Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Anniversary to The Beloved Spouse


Today The Beloved Spouse™ and I celebrate our thirteenth wedding anniversary. We were actually married November 27, 2009, the day after Thanksgiving. (Certainly not Black Friday for us.) We were both working then, and my parents came for the holiday. We had them, the Sole Heir, and the future Sole Son-in-Law available, so we rounded everyone up on a day no one had anything planned. We knew we’d be off work the day after Thanksgiving forever, so we stuck with that as the day of celebration.


No one knew we had this planned. My parents routinely spent Thanksgiving with us, and we told TSH we had a surprise for them she’d enjoy seeing. The celebrant arrived mid-afternoon, dressed in medieval garb, and asked if anyone wanted to get married. TBS and I looked at each other and said we had a box of marriage stuff in the basement, we’d get it. The box contained

·       T-shirts for everyone, labeled Bride, Groom, Father, Mother, and Daughter. (We didn’t know Zack was coming or we’d have had one for him.)

·       Heads on sticks of my brother’s family (and their dog), plus two close friends who we knew would appreciate the event and intent.

·       Our vows (aka Wedding Script), which leaned heavily on Monty Python and the Holy Grail and appear in their entirety below.


HEATHER (celebrant)


Dearly beloved,


I know this was unexpected, so I will be brief.


(Allow scroll to fall open. It’s about four feet long.)


We are gathered here today on this not quite so solemn as some might have it occasion because when one heart exhibits migratory behavior toward another, it’s a force of nature, and not a question of where it grips it. Corky and Dana have married before. The marriages fell over and sank into the swamp. They tried again. Those marriages burned down, fell over, and sank into the swamp. So here they are, having learned from experience and lived as married in all but name (nudge, nudge, say no more) to build the strongest marriage in all the kingdom.



Now, to make things legitimate, please recite the vows each of you has chosen especially for each other to mark this solemn occasion.




I, Corky, take you, Dana, as my lawfully wedded husband. I promise to at least consider bringing a lasagna when coming from the basement, and not to turn you into a newt, even though you’re sure to get better. I pledge not to undertake, nor even to suggest, any home improvement projects for at least one year, unless I think of a really good one. Maybe a shrubbery. One that looks nice. Not too expensive. Maybe two of them, place one slightly higher, so you get a two-level effect with a path through the middle. I shall feed the squirrels only in times of most dire famine, to prevent them growing into the most foul-tempered rodents you ever laid eyes on, with big, pointy teeth that will do you a treat.




I, Dana, take you, Corky, as my lawfully wedded wife, in this ceremony crafted to our own particular—uh—uh—








Idiom, to share in my great tracts of land in a very real, and legally binding sense. I promise never to make you live in a self-perpetuating autocracy, but in a an anarco-syndicalist commune. We shall take it in turns to be a sort of executive officer for the week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting. Soft dirt shall not tempt me, even when I find unidentified and previously unannounced vegetables in my dinner, and I shall not say “Ni!” to you unless strenuously provoked.





The rings, please.




I give you this ring as a symbol of my love for you. Wear it and think of me and know that I will always love you.




And now, to symbolize the coming together of these two hearts, and to culminate this eccentric performance, the rings shall be placed on each other’s fingers simultaneously. Corky, Dana, clasp the rings in your right hands, and extend the fourth finger of the left. Place the rings on your new spouse’s finger when I am at the count of three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number counted, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt I not count, neither count two, excepting then that I proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number of three, being the third number, be reached, then slide the ring onto the waiting finger of your beloved’s hand to consummate the marriage as much as can be done in a public setting.










No, Three!






(DANA and CORKY slide rings on.)


And now shalt we go forth to feast upon the lambs and sloths, and carp and anchovies, and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit-bats and large—




Skip down a bit.




Ummm, yes, right here.


What has been joined here today let no man put asunder, lest the Lord blow him to tiny bits, in His mercy. You may kiss the bride.


So here we are, thirteen years later. (Give or take a day or so.) I have never been happier, nor do I expect to be, though I’d get over it if the Pirates won one more World Series before I shuffle off my mortal coil.



Thursday, November 17, 2022


 I began the second draft of the new Nick Forte novel last week after taking time off to let things ferment. As expected, the first day was a bit of a haul, what with getting back into the rhythm of writing and refreshing my memory. I still got 1,000 words in, and they seem like pretty good words. At least they’re all in the dictionary.


My “second drafts” are no longer edits; they’re re-writes. I split the screen, place the first draft on top and retype everything into a window at the bottom. Some passages transfer verbatim. Some change dramatically. Some get left out altogether, while entire new passages are added. This is the third book I’ve done this way and I like how it’s working out.


