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Archive for the tag “stories”


Steamed milk. Sugar. Chocolate – dark chocolate this time. A dash of cinnamon and, was that nutmeg? Whatever it was, the beverage was just the thing to warm tired bones after a long, frigid night.

Kringle took a long pull from the steaming mug of cocoa and eased back into the easy chair. He shivered a little, pulled the red and green plaid blanket a little tighter over his legs.  A man his age shouldn’t go out on nights like this; especially when nights out for him lasted, well, an impossibly long time. They had to. How else to get all those toys delivered in one evening?

Kringle set the mug on top of an old book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, on the table next to him. A bit of whipped cream slid down the side of the mug, which was a stout, blue ceramic item with flecks of gold and his initials filigreed on it, or at least the initials of the name he was most commonly called by – “SC”. Head elf Flifle had given it to him a century before and he’d enjoyed a cup of cocoa in it every Christmas night since.

Santa sat. Just sat. He hadn’t done that the entire pan-dimensionally long night. All over the world. Down the chimney. Up the chimney. Springing to the sleigh, springing out of the sleigh. Icy roofs, barking dogs, the odd sneaky kid trying to grab a peek. Occasionally getting singed by a fire that didn’t properly extinguish itself.

It was a young man’s game.

And Kringle was not a young man.

Every year, he thought about retiring. His predecessors had done the job until they dropped – faded into the other world or whatever. But he was tired. More so all the time. It was getting hard to press on. Even harder now.

Stop it, Kris. It’s Christmas! The most joyous time of year. He was the poster boy for holiday cheer – jolly ol’ St. Nick, Ho ho ho, and all that. But once in a while, when the presents were delivered, the workshop was shuttered until January 1 when production ramps up again, and the elves had gone home…well, these quiet holiday moments can be killers, can’t they? Worries that this year just wasn’t as merry as the last; regret over harsh words to the elves, frustration that little Sophie wasn’t going to get the exact doll she’d wanted. Concerns about the ratio of naughty to nice on his list.

In the past, he could count on Mrs. Claus to pull him out of a holiday funk with a joke or an encouraging word. One year, he’d quit being Santa all together and went to live in the Real World. Mrs. Claus, with the help of good ol’ Flifle and a couple of kind real worlders had pulled off a bit of Christmas magic worthy of, well, himself, he supposed. He chuckled awkwardly at the notion of his own legendary status. A status he never would have achieved without his beloved Mrs. Claus.

But things change. The seasons pass and so do those we hold dear.

Santa watches the children – sees them sleeping, knows when they’re awake, knows who is bad or good.

But what about himself, Mr. Kringle. Who will watch over Santa now?

Kringle shivered again. But it wasn’t from the cold this time. Santa drained the mug, but the warmth of the chocolate failed to penetrate the chill that stayed with him even when he delivered presents to the tropics. It was the chill of loss and mortality, not of climate.

There was a faint rapping at the chamber door. As it opened on ancient hinges, The light from the hallway spilled into the darkened room, Flifle’s jingle bells echoed in the silent night.

“Sir,” Flifle said. “I have the children’s letters If you’d like to read them now.”

“The what?”

“Oh,” Flifle said. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“Mrs. Claus set it up before…well, before. She thought tonight of all nights you’d be wanting to read some of the millions of letters from the children who love you.” Seeing the somber look on his boss’s face, Flifle prepared his retreat. “I can take them back to the workshop if you like.”

Kringle looked at his old friend and helper. The warmth he’d been seeking finally pushed out the cold. “No, that’s all right, ” he said slowly, the twinkle in his eye not quite there, but definitely emerging. “I’ll take them.”

Flilfe left St. Nick alone with his letters. But he wasn’t really alone. No one who carries the spirit of Christmas in its many forms can ever really be.

Happy holidays!

Psst…want to read more about St. Nick, Mrs. Claus and Flifle? Let Rudolph’s nose lead you here. (Or whatever book purveyor you choose)…




It’s fashionable these days to express your lack of concern for something by rather glibly proclaiming: I have no more fucks to give.

