Archive for June, 2014

MEMOIR: NIGHTS WITH JEAN SHEPARD AND CRIPPLED JOE

It was a time before cell phones, before computers and instant messaging. It was a time before people felt obligated to be at the beck and call of anyone who has anything to communicate no matter how insignificant the information might be. To many today, the ability to communicate – to use the technology – is more important than the content of what they have to say. It was a time of relative freedom, when you could truly be alone without getting away, when people did not feel uncomfortable to be out of the loop, for the loop for most did not yet exist. We were individuals, not part of a grid. It was a time when people were allowed to live their lives without the constant intrusions that today we consider to be normal – no telemarketers, no beepers no SPAM – the only SPAM being that fantastic pink brick. You could answer the phone at dinnertime and be fairly sure it was someone you wanted to talk to instead of someone trying to sell you something.
Growing up, my family did not have a phone. We lived in a four family house and only one family had a phone, a family on the second floor of our two-story house and you only asked to use it if a there was a real emergency. I’m talking seizure or some other life-threatening event. About the time I entered my teenage years we did get a phone, but in those days it was on a party line and, with our plan, you were limited to thirty calls a month, then you paid extra for every call over thirty. Imagine those limitations today in a family of six that included two girls.
But don’t get me wrong, when I was young the exchange of information was important – but there was just so much less of it. Or maybe it is that today, what we call information is not information at all, only considered so by those who generate it. What was communicated had importance, not the latest Hollywood starlet’s drug problem, not the public following the antics of an individual acting like a fool and wanting to be the first to know what outrageous or sick thing they do next. Long gone are the days when social media was comprised primarily of face-to-face conversations.
I watched my share of TV while growing up, maybe more than my kids do now, but I would never admit that to them. I listened to the radio, there always seemed to be a radio on in the house. That is why now, when I hear just the first few bars of a song from the late 50’s or 60’s I can usually share the song’s title and the artist singing with my children although they could care less about this information. I would listen to talk shows. These days I still listen to quite a bit of radio, usually National Public Radio when I’m not listening to an oldies station.
I would listen to Jean Shepard during the final hour of my shift working in a newsstand at the corner of Broad and Market streets, the heart of Newark, New Jersey. I was addicted to his show broadcasted on WOR weekday nights from 10:15 to 11. What a fantastic storyteller. For those not familiar with Jean Shepard, if you have ever watched A Christmas Story you have heard his voice and watched his work. We have a local station here in Pennsylvania that shows the movie nonstop for 24 hours beginning on Christmas Eve. When he died at the age of seventy-eight, his obituary read, “A Twain of the radio.” He would start each show and off he would go on a forty-five minute monologue about what it was like when he was growing up in Indiana or his observations of life around him, and you never knew where he would end up by the end of his show. He was genuine, one of life’s observers, and listening to him relate his memories and thoughts was a true treasure. He would conjure up stories of his childhood, remembering things that happened to us all but take a slightly different slant in his observations and in doing this create those wonderful views of his youth.
I would be counting up the papers and magazines and get the place ready for my relief as I listened to the radio. I worked at this newsstand for most of my high school and college years and came to know quite a collection of characters, old men haunting the nights on Newark’s streets. Talking to one another, carrying newspapers days old and talking to me for I was a regular of Newark’s night too. One individual, who could have been a character in a novel, was the man who would relieve me, a man with the most unpolitically correct name I have ever had the honor to hear – his name was Crippled Joe.
Now Crippled Joe must have been in his 50’s and walked with the use of a cane. His deformity was one leg that had an almost ninety degree bend in the top before it entered the hip. Crippled Joe had worked for my boss, the owner of the newsstand, for years and years, working the 11 PM to 6 AM shift and he was my relief of the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays that I worked. And every night all papers and magazines would have to be counted and the money counted and locked up for Crippled Joe would try to steal whatever wasn’t accounted for, and my boss knew this and that was the relationship they had, Crippled Joe could be trusted as long as he was not given an opportunity not to be trusted.
Joe also had a little side business going. He used to run a numbers racket at the newsstand. Everyone knew about it, my boss, the other workers – everyone, yet every night Joe would complete these transactions secretly, and I suppose he really thought they were secret. Men would come up while I was changing over with Joe, whisper something in his ear and handed him some bills but would never take a newspaper or magazine. Being just fifteen or sixteen when I started to work, and quite naïve. It took a while for me to figure out what was going on and used to think it funny that, after all the years I worked there, every night he would still try to hide.
