?

CJA: Ha, see above. To add to what I wrote up there, I think that part of the fun of Writers With Drinks has been the thing of combining different genres and getting to see how a stand-up comic, a slam poet, a science fiction author and a literary memoirist are using some of the same techniques and approaches — just with different end goals. Plus you get to see how each genre is powerful in its own particular way. I love when you get people laughing their ass off one minute and then being moved to tears the next.

TBD: Tell us about io9 magazine.

CJA: Getting to be involved with the creation of io9 was one of the greatest opportunities of my life. Annalee Newitz, who founded io9, wanted to blend science and science fiction in a kind of homage to Omni Magazine, and it was really inspirational to see how the two things informed each other. After eight and a half years, I came away with a really strong sense that we are 100 percent living in the future. And I basically got paid to geek out about storytelling, and sometimes my half-baked ideas about books, movies and TV shows led to some of the most fascinating conversations with our readers and other folks. It was like getting paid to go to grad school.

TBD: You’ve been published in tons of small magazines and journals, like Tin House, McSweeney’s, and Zyzzyva, to name a few. How does a writer get published in these places, and how has this helped you in your publishing career?

CJA: When it comes to Tin House and McSweeney’s, I was only published on their websites, but it was still a major honor to be featured there. And getting into ZYZZYVA was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me. This super well-respected literary magazine chose to publish me way, way back when I was just starting out and barely getting my stories into tiny zines and the occasional website. In general, I published tons and tons of fiction in small publications, many of which have gone under or never received any exposure to speak of. Early on, I would publish stories pretty much anyplace that was willing to consider them, including one of those adult newspapers that’s mostly a vehicle for stripper ads. I didn’t make a lot of money from doing that, to say the least, but it was good to get the experience of having my creative writing appear in a lot of places and dealing with editors and readers. The whole process of making up a story — and having it turn into something that other people read and take in and form their own relationship with — is so weird, it might be kinda good to get used to it before you start reaching a bigger readership.

TBD: You won an Emperor Norton Award. First of all, what is that exactly, and how did you end up becoming a winner of this prestigious award?

CJA: Oh ha ha ha… the Emperor Norton Award for Extraordinary Invention and Creativity Unhindered by the Constraints of Paltry Reason is something that Tachyon Publishing and Borderlands Bookstore were doing for a while there — I don’t know many of them they gave out, but I was so thrilled. I think something about the weird, silly intros I cook up for the authors at Writers With Drinks, plus my bizarre fiction, struck someone as unhinged, in a good way. I was very flattered — hinges are good for doors, but I think a lot of people could stand to be a little less hinged. I’m always kind of scared of how many people seem to think they have everything all figured out.

TBD: You are a self-described “female geek.” What does that mean to you? And tell us about the anthology you put together that embraces this particular demographic.

CJA: Way back in 2006, Annalee and I were both approached about editing anthology projects for Seal Press, and we decided to collaborate. Our book was called She’s Such a Geek, and it was a collection of essays by women in science, technology and other geeky fields. We put out a call for submissions, and we were just blown away by the hundreds of submissions we received. There were a lot of heartbreaking stories by women who had been at the top of their class as undergraduates but then got treated horribly in grad school. A lot of geeky women of color shared stories of hearing subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages about their ability to keep up and contribute. There were also a ton of uplifting, thrilling stories of geeky triumph and discovery, from women who discovered a love of science, math, tech, gaming or science fiction and found that it changed their lives. It was an eye-opening, intense experience. Since that book came out a decade ago, we’ve seen way more women celebrating their geek identity, and venues for female geeks to come together. There’s an annual event called GeekGirlCon and a ton of other stuff. It’s been so awesome to see that happen.

TBD: In All the Birds in the Sky, Patricia the witch forms a really strong bond with her cat, Berkley. What happens to the cat after she goes off to magic school?

CJA: A ton of people asked me what happened to Berkley, who’s very important in Patricia’s life when she’s in middle school. I learned the hard way that you can’t leave any loose ends where cats are concerned — unless they’re loose ends in a ball of yarn, in which case go ahead. So I wrote a story called “Clover,” which is available at Tor.com, to explain what happened to Berkley later on. This turned out to be one of those things where you start pulling on one thread — to continue the ball of yarn metaphor — and then all sorts of interesting things start coming out. I ended up getting a chance to explore a bit more about the use of magic in my fictional world, and approach it from a very different direction than I did in the book, thanks to a different protagonist. Plus this story absolutely stands on its own — so if someone hasn’t read the book yet, this is a good way to dip into that world.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but since you do have a column in which you give writing advice, what advice you have for writers?

CJA: The main advice I have for writers is to hang in there and keep writing. And also, to be kind to yourself. A writer — especially a beginning writer — has to keep two contradictory mindsets in order to keep going. You have to believe that you’re a flippin’ genius, your ideas are brilliant, and you’re a fantastic storyteller, or you won’t be able to summon the audacity and stamina to create the big, ambitious stories you want to tell. But you also have to be aware that your writing is going to have huge flaws, it’s easy to screw up, the craft takes a long time to learn (and you really never finish learning it), and when people criticize your work they’re probably on to something. That combination of hubris and humility can be hard to sustain and can easily drive you nuts. So be nice to yourself, and just keep writing even if you think you’re churning out garbage sometimes.

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky. She organizes the Writers With Drinks reading series, and was a founding editor of io9, a site about science fiction, science and futurism. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, ZYZZYVA, Pindeldyboz, Tor.com, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and a ton of anthologies. Her story “Six Months, Three Days” won a Hugo Award and her novel Choir Boy won a Lambda Literary Award.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

Book cover of Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third; characters in a car driving underground

Cathy Camper on Lowriders, Graphic Novels and Diversity in Books

We first met Cathy Camper when she won our Pitchapalooza at the great Portland bookstore Powell’s. The first book in the series did so well that the second one is out now, so we thought we’d pick her brain about books, lowriders, outer space, libraries and diversity in books.

Read the interview on the Huffington Post.

Book cover of Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third; characters in a car driving underground

Chronicle Books

The Book Doctors: Tell us about the new book.

Cathy Camper: Lowriders to the Center of the Earth came out July 2016. This graphic novel follows Lowriders in Space. The three main characters are the same, but you can read each book on its own and still understand what’s going on. At the end of Lowriders in Space, Genie, Elirio, Lupe and Flapjack Octopus’s cat goes missing. The three embark on a crazy road trip to find their cat. It leads them down into the Underworld, ruled by Miclantecuhtli, the Aztec God of the Dead. He’s catnapped their gato, and to get back Genie, it will take all their combined wits and camaraderie to outwit La Llorona, Chupacabra driving a monster truck, and Miclantecutli, who wears a luchadore cape of eyeballs! Similar to the first book, Raúl III illustrated it all in ballpoint pen, with the addition of a green pen in this book, because they get lost in a maíz maze along the way.

TBD: How was it different writing the second book after the first book did so well?

CC: Once you have a book out there, there’s always pressure to deliver another book that’s equally good. Luckily, I was already thinking up book two at the same time I was writing book one. I had to do a big rewrite early on, which was tough, but the book kept getting richer and richer the more I wrote. Also – a big difference – when I wrote book one, I didn’t know who would illustrate it, or even if it would be a graphic novel or picture book. But with book two, I was able to write towards Raúl III, and his style. I even asked him, “What do you like drawing?” He said, “Bats and skeletons.” So I wrote the story to let his artwork flourish. In this way, we work together more like musicians, and it’s really fun.

TBD: There seems to be this idea in the publishing community that Latino people don’t read books. Could you address that please?

CC: Well that’s sure not been our experience – every school visit and author talk we’ve done, we have Latinx loving our book, both kids and adults. Those publishers might need to look at it the other way around; if people aren’t buying their books, maybe you don’t have things people want to read. School Library Journal just chose our book as one of their top Latinx books of 2016 for kids, and we got this best books of 2016 shout out from Gene Yang, Ambassador of Children’s Books, so there ya go!

TBD: What are some of the challenges of writing a graphic novel, as opposed to a novel without images?

CC: A graphic novel is a collaboration (unless you’re drawing it too), so you can’t be too precious about your words….lots get edited, cut and changed. Writing a comic is more like writing a film than fiction; your words are instructing actions. So you need to be like a director when you visualize what happens; it’s boring to have lots of static scenes with crowded dialog. Sometimes, you can sneak a little poetry into the text, but more often, the poetry exists in the meld between text and art.

Photo of Raúl Gonzalez III and Cathy Camper smiling

Cathy Camper (right) and Raúl Gonzalez III (left)

TBD: Tell us about the process of working with your illustrator.

CC: Raúl III and I are lucky, because we get along super well. When we started to work together, we had only spent around eight hours together (he lives in Boston, I live in Portland, OR), but we both have a good work ethic, a similar sense of humor, and we give each other a lot of give and take in the books’ creation. Generally, I write the story first with the editors, then it goes to Raúl and the art director, for the blocking of panels and pages, and artwork. In most kids’ picture books, the artist and illustrator only communicate via the editor. But Raúl and I often share ideas; he might suggest text, and I might tell him something to tuck in the illustrations. It really is like playing jazz, lots of improvisation and adding in things we discover along the way.

TBD: How has being a librarian affected your work as an author?

CC: I wrote these books because I couldn’t find them to give to kids at my library. We desperately need more diverse books, and books that appeal to boys. Working around teachers, parents and kids all day, I know what books are connecting with folks. I’m also pretty good at pitching books to people – I do it for my job! As a librarian, I’ve also learned a ton about publishing and the business side of books, how books are made, ordered and promoted.

TBD: What is your next project?

CC: I’m working on the third lowrider book. It’s called Blast from the Past; L’il Lowriders in Space. Remember L’il Archies, or the Muppet Babies? This is the same thing – it’s all about our three heroes when they were kids, their families and where they grew up. I have an Arab American picture book that will come out in 2019, called Ten Ways to Hear Snow with Penguin/Dial. There’s another Arab American picture book in the works, and a YA novel called Circle A, about some kids in the ‘80s that meet some punks squatting in an abandoned house. That one deals with issues of social justice, race, sexual orientation and how images are misused in the media, all issues that are front and center right now. I look at each book as a good adventure, you never know where it will lead.

TBD: What or some graphic novels you love, and why?

CC: For kids, I enjoyed Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma, and The Hilda comics by Luke Pearson are really imaginative. I also recommend March Grand Prix by Kean Soo, for kids that ask for more comics about cars, since it’s about car racing. I thought the Lunch Witch books by Deb Lucke were also great. For adult comics, I love Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf, and thought the compilation The Shirley Jackson Project edited by Rob Kirby, of comics about Shirley Jackson, was fantastic.

TBD: Any exciting news about Lowriders in Space, since it came out in 2014?

CC: Yes, Lowriders in Space got nominated for a Texas Bluebonnet Award, so Raul and I have done a lot of author presentations down there, and felt all kinds of love from the Lone Star State. The Bluebonnet committee is made up of awesome librarians and educators, and they posted a lot of fun material educators and parents can use to supplement our book.

Also, both Raúl and I have heard many accounts of how our books connect with kids. The most touching is testimony that they are a gateway books, for kids who just wouldn’t read. For kids that don’t see themselves reflected in books, for kids that struggle with reading, for autistic kids – we’ve heard again and again our book was the spark that lit the flame of how exciting reading can be. As creators, we’d hoped to share a story in our heads with folks, but to have those stories open the door to the pleasure of a lifetime of reading? We are totally awed, and honored.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers, illustrators, or graphic novel people?

CC: Keep writing. Writing is like a boiling pot; if you have talent and write enough, it will get better and better, something good will eventually boil over and someone will notice. My other advice is to do work in the DIY/alternative world, the same as you do in the mainstream world. Eventually the two overlap, and the adventures and skills you learn in both end up complimenting each other. And for writers of color, and writers outside the mainstream, don’t give up! We need your stories, and you are the future.

Cathy Camper is the author of Lowriders in Space, and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, with a third volume in the works. She has a forthcoming picture book, Ten Ways to Hear Snow, and also wrote Bugs Before Time: Prehistoric Insects and Their Relatives. Her zines include Sugar Needle and The Lou Reeder, and she’s a founding member of the Portland Women of Color zine collective. A graduate of VONA/Voices writing workshops for people of color in Berkeley, California, Cathy works as a librarian in Portland, Oregon, where she does outreach to schools and kids in grades K-12.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.  

What It’s Like to Get Hit By a Car on a Motorcycle

Weaving and gunning, he whipped it down Fell, timing it just right, so he hit the synchronized lights just as they changed, right on the edge of out-of-control. Divisidaro, Fillmore, Steiner flashed by: boom, boom, boom, George cruising Lili through each light as it turned green, one after another, like magic.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw it coming, some big American junker-mobile running the light. That bastard’s gonna hit me, George thought, he’s gonna run that light, and he’s gonna hit me.

Imagine the smallest split of a second you can. Now split that an infinite number of times. That’s how long it took for George to think all that.

George’s eyes were wide as CD’s, utterly concentrated, totally focused. If he had not been, he would have died. If he’d had to, at this moment, he could have lifted a refrigerator off a loved one.

The driver of the American junker was drunk. His name was Ozwaldo Grzylwrsklnzwzykoski, aka Oz Grizzly. He had been drinking beer, then vodka, then beer, then vodka. He had somehow driven from Las Vegas, where he had been drinking with a relative who offered him a job breaking a man’s knees in Lodi, California. Oz was going to check into the Royal Viking Hotel, where he planned to dry out and have sex with several transgender sex workers. He actually should have been making a right turn, in which case this incident would have never happened. But he was so stoopid drunk, he ran the red, right at George, so blurred he couldn’t even focus on the steering wheel right in front of his eyes.

George lifted Lili’s front tire off the pavement. That, combined with the heavy screeching back-tire breaking, caused her to skid away from the Oz mobile.

Oz churned oblivious through the light, completely unaware he was perilously close to manslaughtering U vehicularly.

Lili seemed to be defying gravity itself as she flew sideways on Fell towards Market St.

And just as it looked inevitable that Lili was going to slam head first into the back panel of the passenger side of the Oz mobile, God seemed to intervene. Or maybe it was just George being all he could be.