It’s a little crude, sure. But sometimes a little well-placed crudity can cut through a lot of double talk. Casting off your cares, flinging your fucks, as it were (as it was? As it is?) is liberating. It can free your mind, boost your mood, whatever you need.

But can not giving a fuck apply to more than crappy jobs, Internet trolls, and that jerk in the restaurant on his cell phone?

Could it apply to, say, writing?

Writing, especially fiction, should be the ultimate in not giving a fuck. When you write, you’re building a world; sometimes a universe. You make all the decisions. Character names and traits. What the buildings in your city look like. Where to break the paragraphs. You can do whatever you want. Who cares if other people think Seymour is a funny name? If you like it, use it. Who cares if there’s no obvious market for “Meet the Press” fan fiction? If like it, write it. (“John McCain’s smoldering lust could not be contained by a commercial break. Mitch McConnell’s world would never be the same.”)

Writing should be freeing. It’s the ultimate “I have no fuck to give. I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT.”

Except…when you sit down to seriously write something, not just “oh, I think I’ll doodle a little story about a bunny on my iPad pages app while I wait for my chai latte”, but really, seriously write something it’s totally the opposite of freeing.

You can fall into the mindset that you’re writing a book and a book looks a certain way – whatever that is for you. You get bogged down in stuff like word counts and linear plotting and getting every detail of the backstory of the characters down before you even start the front story.

All that is important – but not right away. What’s important right away is getting the story out. Get everything out of your head and onto the page, you can cut mercilessly later. Just get it out now. I haven’t always been good at that, by which I mean I’ve never been good at that. Often then, the writing process feels stilted and awkward. And most of all, slow. I’ve probably wasted lots of writing time this way.

But, no time for regrets. No time to waste. My hopper is full of tales to tell, worlds to build. So much stuff to give, except…

Well, you know.


THE SCENE:  A Victorian era London dining room. There’s an iPad on the table and a TV in the corner running a Colbert episode and an empty KFC bucket, but never mind. It’s Victorian if you believe it. You want to nit-pick, write your own damn movie.

Seated around the table are three men with lots of facial hair and handle-bar mustaches – they could be extras from the There Will Be Blood sequel “There Will Be Blood 2: Attack of the Clones”.  The red-headed one, DAVID, pours brandy for the others from a decanter resting on the table on top of an issue of US Weekly. Dammit.

DR. HILLYER: Well, I see George is late again.

TOM: George? Who’s that?

DAVID: I think you mean Bill, Doctor.

DR. HILLYER: Are you sure? Isn’t this the film “The Time Machine”, the story of Victorian era inventor H.G. Wells who builds a time machine in hopes of travelling to a far-flung future where mankind has moved beyond the violence and pettiness of the modern age only to find that in the future, even as late as 1960, human nature really hasn’t changed all that much?

DAVID: No, Doctor. It’s not.


A door slams. Elderly Mrs. Hudson wanders in from the set of a Sherlock Holmes movie to scream as BILL enters, collapsing into a conveniently placed empty chair. His clothes are filthy and torn, with just enough of his rock-hard pecs exposed to convey this is a manly nerd, but not so much as to make circa 1960 censors nervous.

DAVID: My God, man! What happened to you!

BILL: It was awful, my friend. Bloody awful.

DR. HILLYER: The Time Machine! Am I right?

TOM: I think he’s supposed to tell us that, Doctor.

DR. HILLYER: Drink your brandy, Tom.

BILL: No, Doctor. He’s right, I must get my story out while it’s fresh.

DAVID hands BILL a brandy.

DAVID: What did happen, Bill?

BILL (exhausted, smiling sadly at his dear friend) I have been ravaged by the whims of fate. Buffeted by the time winds, beaten against the shore of eternity.

DR. HILLYER: There! You see? I knew that BarcaLounger with the sundial on the back was a time machine!

DAVID: Please, Doctor. Go on, Bill.

BILL: It was the first Sunday in November, this very year.

TOM: Two days ago.

DR. HILLYER: Thank you, Captain Obvious.

