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Archive for the month “March, 2013”


April Fool’s Day is upon us. And I’m not kidding about that.

April Fool’s Day is the day…holiday? Is that the word? I mean, we put it on the calendar and note it with the ultimate recognition – blog posts – and “April Fool’s Day!” is a ubiquitous societal catchphrase; like “so’s your mother” and “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”. But is it really a holiday? What I’m asking is, am I obliged to call home or get anybody a gift?

I would like it duly noted here before we proceed, that I spelled “Tippecanoe” right on the first try. Go ahead and look it up. I’ll wait. Dum de dum…

Where were we? Oh, right. So April Fools is a day set aside to fool people. Because nothing says you care like a joke at someone’s expense. There are no cards or gifts or carols. You get pranked. Inconvenienced. Embarrassed. Possibly indicted. Fun times!

So, I say, if you’re going to serve hard time anyway, is just one day really worth it? Hell no! Here, then, is a whole April Fool’s MONTH worth of pranks you can use. No need to thank me. Or should that be…No need to PRANK me! Har!

  1. Duct tape and waggly appendages go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
  2. They’ll protest, but trust us, cats think it’s hysterical when you shave them.
  3. Develop a reality show that’s nothing but celebrities diving into water.
  4. Stand on a street corner and throw crumpled pieces of paper at random people while screaming, “It’s a shopping list! I said ‘buy more ketchup’! How hard is that!?!?!”
  5. Tell Jay Leno he’s number one in late night, then start building a studio for his replacement.
  6. Tell your spouse you’d love some real French wine and while she’s flying to France to get it, empty out her closet so she can’t find her stuff when she gets home. Then, all you say is, “You only got one bottle!?!?”
  7. Toaster socks.
  8. Hint: Ground coffee looks a lot like mouse droppings.
  9. Wear a court jester’s outfit to work. Unless you actually are a court jester. In that case, wear a suit and tie.
  10. Unleash a computer virus that cripples the banking system, then, when you get caught, just say “April Fool!” That fixes anything.
  11. Fill your pockets with cotton balls then go stand next to the bunny cage at the petting zoo. When some kids walk about, chuck the cotton balls on the ground and clutch your stomach, groaning, “I shouldn’t have eaten that last one…you guys want the tails?”
  12. Send the IRS an I.O.U. for your tax payment with “April Fools” in small print at the bottom.
  13. Give “Fifty Shades of Gray” a Pulitzer
  14. Hide the Pop-Tarts
  15. Go the grocery store bakery aisle and cut the crusts off all the loaves of bread.
  16. Cause a stampede at the mall by standing in front of the floor model TV at the electronics store and shouting, “Hey! Breasts!”
  17. Three words: Zoo. Hats. Penguins.
  18. Three more words: Grease. Seniors. Hallway.
  19. Chop off your arm, dump a bunch of ketchup on it…oh, wait, sorry, obviously you want to pretend to chop off your arm. Can’t believe I messed that up again…oh shit! I gotta make a phone call.
  20. Argue with anyone who will listen that “The Hobbit” is WAY better than “Lord of the Rings”.
  21. Buy a whole bunch of stuff on Amazon and demand free shipping. Zing! Take that, corporate America.
  22. Creamed cauliflower. Do whatever you want with it. It has to be a joke.
  23. Whoopee cushions – filled with Pop Rocks.
  24. Gift wrap everything on the shelves at Wal-Mart. If the employees hassle you…who’s kidding who. They’ll still ignore you.
  25. Before your spouse gets home, clean the house, take out the trash, cook dinner and fold the laundry. He/she won’t know what the hell is wrong with you.
  26. Tell your roommate you’re so sick of him stealing your Cheetos, you planted dynamite in the kitchen cabinet. When he turns to run, pop an air-filled paper bag. Help him mop up afterwards.
  27. Thinking outside the box. Applesauce isn’t just for eating.
  28. Fill all the pockets in the clothes in your wife’s closet with peanut butter. She’ll laugh. Honest.
  29. Tell the kids Big Bird is really Santa and Santa is really a dentist from Milwaukee and the dentist from Milwaukee is really Barney the Dinosaur. They’ll be perplexed for hours and you can finish watching the game.
  30. Empty a vodka bottle, fill it with tap water and take it with when you and your dog go to the dog park. Fill a bowl and let Fido lap it up. When observers marvel at this, say, “That’s nothing. You should how he mows through the pot brownies.? Next time at the park, you won’t have to wait in line for anything.