I worked year round while in high school and summers while in college. The newsstand was a good-sized booth with the front open to about waist level. We sold all the Newark and New York City papers. Back then Newark had two daily papers and New York at least six or more. We sold comics and magazines and some kind of dream cards that told you which numbers you should play according to the dreams you were having. Working at the newsstand during the winter was a real challenge. The wind would whip around into the booth and all the papers had to be held down with heavy metal weights. The change was kept in a metal change holder, a series of metal cups nailed in front of where you stood in the booth. When it was cold, I mean really cold, the change would freeze to your bare fingertips. You kept gloves on when no one was buying anything, but when the time to make a sale came, off came the gloves and those warm fingers would freeze right to the coins. Snowstorms were a real challenge. I had what some might determine to be a twisted sense of duty. During one particular storm, the snow was drifting against the door on the inside of the booth. We had electric heaters but unless you were right on top of them, you froze. I kept the stand open even though no one in his or her right mind was out on a night like this. Finally I got the word to close down. It was the first time I ever saw the newsstand closed.
During the summers of my high school and early college years I worked days and ran the newsstand for my boss who would drop by once a week to pick up the deposit slips and see how things were going. It was about this time that my well-established hormones began to really kick in and along with fantasies about some of my customers. I can recall one shorthaired blond girl, who must have been a secretary, and every day would pick up a paper – perhaps for her boss. I was in college at this time and she was about my age, probably working right out of high school. By the time I would sell her a paper I was dirty with newsprint from the early morning rush hour. I would see her every day and she would never say a word. Thinking back it was probably good that she hadn’t for I probably would have answered with some garbled response. So I would have my fantasies of meeting for a soda after work, maybe a movie but all I did was keep folding her papers and taking her money.
There was another girl I remember but she haunted the nights. I first noticed her while I was still in high school. She was about my age, maybe seventeen, not pretty but not unattractive either. She was very slim with long red hair and would hang out on the corner where I worked. She usually had other kids with her but she was the oldest. I never knew if the other kids were siblings or just friends. She was not well dressed and just looking at her you could tell she had very little money. I just wondered what she was doing night after night on that corner. Even now, when I think of her, I can hear Frankie Vallie singing ‘Rag Doll’. I wonder what became of the ‘rag doll’ as I wonder about other people that crossed my path during those night and days I spent selling papers.
On Mondays and Wednesdays my shifts were from 6-11PM, but on Fridays I went to work straight from school starting at 3PM and working until 11. I got quite a few stares and have to do some explaining after gym in high school as I was putting on my long johns in preparation for a winter’s night work.
Fridays, I would get home about 11:30 have some dinner and go to bed. My bed by now was a single pull-out bed in the parlor next to the kerosene stove which, during the winter, you could almost sit on and have no fear of injury. But my radio listening for the day was not yet over, or just beginning, depending on which way you wanted to approach the time of day, for another of my favorite radio shows was about to begin – Long John Nebal whose talk show on WOR radio ran from midnight to about five in the morning. The topics would vary but the subject often discussed that stirred my interest was flying saucers. Nebal would sometimes have on his show the editor of Saucer News, a local magazine-type publication although calling it a magazine was quite a stretch, and of course I immediately sent away for a subscription. It was just a few pages long and would be filled with pictures of flying saucers along with local sightings and editorial comments. The funny thing was that most of the editorial comments were about the editor’s ongoing divorce. For some reason I’ve always been drawn to slightly wacko subjects, here’s where my kids could provide an editorial.
Anyway, I would listen to these shows as late into the night as I could. Now I wouldn’t use my newsstand radio for that would be a waste of batteries, I used my crystal radio. Let me explain what this is, although my theoretical knowledge may be a little rough. The radio actually contained a crystal and onto it pressed a thin piece of wire called a ‘cat’s whisker’. The pressure generated electricity and it was also the way you tuned in a station, by moving the ‘cat’s whisker’ around the crystal. My radio was in the shape of a rocket and about six inches long, a black and red beauty. Coming out the rocket were three wires. One wire ended in and alligator clip for the ground, one wire was an earpiece and the last wire was the antenna. The antenna was rather long, somewhere between twenty and thirty feet and I would stretch it through the whole house before climbing into bed. I tend to toss and turn in my sleep so I would always wake up all wrapped up in the earphone and antenna wire, but no electricity was wasted although every night I listened to my crystal radio I risked death by strangulation.
Looking back, they were rough days, hard days but good days. I was easily entertained. I worked hard, and ever so slowly I matured.