Either way, George managed to get Lili to just clip the back of the Oz mobile’s passenger side bumper.

This stopped Lili’s forward momentum just enough so that with George flying forward at the same speed he had been, he flew over the handlebars down Fell St, head first.

Joseph Plantune, aka Joey, a homeless man who believed that aliens were coming for him imminently, looked up from the trash can he was mining, and saw a George flying through the air. He didn’t notice Lili or the Oz mobile. All he saw was the flying George. Head first. This caused Joey to sprint down Geary away from Fell, screaming, “You’ll never take me aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!”

Holy shit, George thought, I’m flying through the air. With the greatest of ease. Hey, I’m even making a joke as I fly through the air. He seemed to fly forever, flying, floating parallel to the ground, headfirst. If only I had a cape, I could be Superman.

Then George realized he was gong to come down and hit the pavement. He did something smart now. Instead of thinking, he let his body take over. George was lucky that way. His body just naturally took over when it had to. When all around him were losing their heads he was inhabiting his body.

And his body, like most all bodies, knew exactly what to do.

And his body did it.

As it came down, George’s body naturally tucked, his shoulder rolling down towards the road, his helmeted head shielded by his right arm coming up, and as gravity took over, plummeting him towards blacktop, he landed on the flat of his forearm, rolling forward in a moving ball of humanity like a tumbler in thick black leather.

George’s body was all loosey-goosey, easy-jointed as it made contact.

And somehow he managed keep his roll going, as if he had been coached from an early age by a brilliant but cruel Rumanian gymnastic coach.

And when the roll was over, he popped up on his feet and stood there facing away from Geary St.

Stood on his two feet in his two boots.

Unscratched.

Unscathed.

Untouched.

Wait a minute, he thought, how did that happen? Did that happen? Did I just fly through the air, and do some crazy stunt man shit? How the hell did I do that? It wasn’t you, stoopid. That was God. God just saved me. Sent you a message. Do your job. Look after the boy. Thank you God, and I will not ever forget that you saved my life here. From now on, I do the right thing. Sex is highly over-rated. George made a note to himself: have that tattooed on your penis, young man.

Then he had a thought that moved him to action.

Lili.

Oh no.

Please God, just one more thing, I swear this is the last thing I’ll ever ask for: let Lili be okay.

George turned and ran back towards Geary.

There she was.

Lili.

Lying on her side.

Battered and bruised.

That beautiful old lady, scraped and scuffed.

He reached her, got down on his knees.

Put his hand on her, feeling for a pulse.

Oh please, be okay.

She’s dead.

What a night.

This is the worse night of my life.

I did this.

This is my fault.

If I had just minded my business and not been chasing my tail, he wouldn’t have gone skag hunting and Lili would be sitting under her cover where she belongs, having sweet Indian dreams.

Damn me.

Too late.

Somebody beat me to it.

George stroked her violated tank, gouged deep in the belly.

George ran his hands over her twisted front fender.

George let his fingers linger on her twisted handlebars.

George couldn’t bring himself to touch her scratched to hell forks, shock absorbed in shock.

Sadly he got himself to his feet.

With forlorn care, he lifted her to her wheels.

He slipped down her kick-stand and gingerly leaned her that way.

Lili groaned as her bent gnarled mass her rested on her stand.

She’s upright anyway, George thought.

He straddled her, without resting any way on her seat.

Looking at her handlebars was like seeing an injury victim with a badly broken leg, where the shinbone is pointing one way, and the foot is pointing the other.

Carefully, lovingly, George put his hands on her handlebars, and with the touch of an expert chiropractor, he pulled them back towards their natural resting place, like twisted a neck to bring it into alignment.

To George’s surprise, the handlebars moves easily back into place. In fact, they slid too far, so they were out of kilter the other way. Very easy he slid them back so they were centered.

Okay, George smiled, maybe it’s not so dire. Maybe she’s okay. Maybe we can coax her back to life. Maybe she’s just got a sprained hip and some minor contusions. Maybe there’s just a lot of blood from some superficial wounds.

George now dismounted and went to the front of Lili. He could now see that her front fender was bent badly, but if he was very tender with her, he could twist it back enough to be able to drive her, then take her to the shop and get her all shiny and new, like a virgin Indian touched for the very first time.

George took her into his hands and softly manipulated Lili, bending the metal so that it moved away from the tire. It did. It worked. It was an ugly raw wound, but at least it looked more normal now, and would not interfere with her smooth rolling.

George went back around and straddled Lili once more.

Barely breathing, he touched the key still hanging in its hole. He turned it into the Off position. He stopped and heaved a deep sigh.

I mean it Lord, if you give me this one thing, make this one thing okay, and I will never let you down again. Let her come one. Let their be light.

George switched the key back into the On position.

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, she turned on, the front headlight shooting out a beam of white into the black night.

Okay, said George, that’s it, you win. From now on, no shit, it’s the straight and narrow for me, no bullshit.

George then calmly, moved the lever out for better access, and my his foot primed her a couple of times, while giving her a little taste of gas with the hand accelerator.

He snorted three quick blasts of breath, and kicked down on the lever.

Lili sputtered and spurted, like a heavy smoker trying to wake up in the morning.

But George nursed her into consciousness by opening the choke on the left of the engine, pulling out the knobby pin so the engine gasped air and gas and the pistons sprung to life, pumping like porn stars as Lili finally righted herself and purred.

Oh Lord, thank you, now I know everything’s gonna be alright, George thought.

And he really believed it.

PRESIDENT BUSH RESIGNS!!!

https://i0.wp.com/hamzajennings.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/george-bush.jpg?resize=143%2C137In a shocking, unexpected and unprecedented move, President Bush announced his resignation today.  He told to a group of stunned White House reporters that Jesus had spoken to him, and told him that the war was very very wrong, that he should no longer represented the interests of a few greedy, money-grubbing industrialists (he mentioned Karl Rove and Dick Cheney by name here) while lying to the American public about weapons of mass destruction and trying to fight terrorism,; that no more innocent blood should be shed in the pursuit of oil; that this barbaric attack would only make the rest of the world hate us even more, and that he should bring all our young men and young women home.  He also produced documents which proved that Vice President Dick Cheney had used his influence to get contracts for all his buddies at Halliburton, and that it was his intention to make sure that Mr. Cheney got, “A good, old-fashioned country butt-whuppin’.”  Mr. Cheney was subsequently arrested as he was hastily packing bags full of money, a one-way ticket to Barbados in his pocket.  Ex-President Bush went on to say that he was very excited about Nancy Pelosi becoming the first female president of the United States, and hope that she would bring her San Francisco values to the White House, transforming a culture of ignorance, elitism, bigotry and intolerance into one of openness, tolerance, and freedom of the press, where everyone, no matter how small their interest group, or how much money they have, or what race, color or creed they are, gets an equal voice in this great country of ours.  He then announced that he was divorcing his lovely wife, because he had fallen madly in love with Tom Cruise, and they had decided to get married, as soon as Tom’s divorce with Katie became official.  After President Pelosi was quickly sworn in, she announced that the war was over, and that all troops would be coming home.  In addition there would be a complete overhaul of America’s educational system, with the money we save from stopping the war being allocated to hiring more teachers, and paying the ones we have a decent wage.  They would also be an immediate end to the system now in place in which standardized test scores correlate to money received by school systems.  The idea, President Pelosi explained, would be that teachers actually get to teach, rather than preparing their students endlessly for rote examinations, full of facts they would never use again.  She then went on to say that her administration would put every resource available into stopping global warming, and making sure all endangered species were given a chance to recover and thrive.  She said she planned to work on immediately legalizing drugs and prostitution, and putting a reasonable tax on them, using the money to go after adults who prey on children in every nook and cranny of America.  President Pelosi concluded this historic press conference by announced that this was the dawning of a new age in the glorious history of the United States, when reason and enlightenment would replace prejudice and darkness, where the Earth would be cherished and the American ideals of liberty and justice for all would prevail once more.  She was greeted with thunderous applause, as Tom Cruise and ex-President Bush shared a deep French kiss in the corner.

Happy April Fooles Day!

Bonny, Hammerhead, & Harry the Vet

Bonny could actually feel her teeth rattle. She’d heard people use that phrase before, but until now, she’d never really experienced the phenomenon. Her uterus vibrated with the power chords of Tarzan’s Bloody Stump, as they launched into their almost-hit, “Monkey Hump.”

The black hole that was the Angry Cock & Blushing Bull erupted in a scream from the packed masses, combining with the thunder drum blasts and the ear-piercing drop-a-rhino-at-40-paces heavy metal guitar roar and the booming bass bangs to make a hearing-loss-inducing cocktail.

Bonny made a mental note: always wear earplugs when attending Tarzan’s Bloody Stump shows.

214 people were stuffed sardine-tight. On the wall next to the door hung a sign that said:

MAXIMUM OCCUPATION: 150.

Piercings piercings everywhere, all throbbing now, bobbing up and down, the Mohawks and shaved heads pogo hopping to the beat me daddy eight to the bar the Japanese alphabet, Chinese dragon, dripping heart, cartoon skunk, naked lady, tumbling dice, pouncing cobra, Betty Boop, Micky Mouse, Aboriginal symbol, Sappho inspired, flying squirrel, Van Gogh sunflower tattoos.

She tried to listen to the words Able Joshua “Hammerhead” Shineburg was screaming into the feeding-back mic.

They sounded like this:

“AAAAATAAZAANNNNNNANAAAAAAGTABLDEESTUUUUUUUUUUUUP

MNKYHMMKNKYHMMNKY HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!”

They lyrics were actually:

“I’m Tarzan, and I’ve got a bloody stump

“Monkey hump monkey hump monkey hump!”

Bonny felt like a teeny tiny midget had crawled inside her head with a ball peen hammer and was excavating in her brain for uranium.

An odor of moldy yeast, old sweat, and vomitus was making her light-headed.

Of maybe it was the personal odor of John Randolph “Pukeface” Phillips, 24, 6’ 3”, 245 lbs., as he rubbed up against her, pretending not to notice her, but intentionally getting off on her without her consent.

And she couldn’t get away. He was blocking her exit, and she hated that.

Bonny made a mental note to herself: never stand next to a huge smelly pervert at a Tarzan’s Bloody Stump concert.

I have seen enough, if I don’t get out of here, I am going to pass out, Bonny thought to herself as she tried not to breathe.

She tried to go right around Pukeface, but he easily blocked her with his smelly bulk.

She tried to go left around Pukeface, but merely shifting from stinking left foot to disgusting right was enough to cut off her route of escape.

Bonny considered herself a reasonable person. But there are moments in life when even the most reasonable person is pushed too far.

When Pukeface bent forward and tried to lick her face with his pink and purple tongue, he pushed Bonny to that point.

Without any thought at all, her body took over, and deep in the memory of her muscles she remembered the boxing lessons her dear old dad had drilled into her between the ages of 10 and 13, when she refused to ever put on another boxing glove or engage in another round of shadow boxing.

With enviable technique Bonny pulled back, with all her weight on her left leg, coiled her muscles taut with dynamic tension, made a fist like an iron, and with perfect balance, unleashed a corker of a right roundhouse, swinging from the heels as she stepped forward with her right leg into the punch.

Pukeface, 80% dazed from the merry mixture of ecstasy, amphetamine, and the cheapest vodka in America, didn’t even see it coming.

Bonny was so intoxicated by the adrenaline rushing through her that she was having a transcendent peak experience, at one with the universe, a feeling of happy harmony filling her, losing a sense of time.

And when that right fist of iron struck the surprisingly fragile nose of in the middle of Pukeface’s face, it snapped.

Bonny couldn’t hear the snap over the din, but she felt it reverberate down her spine with a jump a jive and a wail. She stood panting like an animal, cheeks aflush, sweat busting out all over, high and alive. It was one of the greatest moments of Bonny’s life. She wouldn’t notice for fifteen minutes that her knuckle was badly contused.

Pukeface flew backwards with a shocked roar, blood geysering up and splattering the twelve people immediately surrounding him.

Pukeface’s head smashed into Alexander Phillip “Needlenose” Rivers’ right eye-socket, cracking that bone.

Pukeface clutched his nose screaming and crying, ricocheted off Needlenose and landed with a thud on Wanda Reynolds. She caught him, but he was so heavy she collapsed under him and they landed with a thunderous thud on the concrete floor.

Wailing Pukeface rolled over and was now lying supine face-to-face on Wanda, 23, 5’4” 155lbs, dressed in extra large striped overalls, who was only there because her friend Sheila Rooks threatened to tell her mother that Wanda had had sex with Sheila’s brother Earl.

Pukeface bled profusely in Wanda’s face.

Wanda was paralyzed, flat on her back, crushed under this mountain range of a man, blood pouring all over her. And yet she felt strangely turned on.

Then Pukeface did what he was famous for.

Pukeface puked.

Right in her face.

Wanda screamed louder than she would ever scream in her life.

Wanda’s scream was the catalyst for a knock-down drag-out caterwauling melee.

This was a one of the greatest moments of Hammerhead’s life. He thought it was him that caused this outbreak of raw violence. He had fantasized for many years about a moment like this.

Bonny skedaddled through the madness, clawing through the Angry Cock and Blushing Bull crowd like Captain Spaulding the African explorer hacking through the bush.

Just as the backdoor was in sight, she was slammed into by Alan “Sick Al” Brundt, deeply into meth-addled mania, trying to get in the middle of the action.

Bonny thought for a moment she was going down with the ship, and had a vision of herself lying on the cold concrete floor getting her head smashed like an old pumpkin after Halloween.

But at the last moment, she grabbed Big Al, who was standing stock still stunned temporarily by his collision with Bonny.

Bonny regained her delicate grasp of balance, pulled on Big Al’s jacket, and slingshotted herself through a knot of walleyed wallflowers and into the back door.

With a shove on a bar across the door, Bonny accomplished two things.

She made the door fly open.

She activated the emergency alarm.

Bonny then noticed the sign on the door that said:

EMERGENCY EXIT

DO NOT OPEN

With a quick glance she looked back at the crowd and saw it with the objectivity of detachment, like it was a movie.

