Thursday, February 2, 2017

Think Like A Stamp Collector To Produce More Topics And Juicier Blog Posts

Stamp collecting rocks! There, I said it. Stamp Collectors live long and productive lives and our hobby helps perpetuate sustainability. Think intellectual recycling. We also build legacies for our families and sometimes come across rare gems that can help reduce our mortgages. But we’re not in it for the money. Ahem. It’s about the joy of finding beautiful pictures on wove, pelure, laid, or even granite or silk paper (to name a few of the materials).

Many collectors love to fill their acid-free pages with topicals. There are societies dedicated to this endeavor, the ATA American Topical Association being the largest and one of the most venerable orgs. Maybe you caught them at the World Stamp Show 2016 at the Javits Center. Trains, Ships, Butterflies, and Cats are some of the most popular topicals. I myself enjoy locomotives from foreign countries. Also Coat of Arms, Chess, and Great Apes.

Recently, I’ve begun to put my topical acumen from stamp collecting into my blog building. My list keeps blooming like those sea monkey packets from way back when. Remember those? Sometimes you only get seedlings. Most of the time though I get a slew of ideas from a few concrete images. Here’s a few of been working on:

1— Cats (You didn’t think I’d let them astray?)

Such a broad topic but ripe with possibility. I’ve been working on literary essays where cats play a strong part in stories. So far I’m exploring some Murakami short fiction, Ursula Leguin’s The Other Wind, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone. Emily Ruskovich’s “Owl” (a 2015 O. Henry Prize Story) is absolutely brilliant and will knot my main thread.

2— Chess

“All The King’s Horses” by Kurt Vonnegut is, bar none, my nes plus ultra favorite chess story. There’s Brad Leithauser’s novel Hence, which is pretty interesting, a man-versus-machine take on the game. For a breezy read, there’s Anthony Glyn’s The Dragon Variation kind of behind-the-scenes peek into the world competitive chess circa the 1960s. Of course, I’d be replete if I didn’t throw my own Shades of Luz into the mix. You recall those street chess hustlers don’t you?

3— Fishing and Fisherman (and not Bobby Fischer)

Anton Chekhov has to top the bill for this category, but I find the novels of Craig Lesley to be some of the best fishing fiction ever. Check out his The Sky Fisherman which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. You also can’t go wrong with Rick Bass. I’ll be culling through some of his collections right now.

4— Baseball

The Natural by Bernie Malamud tops my list, but one of my favorite shorter stories is T.C. Boyles’ “The Hector Quesadilla Story”. How could I not include Stuart Dybeck’s “Death of a Right Fielder.” Michael Chabon’s “Smoke” is also not too shabby. One of my writing friend’s, Jon Sindell, has an excellent, politically-charged baseball novel called The Mighty Roman.

These are some broad brushstrokes. Certainly, you can tinker with your topicals. In terms of stamp collecting, stuff like stamps on stamps, coins on stamps and famous stamp personalities (Sir Rowland Hill) on stamps have always been great categories. That mimetic juice has a lot of pulp.

5—Books about Writers on Writing

Of course I’m a card-carrying Malamudian so I have to top another list with my maven. The Tenants is an amazing, later work of the great writers’ writer. It’s about the Sisyphean struggle to write and also about race and humanity. A truly brilliant work. Add it to your TBR. I mean like right now. Philip Roth seems to have this as an ongoing thread is much of his work. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon is worth a read.

So friends, I’ve hit my word count for the day. I’ll leave you with this golden nugget. Keep writing. Try stamp collecting. It’s not a hobby. It’s way of life. It’s thoroughly engrossing, and, it’ll give you plenty of topicals to consider. It’ll load up your basement too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January Junkets

(photo by John Gorman)

Happy New You!

Is there anything better than the fresh start of a new year? The tabula rasa quality to it. Maybe it’s because I’m a Capricorn that I’m so fond of January, and snowflakes (in small doses). Maybe it’s something else. I’ve had the good fortune of traveling over many Januarys, and in that time, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to bask in many new experiences. Today I’d like to share a few memories from my favorite January Junkets.

1 – Machu Picchu

The coup de grâce. I still proudly sport my Hiram Bingham t-shirt (the archaeologist who stumbled upon M.P. back in 1911). There is nothing like scaling the sacred citadel. The fog looms as you climb up. It’s otherworldly. Majestic. It’s a heck of a trip just to get there from Cuzco. The clunky van that scoops you up and takes you on a bumpy ride. The train that snakes along Urubamba, then the second, clunkier van, and then the hike in your own weathered boots. Then the real trek begins, one of body, one of spirit. Your sinewy calves and burning hamstrings open into a new realm. When you reach the top, and peer out, you are on top of the world without a boundless view.

2 – Florence

What an amazing city for a loper! Florence is that city you can practically walk through in a day, and then you can go back and spend a lifetime trying to relish it. Relive and re-envision it. Enjoy a respite in the Boboli Gardens, chuckle at the tourists paying kingly sums for king-sized gelato cones across from the Duomo. Sit on the steps of San Lorenzo and read from a weathered paperback about the inexorable strife between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines. Plot out your next panini break. Become an artist. Fall in love.

3 – Mar Del Plata, Argentina

Spent a good chunk of my mornings whacking tennis balls on the red clay courts of various clubs, afternoons swimming at the beaches, dancing at night. I really did tango. Not well, but I gave it whirl. My carnivorous self gorged on bife de lomo and alwsy seemed to be hankering for more. My newfangled morning pick-me-up, mate sipped from a straw.