To prepare for this blog post, I read a United States Supreme Court opinion.

That’s how much I love you.

Specifically, I read Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, a decision handed down by the Supreme Court March 19, 2013. It has to do with copyright law and the “first sale” doctrine  in federal law. The doctrine says that if you legally possess a copyrighted work, you are allowed, without getting the okay of the copyright owner, to “sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” In Kirtsaeng, the Court extended that doctrine to copyrighted works lawfully made abroad.


I read the Court’s opinion and was all set to write a nice little blog post about the ever-changing publishing landscape and what the ruling might mean for all of us who do this thing.

But then, as I started to type, I was struck by a crippling fatigue. I slumped to the floor, spilling the coffee (sigh) and banging my head repeatedly on the way down. I still have the bruises. I also can’t remember my kids’ names. For now, they’re just “Boy Kid” and “Girl Kid”. They’ll just have to deal with it.

Here’s the thing: I work really hard on the writing part of being a writer. I don’t want to read Supreme Court opinions. I want to make stuff up and giggle while I commit it to paper or a Word file.

But here’s the thing about the thing: writers, we’re alone out here. Yeah, there are still agents and publishers and what not. Look hard. There’s one over there behind the big rock. Shh! You’ll scare her!

They want to help, but they have to watch their own backs too, lest Amazon devour them and poop out little 99 cent used e-books.  (You think I’m kidding? Amazon really wants to do this. Er…the part about selling used e-books, not the pooping part.) Or they have to worry about their company merging with some other company to become, uh, Cyborg & Sons or something, and putting them out on the street.

If writers want to be relatively safe in the creative-eat-creative world we write in today, we can’t keep our heads buried in the iPad. We gotta look up once in a while, if only to duck shrapnel from the latest collision of e-book publisher and vanity press, both of which are flying down publishing-row in a mad dash to curry our favor.

I don’t want to spend time reading Writers Beware! blogs , but I don’t want to be scammed by greedy “publishers”. I don t want to think about marketing, but if I want to sell books, I better. I don’t like the weird duality of shopping at Amazon for great deals while at the same time worrying what their business practices are doing to my industry. I don’t like mourning the death of book & mortar bookstores like casualties of war, but I do.

And sometimes I read Supreme Court opinions.

I do all of these things because this is the life I’ve chosen. And, occasionally, late at night, I find a few minutes of writing time for actual writing. Assuming I don’t fall asleep at the keyboard.

Because that’s what it means to be a writer today.


Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

I want to say that’s a quote from Mick Jagger, but I’m pretty sure I’m wrong. May be too tired to remember. Maybe I’ve been drinking.

At any rate, theatre, I’ve learned is, also something that happens while you’re making other plans. That one was me, not Mick.

Recently, in this space, I reported that my two act play FOR WANT OF A SHOE was going to be treated to a live, staged reading by a group of actors during New Ground Theatre’s play festival in the Quad Cities April 19-28.


But then as so often happens with creative endeavors, boring old reality crept in. There are some eight plays jockeying for position in the festival. At about ninety minutes, mine was by far the longest. It also has a pretty big cast of fifteen characters. The logistics of that simply made it unworkable with the schedule time and people available.

But everyone really liked the play. So what to do?

Well, I dusted off an earlier, way shorter, version of the play I had written before FOR WANT OF A SHOE. I took another look at it, decided it was pretty good, polished it up and offered FERGUSON PAYNE’S SOLE PROBLEM as an alternative. It’s a funny, twenty-minute, one-act that still has a nice mix of humor and stuff to make you think about fate and free will and what it means to be a character in your own story.

Everyone liked the adaptation. It’s way shorter and only has seven characters so it’s easy to cast. PLUS…

Instead of just a reading, I’ve been upgraded to a full production with sets and costumes and props.

It’s not exactly the same play, and I do still hope to hear actors say my words from FOR WANT OF A SHOE someday, but when you write for public consumption for a while – books or scripts or whatever – you eventually learn to be flexible and go with the flow in order to serve the greater purpose of creativity.