Punching, gouging, head-butting, skin bursting open, blood flowing kicking, stomping, rockers pumping toxic volumes of musical waste fueling the fire of violence, ramming, slamming, slapping, whapping.

What are they all so mad about? Why do they want to punish each other? Why do they want it so loud? So they can’t hear themselves think. A generation of TV heads, internet babies numb bombarded saturated over-stimulated deadened, Death looming over their beds whenever they have sex, taught that buying things will make them happy, a future of selling out to the evil Gap empire or living in shameful poverty, 15 year olds getting breast implants, teenage suicide rates soaring, UN delegates trafficking in underage sex slaves.

Bonny saw someone pointing at her from across the thrashing clash.

Time to exit stage left.

She dashed down an alley and around a corner onto 18th St., where Jordan “Quack Quack” Ducksworth was purchasing a dime of smokable crystallized cocaine from Miles “Mookie the Dookie” Miller.

Bonny saw the business transaction out of the corner of her eye, and had the sense to neither stop nor look directly as Quack Quack slipped Mookie the Dookie ten dead presidents, and Mookie slipped the Quack a small sealed plastic bag with a small rock of extremely low grade narcotic.

Although they appeared not to notice Bonny, they were completely aware of her presence, and judged correctly that she was neither a threat or a potential mark.

Bonny’s head poundpoundpounded with the too-loud sound of Tarzan and his bloody stump as she power-walked onto Mission, jumped into Petunia, her $4999 eight year-old Volvo, ignited the engine, and whipped right around 19th St, then right on Valencia, left on 18th St., across Polk St., then across Market and left up the hill. It was a nasty shit night, and as Bonny got to the top of the hill, the misty foggy cloud shroud covered everything. Suddenly Bonny could barely see five feet in front of her.

But more disturbing, she couldn’t hear anything except the horrible roar in her suddenly hollow head.

I’m deaf, she thought.

Deaf. Deaf. Deaf.

She felt a panic pull at her and she pulled Petunia into a bus stop.

God does make us pay for being happy. I should have stayed at the Gap. Yes, I’d be morally bankrupt, but at least I wouldn’t be deaf.

Bonny turned off Petunia.

Slammed up the emergency parking break.

Jumped out of the car.

Listened harder than she ever listened in her life.

Nothing. Deaf. Oh, Jesus please help me, thought Bonny.

Just then Harold “Filthy Harry” Jonkers, 54, 5’11”, 169 lbs., a Viet Nam veteran with a long sad gauntlet of a face, pocky skin, and a guilty conscience, walked past, huddled into a long gray Army jacket. He was thinking about how he could resist the temptation to find a stray dog, feed it meat laced with tranquilizers, take it back home, and when it woke up torture it for days, until it died.

Bonny stared at him. She wanted to stop him. Grab him. Say, Please, help me, I think I’m deaf. I didn’t mean to make God angry, but I have and he is punishing me. I’m deaf. I’ll never hear Paccabell’s Canon, or the sound of my future babies laughing, or a phone, how am I gonna talk on the phone? Please help me.

But she didn’t.

But all her frantic desperation poured out of her and all over Filthy Harry’s jacket.

It stopped him instantly.

He stared in her eyes.

When she looked at him, he felt her scared glare touch something that had not been touched in a very long time.

Since he lived off a stipend form the government, he had not spoken with another human being for over a year.

But now he felt an overwhelming impulse to talk to this woman who seemed in such trouble. He wanted to tell her that he had trouble too, that he was in awful pain, and that no matter how much opium he smoked, it never went away. He wanted desperately to confess about the dogs.

Instead, he said:

“Are… are you okay?”

His voice sounded so strange, like the voice of a ghost that lived inside of him.

But Bonny heard him. The words brought a cry of joy flying like a dove from her throat. It sounded like this:

“AwwwwwwwohhhhhthankyouJesus.”

She had not been this happy since her first moments of being a professional thirty seven days earlier.

Without even thinking, she reached out and hugged Filthy Harry.

He was so shocked he did nothing.

She held him tight as she said softly:

“I’m not deaf, I’m not deaf, I’m not deaf.”

As his brain stalled like a station wagon wheel in the deep mud, Filthy Harry’s arms acted on their own, and slowly closed around Bonny.

He had not been hugged for over a decade.

He was shocked how good it felt.

He remembered his last hug: from his mother a week before she died. He had stopped hugging her before she stopped hugging him.

He was determined not to let that happen this time.

It felt so warm in the hug.

Not sex warm.

Warm like home-made bread fresh out of the oven.

Warm like sitting in front of fire in a home you love on a cold night.

Warm like spooning in bed with your dog who loves you more than anything.

Suddenly Bonny realized she was hugging a total stranger on a semi-deserted hill over the Haight-Ashbury.

She pulled away, but he didn’t let go.

Bonny was scared for a second.

Harry felt her fear.

So he let her.

He looked into her eyes.

He smiled.

For the first time in five years.

He forgot how nice it was to smile.

He saw how if made Bonny relax a little.

“I’m glad you’re not deaf. I have a friend who’s deaf. It totally sucks.”

Bonny laughed loud, and it went right into Harry, lit him from the inside and faded in his belly.

Harry was shocked.

He made a joke.

Hadn’t made a in over fifteen joke.

A huge smile swept over him as this slid out:

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Thank you,” Bonny said, then got into Petunia, fired her up, and chugged away, happy that her knuckles were starting to ache.

Harry stood there for he knew not how long, feeling his whole life surging through him, feeling the tears coming up from a hidden Atlantis within him.

Then they came.

Tears.

The tears he’d been trying to cry for a thousand years.

Harry stood, crying like a fool on the hill, for over forty-five minutes, the salty balm baptizing him, cleansing him, cleaning out decades of damage.

The next day he went to Vet Center and signed up for a creative writing class, a music appreciation class, individual, and group therapy.

Harry wound never torture another animal.

The List

Jamie Ferguson just made the List. I mean seriously, how do you just knock over someone’s Coke and make some lame apology that everyone can see is bogus, and then just walk away? I mean really, what is that all about? If you knock over somebody’s Coke, you don’t laugh, do you? Don’t you go get them a new Coke, maybe? Am I wrong here? Did I miss something? I mean seriously, what is wrong with people?

The List – Updated April 4, 2001

• Jamie Ferguson – Knocked over Coke and didn’t do one damn thing about it. Must die slowly and with maximum pain. The rack.

• Mrs. Hampstead – Mocked and ridiculed in front of whole class just because I didn’t know who some dinkhead named Nero was. I mean who gives a damn about some spazmeister who’s been dead for like a million years ago? Smash head like a watermelon with sledgehammer.

• Mr. Springer – Just the haircut alone is enough. But detention for something that Louis obviously did means he must certainly die. Put balls in a vice tightened slowly for a year.

• Bobby Calhoun – I’m a geek? Please. Enough said. Tear heart out of chest and hand it to him while it’s still beating.

• Linda Kraft – All head cheerleaders must die. Tie horses to arms and legs, send them north south east and west.

• Troy Gallagher – Ditto captain football team. Hang from a meat hook, then sever penis, and insert in mouth.

• Bruce Chambers – You don’t just step on somebody’s foot and make a little remark under your breath and expect to get away with it. Tie to a bed and insert horde hungry army ants into both ears.

• Laurie Francis – No one should have that much sunshine flowing out of their ass. Tie hands behind back, then drop from the roof headfirst onto the front steps of RHS. Do not gag, so scream will be unmuffled. Go Broncos!

• The Guy at Starbucks – Who does that hosesucker think he is, making a pass at me? The thought of that faggoty human pimple drooling all over me makes me puke. Pour molten lead into funnel up ass.

• Mr. Brainerd – Just because a person can’t operate a lathe does not mean a person should be made to feel weak and inferior. 3/4 inch bit drilled into temple through brain..

• Cathy Dickson – Number One Queen Pig of the Universe. For someone like that to even imply that I am the immature one is beyond ludicrous. Immature? Don’t make me laugh. Okay, if you want to break up with someone I can respect that. But you do not do it in the cafeteria at lunch in front of the entire school, and you certainly don’t reveal your very personal but completely lame-ass reasons. Immature? I’m sure. She’s the one who wears braces and days of the week panties. Slit with ginsu knife from vagina to mouth.
Friday is gonna be the perfect day. Pep rally. Gimme a B! Gimme an R! Gimme an O! Gimme an N! Gimme a C! Gimme an O! What’s that spell? That’s spells you die! It’s gonna be so cool. They’ll talk about it for years. I’ll be like a god. I’ll walk right up to the mike, strapped up with enough juice to blow the roof right off the sucker. They’ll look at me a lot different then. They’ll be scared shitless. I won’t seem like such a retard then will I? No little giggles and whispers then. Respect. God damn right. And I’ll give the speech. “This is for all the Losers of the world. This is for all the Lame-o’s and the Spazmeisters. This is so maybe next time instead of laughing and making fun of somebody just because they might be shy and different because their mother’s an alky pillhead and their dad’s a sadistic pig, maybe people will think of being nice to that person. What a wonderful world it would be.” I love that line. You just know they’ll make some big lame-o movie about the whole thing. I just pray to God Spielberg doesn’t get his Jew hands on it. I did thank the beginning of that stupid war movie was really hot though. Especially when the guy gets shot in the helmet, and he takes the helmet off and there’s a bullet hole in the helmet and he breathes a sigh of relief, and then he gets it right between the eyes, BLAM! That was really hot. But the whole rest of the movie is such a sappy crapfest, I mean please, a guy has some brothers that get killed? I mean who cares, right? Besides Matt Damon is such a pretty boy butt-thumping poser all you wanna do is stick a bayonette up each nostril and pull. I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces. Hey Jamie, how about a little re-fill on that Coke, huh buddy? Bobby, lemme ask you, who’s the geek now? Mr. Springer, nice haircut! Howdy Starbuck guy, why don’t you suck on this? Hi Cathy, who’s the immature one now? I mean seriously, how cool will that be?

Pia Zadora

Pia Zadora, dude, I’m tellin ya, this shit was, the funniest shit, like, ever. Okay, up front, I don’t know shit about Pia Zadora, you know, what kind of a hang is she, is her shit cool or sketch, like, I don’t know did her old man lock her in the closet with a dwarf in a Santa suit or some shit, you know, I’m just layin down the shit I heard personal, just like I heard it, straight up. But I will say, I got much love for her, much love, and a, like, serious, cosmic voodoo connection with Pia Za-God-damn-Dora, straight up, dude.

Okay, whatever, you know, it’s, like, Pia, I first seen her sweet ass, guess where, dude, I shit you not, Penthouse magazine about 15 years ago. And I mean I seen this girly’s entire ass, straight up, and Pia at the time had some sweet sweet ass, you know, the baby looked about 15, which woulda been sick as shit, right, sure, but Pia, she wasn’t, dude, I heard the baby was, like, 19. And this Pia spread was seriously hotty Von Totty, dude, highly wack-worthy, dude. And since I was of wacking age at that time, I had much wackage with Pia Zadora.

So boom, all of a sudden, Pia, she marries the richest dude in the known universe and then some, and there she is on your nightly, like, news, Mrs. Pia Richest Guy in the Known Universe. And I’m, like, Pia, dude, you’re best of breed, baby, you have got the shit goin all the way on, straight up.

Whatever, dude, then okay, it’s like, they’re sitting around their palatial mansion with their Ming dynasty silverware and servants up the yin yang, and apparently Pia says, “Honey, I love you, I wanna be a movie star, will you buy me a movie?” So then all of a sudden Pia’s starrin in some big-ass movie, with the big-ass Sunset Boulevard. Billboard, dude, it’s like, Ahnold, Michael God Damn Jackson, right before he turned himself into a science experiment gone sadly wrong, and Pia Zadora, dude, fifty feet high, and I’m thinkin, God bless the shit out of America, this is the greatest, like country on earth, even if I do agree with Saint John, like, seriously, imagine if there were no countries, straight up, who you gonna bomb, if there ain’t no countries to bomb, what are we gonna do?

Then they’re gonna have this mondo max-ed out gigantor opening night, like, gala screening whatver and shit, with the lights and the limos and the glittery plastic titties with the slits all the way up to the whatvers, you know, it’s like, shit, you’re steppin out with your cootchie practically hangin out, dude, it’s like, I could never do that shit, but then, of course, I don’t have a cootchie, and as my old dad dad used to say, Never underestimate the power of the coothcie. Point taken, dude.

So, Pia Zadora and shit, this is, like, the first time I seen her in the up close and personal, and her shit was fine fine fine, dude, I absolutely shit you not. Now, the weird, like, deal for me, was that I had this connection set up by the Guzzler and NBA, notorious hose-hound and wanna-be never-was hoopster, and I was sketch maxed-out about the whole diggity-deal but I’m like, whatever, if the shit comes down, I’ll hang with it, if not, I never thought the shit would happen in the first place, so no skin off my johnson, right? But there you go, dude, soon as you think the shit won’t happen and you’re, like, whatever about the whole deal, that’s when the best shit happens. Skanky Maurice and Fatman Skinny, they tell me some Indian dude is gonna show up with some buttons, and I’m like okay, I can move buttons, the button market, is like, boomety-boomin’ boo-yeah, dude, straight up. Whatever, I’m doin a nice hang, skunkin with the magical jams of Toots and mighty-Maytals, when all of a sudden, and I shit you not, may all my shit be beat and lame if I lie, there’s a dude standing in the shadow in the corner. I didn’t even see his ass for a second, like, I had that walking over your grave feelin, and I look in the corner, and dude, I thought I seen somebody, then I thought I was, like, trippin, then I look hard and I seen the dude. Reality’s doin, like, the Humpty Dance right in front of my eyes, dude, I shit you not. So then I’m. like, okay, there is a dude in my hangin room, and I’m, like, tweakin and shit, getting tweaky deaky straight up, like, is am I in some alien transport zone I didn’t know shit about, or what? I don’t know what the hell to do and shit, and about half of me’s still thinkin I’m trippin from like residual hallucinogenic intake built up over the years and shit. But the dude is given off this serious vibe, dude, I mean, like, restaurant quality vibe is floodin off the dude, non-stop, straight up, the dude feels like he’s like been jammin with God, Buddah, and Krishna, and Mohammed, and all those dudes, with Ghandi on bongos, man, you know what I’m sayin.