June 30, 2014 at 6:44 pm 1 comment

REVISITING MY MEMOIR

Around the year 2000, I began writing my first prose in the form of a memoir. Sections of that effort have appeared in this blog and now I thought I’d post a few more. You may have to hunt if you want to read past entries. My blog needs better organization, but I guess I’m limited by the ability of the organizer.
The title of my memoir, if it ever sees the light of day as a published work, will be You Had Hot Water? This title is derived from the fact that the house where I lived until the later part of my undergraduate college education which I pursued far from Newark, New Jersey where the house was located, did not. Come to think of it, our kitchen sink was the only sink I can ever recall seeing which sported just one faucet.
Our family resided in the Ironbound section of Newark, given that name because of all the industry located in the neighborhood. It was also referred to as ‘Down Neck’ by the locals and is still to this day although I don’t know and I’m sure the vast majority of its residents don’t know the origin of that name.
I began writing my memoir after making observations of the world around me as an adult and seeing what people had and the lives they lived and how the conditions and attitudes were so different from those I experienced growing up. People live in conditions far better than I could ever imagine growing up in Newark, yet bemoan a life I would have given anything for while growing up in Newark during the 1950s and 60s. And I bet they all have hot water.
I realize that these are ‘blanket statements’ and there are many living lives in this country which are miserable existences, but there are more safety nets available now than there were back in the 50s and 60s. Back then, it was a time when you appreciated what you had rather than what the other person had. In reality, no one had a great deal, but we lived life as best we could.
With this introduction, I shall begin posting more memoir pieces offering a glimpse of live in Down Neck Newark when I was a boy.

June 27, 2014 at 2:14 am Leave a comment

STRUGGLING TO GET IT WRITE: SELF-PUBLISHING

It is a journey we shall take together, seeking out information on the road to becoming a self-published author. In a recent post, I went into great detail on why I have not self-published – yet. That attitude is in the process of transition. Even I am capable of change. While I’m on the road to obtaining knowledge on self-publishing I invite you to come along.
We begin with an excellent article to get us started, full of useful information. I received it through an online writer’s group to which I belong, IndieWriterSupport. I suggest joining as many writer’s groups as you can. You will inundated with a wealth of information, not all useful, but a great deal with value to the writer. Join LinkedIn! Once you do offers to join other groups will come pouring in.
Look for future pieces with more in-depth information into the world of self-publishing.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennie-goutet/a-beginners-guide-to-self_b_5377718.html?page_version=legacy&view=print&comm_ref=false

Take advantage of the active links you will find in the article.

June 23, 2014 at 7:42 pm Leave a comment

STRUGGLING TO GET IT WRITE: EGO BLOCK – GETTING IT PERFECT

I once enjoyed writing a great deal more than I do now. Back then it was an escape from my ‘real job’. In the course of my current career, I may have developed a new type of ‘writer’s block’.
Leave it to me.
What I have managed to develop is a real fear of the rewrite. I have no problem developing ideas or writing the first draft. But when it comes to the editing process, I have an overwhelming desire to get it perfect, whatever that means.
I do a demented dance around the story or novel requiring the dreaded rewrite. I find anything to do that will keep me from that effort, root canal – bring it on. I’ll get to the rewrite later. Anything to keep me from getting my ass in the chair and getting to my work.
One of my favorite pastimes is reading. I can’t get enough. I find that now, as a writer, I closely examine the work I’m reading and find flaws that I see which I’m sure I would not if I wasn’t involved in the profession. I find errors in plot, or needless asides and descriptions bringing nothing to the story. In some cases slowing it down. Overwriting in authors far more successful than I will ever be. Sometimes lack of explanation which would enhance the plot where more detail would be beneficial. Yet, despite the fact that I see these faults I believe in being painfully honest. My work does not approach the quality of what I find lacking.
My work tends to be more of an outline, not offering enough detail to draw the reader into the world I am trying to create.
Okay, that’s off my chest. Time to silly-glue my ass to the chair and hope for the best. Time for the rewrite.
Wish me luck.