So I’m going with it.

I hope you do too. Looks like my play will go up April 19, 21 and 27, along with THE BACKFIRED MESSAGE, THE RETURN, and LEAP DAY. April 20,26 and 28 will feature THE RED OVEN, POTSDAM, 1706 FARNUM, and SAYING GOODBYE. Check out New Ground’s website for more details.


I wasn’t going to watch.

I first saw “Psycho” twenty years ago. I’d heard about the classic Hitchcock thriller for as many years as I’d cared about movies. So I was intrigued to finally check it out.

I have to say, I wasn’t wowed. It was okay, it was interesting. I am a Hitchcock fan (especially Rear Window), but Psycho just didn’t do it for me. Too much hype maybe.

So when “Bates Motel” was announced, I groaned a little. Norman Bates, his mother, and getting knifed in the shower have (weirdly) pretty much become clichés. And we’ve already had endless re-imaginings and reboots of other things in film and TV. Batman and Joker reborn, darker than ever. James Bond lives on, a whole lot grumpier. Like Psycho,  Norman’s blood cousin, Hannibal Lechter, is getting a TV remake of his. “Hannibal” the series centers on – surprise – the killer as a young man.

Do we need a young Norman Bates too?


But for some reason I couldn’t stay away. I’m a sucker for hype, apparently.

So I watched. And I’ll say now that, while I wasn’t blown away by the A&E channel’s incarnation of Psycho either, I was intrigued enough to look forward to the next episode. The series moves the characters to the present day and opens with seventeen-year-old Norman Bates and his mom looking for  a fresh start for various reasons. His mother buys a run down motel on the outskirts of a new town.

Norman is a smart, slightly shy, under-achiever, but otherwise fairly normal teen. He quickly draws the attention of a cadre of pretty young, bad girls who are eager to show Norman the seamier side of this otherwise dreary little town.

Norman’s mother, who is, as we know, the infamous source of so much turmoil for Norman in his later years, is an interesting character. At this point in Norman’s life, she seems more flaky than menacing, although as the first episode progressed, shades of the control freak, famous from the movie, do come out.

There are some ugly confrontations with townsfolk. A well-meaning teacher who tries to befriend Norman. The requisite visit from the earnest, but slightly befuddled, local sheriff. And underneath it all, there’s a whole lot of shit waiting to boil over – both inside and outside the newly christened “Bates Motel”.

Here’s a good way to sum it up. If you remember the David Lynch show “Twin Peaks”, this one is a lot like that – only without the doughnuts and little people talking backwards. At least so far.

And given that it’s young Norman, maybe the show is  more of a cross between “Twin Peaks” and “Muppet Babies.” Yeah, that’s a good way to think of it.

And it’s enough to make me tune in next Monday.


So, several years ago, I wrote a story. A flash fiction piece for my website. It was 500, maybe 600 words. It was just one scene, a conversation between an author writing a novel and one of his characters. They’re arguing about what shoes the character is going to wear. It was kind of a fun little thing. I wrote it and moved on to the next thing.

But that idea, that premise, stuck with me. I liked the idea of getting inside the author’s head. The notion of a give-and-take between author and character. A bottle of wills. I wanted to do more with it. But what?

I thought about a full short-story. Or maybe a novel. But the conceit would be tough to maintain in those formats.

A play?

It would be an odd theatre piece, of course. An entire play that takes place entirely inside the author’s mind. But it was too good, it seemed to me, to put aside. So I wrote it.

And next month, New Ground Theatre in Davenport, IA will produce a staged reading of my two-act play FOR WANT OF A SHOE, at a playwrights festival along with several other plays by other playwrights. It’s inspired by that short story and the old poem: “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider, the battle was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

The first time I saw actors on a stage speaking the dialogue I had written it was as thrilling – maybe more? – than the first time I performed on stage. Writing a play might be even more stressful than acting in a play. When you’re an actor, you’re responsible for your character. You need to hit your marks and make sure you cue the other characters, but basically you’re responsible for you. But, when you’re the playwright, you’re responsible for everything. Every character, the words, the sets, the props, the plot. Everything. Ev-er-y-THING.