So, I decide I’ll see if the dude can hear me, and I’ll, like, take it from there, or whatever, cuz the longer I’m in the hang with this dude, the tweakier my shit is gettin. So I’m, like, Dude, how long you been hangin here? And check it out, check out what this mad crazy dude says, he says, “I’ve been hangin here for one thousand years.” And I mean, straight up, what do you say to that shit? I said, like, “Cool.”

So then all of a sudden, I look up and he’s sittin in the comfy chair, dude, like, he didn’t walk there, he was just all of a sudden there, dude, I shit you not, like he got beamed there by the Enterprise from the Nakota Galaxy.

So I say, “Hey, Dude.” And the dude says, “Ya-hay, Dude,” right back atcha, I mean, come on, how cool is that. Turns out the dude is a Nakota or some shit. And check out the dude’s name, dude. Billy Lightning Eyes. And he did, dude, you hadda wear shades to look this dude in the eyes. It was like I got plugged into a, like, socket, dude, like my hair was standin straight up, straight up. Like I hadda hold onto the couch not to be blown backwards, dude, it was the freakiest of the deaky, dude.

And so Lightning Eyes, he says he’s got 500 buttons, and he wants one dollar a piece for em. You know, buttons. Peyote buttons. Grow on cactuses in the desert, Indian dudes used to use of to trip their asses off and turn into fish and shit, I shit you not. This shit, if it’s fresh, is trippy maxed-out boo-yeah trippy, like you’re staring at a rug or some shit, and the pattern starts movin around and shit, like there’s boa constrictors and lion heads and shit and dragons breathing different color fire while Jimi’s playin the Star Spangled Freaky Banner in your head with the volume knob turned up to 11, dude, 11, and you can, like, all of a sudden you can taste the first chiquita you ever tasted, you know, like, the one you just loved the shit out of. One time, dude, I shit you not, I seen God, man. But you wanna know the tweaky thing about it: God looked exactly like me. No shit. Straight up. And I’m like, Dude, you’re God? And he says, Dude, can you believe that shit? And I’m like, Dude, do have any idea how heavy this shit is? And he’s like, Dude, no shit.

So I say, Dude, I ain’t got that kinda caish, I’m dead president chalenged and shit, but I’ll give him 350 to take em off his hands, you know I’m trying to be slick tricky dicky, cuz I know I can turn the shit over for at least 3 bucks a button, maybe 5, no shit, and you can ask anyfucker, I’m a serious negotiatin bastard when the rock meets the hrad place, if you know what I’m talkin about.

So guess what Sweet William, which is what I took to callin the dude, guess what this fucker says? He says, “I had a dream about you, you were a bear, and you were 15 feet tall and you wanted to fly so you grew eagle wings and then were 20 feet from tip to tip, and when you spread them they blocked out the sun, and you flapped those huge wings and you took off and you flew on the wind and the wind smiled at you and I saw you soaring in the laughing clouds and I yelled up to you, I said, ‘Ya-hey, cousin, I have a present for you,’ and you swooped down, landing huge in front of me. I handed you a tiny piece of the sun I had been saving for you for some time, and you put it in your hip pocket and you glowed from the inside. Then you growled and laughed and said Thank you. Then you said you had a present for me, and you gave me a prairie full of fast ponies and rabbits and deer and fruit on the trees and fish in the river, where only my brothers and my cousins live in harmony with their mother the earth, and no one is drunk and the women are pregnant and the children are laughing and the magic is everywhere and no one could stop it, and I said, Thank you, Brother Bear with Eagle Wings, and that is my name for you now.”

I mean, what the hell, no shit, right, what you gonna say to that? What kinda way is that to negotiate and shit? I just busted up, dude, like a gut and a half, I mean, seriously, straight up, what else could you do, really? So I got the dude his money, and I got out the mondo killer crazy wack shit I have stored away only for special, like, occasions, and I got my old carved bone pipe, with this feather hangin off it that I got on the streets of Amsterdam dude, check it out, from some Guatamala guy or some shit, and the stem’s about a foot long, dude, and I stuffed the bowl full, dude, and we stoked and smoked and midnight toked and we got toasted like a bagel dude, and we had the coolest of hangs, I broke out the jerky and it was salty and chewy, just hit the spot, and when I handed it to Sweet William, he smiled for the first time and he, like, said, “Ah!!! Jerky.” And he closed his eyes and took a big old bite, and really, like worked the shit over, you know, chewin and suckin and lookin like he was about to bust a bolt dude, straight up. So we start talkin about who got the most fucked up in their life, and just like, laughin our asses all the way off, and then havin our asses laugh their asses off, so there’s laughin asses everywhere. So he finally won when he told me about the time he, like, got so fucked up he went to the roof of a 10 story building and he thought he could fly, so he jumped off the building and he could fly, that’s how fucked up he was, only he didn’t know how to stop and he couldn’t steer very good cuz so he ended up, like, crashin intro a tree and shit, and if you ask me, that’s pretty fucked up.

So anyways, me and Ghanga George, and Pumpernickle and Dime, and Champagne Charley, we moved every one of them buttons at the big Pia opening shit and the party after, it was sick how many dead presidents we cleared that night, I retired for like, three months on that shit, I shit you not.

Whatever, so, like, Pia’s movie toilets, man, you can hear the flush from coast to coast, and then the CD tanks brutally, and right when all this shit was comin down, I’m in Nuevo York, don’t ask, Cornhole Charley paid me maxed-out cheese to handle a delicate, like, whatever, and while I was there, my compadre Arnolfo D’Allanca Arraripe Pi Mento Di Mello, who is the most Brazilian of dude, he got me Knicks tickets, dude don’t care about the Knicks, unless he could shower with em, if he hadda got tickets to shower with the Knicks, I wouldn’ta got to go. So it’s, like, Madison Square God Damn Garden, right, 20 grand worth of howlin Nuevo Yorkers, and who do you think’s singin the National, like, Anthem, dude. Guess. Go ahead, guess.

Pia Zadora.

So the PA dude announces, “Pia-a-a-a-a-a-a- Zadora-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-“, and the whole place goes ape-shit on a stick, man, straight up, dudes are whistlin and kitty cat callin’ and barkin and woofin, and carryin on and shit, and here’s she comes, toodlin out, it’s Pia, in her baby doll, like fuck me pumps, and her cootchie-huggin mini, with her hotty Von Totty ass hangin out and when the security dude who’s escortin her and shit, he leads her up to the, like, mike, the place shuts the hell up, pronto, dude, and Pia, she starts singin, “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh say-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay can-an-an-an-an-an…”

Then all of a sudden she just like, stops, and she puts her, like, hand on her ear, and she kinda mumbles, “I can’t hear myself… I can’t hear…” And she starts to, like, walk away, dude, I shit you not, Pia tried to just walk away and not have a National, like, Anthem, I mean what kinda shit is that? But the security dude, he stops her, no shit, the dude stops her, turns her skinny, Penthouse-posin, richest-dude-in-the-world-marryin ass around and sticks her right back in front of the mike, and motions to it, like, babe, you gotta do the right here, you gotta sing, or we can’t start the game, dude!

So she starts warblin away, totally out of, like, tune and shit, all stoppy and starty it was the sketchiest shit you ever seen, dude, I absolutely shit you not, like a national disgrace really, dude, and then to put the tabasco on the taco, dude, she just blanked. Stopped. It was like a still, like-life paintin, and shit dude: Pia As Deer in Headlight. So naturally, dudes are buggin big-time, the whole place is mad buggalicious, screamin and shoutin and goin,

“Peee-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-!”

And they’re raggin, and razzin and it’s like feedin time at the zoo, dude, and the animals are hungry as shit, they’re rippin into Pia fang and, like, claw, man.

So Pia, she, like, skips right to the end and shit, and then she turns around and she starts bawlin her eyes out, dude, straight up it was sad as shit, man, and the security dude, he puts his arm around Pia and walks her out, which I thought was slammin of the dude. I wished I coulda been that dude then, like take Pia back and let her cry on my shoulder and shit, and take her back to the crib and bang the shit out of her, but in a really sweet, like, way.

Whatever, so the Knicks are up early, but then they start suckin ass, dude, ug-ly, I shit you not, then totally outta nowhere, the whole place starts into like, this tribal chant, man, the whole Madison Saquare Garden starts goin,

“Peee-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-!”

Dude, I laughed so hard I almost fell right the hell over, I shit you not, that’s, like, Nuevo York, 20,000 dudes all in on the same, like, cosmic joke and shit.

Pia Zadora, dude, that baby is the shit, straight up.

Take it from Brother Bear with Eagle Wings, I know.

Penis Surgery

People look at me like I’m out of my mind when I tell them I decided to have my penis surgically enlarged. Women especially. They always say, “It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean.” I tell them they never tried to cross the Atlantic in a dinghy. They always tell me they fall in love with the man, not the organ. But they don’t have to listen to the most humiliating question a man can ever hear:

“Is it in yet?”

I used to have a girlfriend. Her name was Sheila. I really liked Sheila. You might even say I loved her. We met at Arty’s, a train store on the north side. I collect trains, and I have a track that runs all through my house, it’s really fun, you should see it. Anyway, Sheila’s dad was a conductor. When she tells people, they often say, “For what symphony?” and she says, “The Illinois Central.” It’s a very funny joke, in my opinion, and I always liked it when she said it. She had a wonderful sense of humor, she really did. She’s very attractive, as well. She thinks she’s a bit heavy, but I think she’s perfect. She’s very active and quite fit, actually, and I always tell her if she’s been around in the Botticelli era, she’d have been the belle of every ball. She says I’m not objective. But beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, and to me she’s beautiful. We went out a long time before we became intimate. We kissed and were very affectionate with each other, physically speaking. Sheila was a very sensuous person. I was particularly affectionate in an oral sense with her, and she was very grateful and satisfied, I was sure of that, because she expressed this frequently. And frankly, I enjoyed this immensely, no pressure on me, and it was very gratifying to make a woman I felt so strongly about feel that good. But I would never let her handle or see my equipment, even though she expressed an interest in doing so. Well, eventually, she asked me what was wrong. I said nothing was wrong, I was just a little shy. I’m not really shy at all, but I wasn’t about to tell her that of the last three women who had seen it, one had laughed, and the other two had sighed in disgust. The one who laughed was a professional, so you know that’s money out of her pocket.

As you can imagine, eventually I had to expose my shortcoming. At least she didn’t laugh. Sheila was not that kind of person. She didn’t say anything. But you could tell she was disappointed. You could feel it. And the first time we had intercourse, you could tell she was unsure whether I had entered her. Which I’m sure she wasn’t. And I was so worried and disturbed that I had trouble performing. So would you if you were trying to drive in a nail with a toothpick. So basically that was a disaster. But Sheila was great, she really was. She was extremely encouraging, considering the circumstances. Naturally it was quite a while before we attempted intercourse again. I continued to give her oral pleasure, and that was fine withme, truthfully, but Sheila insisted upon more intercourse. She said, “It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean.” She said she was in love with the person, not the organ.

Well, when we attempted intercourse again, she was very anxious, and I was a wreck. Frankly, she over-compensated. Sheila is a very passionate person, don’t get me wrong, but she was moaning and panting in such an artificial way it was clear she was insincere. It felt like she was trying to prove how exciting it was to have intercourse with a cue-tip. She then began to verbalize, saying overtly sexual words, which only served to make me feel more anxious, because it was so transparent how unsexual she felt, and how insufficient I was. I felt disconnected from my body, like I was a floating head watching some man with a little boy’s wee-wee trying to satisfy a woman.

Then Sheila said, “I want you to intercourse (although that was obviously not the word she used) me with your vagina.”

She called my penis a vagina.

She was mortified, you could tell. I just closed my eyes, pretended to have vigorous intercourse with her, and then simulated an orgasm.

When we were finished, she just got up, put her clothes on, mumbled some excuse I couldn’t quite catch, and left. This was unusual, because she always spent the night at my house. I have an alarm clock worked into my train system, so she wakes up to my train. She used to love being woken up by my train. But not that night.

The next day I got the dreaded, “We have to have a talk” call. I told her not to worry about it, that I understood, that it was okay. She was very nice. You could tell she felt awkward. She said it wasn’t me, it was her, that she wasn’t ready for a commitment, blah blah blah. I felt for her, I truly did. I put her in a very uncomfortable position with my penis. I tried calling her a few times after that, but I always got her machine, and she never returned my calls.

So when the doctor asked me how many inches I wanted to add, I said, “How many you got?” He laughed, but I told him that honestly, if I could get to six inches, I’d be ecstatic. I said I’d love eight. The surgeon said he wasn’t a miracle worker.

But this much I’m sure of: as soon as I’ve been through my post-operative physical penile rehabilitation, I’m gonna pay a little visit to Sheila, Viagra in hand, and I’m going to take her around the world in my new luxury liner.

My Sister’s a Fox

Hey, look, I know she’s my sister. What do you think, I’m stupid? She’s my sister, I know that. But I mean, who are we kidding here? She’s a fox. I know, I know, of course, I know, that’s why I’m saying she’s a fox, cuz she is a fox. I mean you shoulda seen the way she came to the door Sunday morning. She had on this little see-through nighty thing, I mean fuck me, she was standin there and you could see everything. She’s like a goddess, man, I mean her tits are like peaches, you know, and you could see those nips, man, and they were hard. I couldn’t believe it, big spectacular nobby nipples, it doesn’t seem possible that the girl is sixteen years old. And legs, my God, the legs. She’s six feet tall, you know. Oh didn’t you know that? Yeah, man, she’s six feet tall. Well, of course, obviously, there’s the rub. Who wants to be standin there sportin major wood starin at your sixteen year old kid sister, I mean, come on, you know what I’m sayin? So I’m thinkin, what if we were stranded on a desert island, just her and me, could I fuck her then? What if there was a nuclear holocaust and we were the only people left on the earth – and we hadda like, repopulate the planet? What if I was obliged to do, like, would I? And then I’m thinkin, shit, it’s all so arbitrary, you know, I mean the only reason it’s, like forbidden, is that you don’t wanna procreate with you family members cuz you don’t wanna make mutant monster babies. Well hell, I don’t wanna make babies with my sister. I don’t want to impregnate my kid sister, for God’s sake, what kinda freak would do that? But please, I mean, who wouldn’t wanna fuck her? She’s gorgeous, man, and she’s just so… ripe, you know, yeah, that’s the word… juicy ripe. And the weird thing is, I do love her. I really do. More than one of those jerk-off dawg-boys from her school, I mean, the thought of one of those little morons poppin her cherry makes me wanna puke. The thing is, I could really show her about sex, you know, how to do it right, you know, I could make it good for her, I could make sure she enjoyed it, you know, really take her time, and treat her like a princess, which she is, man, instead of some jerk-off bonin her just to get his rocks off and then breakin her heart, I mean what the fuck is that all about? And damn, she is seriously so beautiful, I mean, it makes my balls hurt just lookin at the girl. I know, I know, I know. What do you think, I’m stupid. I know she’s my sister.