TOM: I will have you know I served under Captain Obvious in the Boer War. A finer soldier, you’ll never meet. Except you won’t, because he’s dead. Walked right into a clear ambush. Ironically, should have been… obvious.

DR. HILLYER: This is all preposterous.

DAVID: We’re getting off topic here. Please go on, Bill.

BILL: Early that Sunday, I slept the sleep of the dead, tired as I was from the previous night’s labors in my laboratory.

DAVID: Building the time machine, Bill?

DR. HILLYER: I knew it.

BILL: No, actually. I was working on a way to get even meaning out of 140 Twitter characters.

DAVID: But where have you been the last two days, Bill?

DR. HILLYER: Traveling in the fourth dimension, were you?Along with the first three dimensions, which, as we know are height, width, breadth?

TOM: How long have you been waiting to get that in?

DR. HILLYER: Drink your brandy, Tom.

BILL: No. No. That’s not it.

DAVID: You weren’t lost in the time vortex, bearing witness to the glories and depravities of history? Basking in the promise of Earth’s future?

BILL: No. Not at all. Sunday was the end of daylight savings time. I set the clocks back. Could have gotten an extra hour of sleep, but the goddamn cats don’t give a shit about daylight savings time. They want to eat when they want to eat. And they want to eat right NOW. I haven’t slept since.

End Scene

Waits by the phone for the Oscar people to call.



The faintest whiff of an idea tickles your brain like the scent of a piping hot pizza wafting through the house. A good writing idea, like the sensuous smell of your favorite pizza toppings is your first inkling of the yummy goodness (literary and culinary) to come.

The genre – fiction or non, veggie or meat lovers? Sci-fi, urban fantasy, steampunk. Hawaiian, taco, supreme. So many choices. Something for every taste.

The structure – novel, essay, screenplay, blog – is the crust.  You could slap down a boring old, store-bought, frozen crust and make it serviceable, but that’s not you. You, you’re a word chef. You gather the ingredients, knead the dough. Toss it, smack it (shamaladingdong?), pound it out until it’s just right. Circle or rectangle? That’s up to you, word chef.

The words and paragraphs and chapters form the sauce coating the crust. White sauce or red, choose carefully. The sauce is where the word pizza lives. A sweet sauce is a whole different experience than one with a little more tang.

And now: the toppings. Every pepperoni slice is a new character. Sausage is the setting. Green peppers, black olives, the busy verbs. Mushrooms are the adjectives. Anchovies are like adverbs. Who needs ’em?

Once your pizza prose is assembled, slide it into the oven. The oven is the agent/editor/publisher. It gives you the finished product you crave. The book. The story. The ‘za.

Word pizza comes out piping hot – hot off the presses. Cut it and plate it. Package the book for sale, put the blog post up, release the essay. It’s out there.

A chorus of “nom nom nom – yummy!” or “Bloarugghhhh!” equals the critics’ reactions as they bite into the meal you’ve prepared.

The word chef’s job is complete. On to the next idea meal.



Tap. Thump. Wham. Tap. Thump. Wham. Tapthumpwham Tapthumpwhamtapthumpwham

My head was pounding.

“Awfully bright out tonight,” I thought and even the voice in my head was a hoarse croak. “The moon rose over the pumpkin patch, but I didn’t think it was so bright….Screw you, Great Pumpkin.” I was lying down. I could surmise that much. I rolled to one side and the world immediately compensated by rolling to the other.

Thump…whoa….thump, ulp!

Almost a puke. Not quite. I love a good dry heave in the morning.

Fingers clenched carpet fibers in hopes of grounding my body to the earth before I spun off into oblivion. Finally, the world steadied back into orbit.

“It’s morning,” I surmised from the sunlight coming through the windows, sending my head scurrying to mercifully cool shadows.

Slowly I got to my feet, my head quickly registering something was missing…

“That was some Halloween party,” I mumbled, more speculation than memory. “Where are my clown pants, then?”

Clown pants?