I’m equal parts excited and stressed out. And I’m not even directing the thing. Don’t even know the specific date my play will go on. But if you’re in the Davenport area, do check out the festival. Mine is just one of the plays they’re doing, and it’s all good stuff. Go now!


That’s “theatre” with the last “re” and “e” reversed from the type of “theater” where you buy milk duds and sneak into dirty and/or cheesy flick instead of the Important Critique on the Human Condition or Rom-Com you bought a ticket for.

I enjoy live theatre. Plays and musicals both. I always have.  When I was about six or seven, I remember going with my parents to a dinner theatre production of “Camelot”. This was the seventies (Yes, I’m old. Let’s move on.) and wore my pale-green, three-piece suit and brown-striped tie. My family sat in a booth in the back so that I could sit up on the back of the booth to be able to see better. By the time you have dinner (with hot fudge brownie sundaes and several Roy Rogers’s to drink – the boy equivalent of a Shirley Temple), and sit through a two act play with intermission, it gets pretty late for a young boy, so I’m sure I fell asleep at some point. But before that, I vividly remember sitting in the dark, struck by what was going up on the stage.

In fifth grade, my buddy Todd begged me to audition with him for the school musical. It was called “Runaway Snowman” or something. I went because when you’re ten, your buddy begging you to do something is about all the motivation you need. I really don’t remember the audition, but I remember the results. Todd got the lead in the show, Freddy Fast-talk. I got…to be one of the prop guys. My primary responsibility during the production was to crouch behind the set until a certain cue in the show when I would creep out to upstage left and turn around a fake evergreen which was flocked with white on the other side to signify that now winter had come.

I didn’t do any more theatre until I was about thirty. No particular reason. Life just went in different directions. My whole childhood and teen-agedom, my family made annual and semi-annual trips to the dinner theatre, but I didn’t get active in theatre until a lot later.

I got the bug to get on stage when “Ten Little Indians” went up at the community theatre in the town I was living in at the time. That’s my favorite Agatha Christie novel (nerd, much?), so I couldn’t resist going after a small part. I was a bit player, but, indirectly, that play did lead me to meeting my wife, so that was good. I went on to do a dozen or fourteen more plays with that community theatre and another local theatre company. The last play I did in that town even garnered me a “best supporting actor” trophy at the community theatre awards that year. (Suck on that, Broadway!)

A few years ago, I returned to theatre briefly with a nice part in the well-known ensemble piece “Twelve Angry Men”. It was, hands down, the most fun I’ve had on stage or behind the scenes. I expect someday to get on stage again – maybe when the kids are older; I’m way too tired right now – but even if I don’t, if “Twelve Angry Men” is my last acting effort, I’ll be content.

Live theatre is at the front of my mind, center stage if you like, a lot lately, for reasons I’ll get to in coming posts. For now, just felt like reminiscing.


Build a holiday around something other than religion, presents, or age and this is what you get. All you guys who smirk at Valentine’s Day being a made up holiday crafted by florists and greeting card sellers, consider: you ever end up in jail over your innocent efforts to observe the day?

Okay, don’t answer that. Let’s make with the purging of guilt:

I’m sorry that when you said you wanted a Guinness, I jumped up and down for twenty-three hours on a pogo stick while perched on the fence over the lion exhibit at the zoo during feeding time with a duck on my head and wearing a tutu made of sirloin. On the upside, the duck is fine (he sends his regards) and woohoo! WORLD RECORD, BABY! …sorry, you’re still thirsty though.

I’m sorry that when I met your friend Pat, I couldn’t stop saying, “Hey, there’s St. Patrick!” over and over again until he got fed up and stormed out. But, really, how was I to know that slamming the door so hard would make that huge picture fall off the wall and hit you? That jagged scar is hardly noticeable.

I’m sorry that I suggested celebrating with a costume party. On a related note, I’m sorry that shamrocks are a lot smaller than fig leafs.

I’m sorry that I called your mom a leprechaun. In my defense, she looks a lot like that guy on the Lucky Charms box.

I’m sorry I spent the whole evening asking your sister’s friends if they wanted to “find me pot of gold.”