James Aluicious Tucker-Thoroughgood & Virginia Merriweather Throughgood-Tucker

She was the girl of his dreams: lovely as an 8 iron with a wee fade that lands soft as eider down on the green, nestling 6 inches from the pin; strong as a downhill drive that rides a stiff wind to the Promised Land; sweet as a curling 40 foot birdie putt that dies beautifully in the bottom of the hole; rugged as a 4 iron out of the deep rough that ploughs through the gorse, hops over the fringe and rolls courageously straight at the flag, steady as she goes; brazen as a knockdown 5 iron smacked through a gale that checks up just below the hole; rare and exquisite as a 1 iron that flies straight and true, finding the green of a par 5 in 2; spectacular as an eagle chip that donuts round and round the rim, before sliding in and plopping in the cup with a pop.

James Aluicious Thoroughgood was the most fevered devotee of the cruelest game. Despite this, he was not a bad fellow. In fact, to call him not a bad fellow is rather understating the case, for James was universally admired liked his industrious spirit, the dry sly sweet sense of humor, and the steadfastness of his unwavering friendship. If a person was in any sort of pickle or jam, James Thoroughgood could be counted upon to aid and abet in the resolving of said jammy pickle quickly, and always with the utmost discretion. No one was quite sure where he got his money, but he always seemed to have quite a bit of it, and never seemed to work for any of it, and never under any circumstances mentioned it. Some said it was an inheritance, although he never mentioned any family, and when pressed would only say that his family was indisposed and that he could not comment on it any further for legal reasons. Some said he made his money on the market and that he had invested in every one of the top 10 internet companies on their respective ground floors, gotten out at exactly the right moment, and was in fact the fourth wealthiest man in the country. Still others speculated that he was an international jewel thief, because from time to time James Aluicious Thoroughgood would just disappear for a week, and then pop back up as if nothing were amiss. Regardless, he was and continues to be one of the finest of fellows with whom to traipse around the countryside as one moans and curses the cruel gods of golf.

No one could accuse James Thoroughgood of being handsome. He was just too plain and ordinary looking to be handsome. But James didn’t seem to need to be handsome. In fact his very averageness was one of his greatest weapons. He was the sort of person who sneaks up on you. You don’t ever quite realize how fond you are of the fellow until you don’t see him for awhile. His gentle, stinging humor, the spring in his eye and the sparkle in his step, his jaunty yet sensitive demeanor, all were sorely missed at the Club when James Aluicious Thoroughgood was not around. And since he played every day, rain or shine over the years, he eventually played with every Member. You knew when James Aluicious Thoroughgood joined you for a round, it would be more fun than if he had not.

But by far the thing most impressive about James Thoroughgood was that with absolutely no discernible athletic ability, he had made himself into a breathtaking golfer. And he did this by playing every day for 5 years, from sunup to sundown, three, sometimes four rounds a day, with anyone who would trudge, grind, or hack it around with him.

When he first appeared he was hopeless. Beyond hopeless. The hopeless were brilliant next to him. His worst round took him 180 strokes to do the 18, a personal record he tied many times. But even this score is rather deceptive, because he only allowed himself 10 shots a hole, after which he would courteously pick his ball up, then tend pin for everyone else’s, giving kudos or condolences, as appropriate. He never tossed a club. Never flailed in dismay. Never uttered a curse. He would simply shake his head and smile, chuckle, then wistfully proclaim, “My goodness, what a bad golfer I am.” He was originally assessed a 45 handicap, and remained there for four and a half years.

He had the ugliest swing ever seen. I’ve witnessed grown men avert their eyes, and women reel back in horror when first subjected to the theater of the grotesque that was the Thoroughgood swing. He started from a severely crouched position which looked more suited to beginning a seizure than to striking a golf ball. He would twitch the club 13 times, always 13 times, like a man preparing to have a stroke. Then he would bring the club back slowly, slowly, painfully slowly, until it was all the way back behind his head. After pausing like a broken metronome at the top of his swing, he would twist his torso forward with a violent spasm which looked like it would dislodge his spinal column, and dislocate a vertebrae or two. His head would whiplash forward like a test track dummy without a seat belt hitting a brick wall at 30 miles an hour. The head of the club looked like it had a will of its own, and wanted desperately to fly away, James trying to hang on for dear life, as he struggled to stay on his feet, often not succeeding. His chip shots he attacked like a manic depressive woodchopper trying to fill a rush order, with a severe downward motion which somehow he eventually learned to convert into a high lofted pillow of a shot that touched down ever so gently in or near the hole. Watching him putt was an exercise in restraint, as one had to summon up all one’s powers of will to stop the riptide of laughter that was struggling to burst out. He scrunched all the way over the ball, as far down as he could get, like an aged hunchback with advanced osteoparosis. He would stare at the ball, then at the hole, then at the ball, then at the hole, back and forth like he was watching a tennis match between two fierce rivals going at it hammer and tong, before finally jabbing at the ball as if it were a bull and he was a matador piercing it with his picador putter. Early in his golfing career, he would often get on the green then putt his way right back off again. I personally witnessed him 8-putt many a hole.

People were always giving him swing tips. Keep the head still. Turn the hands over. Lead with the left. Keep the right side strong. Loosen the grip, tighten the stance, bend the knees and keep the left arm straight. Pretend you’re sitting on a stool. Be the ball, be the club, be the hole. He would always nod his head thoughtfully and gratefully, as if he had been given a key to understanding the great secret of the universe. Then he would go ahead and hit it exactly like he always hit it. And eventually he got so good, everyone stopped giving him advice, and more than a few of the adventurous and desperate Members actually started copying his unorthodox technique.

Early in his career James Aluicious Thoroughgood was most renowned for his unerring ability to hit trees. If there was a tree on a hole (and at the Club that was every hole but the short yet dastardly par 3 10th, with the pond on the left), he would hit it. Sometimes a branch, sometimes a leaf, but more often than not a huge clean hollow knock of a titanium covered spheroid hitting square into the woody meat of a tree. And you never knew which way they would carom or ricochet, so you had to be on your toes anywhere within a hundred yard radius of James Aluicious Thoroughgood hitting a golf ball. In fact he once hit a cracking drive that flew off at a 90 degree angle from the tee box, hit a large oak, and caromed straight back at him, striking him sharply between the eyes, and plopping him down at his feet next to the tee, leaving a dimpled welt of a Titleist imprinted on his forehead. From that point forward, he took to yelling “Fore” before striking the ball rather than waiting for the inevitable frantic shriek afterwards.

By the way, lest you think he made out any better on the short but horrid par 3 10th, it should be noted that James Aluicious Thoroughgood substituted water for wood on this hole, and for 4 1/2 years never made it past this hole without drowning at least 1 ball in the pond, and most times many more than that. His record was 10, which he had achieved more times than he cared to count, because of course he never allowed himself more than 10 strokes on a hole. It was really quite a spectacle, watching a man calmly pull out 10 balls in a row and smash them, one after another, into their watery grave. It was almost inhuman how calm the man was. And yet, he did it with such pleasure that you couldn’t help but love the lug.

James Aluicious Thoroughgood was, before he became an expert golfer, that most dangerous of duffers, for he hit the ball very hard, and hadn’t the vaguest clue where his ball was going. The fact that the big plate glass window of the clubhouse through which one can watch the poor souls slogging home on the vast and insidious par 5 18th is now unbreakable plexiglass is directly attributable to James Aluicious Thoroughood. Even though the clubhouse window is set a good 20 yards behind and 20 yards above the green, and had stood like an unpenetrated virgin for over 75 years, James Aluicious Thoroughgood breached her five times in 6 weeks, each time replete with a spectacular crash, glass shattering like an action movie, innocent bystanders scattering for cover. Of course he always apologized with a fervor beyond profuse, arranged and paid for a new window to be installed immediately. But after the fifth shattering, he begged the Committee to allow him to supervise and pay for the plexiglass window, which was apparently strong enough to withstand a shot from a high powered rifle. While no one has ever tested whether this is an accurate claim, I will attest to the fact that a very well struck golf ball will bounce off it, and sometimes drain back down towards the hole, often leaving a very makable putt indeed. In fact it was often joked that James Thoroughgood, when he became an expert, would intentionally bounce a ball off the window when he had a good stiff wind behind him.

So it was that James Aluicious Thoroughgood destiny found him. Or he found his destiny. One fateful day, with a brisk spring wind behind him on the 18th, he caromed his 2nd shot off the plexiglass window. It trickled slowly, slowly, ever slowly towards the hole, inching closer and closer, as the startled on-lookers in the Club watched with amazement, many Members smiling knowingly to themselves. Agonizingly, miraculously, the little white ball curved lazily down the green, and straight into the hole, for the only double eagle in Club history, and the course record of 65. Of course he had no idea the ball was in the hole. After looking quizzically for his ball on the green, he was surprised when he was accorded a standing ovation by the Members. Only then did it dawned on him where his ball must be. He smiled sweetly, walked slowly to the flag, savoring the moment. He bent down, picked his ball out the hole, turned to the Members, and tipped his head ever so slightly in acknowledgement.

He didn’t know it at the time, but for James Aluicious Thoroughgood, this was the beginning of the rest of his life. This, the greatest moment of his golfing life, would be the cause of the most fortuitous good fortune I have ever seen in all my odd years of studying the cruelest game.

For unbenkownst to James Aluicious Thoroughgood, among the diners who rose and applauded him that day was a visitor by the name of Virginia Merriweather Tucker. She was the guest of Bradley Peavey, a lugubrious loathsome toad full of bad intent, and a Member only because his father and father’s father and father’s father’s father had been. He was in fact the latest in a long line of lugubrious loathsome toady Peaveys, and Ms. Tucker was only there with him because he had intimated in no uncertain terms that he was interested in buying one of her paintings. She suspected the intimation was the hottest of air, and that the only thing theToady Peavy wanted to do with her paintings was perhaps have relations of a non-platonic nature with her on one of them.

She was, of course, right.

Virgnia Merriweather Tucker was a wonderful painter. I’m sure you have seen her most famous painting: “The Bogey of Pagliacci.” The tragic clown stands over a missed putt, hands raised to the heaven, sorrow pouring from his soul, tears streaming down his greasepaint stained face. At this point she had not yet created her heart wrenching masterpiece. If you can guess who was the inspiration for this haunting work, then pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on being smarter than the average bear.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. At this moment, when James Aluicious Thoroughgood, having just executed the only double eagle in the history of the Club, just having broken the 75 year old club record, culminating his 5 years quest to slay the dragon, nodded his head ever so slightly to the adoring crowd with more charm and grace then she had ever seen exhibited by a man, Virginia Merriweather Tucker fell hopelssly, madly, passionately, wildly, head over heels in love with James Aluicious Throughgood.

A moment should be taken here to remind you, gentle reader, that Virginia Merriweather Tucker is everything a person could seek in a mate. Vivacious, tasteful, funny, big-brained, firm-bodied, and a face that has been known on more than 1 occasion to suck the breath right out of man and steal from him the power to speak in coherent sentences.

On this crazy, fateful, life-will-never-be-the-same-again day, her hair was curling softly past her shoulders. She was wearing not a trace of make-up. Never did. Her big round eyes were full of fire. Always were. She was wearing a soft, kelly green cashmere sweater. A string of tiny pearls delicately caressed her neck, which is just what Bradley Peavy was imagining doing. Such was her starstruck infatuation with the new love of her life, this dashingly ordinary golfing god, this James Aluicious Thoroughgood, that she didn’t even feel Peavy’s lascivious stare.

Peavy was just beginning to toadily tell her what a stunner she was and suggest they go back to her place and see at her etchings, if you know what I mean, when she turned abruptly and said, “Who is that man?” like she was Anne Margaret in “Viva Las Vegas”. Bradley Peavy knew in that instant that he was howling at the wrong moon here, and immediately lost all interest in Virginia Merriweather Tucker. “Thoroughgood”, he muttered, moments before making a series of fumbling half-hearted excuses, and leaving the scene like a man with no conscience and a lot to lose fleeing a hit and run. She did not notice, floated on gossimer wings which waved her towards the 18th green. She arrived there just as he was leaving, having tended the pin for his fellow sufferers, all the while being heaped with adoration as befits a mighty knight who has just slain the Jabberwock, and come back to town with its bloody head in tow to show everyone. Little did he know it, but his damsel was only moments away.

There was quite a little crowd gathered already, listening to Andrew Kennedy-Carnagie, (who likes nothing more than to display his astonishing memory, extraordinary vocabulary, and verbal dexterity) catalogue the string of massive faded drives bent around dog legs, perfectly driven 3 irons stopping inches short of pins, and a triple breaking snaking 60 footer trembling on lip before plunging into hole.

James Aluicious Thoroughgood, the man himself, the hero of the day, smiled nicely and shook his head, as if not able to believe his own luck. Just then the afternoon sun, all peaches and roses, shone through a hole in a cloud, bathing him in a golden holy halo. This was the moment her eyes first locked with his.

And that, as they say, was that.

She walked straight towards him, the crowd parting, Red Sea to her Moses. Those present (and the list of people grows every year, as with every significant historical event) swear they heard a chorus of birds singing like angels, or angels singing like birds, depending upon who’s doing the telling. Be that as it may, meet their eyes did, locking like the jaw of a bulldog on a leg of bull.

