The other day my friend Max sent me a picture he had uncovered of us. I am the middle person here, the one with the beard. Max is on the left; another friend, Dan, is on the right. I was twenty at the time the picture was taken, on the day of my brother’s wedding. This is why I am in the tux. (I did not wear the wool cap during the ceremony!)
My older son is turning twenty this year, and he just shaved off a beard he had been growing for a while. I emailed him this picture to show him how his old man once had a pretty good beard, too. He liked it and texted it to some of his friends, many of whom commented favorably. Then, on Father’s Day, he shared the photo on SnapChat, saying, “Hey, this was what my dad looked like back in the day,” and he received a bunch more favorable responses. Finally, I made my son proud!
It was a quiet Sunday morning, and in a relaxed and optimistic mood I sat down on the couch with a mug of hot black tea and some papers and a pencil, thinking I could grab a few minutes for some hard copy editing of a piece I had written.
Then my son Gabe started shooting nerf darts at my head.
This ever happen to you? My sons seem to have built-in radar that tells them when I’m trying to steal some time for myself and do something other than cater to their every whim and desire. This is their cue to pop out of nowhere and shoot nerf darts at me. If you are a writer and a parent as I am—actually, if you run any home-based business or telecommute—it is unavoidable that there will be times when you must work when the children are home with you.
How do you get your work done when the li’l darlings are running around fighting and screaming and raising a wild rumpus? Here are some strategies and approaches that worked for me when our children were young: Continue reading
It’s Sunday afternoon in the banquet room of a hotel in West Hollywood. I’m sitting across the table from a Hollywood producer pitching her on why my book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, will make a great movie.
“It’s all true,” I tell her. “I’m not making a word of this up. It all happened.”
“Great,” she tells me. “I love true stories.”
“It’s about a group of people who basically start with nothing and create a $100 million forgery ring, the biggest in America.”
Suddenly the producer looks puzzled, like she ate something bad. “How? What are they forging?”
“Fake autographs. You know, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, superstars like that. And they’re forging these autographs on baseballs, jerseys, photos, posters—you name it. They produce hundreds of thousands of fakes and sell them on the home shopping channels, eBay, stores, all over the place. And they make millions in cash.”
“Okay,” she says, finally getting it. “What’s the story?” Continue reading
Above is the 1941 cover for The Black Stallion, which I am reading (and quite enjoying!) now. Written by Walter Farley, it is the beautiful story of a great horse, a boy who loved him, and their adventures.
In 1941 The Black Stallion—a clothbound book, printed in the USA—sold for $2. My wife when she was a girl rode horses, loved horse books, and collected a shelf full of Farley’s work.
For middle school girls and boys today, as well as those interested in reading a Young Adult classic of a bygone era, The Black Stallion is top shelf. The handsome cover and inside drawings were done by Keith Ward. The 1979 film directed by Carroll Ballard based on the book is also a treat.
Red-winged blackbirds are not really red-winged. It’s a misnomer.
This April Ruby and I were walking in the open spaces on a cool, wet, drippy day. We were the only ones out. For this reason perhaps, a red-winged blackbird perched on a bush seemed less skittish than they usually are. She sat on a branch near the trail and did not budge as I stepped to within a couple of arm lengths of it.
Being blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds have mostly black wings. The red comes from the markings on their wings, which remind me of the showy shoulder epaulets worn on the dress uniform of a military officer. Certain red wings have white or yellow stripes at the base of their plumage. But the ones I see around my house are low elevation birds and their patches are all red.
Whatever the variation, red-winged blackbirds are colorful and delightful to see. Their bright and vivid red colors always stand out against the dull gray of an old fencepost, where they often sit. They also like to hang out on the tops of tule weeds and bushes, such as the one Ruby and I encountered.
Ah, but that’s as far as you go, you two! The bird flew off when I overstepped my welcome and drew too close to it.
Publishers Lunch publishes a free, downloadable ebook series known as Buzz Books. It’s an appetizer plate for readers, a taster’s choice sampling of forthcoming books to be published this fall and winter. The idea is to whet your appetite so you will buy the books in their full form.
The Buzz Books series includes adult fiction and nonfiction titles. Since my interest is in Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, I downloaded the fall/winter 2018 Young Adult publishing preview. Of the 16 quality novels excerpted, three really spoke to me:
Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt. A proper English butler arrives to help a discombobulated American family. Told by a middle school boy, it’s funny and surprising. The butler speaks very proper English, which is only fitting considering the author, Gary D. Schmidt, is an English professor.
Sadie, by Canadian author Courtney Summers. A down on her luck teen girl tracks down her sister’s killer by piecing together clues as she goes from town to town. It’s an interesting premise, made more interesting by an NPR-style podcast reporter who tells pieces of the story.
White as Silence, Red as Song, by Alessandro D’Avenia. This is an Italian bestseller, originally published as White as Milk, Red as Blood. It’s told by a boy for whom, as he says, “everything is a color. Every emotion is a color.” Silence, for instance, is white. I found the excerpt I read very enjoyable, although the summary at the front hints at darker things to come. I especially appreciated the fact that the boy’s love interest is named Beatrice who, as every fan of Italian literature knows, was also the woman who inspired Dante. D’Avenia’s classical references make sense because he is a classical lit teacher in Italy.
I look forward to reading these buzz books in their entirety.
One of the pleasures of reading old books is that you frequently encounter unusual words or words that are no longer in common use. So I found while reading an early passage in The Three Musketeers, in which d’Artagnan threatens an innkeeper and his employees if they cannot find an important letter that has been lost:
“My letter of recommendation,” cried d’Artagnan, “on the holy blood, I will split you all like ortolans.”
What, pray tell, is an ortolan? Continue reading
People have been asking this question ever since Auguste Rodin’s monumental sculpture, “The Thinker,” debuted in Paris in 1904.
Is he contemplating the great questions of God, existence, mortality? Did he get jilted by a girl and is wondering how to get her back? Is he trying to remember what he needs to pick up for tonight’s dinner?
Although a formidable six feet six inches tall (not counting the pedestal), The Thinker is a kind of Everyman. Like all great art, what we see in it is a reflection of ourselves. Our own lives, our own thoughts. Continue reading
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking of a word and trying to keep that word in mind as I walk my way through the day. Sometimes I come up with the word the evening before, in a restless moment during that night’s sleep, or in the morning.
A word pops in my head and I go with it. Today’s word is: Fortify. Continue reading
“Wow! A book. What a neat present!”
When Hank was a boy, he read voraciously, gobbling up Alex Rider, Harry Potter and other books like peanuts at a ballgame.
Then we got him an iPhone and his appetite for books dried up seemingly overnight. I asked him about this change and he said, “I hate to read. Books are boring.”
A similar change occurred with Gabe. When the iPhone—and iPad and gaming systems—entered the picture, his youthful interest in books evaporated.
I know from talking with other parents that our experience is hardly unusual. Boys and girls read fewer books once they fall prey to the siren song of phones and social media. But the prognosis for the written word is hardly dim. In many ways it’s very bright. Continue reading