I’m sorry that when we went to reptile exhibit last weekend, I kept loudly pretending to call Ireland and asking them if they could send St. Patrick to take the snakes BACK. I now realize that after forty-five minutes, sometimes jokes wear thin. Those snakes were creepy though, man.

I’m sorry I snuck into your bedroom closet and dyed all your shirts green. I now realize that practical jokes also require a thorough thinking through before execution.

On a related note, I’m sure your cat’s green fur will grow out with few, if any, ill effects.

I’m sorry that beer vessels don’t come in large sizes.

I’m sorry that pinching someone if they don’t wear green doesn’t also extend to pinching for other offenses: cutting you off in traffic, using a cell phone in a doltish manner, creating and broadcasting reality television.

I’m sorry that back in 2006, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” wasn’t a more successful TV show, which has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day. But I’m sorry about it nonetheless.

I’m sorry there are no St. Patrick’s Day carols. Sitting around my St. Patrick Tree and sipping St. Pat’s Nog and eating shamrock cookies just seem like empty gestures without music.

I’m sorry that when I get a shamrock shake at McDonalds, the counter person doesn’t hand it to me and say, “Top o’ the morning to you!” and do an Irish jig. On the upside, I am happy if the person doesn’t spit in it.

In case you celebrated too…eagerly…I’ll just whisper <Happy St. Patrick’s Day!>


My daughter is seven. She’s very much into telling jokes. They can be ones her friends told her first and she brought home from school, they can be from TV or they can be from joke books she gets at the library. Her favorite jokes, though, are ones she makes up.

The ones she made up herself tend to be the most creative, but also the most, um, existential. The premise is usually familiar enough. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” for example. But in her comedy, the poor chicken ain’t never gonna make it to the other side. The punchline is always something like, “Because he was on your head” or “Because the other chicken was chasing him” or “Tuesday.”

Someday, of course, she’ll figure out how to construct a coherent setup and punchline that actually can coexist. She’s pretty good with one-liners, so there’s hope.

But watching this evolution makes me think about the origins, lifespan and death of humor in a life. We all start out, probably, where my daughter is as kids. At some point, our humor molds to fit whatever we find funny – Shakespeare or Monty Python or Jon Stewart or whoever the hot new comedian is. We cruise through the main, let’s say, laughing years of life and end up at the end our lives grousing that nobody is funny anymore and hasn’t been since, I dunno, Jack Benny or Don Rickles.

And why do I think Stephen Colbert is funny, but you’d rather watch “Family Guy”? If laughter is the best medicine AND the universal language, why don’t we all think the same things are funny?

Why does everyone love a comedy, but comedy never wins an Oscar or a big book award? I can assure you it’s just as difficult to write and produce as drama is.

I have lots of questions. I have few answers. Well, maybe one:

Pull my finger.


I sometimes write books.

I sometimes write plays.

At the moment, I’m writing both.

Well, actually, at the present I’m writing a book and editing a play.

The two really feel different to me, even though fundamentally it’s still writing. With a book, you’re editing for the plot, the voice, the character development, the various arcs and making sure the major plot points fall where they need to. You’re doing this in the guise of the omniscient narrator. As a mechanic of words, you’re worried about sentence structure, paragraph flow, voice and tone. Is the balance of narration and dialogue okay? Did I properly write that quotation? Did I ramble on too much in that last paragraph?

In writing a novel, to me, the mechanics of the story – sentence structure, plot pivots, etc. – feel blended with the storytelling itself. The dialogue and characters breathe only within those mechanisms; the fish can’t leave the bowl or their gills will burst. It’s like reading a document in Word with all the normally hidden characters and editing prompts showing.

But, for me, playwrighting is different. As the writer, the mechanical stuff is still there, maybe even more so. Scripts have a definite format for where lines of dialogue go, where the director’s notes are placed, setting up action prompts, cues, etc. All of this is dictated by set rules. But when I write a play, this mechanical stuff stays in the background of my mind – the special characters are turned off. All I really consciously see is that character standing on the stage. Alone and still in his underwear at first, then clothed as only he should be and moving around with purpose.