June 16, 2014 at 6:14 pm 2 comments

STRUGGLING TO GET IT WRITE: SELF-PUBLISHING AND PEER PRESSURE

Every journey down that rocky road of writing is different, unique, influenced by our past and drawing on the writer’s experiences. My first career was that of a scientist, 34 years’ worth, and that experience helps shape my approach to publishing and the hesitation to self-publish.
Let me explain.
In science, once you have completed a project which has merit and contributes knowledge to your field, you set out to publish a paper describing your work. I am coauthor on more than 40 papers. I didn’t do any of the writing but performed most of the experiments that went into them and am familiar with the process of publishing these papers.
When you want to publish your work there is an accepted process. No valid scientist takes it upon himself to publish his results. Rather, you seek-out a peer-reviewed journal which publishes in your field. The process involves your work being reviewed by, usually three, scientists working in your field and familiar with the techniques you used. After reading your work they may either accept it, suggest further experiments or reject it. Do you see the parallel with accept, rewrite or reject? Having spent my entire working life under this mindset, I find it has now carried over into my writing career. Perhaps it is a flaw, perhaps not, but with my fiction I do not feel comfortable with just putting it out there. I need confirmation from someone knowledgeable in my genre and able to judge the quality of my work. This need for approval does not make for an easy writing career, but I feel the rewards are well worth the effort.
So far I have published on novel, a novella and more than 25 short stories, all accepted by a publisher, in some cases by multiple publishers. To go this route is time-consuming and requires a thick skin. It’s not easy to send your baby out there and find no one sees its value.
Let me share with you the history of my novel, New Moon Rising, in finding a publisher. I began this effort in December, 2006, and in March, 2010 Melange Books asked to see the entire manuscript and decided to publish my book. During that interval, I contacted 28 agents and publishers. One reason this endeavor took so long was that I waited to hear back from each submission before submitting again. I won’t make that mistake again. But let me tell you. When a publisher says, ‘We’ll accept your work,’ that superb feeling cannot be matched.
So there you have my approach and reasons for taking the road I have chosen to getting my work published, and why I have not self-published – yet. My approach is not for everyone, but for better or for worse, that’s what it is.
Then you have to get someone to buy it.

June 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

D-DAY REMEMBERED

Since I was a boy I’ve always had a love for airplanes. While a senior in college, I learned to fly – thanks to the Air Force, and reported to pilot training five days after graduation in 1969. I’ve soloed in two types of aircraft, the Cessna 150 and the Cessna 172 which the Air Force calls the T-41. I then began flying the T-37, a small twin-engine jet. I never conquered that aircraft, the T-37 conquered me and I washed-out on Labor Day 1969.
Keeping alive that love for aircraft, 15 years ago I became a member of the Mid Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM), an organization dedicated to preserving the history of aircraft produced in the Mid-Atlantic region and aircraft of World War II. One of MAAM’s prized possessions is the B-25J Briefing Time. Their inventory also includes a navy Avenger and a host of trainers, a PT-23, PT-26 and SNJ-4B Texan. Located in Reading, Pennsylvania, I highly recommend visiting or joining the museum if you are a history or aircraft buff.
Every year the MAAM holds, on the first weekend of June, World War II weekend. This year the event fell on June 6, 7 and 8th, and being there on June 6th held special meaning for it was the 70th anniversary of D Day. I try to volunteer all three days of the show manning one of the entry gates, taking admissions and thanking people for attending.
The air show draws a host of historic aircraft, trainers, fighters, bombers and cargo planes, all of them having played an important role in winning the war. In addition to the aircraft are hundreds of reenactors representing America’s army and navy as well as the soldiers of England, Germany, Japan and Russia. These troops bring along over 100 military and civilian vehicles representing the era.
In attendance are veterans, some famous and some that just did their job and want to share their experiences. I enjoy being around these men and women who risked so much in a time when the enemy was clearly defined and the reasons for the conflict beyond doubt.
In addition to the veterans drawn to the show as speakers, a number of them also are among the spectators. Testifying to this is the size of the handicapped parking area to make it as easy as possible for the elderly to attend and the staff who offer all the respect and aid they can for these cherished individuals. I never miss the opportunity to shake the hand of these elderly heroes and thank them for their service.
This past weekend, on the morning of June 6th, I was helping a speaker to where he wanted to go and noticed his baseball cap which displayed the slogan, B-26 bomber pilot. I asked him what he was doing 70 years ago on this day and he said he was dropping bombs on Cherbourg, France in support of the landing.
At the entry gate another gentleman made his way toward me, short and hobbling along using a cane. He was 90 and was a soldier there on D Day. I also had the opportunity to shake the hand of a veteran of The Battle of the Bulge. All these encounters are very special to me.
Over the years I have met some impressive individuals whose lives were changed forever by a time requiring unbelievable dedication and personal sacrifice. I cherish the opportunity to talk to these individuals who participated in a time which cannot be truly appreciated unless you were there. As the years go by, fewer and fewer veterans remain to tell their stories, to remind us of the price paid so that we are able to enjoy the life we live.