A few things jumped out at me in the early stages:


·       Forte’s world has changed dramatically since Bad Samaritan. I needed to get this information out right away, so I used a story originally written for another character to show how things were with Nick. I was happy with it – even read an abridged version for Noir at the Voir in July – but realized as I finished the expanded rewrite that it's not right for this book, as its open-ended conclusion leads into a story other than the one I’m working on now. The good news is

o   I caught it early.

o   I now have the foundation of another good story in mind.

·       I’m doing much better with the PI voice than I did the first time. The rough draft wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t as rich as I like Forte’s voice. My edits typically cut words to make the book tighter. In a rewrite I’m more willing to add bits here and there to make Forte’s voice distinct from what I established for Penns River.

·       Rewriting instead of editing also frees me to add small bits that better set up what’s coming. I work from an outline and while I know what’s going to happen later, I don’t know how it’s going to happen. For the rewrite I do.


Rewrites are the most relaxing part of my writing process. First drafts are heavy lifting. Editing and polishing are not as tough, but there’s pressure to get as much right as possible so the process doesn’t drag on. Beginning the rewrite, I have the whole story and I know a good solid edit is on the way, so I can indulge myself. The plan is for there to be one edit after the rewrite, then let the book sit for several weeks before launching into my polishing process, after which I’ll get to type “THE END” at the bottom and move onto the next project.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Veterans Day


Today is Veterans Day. As a veteran, my preference is that no one make a big fuss over it (though the free sandwiches at Mission BBQ and wings at Hooters are much appreciated), but take a moment to reflect why we have veterans and what we can do to make their service worthwhile.


What follows is a repost of what appeared on this blog on Veterans Day, 2015.


My father was drafted during the Korean War and was sent to Germany to patrol the border near Fulda, where Soviet tanks would have to come in the event of an invasion. World War III did not break out while he was there. Thousands of guys had similar jobs during the Cold War. He did what they asked him to do, and he came home. No heroism was expected of him and no heroic circumstances presented themselves. He, and thousands like him in many ways helped us from needing heroes; they served and did what was asked of them.


Last year my brother and his two daughters (21 and 19 at the time) flew in from Colorado to visit my parents in the Pennsylvania house my brother and I grew up. Old photograph albums came out the girls had never seen. Events were described they had no idea about. They were fascinated.


The next week Dad wrote them a letter and made a copy to send to me. Here is that letter, in his words.


I served in the 7th Army, 14th Armored Cavalry patrolling the East-West German borders during 1953 – 54. Our base was located near Bad Hersfeld, right off the German Autobahn. Regimental HQ was in Fulda, located about 50 km northeast of Frankfurt on the Rhine River.


A range of mountains runs north-south through Germany and the only place where Russia could mount a tank invasion was the flat terrain through the mountains at Fulda, called the Fulda Gap in General Patton’s autobiography on the war.


Great Britain patrolled the northern sector to the North Sea. U.S. had the most vulnerable sector at Fulda and France patrolled the southern and western sectors.


We patrolled the border from Erfurt on the north to Bad Kissingen in the south. Fulda was in the center. (Regimental HQ.) Hersfeld was the northern leg, where the Autobahn crossed the border, which was a 10 meter plowed strip. A small barbed-wire fence was centered in the plowed ground. Every place a road or lane went through the strip there was a barricade policed by Russian and East German soldiers in a 30-foot machinegun tower on larger crossings.


I was a scout section chief and in charge of a patrol to check crossings on a 12-hour shift. After dark, you set up a listening post. Any invasion would be by armored vehicles and you can hear them for miles.


A patrol consisted of a radio jeep with driver and patrol leader (me) and a machinegun jeep with a mounted machinegun and 50 pounds of explosives, a driver, a co-driver, and machinegunner; five in all.


We had to radio our position every half hour. If we missed two consecutive reports HQ would send someone to find us. There were some dead radio spots where we couldn’t transmit because of the mountainous terrain. If we missed one report, we headed for high ground so we wouldn’t miss the second one.


My patrol leader was a Sergeant First Class who had been in Germany for ten years and spoke fluent German. He was also an alky. I was his driver and after I knew the process, he would stop at a German gasthaus (bar) and tell me to pick him up later, so after one year I was essentially running the patrols.


In late ’54 I went to the regimental NCO Academy at Fulda for 12 weeks as a PFC. I graduated as Honor Student and was given a raise in grade.


In October 1954 I was promoted to Staff Sergeant and was the fair-haired man in camp. Any time the 7th Army sent a rep to check our readiness, I was the first one to be interviewed. Buck private in February 1953 to Staff Sergeant in October 1954.