“Hello,” said James Aluicious Thoroughgood. “Hello” said Virginia Merriweather Tucker right back. “Would you like to join me?” he asked. “I would love to,” she answered. And join they did, as arm in arm they walked from the Club, smiling the same smile. He put his clubs into her trunk, got into her car, and together they drove away. Much was made of the fact that he left in his golf spikes.

As tongues wagged (as tongues will), James Aluicious Thoroughgood was unseen for a week. A week quickly became 10 days, and 10 days all too soon become 3 weeks. And still no sign of James Thoroughgood. In 5 years, he had never missed more than a week. Men often criticize women for being shameless vehicles of idle gossip, but in my years and years of talking and listening to men, I can state unequivocally that men put women to shame in the fine art of sticking their big noses in other people’s business. Theories flew off the walls of the Club: Art Vanderlay heard James had been arrested for insider trading, given a new identity by the FBI and relocated in the Federal Protection Program; Clifton Cornelius Chinois heard Virginia had lured him off to an island in the Caribbean, taken all his money, then drowned him and made it look like a scuba accident; Charlton Evergreen Gascoine heard she was actually a man and they had gone to Denmark so she could get an operation, he had joined the European Tour and had finished third in the Rotterdam Invitational.

Unfortunately, the facts were not nearly as interesting as the fiction. 3 weeks to the day after James Aluicious Thoroughgood and Virginia Merriweather Tucker walked off into the sunset, they re-appeared in the Clubhouse. No one saw them walk in. They just appeared, at 7:00 AM, sitting at a table, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes as if they had both just realized what a wonderful, goofy, crazy, madcap, carefree, place the world is. And they weren’t like those horrid lovers who grind it right up your nose: how happy they are, how in love they are, how great the world could be for you too, if only you could find someone to love you, which of course you probably never will. No, when Eloise, our crusty but ill-tempered waitress, came to take their orders, they only wanted to know about Bootsy, Eloise’s massively obese tabby. The tabby was much better, she informed them, turns out it wasn’t monstrously fat, but in fact had a tumor the size of a softball inside her, which in a cat is, needless to say, quite large, but it had been surgically removed and Bootsy looked like he’s had canine liposuction.

As Members filtered in, and introductions made, the story came out. They had driven to Wackamannamahackima Falls, checked into the room 13 of the Wackamannamahackima Falls Inn, and stayed there for exactly 2 weeks and 6 days. Then they had gotten married. And now they were here. The exact nature of what occurred in Room 13 of the Wackamannamahackima Falls Inn remained undivulged, no matter how insistent or fervent Members interrogation became. When they had finished their breakfast, they excused themselves politely, and made their way to the first tee. She had a beautiful, brand new set of golf clubs. Never been used. In fact, she had never in her life picked up a golf club. Wasn’t even entirely sure what golf was when James Aluicious Thoroughgood drove his ball down the fairway of her heart. Turns out that during that 2 weeks and 6 days in the Wackamannamahackima Falls Inn, they mostly talked golf. He waxed burned and shined on his theories of breath, center, the earth, the grass, the wind, and the water, and how a state of euphoric ecstacy experienced by certain Zen Masters in the Tibetan mountains during intense meditation, and Carmelized Nuns in the Outer Upanishad Islands, could be replicated by the humble golfer whacking a tiny white ball with a stick. I suspect they had also done the things men and women do that make all the other things they do meaningless, although I was never able to substantiate this suspicion. But again I am getting ahead of myself.

On this fine spring morning, James Aluicious Tucker-Thoroughgood, and Virginia Merriweather Throughgood-Tucker (for this is how they changed their names when they wed) strode lovingly onto the 1st tee on the links of love. He offered her the honor of striking first. She gave the honor right back to him, and he took it. He teed up, gave his loving wife a sweet peck on the lips, stepped to the ball and with that horror of a swing, ripped a hellacious drive which screamed 297 yards straight down the fairway, drawing ever so slightly with topspin so it benifited from a maximum roll. Those Members watching nodded their head knowingly, and waited expectantly as the new Mrs. Thoroughgood-Tucker teed hers up, gave her loving husband a sweet peck on the lips, and with the exact same travesty of a swing, dribbled the ball 6 inches. She turned to him, said, “My goodness, what a bad golfer I am.” Then she burst out laughing. Then he burst out laughing. Then they stood there laughed with each other. And then she stepped up and using the grotesque Thoroughgood swing, hit the ball 12 inches. She did this 8 more times, and after the triumph of her 10th shot travelling 24 yards, she merrily picked up her ball, and walked with him up the 1st fairway to his ball, which he swatted with utter alacrity 4 feet from the hole.

The Members sat back to finish their breakfasts, marveling at the miracle of love, speculating on the chances of these 2 perfectly matched people finding each other in a world full of 100s of million people on this golf-infested planet. 3 hours and 56 minutes later a ball bounced on the edge of the green, sweetly caressed the fringe, then rolled to within 22 inches of the hole. Of course, because of the design of the almost inhumanly long 18th, the Members could not see who struck the shot, but they nodded their heads knowingly. This was clearly the work of the King of the Hackers, James Aluicious Thoroughgood, who once described his own swing as resembling a rusted lunch box being opened by a hyper-active twelve year old with St. Vitus dance. When one watched him play golf, one always felt hope, because if this man could master the game, anyone could.

A murmur rose when another ball appeared, rolling delicately yet firmly. Because of the infamously brutish character of the 18th green, and the cruel, almost absurdist pin placement at the very tip of the back corner, the ball had to crawl its way all the way up up up the hellish funnel of Bermuda grass, gravity working against it mightily. It looked like there was only 1 place it wanted to be, and that was snuggled in the bottom of that hole. As it approached, all eyes were drawn to it, curving gracefully with the contours of the green monster. It now dawned on the Members that there was a very good chance this ball was going to hit the first ball which was sitting 22 inches from the hole. It looked like the still ball was the sun and the second a meteor hurtling towards it. But as the inevitable collision was at hand, the shooting star slowed, slower, and finally stopped, kissing the sun, spooning with it 22 inches from the hole. The Members stopped for a moment, unsure what to make of all these celestial shenanagans. Then they collectively remembered whose balls they were watching, nodded and looked at each other knowingly.

Sure enough, James Aluicious Thoroughgood-Tucker and Virginia Merriweather Tucker-Thoroughgood appeared, gliding up the hill, striding into view, riding the green wave of the 18th fairway and surfing up onto the green. They paused a moment when they saw the balls snuggling. They smiled at each other. Removed their putters. Tapped in, he for the eagle, she for the bird. It would have seemed extraordinary, except for the fact that it seemed so normal. They just picked up their balls, put them in their bags, and walked off the 18th green into the rest of their life.

James Aluicious Tucker-Thoroughgood and Virginia Merriweather Thoroughgood-Tucker managed to find time to have twins. 1 boy and 1 girl. Of course they need no introduction. They are the Tucker Twins, Tammy and Tommy, the most famous golfers in the history of America.

James Tucker Thoroughgood also managed to found the Stop World Hunger Through Golf Foundation, which has provided warm nutritious food and quality golf instructions to millions of needy kids all over the world. Virginia Merriweather Thoroughgood-Tucker also became the world’s pre-eminent golf painter, her work displayed everywhere from the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art to Motel 6. He turned 107 this year, and to celebrate he shot a 67, 40 strokes less than his age. She just turned 100, I’m sure you remember all the hoopla. To celebrate she shot a 65, Club record for women, and tying the club record for men. Set, as you now know, on the day they met. Watching them walk up the 18th again, for approximately the billionth time, one sensed that there was after all, something terribly right about the world. As she snaked in her impossible 65 footer for her eagle, she walked straight up to him, and planted a bigger smacker on his lips. He was the man of her dreams, make no mistake about that.
 

How to Quiet Your Bile

“Son”, said Father, as he stroked his voluminous gray mustache in a manner he hoped provoked an air of gravity, “there comes a time in a boy’s life when he must give up the toys of childhood, and take up the yoke of the… ship of manhood. Do you follow me, Son?”

“No, Father, I don’t,” said Young James, who was, in fact, lying, since he followed Father precisely, but loved more than anything to watch the old fellow squirm.

“Well Son, visa vie the matter at hand, and taking all things into consideration, uh…” Father now harrumphed, as he paused to re-group. A new tact was clearly called for. But which tact? Father tried to think. It was not easy for Father to think, because so few thoughts made their way to his olde brain. But he knew enough not to open his mouth again until he had a thought. Think, thought Father. A warm scone with melting clotted cream and strawberry jam would be lovely. No! Wrong thought. A cigar and a brandy would be nice. No! Wrong again. Ah ha! Father’s eyes lit up, a gleam filled his demeanor, and imposing authority beamed from his voluminous gray mustache.

“How old are you, Son?” Father rumbled.

“I’ll be twenty-one in two weeks Father, we’re having a party, and I believe there will be a cake involved. Didn’t you get the memo?” Young James had a snippy edge that made father feel like he was three quarters of an idiot, which was his fear to begin with.

“Ah yes,” said Father, trying to keep his momentum going through his son’s fusillade, “quite so, yes, well Son, it is incumbent upon a strapping young buck, when he comes of a certain age, to choose himself a doe. Now, Mother has informed me that she’s brought around several excellent specimens of heavily moneyed breeding stock and you’ve had nary a sniff of them. In fact, according to Mother, she says you spend all your time with this young Randall Twickendale-Finch, Lord Twickendale-Finch’s young welp, and Mother tells me he’s a rude rake, a raspscallion, a scalliwag and a ne’erdowell, a randy young dandy who has tongues wagging all over town at his nefarious carryings-on, kissing young willowy rouged fellows in public I’m told, and worse even. Shocking scandals I’m told. According to Mother, the young wag can’t be so much as invited into polite society, and you, apparently, are half a step behind.” Father thumped his desk, warming to his task, putting his cockles and muscles into it, “Mother believes it’s time for you to take stock of yourself, put your nose to your bootstraps, pull yourself up by the grindstone, and bloody well get on with it. Is that clear, son?” Father arched his huge eyebrow bushes, and furrowed deep his massive brow, which generally had the effect of crumbling the knees on the one he was arching them at. He felt for a moment that he had made his case so convincingly that his triumph was imminent, and allowed himself to swell and puff ever so slightly.

“No, actually, I’m not quite following you, Pater, what exactly are you getting at?” slithered snidely out of the side of Young James’ mouth, popping Father’s balloon just as it was fully inflating.

Father could feel his bile rising as his whippersnapper of a son sideswiped him. As it rose in his belly, he reached for his brandy and belted down a snort to combat the acid cloud headed straight at his heart.

“Son, let’s not beat about the bush. Let’s not thrash any dead horses, nor look any gift horses in the mouth, or, for that matter, change horses in mid-stream. Of course, when a boy is young, and away at boarding school, eating with boys, sleeping with boys, bathing with boys, one can’t help but lead the boy’s life, as it were, with boys, among boys, the deep muscle massage, the hot steam bath, the hard young strapping flesh, so soft and supple, the throbbing, pulsating excitement of being a boy, the boyish thrust of a young rutting buck, what could be more natural than the love boys have for each other, the raw naked erupting excitement of ripe young boy flesh? But when a boy becomes a man, he leaves behind the ways of boyhood and take the bit in his mouth and runs with it. Do you catch my drift, Son?” Father was hoping this would end the matter, but he knew deep down it was wishful thinking.

“No I don’t, Father, but I find your instruction extremely educational, please continue, as I find myself confused, and in need of paternal guidance. Please, bestow upon me the benefit of your wisdom,” Young James cocked his face with such insouciant arrogance that a gas ball burst up from Father’s now officially buggered guts, and squeezed his chest tight, shot like a foul meteor past his heart, then exploded from him in a thunderous belch, which had become, over the years, Father’s calling card.

“Pardon,” said Father, with grim delicacy, chucking down a slug of bromide, waiting for the afterburners to extinguish themselves. “Well, damn it, Son, let me speak plainly. We’d all love to live the carefree life of the bachelor, but let’s be realistic, enough is enough. I’m telling you now, drop young Twickendale-Finch, find yourself a young filly and sire her. And if you do not, I shall cut you off cold, Son, not another bean, and do you know what that means? It means, putting it bluntly, getting a job, supplying your own living accommodations, clothing allowance, etceterahhhh, etceterahhhh, etceterahhhh.”

Father leaned in as he said it. He himself wasn’t sure if it was a bluff. He thought it might well be, but he certainly didn’t want to find out.

Young James searched his Father’s face. He wasn’t sure if it was a bluff. He thought it might well be, but he certainly didn’t want to find out. He weighed, sifted, and sighed. Finally a wan smile crept across his young but world-weary face.

“As you wish, Father,” he said, “Find me a filthy rich breeder and I shall fill her with my seed repeatedly until we’ll have a brood of horrible little monsters. But I am not giving up Twickendale-Finch. Is that clear? But I shall see to it that he becomes little seen and less heard. Do you understand?”

Father thought for a moment. A warm scone with melting clotted cream and strawberry jam sprang to mind, followed by a cigar and a brandy.

“Yes, son, I believe we have an understanding,” said Father.

And his bile was quieted.

Analorskerpy: A trip to the middle of my own self

Las’ week I had me a analorskerpy. I’z purty sure that ain’t the teknickle term fer ‘er, but it give a much more cleaner picher than the fancy Dan name they give ‘er.

We’z all o’ us hez got over forty feets o’ ‘testines up inside of us. Forty feet o’ wet tubin’ sercretin’ gasterd acids whilest a’suckin’ nutriments outcher food, then whuppin’ what’s left on thoo to the garbage ‘sposal so’z ya can give ‘er the ol’ heave-ho. An’ when ya hez yersel’ a analorskerpy, ever’ one of them forty foot’z gotta git scruternized. So they gotza li’l ol’ cam’ra set up on the tip o’ what look like a big ol’ copperheed ready to crawl up inside ya.