Here are some photos from the show.

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C-46 COMMANDO

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P-47D THUNDERBOLT

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ENCAMPMENTS

June 11, 2014 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

STRUGGLING TO GET IT WRITE: SELF-PUBLISHING, AN INTRODUCTION

It is said that we all have a book within us. I don’t know who said it, and if no one has, I just did. However, it has never been said, to my knowledge, that we all have a GOOD book within us. What follows is my own take on self-publishing with more episodes to follow. As always, feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Writing is an ego driven endeavor. To put your words out there and know that someone will pay money to read them is quite a stretch. But many of us do just that and bruise our egos along the way. Who among us truly thinks their ability to put words together isn’t worth shit, but I’m going to do it and reveal my shit to the world. In the not too distant past the only available avenue a writer could take, other than the traditional route of, agent-editor-publisher was lovingly referred to as the vanity press.

The end result of association with a vanity press was usually hundreds of books moldering away in a basement or attic and the author thousands of dollars poorer. Now we have a much better, cheaper option – the wonderful world of self-publishing. For an excellent in-depth look at self-publishing I refer you to the May/June 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest providing an overview on the topic. In a later piece I will offer some of the information from that issue and update the information contained in this issue for, in this day and age, 2012 is distant history.

Self-publishing, in conjunction with print-on-demand allows the writer to bring his work directly to the reading public without encountering the messy world of agents and publishers. I know many out there have taken the agent and or publisher route and have shed blood, sweat and tears with no results. Been there, done that. That’s why the vast majority of my work remains unpublished. I’ll get to my personal experiences and the reason I still beat my head against a stone wall in a later piece. Many of those who have put the effort and see no other avenue to present their work to the public other than to self-publish. Here, the decision to self-publish has merit. You’ve paid your dues with nothing to show for it; give it a shot.

There is another form of exposure providing a means to present your work, your thoughts, poetry, and stories, to the world. If you’ve gotten this far you’re participating in that medium now – the blog. Of course you won’t make any money unless your ego permits you to go hat-in-hand to those wanting to read the beauty of your words. Enough of that.

I have met one author, in my opinion, who has a healthy approach to self-publishing. She established a reputation through the traditional route of agent and publisher. Only after her reputation was established did she begin to self-publish. For now the public knew the value of her work, work accepted by the industry, and she could approach that public directly.

With the above in mind, I’m sure you see that self-publishing is a complicated and convoluted topic. It is a medium offering a new publishing opportunity, and each year hundreds of thousands of people employ it. It can yield great success, but to those that it has you could probably count using your fingers and toes, and perhaps not even need to take off your shoes.

Yet with all the uncertainty and rejection and no matter how you bear that twisted cross we call the writing addiction, you know you have no choice but to endure and hope for the

June 2, 2014 at 7:36 pm 2 comments


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