In a book, you’re always supposed to “show”, not “tell”, meaning convey the story through dialogue and action, not through spewing out exposition in your narration. But still, both can, do and should co-exist. Plays are different. There is no “tell”. There is only “show.” Yes, I’m channeling Yoda – “There is no try. There is only do.” It’s good advice, Jedi or not.

In a  play, there is typically no narrator up there on stage filling in the gaps. (Okay, actually, I have written a play that way, but only for comedic effect, not as a legit storytelling crutch.) If you character’s dialogue doesn’t move the story, the story doesn’t move. Yes, costumes and sets and, obviously, good acting, help. But if the words aren’t on the page, it all crumbles to dust.

In a book, you can’t really cover bad dialogue, but dialogue is just one of many moving parts. Where dialogue lags, (artful) narration steps in. On stage, that’s not an option.  So, writing and editing dialogue in a play feels more visceral to me. I really do see that poor woman up on stage so desperately wanting to express herself and needing the words to do it.

So I better go give her some.


Daylight savings time started today. Started? Or ended? One or the other. Either way, it mucked up the clocks and made me lose an hour of staring at Twitter with my coffee cup.

In the fall, of course, everyone LOVES daylight savings. “Woohoo! Set the clocks back! Sleep an extra hour! Bring on the hookers and recreational drugs!”

Spring is a different story. People HATE the “spring ahead” part of “spring ahead, fall back.” Losing that hour sucks on an indescribable level that people usually reserve for whatever sports team did that thing in the game they didn’t like. (Pardon my sports-o-babble. I am amazingly athletic.)

Anyway, so I got up this morning only to discover that it was a LOT closer to lunch than it normally would be. That meant I had to guzzle my coffee faster and shovel in the churro waffles at a much higher rate. This would normally not bother me because, c’mon, CHURRO WAFFLES, but still, the daylight savings time thing had me in a funk.

“Go out and look up at the sky meaningfully like in novels when something supernatural and/or otherwise science-fictiony is about to happen,” my wife suggested. “That might help you feel better.”

So I did.

I stood there with my coffee cup, my faithful dog ol’ Roy at my side, which should have been a clue that something was up because I actually don’t have a dog. But alas, I missed the significance and required a hint that was a little less subtle.

I got one.

So direct that it hit me in the face.

From thirty-thousand feet.

When I regained consciousness, ol’ Roy licking my face, and determined that nothing in my head was broken, at least not physically, I looked around to see what had hit me, one finger on the speed dialer for my lawyer to tell him to start drafting the lawsuit. I dropped the phone, however, when I saw a mysterious treasure chest sitting in the slushy remains of this winter’s snow. Little wisps of steam came off it, further melting the snow, and rays of light were faintly visible through the cracks of the little box.

“What do you think of that, Roy?” I said.

“Woof,” he said, as if I might have expected something else.

The impact with my forehead appeared to have busted the lock on the chest and the lid came open easily. I was bathed in the glow from within and ol’ Roy barked, in fear or excitement, I know not. I gasped when I saw what was inside.


Just time. Lots of lots of it. All the hours lost to Daylight Savings Time over the decades since it was conceived. The hours were stacked neatly in that chest like little loaves of pumpkin bread wrapped in tin foil. Did I dare touch one?

I dared.


I had time again! I spent an hour reading a book I’d been meaning to get to, but hadn’t.

I unwrapped another hour of time and spent that playing with the kids.

I used another hour to have a conversation with my wife that didn’t feature a back beat of screaming children, honking horns or ol’ Roy horking up a dead bird.

Several hours to clear the DVR, replace the smoke alarm batteries, balance the checkbook and all the other petty crap that never gets done otherwise.

Another hour went to painting a picture. I suck at painting, but who cares? It’s a free hour.

An hour for, seriously, watching the wind blow and letting pass whatever thoughts flow by with it. Way better than therapy.

Eventually, the treasure chest was empty. I was right back there where I’d started, now with an empty coffee cup and cold feet because I hadn’t put on any shoes before coming out here. Ol’ Roy was gone too. I was a little sad at first. It felt like losing a lifetime’s worth of Daylight Savings Time hours in one shot.

But then I realized, time doesn’t fall out of the sky like treasure chests and, apparently, large bird-eating dogs. Time is all around you all the time. How you choose to use it is up to you.

Choose wisely.

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