Now, the bastards’z tole me to quit on eatin’ fer a couple days afore they goes a’trekkin’ thoo me. No food ‘atawll. I supped on nuthin’ but cool mountain air. An’ then I hadda go yonder an’ fetch me up a bottle from the potherkery, an’ when I opened ‘er up, a blast o’ stankcome a’whuppin’ up an’ smackt the breath plum outta me, with a li’l whiffa faked-up limons spleshed over ‘er like cheap terlet water on a ten cent hootchie coochie girl. Well sir, I dropt me a teaspoon in a glass of water, an’ stirt ‘er up real good, jest like she say on the bottle, where it also say, “You may find Empterbowel a might tad badtasteful, an’ a compermenterry baivridge is suggesterd.”

Well sir, that festers my boil. Hell’s balls, I ain’t no eddjit, I done walkt thoo the woods, I bin to Granny’z house, an’ I know she’z a big bad wolf jest a’waitin’ to eat me. Jest tell ‘er like she is: “Watch out ever’body, this here Empterbowel ’z some powerful narsty mess.”

Well sir, couplla minutes after swollerin’ that Emptobowel, my guts starts inter gurglin’ an’ garglin’ an’ gloopin’ an’ gooplin’, while my ‘testines start doin’ a spasticated dance, like I’m a seethapatin’ volcaner, an’ I’m a’ready to blow. So I done like one of them fast-walkers I seed in the ‘lympicks, tryin’ to keep my personal parts all clinched up tighter ’an a hungry flea on a skinny dawg. Lordee-do, before I’z even touchin’ the throne, the ‘vakkawation have begun. Yessirree Bob, they’z leavin’ the city in droves, jumpin’ offa the burnin’ ship like s’ many rats. Then they’ze a calm in the storm. Fer about a minute an’ a haff, then I’m right back on the job, workin’ overtime like the bossman’s gotta fill a quoter double time.

My saynts o’ smell gets better’n Snuffler, Daddy’s ol’ coon dog what could track a wood tick in a hurrercane, tornader, an’ munsoon all put tiggether. I can sneff out bacon fryin’ three counties away, an’ ev’rywheres I go they’z chicken a’fryin’ an’ fraish corn bread a’bakin’ an’ pork rines so salty you can tas’e ‘em from cross the room. An’ I wants to eat ever’ dingdang scrap, bowl lickins an’ awll.

Well sir, nest day time hev jest plum decided to take a see-ester, an’ awll the clocks’z hez go’d on strike, cuz this here day won’t never end. Plus ya got the fact that I bin crownt King of the Shitters an’ I’z rulin’ my kingdom with a ahrn fist an’ a over-ective duckatee-buckus.

Fridee morn six of the hay-em, I’z up an’ Adam, nine’y minnis ‘til the bastard’z is gonna storm my beaches. They tell ya ya gotsta hev some other body drive ya to the proceeder, cuz ya won’t be in no shape to drive no place when they gits done with ya. Good thing too, cuz I ain’t et in two days an’ I’z seein’ chicken po’ pies an’ corn o’ the carb an’ barbeecue pork as we crawl ‘long to the hospital down yonder in Dickeysville. My bes’ girly Dolly’z a’drivin’ me. She bin workin’ on me to aysk when I needs a heppin’ han’ whin I needz it, but if’n ya aysk me, thet there ain’t no way to be no man. Now my momma’s bin on me to hitch up with Dolly proper an’ legal-like, an’ awlla Dolly’s friend’s harperein’ on ‘bout the same thang, an’ truth be tole, so’s awll my friends, which I ain’t none too captervated ‘bout, believe you me, an’ dog my cats if you don’t. Well sir, Dolly, she’s a drivin’ me, an’ she’z sweet on sweet, jest a’lovin’ an’ a’dovin’ on me, an’ the more nicer she’s bein’, the more I feel like rippin’ the tongue right out her heed, Lordy do, I ain’t proud o’ it, but tha’s the way I’z a’feelin’.

“How are ya, honeybaby?” sez Dolly, like a cool sassafras on a summer’s day in hell.

“How in tarnation ya think I am?” sez I, “my rosebud feels like I bin wipin’ ‘er with san’paper, I’z hungry ‘nough to eat frekka-seed rat, an’ I’m ‘bout to hev fo’ty foot o’ snake rammed right up my sensertive area, thanks for askin’.”

Well sir, that purt much put the kibosher on the chitty chat.

Seven ‘clock bang on I walks inter that there hos-spittle, an’ I’m here to tellya I’z like a wile beast, jest a’growllin’ an’ a’gruntin’, an’ ya better not be puttin’ yer han’ too near my mouth, cuz I’z lible take a bite outta ‘er.

Some ol’ narsty battle-ax they got mannin’ the main battle station says, “Howdy, welcome to Memorull Gener’l, what’s yer name?”

“Ahh! Grrr! Nnnnhhh! Waaaaaaaa!” is about awllz I kin seem to git out.

So Dolly, my bes’ girl, she steps on in, an’ sorter soothes ever’thang right on out, whilst I goes over inter the corner to set with m’ misery. Well sir, a body kin actual’ watch folks gittn’ ol’ right a’fore there eyes. I picks me up some meggzzine, an’ I starts a’readin’ ‘bout some purty boy sanger who’s gittin’ crazy lovin’ from suppermodels an’ ektrisses, an’ even some ‘lympic swammer who’s jest ‘bout the most finest girly ever put on God’s green earth. I keep a’readin’ an’ a’readin’ that there meggazine, jest a’frettin’ an’ a’stewin ‘an’ a’steamin’ on why I ain’t got me none of them suppermodels an’ ektrisses, an’ ‘lympic swammers.

Jest as I’z ‘bout to lose what li’l mind I gots left, I hearz the bastards’z ready fer me. Well alright then, I sez to myself, buckle yer chinstraps fellers, we’z goin’ in.

First thing they done, they makes me strip down to my birthdee suit, an’ puts me in what they calls a gown. Hell’s balls, that ain’t no gown. Ya shore as shit-fahr don’t feel like puttin’ on a tie-ara an’ ‘ttendin’ a fayn-see party wearin’ that blue piece of silliness with yer hine-korters a’fleppin’ in the breeze.

But jest as I’z about to go plum loco, I had me what the call a ‘static vision, like one of them holy rollin’ Methoosaller fellers in the Bible. I seed a big ol’ table filled up with a flapjacks, smuthered in dingleburry pree-zervs; a big ol’ thick slabber bacon; an’ a coupler aiggs fried up in a messa drippinz. An’ there was sweet li’l ol’ angels a’sangin’, an’ some feller with a lawng white beard a’hengin’ down, an’ even that ‘lympic ethlete girly, looking more purtier than the firs’ day of sprang. An’ Dolly was there, o’ course, tellin’ me ‘twould be fine an’ dayndee an’ I should try to hev me some fun with ‘er, an’ when we’z done, we’d hev us a big ol’ feast an’ she’d gimme some of that good ol’ time lovin’. Frien’s, I’m here to tell ya, ever’thing jest relaxed on down real sweet an’ harmonerus-like. An’ as I laid me down upon that gurtey, I had me a purfoun’ revvamalation. I’z ‘goin’ on a gran’ an’ great ad-venture. I’z a’goin on a trip right to the middle of my own self.

Then t’other nurse come a’marchin’ in, an’ ups an’ tells me it’s time fer me to take ma drugs. But I don’t want me no drugs. I wants to be wide ‘wake with awll guns a’blazin’.

Well she starts a’huffin’ an’ a’puffin’, an’ she blows purty good, but I ain’t a’cavin’ fer her nor no one.

Next the Doctor an’ his Sideman comes a’breezin’ in.

“This here’s my first time, Doc, so be gen’le with me,” sez I, hevvin’ me some fun, jest like Dolly done said in my ‘static vision.

That Doctor, he laughs. He’z goin’ powerful bald, but he seems like a decent ‘nuff feller.

“Don’chew worry none,” sez he, “I’ll still respec’ ya in the mornin’.” Well, him an’ his Sideman laughs like a coupler hy-neaners. Truth tol’ ‘twas kinder funny, so I thowed a laugh in, too, an’ we’z awll laughin’ an’ carryin’ on like we’z asshole buddies. Meanwhiles I kin see Sideman lurkin’ in the corner, playin’ with them drugs. When you’z in a bekkless gown, ya gotta watch yer ass.

“Hey now,” sez I, wantin’ to ease on into her, “I don’t want none of them there drugs.”

“Ohhhhhh, you should hev them drugs,” says baldycoot Doctor.

“But I don’t want them drugs,” I sez, real firm-like.

“Ohhhhhh, you should take the drugs,” sez Sidekick, who seems like he wants to be the doctor when he’z growed up.

“I don’t hev to hev them drugs, that’s what they sez Doc, ain’t that right?” sez I.

“Well, uh, sher, but-“ he starts inter his hemmin’ an’ hawin’, but I cuts him awff cold.

“Then I don’t want no drugs,” sez I. “Enda story.

“Alrighty,” says Doc, whilst him an’ his Sideman goes inter noddin’ they heed at my foolish riddikerlessness, an’ rollin’ me inter another room, right smack dab in front of this big ol’ machine with a tellervision in front of ‘er.

“Now,” starts in Baldy Doc, “we’z gonna be blowin’ some err up inside of ya as we goes, an’ I wants ya to feel free to pass all the gas ya kin. Fact is, it akchul helps the proceeder.”

I’z powerful moved by that piece of information.

“Whoa there,” sez I, “wait jest a dad bern minute, Doc, lemme get this all straighted up an’ narrer-like, cuz this may be the only time I ever hear them wordz spoke in ma die-rection. You’z a’tellin’ me to blow hard an’ free, is that the size an’ shape of ‘er?”

“That’s about the size an’ shape of ‘er,” says Baldy Doc. “But I’d reckermmen’ them drugs.”

These here drug pusher’z drivin’ me plum cross-eyez.

“I don’t want none,” sez I, firm-like.

“Alrighty,” sez the Doctor, but he ain’t happy. Outta the fer corner of my eyez, I seez ‘im puttin’ ‘is glove on an’ slatherin’ ‘er up with a dollerp of pig fat.

Then I know’d fer shore, the invasion hev begun.

That ol’ Doc, he jest starts inter whippin’ that copperheed right on up my private pers’n’l parts.

“Yeouch! Ow! Whoa! Howdy doody dingle dangle dong! Hold on a damn second, wher’ez the fire, Doc?” Sez I, jumpin’ out ma skin.

“Ya want them drugs now?” esks the Doc hard an’ fast.

“Ohhhhh, you should hev them there drugs now,” chimes up Sideman.

“No, dingdangit, jest slow down a minute, whisper some sweet nothin’s in my ear fer jest one damn secon’ here, will ya Doc?” sez I, an’ I takes me a big ol’ deep breath, tellin’ m’sel’ to relax, like Dolly sez, an’ shore ‘nuff, ever’thing relaxes real nice-like.

“Well alright then,” sez I, when my inside’z awll passerfied, “Go on ahead an’ do yer worst.”

An’ that there air starts blowin’ a twister right up in me, an’ Lordy do, I start a’trumpittin’ like Josher fits the battle of Jerriker, an’ the walls come a’tumblin’ down.

Then I looks up at that there tellervision., an’ there I is. Damned if I ain’t all purty an’ pink on the inside, like a sweet baby’z butt. That Doc he’s really movin’ now, a’whuppin’ on thoo me, like that movie where some spess-ship flies inside a purty pink planet. Makes me right proud an’ happy. Tickled pink, ya might say.

“How’z I lookin’, Doc?” I esks ol’ Baldycoot.

“Lookin’ good,” sez he, an’ I know’d then an’ there that much as I pertended I did’t give me a hoot ‘bout this whole dingdang thang, I’z a mite herkimmer jerkimmer ‘bout ‘er deep down, thinkin’ I gots some monst’rus toomer growin’ like a fat wottymelon in my innerds.

I’z feelin’ so godd I ups an rips out five or six bigguns, mighty claps o’ thunder they was.

Then Baldycoot stops up short, all sudden-like,.

“What seems to be the pro’lem?” I asks, tryin’ to keep the shakes out ma voice.

“Why, nothin’,” he sez, an’ the way he sez it, I knowz shore as hellfire he’s a’lyin’ right to my face. Or to my pohstearer, in this here case. But I ain’t a’gonna lets him gets away with ‘er this here time.

“Then why in ternations did ya stop short there? I ain’t one of yer doped-up Johnny-come-latelies here, an’ I don’t want none of yer eddimacated riddickerlessness, Doc.” An’ he could tell by the spit in my eye I mean bidness.

“Well, see that there li’l ol’ brown lookin ‘spot?” he sez, like I’z his eedjit cousin,.

I looks real hard an’ I does seez ’er, plain as day. A li’l ol’ brown spot.

Jumpin jee-horse-a-fats, what the bejeezis is that there? This’z how I’z a‘gonna kick that ol’ bucket in the sky. Stomik kay-ncer. Tumer the size of a caynter-lope, with a useless johnson, a k’llostimmer bag so’z they kin empty me out oncet a day, til I whithers down to nothin’ but a li’l brown stain on the bed.

“What in ternations iz that there?” I esks him, sweat a’poppin’ up like mushrums in a field o’ cow doodles.

“That there’s a poh-lip,” says he.

Oh, Lordy do. A poh-lip. Wha’d he purrish of? they’ll esk. Poh-lips, they’ll say, “started his face, an’ ended up breakin’ out awll over his body, big narsty drippin’ sick-filled poh-lips.”

“It ain’t nothin’ really,” starts in Baldycoot, “Like a mole on yer back. An’ she’s brown, not black, so she ain’t nuthin. We’ll snip ‘er right out, easy as ya please.”

I’z berlin’ mad now. Why in hellsapoppin’s name do ya call ‘er a poh-lip if she’s jest a li’l ol’ mole?

Then these li’l ole snipper comes a’poppin’ out the end of that there snake, an’ snips off that mole like she’s bitin’ the heed awffa li’l brown church mouse.

Then Baldycoot start a’movi’n on thoo me aggin. But sudden-like he hits him a curve in my road an’ a twangin’ pain jangles right on up in me.

“Whoa thar, slow down, cowboy!” Pipes up I.

“Ya wants them drugs now?” Doc an’ his Sideman sez tiggither.

“Naw,” sez I, “Jest slow down for one dad bern second”.

But the bastard won’t slow down. No sir, he starts goin’ faster. Like he wants ‘er to hurt.