“Wait…wasn’t I a police officer?” I shook my head – mistake. The world re-oriented itself. “No…definitely a clown.”

A sexy clown, I said through a grimace that would have been a bemused grin had my head not been through so much trauma the night before.  Didn’t feel sexy today. Whatever was coating my teeth could double as that stuff grease tire axles with.

Experimentally, I walked across the room. I ruffled my matted hair and searched my head for my bulbous red nose and clown wig. Neither was in correct position and, after thorough examination, appeared to be completely absent. “Maybe I left them over there on the coffee table…that I’ve never seen before.”

Was this my apartment?

My head turned, reluctantly, and spied the wall hanging with the cast of “Firefly” etched into it. Yup. This was my apartment.

“So who the hell brought a coffee table to my party?” I was really confused now. Whatever happened to wine or dessert? An extra layer of weirdness: the coffee table was on the couch, which was on the entertainment center. And all of it was covered in…goo.

“What the hell is that?”

I wanted to touch it, kind of. Resisted. Still didn’t know what it was. Ectoplasm kept running through my head. Probably just a Halloween decoration. Still…


“Stop it!” I shouted, “Or I’ll kick you!”  Wasn’t really sure how I’d do that, but it worked for the moment.

A shriek shattered the dead calm.

“What’s that!?!?!” I thudded against the front door to the apartment and fumbled with the lock, unable to negotiate the chain lock in my hobbled condition. “Maybe just tires squealing in the parking lot,” I muttered with what was left of my breath. It was not a comforting fib.

Get out! pounded now inside my head.

I decided to clear my head and made for the bathroom to splash some water on my face, but I couldn’t find a cup. It was okay, though, because only blood ran from the faucet.

“Yeah, maybe it’s time to go…” I decided. “Head, don’t fail me now. We’re out of here.”

My head hopped lightly to me with all the exuberance of a puppy and I placed it so squarely on my shoulders that the line where my head had been separated from my neck was almost invisible. Say what you want about the evil that lurks beyond the mortal realm, the poltergeists in my building were craftsmen.



“You have a mystery you want solved?” The fifth grader asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I hear you’re the best detective in Idaville.”

“I just use my powers of observation.”

“So you’ll help me.”

The boy looked at his watch. “Well, it is almost dinner time. I usually knock out these mysteries over dinner with my dad, the chief of police, but I guess I can listen.”

“Okay,well something’s missing,” I said. “Someone, actually.”

“Who is it?”

“A childhood hero. Encyclopedia Brown. He was the famous “boy detective” in some of my favorite kids’ stories by Donald Sobol. He’d collect the clues about some neighborhood crime or scam, then solve the mystery before the cops even knew what was going on. Then at the end, the reader gets to guess how the kid solved the mystery. Awesome. I spent a lot of my childhood playing detective because of him. Encyclopedia Brown was a genius.”

A smile flickered across the boy’s lips. “When did you see him last?” he asked.

“When I was about ten. This bodybuilder was selling this secret potion to make you all muscular practically overnight. Except Encyclopedia noticed the guy’s old wrinkly suit he said he’d had forever fit perfectly. If he’d gotten all filled out in no time, his suit wouldn’t have fit so Encyclopedia knew the potion was phony.”

“Sounds like a pretty smart guy.”

“And there was this other case where he figured out that the guy who won the bitter-drink drinking contest cheated.”

“Interesting. How?”

“Well,” I said, “it was a hot day and the guy was chewing ice chips to stay cool. But Encyclopedia figured out chewing ice also froze his taste buds so the guy couldn’t taste anything. He had no trouble with that awful tasting drink because he couldn’t taste it. Brilliant.”

The boy detective nodded. “Yep. Also, I’ve solved your case.”


“Yes. Your childhood hero isn’t missing at all.”

“He isn’t?”

“Nope. He’s still here.”


SOLUTION: Encyclopedia knew my hero wasn’t really lost to me because I told him it was my childhood hero, even though I’m definitely not a child. These wonderful stories have stayed with me all these years. Nothing is lost. Case solved.

Rest in peace, Donald Sobol.

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