In late ’54 my platoon commander was transferred to Regimental HQ and wanted me to transfer with him but I would have had to re-up for four more years (with a $10,000 bonus).


Sorry I got sidetracked but your mother had said how much the girls enjoyed the photo albums. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to expound on some of the pics because I had a very interesting military career and I’m very proud of it.


Thanks for listening.

Love to all




If the East Germans/Russians crossed the border, our mission was to alert the 2nd Armored Division, stationed near Frankfurt and set our first line of defense: the Rhine River.


The patrol’s mission was to alert HQ and blow up any bridges, railroad tracks – anything vital as we retreated to base, then Frankfurt.


The 14th Armored cavalry was the first line of defense in Europe during the Cold War. We were the eyes and ears of the 7th Army.


Armored vehicles are very restricted in vision and maneuverability. A scout squad would be the eyes and ears of tanks and had to lead any tanks on the move, check weight restrictions on roads and bridges, etc.


Please excuse an old man for his memories when he was young and vital.





In his note he sent me along with my copy of the letter, he wrote: I have the Zippo lighter I was awarded by General Hodges as I graduated as honor student from NCO Academy. I planned to show it to the girls last week but never got to it. He hasn’t smoked in at least forty years.


My father died on Thanksgiving weekend, 2017. I still have the Zippo.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Reward to Bullshit Curve Redux


A few weeks ago I wrote about yet another bowl of shit writers sometimes have to swallow. The comments, both here and elsewhere, were positive, and I was happy people seemed to take the post in the spirit in which it was intended.


That was near the end of September. I spent August with covid and its after-effects, and September began with having to cancel out of Bouchercon and enduring less than professional treatment from [magazine name redacted]. The nadir of a trough, so to speak.


October was better.


So much better it started a day early, at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference that began September 30. I moderated a panel that was well-received by both the audience and the panelists, then wrapped up the day’s festivities by hosting Noir at the Bar. A solid panel on Saturday led to Sunday morning’s discussion of hard-boiled writing that was one of the two best panels I’ve ever been on. I can’t imagine a conference going better for me.


That roll continued through the month. I received good comments on “The Box” and White Out, as well as demonstrations of respect on other levels


On the downside, October also brought news that a writer I respect a great deal is pulling the pin on his writing, while another is refocusing his efforts on craft and away from business. Both expressed feelings not dissimilar to what I posted about in September.


This leads to a logical question: when is enough enough? In 2010 I wrote a post called The Reward to Bullshit Curve; MBAs call it Return on Investment (ROI). Everyone uses it. Teachers, plumbers, writers, doctors, cops, astronauts, ditch diggers, spouses. Everyone. The curve has a simple definition: at some point the bullshit we have to put up with in any activity may overcome the rewards we receive from that activity. When it does, it’s time to move on.


Here it is, for reference. (I reversed the axes from the original. I like this one better.)

 (Editor’s Note: The “curve” is a straight line. The man’s an even worse artist than he is a writer.)


Reward has both relative and practical definitions. With a job, money is a key component, though it should not be the only element under consideration. As a writer, money is obviously not what keeps me going, so there must be something else.


Everything we do falls somewhere along the curve, even leisure activities. There are times The Beloved Spouse™ and I would love to be 1500 miles away in a matter of a few hours, but what do we have to endure to get there? Parking at the airport, going through security, getting on the plane half an hour early, hoping we don’t have to pee because airplane bathrooms barely allow room for my size 12s between the door and the toilet, several hours’ confinement to an inadequately sized seat, waiting for luggage that may never arrive, arranging the transportation at the destination, all with the realization we’re going to have to do all this again to get home. The bar for what constitutes acceptable reward for that level of bullshit would set an Olympic pole vault record. It’s not that we’ll never fly again, but there has to be an extraordinarily good reason.


Does that mean we never make those trips? Hell no. We drive. It might take three days, but we stop when we want, eat where we want, see sights if we want; our transportation and luggage are always with us. We take turns driving, and we can laugh and joke without worrying about the person in the next seat. True, we’re not driving to San Diego for Bouchercon next year, but anyplace east of the Rocky Mountains is fair game.


Anything one does regularly spends time above or below the Curve. There may be extended periods on one side or the other, because sometimes life is a bowl of cherries and sometimes it’s just one vile fucking task after another. If you find you’re spending too much of your time doing something – anything – under the line, it may be time to divest yourself of that part of your life. If you find you’re consistently above it, well, then, good on ya. Please do me one favor:


Never take it for granted.