“Ya wants them drugs now?! Ya want them drugs now? Ya want them drugs now?” they start chay-ntin’ like the Devil’s Doctors, whilst he presses thoo harder still, that ache jest a’whuppin’ right up inter me.

“Alright, sweet Jeezis, gimme the dingdang drugs!” Finally sez I, not happy one ioter.

I swear on ma Pappy’s ass, they musta had that needle hov’rin’ over my boottock cheek, cuz the nest thing I ‘member I’z waking up on the gurtey back in t’other room, an’ I’z all ogly woggly oogliy moggily, which riles me up consider’ble, cuz that’s ‘xactly what I hudn’t wanted to be.

Plus which I di’nt get t’ see the finish line, an’ that makes me powerful sad.

Nurse come in an’ tells me to git back inter bed. I thanks her kin’ly, an’ tells her it ain’t necersserry, that I’z steady as a teetotlin’ parson at a temp’rense meetin’.

“Tell me flat-out now, an’ don’t snarfle with me,” sez I, “Is a poh-lip really jest a mole?” I’z tryin’ to sound cajjul, but I don’t believe I pullt ‘er awff.

“‘Twere brown, t’weren’t it, an’ not black?” sez I.

“Why course she were brown,” sez I.

“Well then, you’z fine,” sez she.

I don’t trus’ her. Ain’t one single body hev tol’ me the whole truth an’ nothin’ but the truth from the time they got their grubby hands on me But I ain’t in no condition to ar-gue, on accounnna my brain’s feelin’ like a pig-eyed trout bin lef’ out in the sun too long.

When I comes out, there’z my bes’ girl Dolly, an’ she’s powerful purty an’ a heapin’ heppin’ o’ fine lovin’ pulkertude. It’z plenty good to let her jest take care of me, an’ she’s real good at it. I’z glad I weren’t hevvin’ no relations with awll them suppermodels an’ ektrisses an’ ‘lympic swammers. I’z glad I’z hevin’ relations with my one an’ on’y bes’ girly, an’ I start inter thankin’ maybe getting’ hitched up legal an’ proper-like might not be such a bad idear after awll. Then she takes me to Elmer’s Home Cookin’, what is ma fav’ert establishment of eateration, an’ we hev us a feast fit fer a coupl’ o’ Kings.

An’ as I’z tuckin’ inter ma flapjacks smothered in dingleberry pre-severves, I thinks – Lordy do, I hev bin to the middle of me, an’ my insides looks fine.

Excerpt: Bone, Cornhole Charley, an Me

This whole mad shitski started at NBA’s crib, which is seven shades of narsty, with, like, black banana peels and nacho Dorito fossils from 1984 buried under three layers of tall boys, with this skanko-funk-o-rama hangin so thick you can taste it. NBA, naturally, he’s toasted like a bagel. Me, I’m layin low cuz my main squeeze Squeegie had totally tweaked my shit, an I hadda meet Harry Three Balls at Muscle Beach at midnight, so I thought what the fuck, right? I’m workin on a most worthy stick of Slim Jim, the spicy beefy jerky salty meat treat. NBA, who can’t d-up for shit, has no j, an the weakest wackest tweakiest tude in Venice, the home of weak wack tweaky tudes. Interesting note: even though NBA wears size 15s, seriously, dude’s got canoes at the end of his pegs, Wannabe, she’s this freaky deaky baby I sometimes do a hang with, she tells me the brother-man is surprisingly light in the breadbasket department, which pissed Wannabe off no end, cuz she likes her man to be packin serious meat, which was the only reason she was doin a hang with NBA in the first place, cuz she hates the sad-sack ruckerty-ruck.

So then who busts in like three thermofuckinnuclear devises, but Dickhead, Kosher the Mouth, an Cornhole Charley, an individual who lives up to his name every day an in every way. Now Kosher the Mouth, who is actually some kinda Hindu dudenik, this fucker has the gift man, he can flap serious gum. I hear fuckazoid’s got 7 degrees an speaks 14 languages. Or 14 degrees an speaks 7 languages, I can never remember. An Dickhead, this piassanthrope, he’s like, 9 feet tall an 5 feet wide, weighs a metric ton, an he never says a word unless Cornhole Charley tells him to, an as far as anyfucker can remember, Cornhole Charley never told him to. All you need to know about Mount Dickhead is, he’s the one gave Boy Boy a involuntary sex-change operation, turned him into Girl Girl.

So yo, when these most excellent specimens bust their humps into a room, heads, like, turn. I offer them some of my spicy beefy Slim Jim but they ix-nay the erky-jay. Then all of a sudden I realize somefucker’s missin. Then I realize it’s not a who, it’s a what, an the what is Bone, Cornhole Charley’s weightlifter dog. Sweet Hairy Jesus, this dog, he’s, like, right outta Jurrasic Park, man, he’s a muscle with a mouth at the end. A mouth with a lockable jaw. An only Cornhole Charley’s got the key.

So check this out, accordin to the Mouth, Greaceball an Macho Raul put the snatch on Bone, an they said they’d off the dog if they don’t get 10 G’s large, an if Cornhole tries to muscle up, they’ll skull-fuck Bone and kill him until he’s most dead.

So I’m thinkin’, like, what the fuck are these boys smokin? I mean, come on, this is one of those scams you think up after a couple dozen bong hits an then laugh your ass off at how retarded it is. First of all, you gotta get Bone offa Corhole Charley. Then you gotta stash him in some place where he doesn’t tear your nads off an chew ‘em like jawbreakers. An then you gotta get Cornhole Charley to dole out the caish, which everyfucker knows Cornhole Charley hates worse than his old man, who he killed after cornholin the sorry punkinhead. Enough said. Then again Macho Raul is the brains of the outfit, an everyfucker knows Macho Raul’s got more hair than brains, but serious, he does have some mad hair, looks like you could surf on the boy’s head, straight up.

So, I’m wondering exactly what this shit has to do with me, an hopin nothin. Well, by an by, after I’ve got everyfucker toasty with my tasty shit, the Mouth informs me that Macho Raul wants a independent third party to facilitate the exchange of money for canine, I swear that’s how puzzboy talks, like he was born in a fuckin thesaurus, it’s a piss just to listen to the mofo blow.

So yo, like, you guessed it, it’s up to me myself and I to deliver the dead presidents, ten large, which as far as dead presidents go, is serious cheese, then bring back the Bone. What an honor, fuck me! right? Well, I’m startin to sketch, cuz, nacherly, all I can see is pre-historic Ginsu teeth chompin on my nads.

But the thing is, with these fuckfuckboys, they don’t ask, they tell. An them what says no to Cornhole Charley stands a excellent chance of getting themselves an future generations heinously cornholed. So I’m tryin to be cool as a dude whose bricks are shitting bricks can be, an I say, “Muchachos, I am honored by your total, like, faith in my shit, but I am quite tweaky at the moment, an I’m afraid I might fuck up your shit cuz my nuts are so numb.”

So the Mouth, he looks at Cornhole Charley, who gives him, like, I swear, one nano-nod, an the Mouth, he says, “We have complete confidence in your alacrity.”

Which I took to mean I was fucked.

So next thing I know we’re piling into Cornhole Charley’s tricked-out monster ride, an off we, like, go, mon frere. An this ride is sweeeeeeet. I mean the tunes are so huge it’s like Li’l Kim is giving you a lap dance while she’s rapping her shit, which I’m not even that into, I’m into more of a Zep, Crue, Ozzie sitcheation myself, but the point is, tunes were huge, made your scrotum hum, man. An the seats were all some kinda way plush shit, man, I swear, it was like being inside a chick you dig big time. Dickhead is drivin, an Cornhole Charley is looking like he’s just itchin to cornhole somethin, an the Mouth is talkin some shit about how the war against drugs is the same shit made Al Capone into a superstar, an he looks at me like it’s my turn to talk an I go: “True.”

So then we, like, stop, an the Mouth hands me a paper bag with 10 large in it. I’m serious, like a total old school brown paper bag, with 10 fuckin G, like we’re in some dumbass Cagney Tarantino movie, an all I can see is me getting my shit blown away in some sick slow mo blood bath, my bullet-riddled corpse spewing my red juice.

An for what? A dog on steroids. Life is one long tweak, neighbor.

So the Mouth tells me to give these bucket-heads the money, an fetch Bone back into the car, an I get to keep 5 hun if I don’t fuck it up. He doesn’t say what’s gonna happen if I do fuck it up, but it’s pretty obvious that me myself and I will be transformed into a cornhol-ee.

So I slide like KY out of the Dream Machine an ooze under the bridge up past the ferris wheel. An I’m standin there holding the bag, an my dick, only not necessarily in that order. Then all of a sudden I hear this bark, right, only it’s like some cartoon shit, like that huge pigdog thing in Ghostbusters. An I’m like, “Where have I heard that shit before?” An then it hits me like a ton of shit bricks: that’s the patented Bone bark.

So then Greaceball comes outta the woods an he’s got Bone on a leash. Or, I should say, Bone yanks Greaceball outta the woods, with Greaceball hangin on for dear life.

So then Bone stops dead still, an he stares me the fuck down, senoir, an his nose starts twitchin, an he’s RCA Victor doggin me, with that big huge Bone head all slanty, like he’s trying to figure some shit out, only his brain is 3 sizes too small.

So all of a sudden Bone bolts, an he almost rips the arm out the poor dipstick’s socket, straight up, it was mad crazy shit, an the Greaceball falls eyeballs over asshole straight on his head.

An Bone, he’s barkin like a fuckin mad dog, bustin his big huge balls straight at me myself an I, an about ten feet away the dog takes a leap, flying like Air Bone, baby, this big square head bustin straight at my face, an all I can think is: I’m a Dead Man Walkin. An it was totally tweaky how long Bone was flying like Rocket J. Squirrel straight at my ass, I swear, he took like a month an a half to get to me. An I start thinkin about all this crazy shit, like my buds Jujie Fruit, an Blunt, an Killer Bud, an One Fish, an Rodney the Human Cat, an then I was thinkin about what a snarky fucker I was to Squeegie, just cuz she said I wasn’t nice to her old lady, which if you wanna know truth, I wasn’t, an her old lady is actually cool, but I was really actually snarkin cuz Squeegy wouldn’t lend me a hun to get a half that I was gonna turn over for double, boom, it was like taking dope from a nodding horsehead, but she wants me to straighten up an fly right, which, okay I said I would do, so really it was me that was the fuck-up from the get-go, straight-up. So there I was, with this killin machine flying at my juggler, an I can’t get Squeegy out of my mind, seriously, mofo, all I can think about is what a cool-as-shit chick she is, you know, an how I never tell her how fuckin cool her shit is, an I, like, vow then an there, I’m gonna be her righteous buck from now on.

So finally old Bone, he comes crashing down on me like some canine Smart Bomb, an he starts growlin an pokin that gnarled-out snout in my scrotal area, bitin at it an nippin at it with those ferocious choppers, an I’m thinking, well, that’s it: goodbye johnson, adios Senior Pepe, so long shlong. But no, he’s snarfling around my pocket, an I’m just trying not to unload my shit, for real, an I mean totally straight-up.

So then boom! it hits me, why the Bone is out of his tiny pre-historic brain: spicy beefy Slim Jim herkimer jerkimer! So chop chop I wrangle the jerky out, an never have I been so happy to give up my meat. See, I always give Bone some salty meaty treaty whenever I’m holdin, an of course the Bone, he digs it the most, wagglin his ass around an lookin at me like he’s got a mad schoolboy crush on my ass.

So yo, check this out, I look up just in time to see Dickhead an Kosher the Mouth grabbin old Greaceball by the scruff of his shit, and playing ricky ticky fucking tavvy on his skull, while Cornhole Charley does the 50 yard dash to me an Bone. An when this intergallactic landmass shouts out, “Bone!”, the dog, he goes runnin over to Cornhole Charley, an it was like one of those sucky fuckin phone commercials, man, they’re runnin to each other like young lovers in love. Straight up, Cornhole Charley gets down on all fours, an him an Bone are lickin each other, an growlin an howlin an moanin, these two big lunkheads, you know, slappin an nuzzlin, it was kinda, like, beautiful an shit, only don’t tell Cornhole Charley I said that or I’m one cornholed bitch, straight-up.

So when they’re done with their, like love fest, Cornhole Charley gets up an he walks over to Greaceball, who’s cryin like a neutered poodle, dude, seriously, it was pathetic how fast that ass-munch lost his shit, which is always the way with these low-levels dudes, an I mean, come on, you don’t steal somefucker’s dog, yo, that makes you, like, King of the Scumbags, in my book. Not a man’s dog. An especially not Cornhole Charley’s dog. That shit is just, like, saying, “Please, hurt me, the sooner the better.”

So they drag weeny-meister Greaceball, moanin and snivellin like the weak bitch he is, behind the bridge in the shadows. Then many ungodly sounds follow, with some narsty Bone noises thrown in for good, like, measure an shit. An I hear Macho Raul was located pronto, an is by no means so macho anymore.

So yo, when they’re all done, I give em back the whole 10 G’s. Then ol’ Cornhole, he did some shit I will never forget, for real, and straight up. He comes over all serious-like, an for a second I thought I had fucked up somehow an he was gonna clean my clock, an unclog my pipes, and corn my whole.

But instead, guess what that nutty fucker did? This mad crazy hump, the baddest man in the whole damn town, he laid a massive crazy hug on me, picked me right off the fucking ground, man. It may sound all cheese-filled, but Cornhole Charly gave me much love, man, an I was feeling him.

So when he finally puts me down, he’s like, kinda choked up an shit, an to tell you the truth, so was I, not to be a freak about it, but I couldn’t help it,, straight up, I was all moistened.

So then the Mouth hands me a gran. a thousan dead fuckin presidents, pop my cherry, can you believe that shit, I mean, how cool is that, like fuck me to nth, right!

An as they were givin me the adioses, I laid a stick of Slim Jim spicy beefy meaty treat on Bone for the road.

Hey, karma’s karma, neighbor.

Then I headed down the beach for Squeegie’s, an when I got there, I told her I was a sorry sad sack, an I told her how righteous an mad cool her shit is, then she danced with my monkey long into the night, yo. Long into the night.

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