4 – Seaside, Oregon

The mellifluous sound of the Pacific splashing onto the shore and the burbling bubbles in the cold morning sand. I remember a seatless swing set on the beach during my morning strolls. Just the metal bars in the distance, my landmark, and a jetty way off. Gulls cackling to each other, enumerating their grievances, telling jokes. I was there, mainly to study. To earn my MFA in Creative Writing. It was a great time.

5 – Disneyland (As an adult)

I know your first thought might be “What a flouncy place for an adult?” but really there’s so magic there. Magic rediscovered. I’m not talking about visiting as a kid or even with your kid. I’m talking about a crisp and carefree time when I visited as a 19-year-old with my girlfriend and her family. Maybe I’ve always just been a big kid myself. I still have my stuffed Goofy.

6 – Toronto

I’ve often said that I could totally see myself here. I think I have an innate Canadian sensibility. I love Tim Horton donuts much more than Dunkin Donuts. I always keep an Alice Munro tucked under a pillow and by my coffee table. I think I spent 3 Januaries there so my memory, or more precisely, my memories are a pleasant conflation. Of course I was a good little tourist and skated at the rink by Nathan Phillips Square by City Hall (on my first trip). Something akin to skating at Bryant Park. Coffee in Yorkville then a yummy falafel. Spent time admiring old Victorian homes in Cabbagetown, walking around like I belonged.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Not Too Shabby List for 2017 Instead of The Usual Crummy New Year’s Resolutions

Yup, it’s that time of year again. Time to make the list. Time to make the donuts. Throw down the gauntlet and take on your biggest challenge. Wait, not that big.

There’s a bunch of ways to slice it, but I’m going to take another path. The painless path. You say easy. I say different.

Humor me. For fun, I’ve made a list of 7 New Paths to take for 2017. Lucky 7. The pursuit of excellence. The pursuit of ergonomically untested waters. Maybe just the pursuit of take the edginess off things. Comprende? Only 3 of the ones listed below are ones I’d genuinely consider. I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

I think this is a healthy exercise and I’d urge you to do the same.

List on.

1— Become a Unicyclist

Why not? You get plenty of exercise. It’s an eco-friendly way to travel and now with all the bike lanes around it’s an efficient way to get from point A to point B. And with all the Citi Bikes hogging up all the limelight, this would be a great way to steal some of their thunder. Get it. A way to stand out. From what I gather, it’s also a natural segue to make it into the Big Apple Circus and a helluva lot less dangerous than sticking your head into a lion’s mouth or teetering on the trapeze artist’s wire line.

2— Backgammon Champ

It’s the frustrated Chess Player’s best shot at making it into the big time. No Giuoco pianoing required. You can throw your textbook theory out the window (out of a moving vehicle). Combining Fancy Checkers luck and skill you can either be hustler of obscure playing parlors or take your gaming on the pro tour. Truth be told, I’ve always like been really smitten with their carry cases.

3— Goatherd

I’m going to get metaphorical on you. These guys constantly get lumped in with shepherds. They’re not the same at all. First off, I prefer goats and their milk and their cheese. Who doesn’t like goat cheese? I think some of their stubbornness could rub off on me (in a good way). think of all that fresh air and the dewy smell of grass.

4— Fantasy Ball Player (Batter Up)

This is totally doable. I could really sink my teeth (or cyber cleats) into this. I’ve always said immersing yourself in all the infinite possibilities is the best way to enjoy the ol’ American pastime. There’s something very Borgesian or is it Borgeseque about it too. The infinite possibilities that is.

5— Tat Artist

Yeah kid. This is the ticket. No doubt. They make some pretty good coin too. No reason to fiddle with finger paints and Crayolas forever. New Year means New Horizons. New Outlook. Newness. Ink it!

6 – Lightsaber Inspector

You wanted me to wield the laser sword? Admit it, didn’t you? Puh. I’m not taking those kind of chances. I’ll still play a great part, a bit part to be sure, but a safe part. Thank you very much. I want to keep all my limbs and eyeballs in 2017. The Balance of the Force will be in my Nivea-enriched hands. Come on, don’t try to play it off. You know that you’d kill to be that special somebody who ironed out all the chinks of the most awesome weapon in 17 and half galaxies and made it possible for the newfangled Jedi Knight Master to the N-teenth power to take care of business until infinity and day. Yeah.


This shouldn’t come as a total shock to my closest peeps. You know who you are. Let me make it absolutely clear just what I mean by being a wizard. Of course I’d love to have a trusty wand and make potions spew from the unsuspecting mouths of baby sparrows and spill out of Tupperware containers stuffed with tofu. It would like be super often to have that capability, but nay, I’ve got a different hankering for 2017. I’m going Bard up. Bard in the true wizardly sense— you know, engage in the musicality of the cosmos and whatnot. Find the right muse and pull the stuffing out and spread the love.

Thanks for playing! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Announcing the Release of My Short Story Collection: Something Like Bliss

Fire up your Kindles Fiction Lovers!

I’d like to take a moment to announce the upcoming release of my story collection “Something Like Bliss.” The Kindle release is pretty much slated for January 29th 2017, roughly a fortnight from the Tropic of Capricorn. I’m practicing a Capricorn, as you might already know. While I had originally planned on putting out my book this past June, a number of obstacles prevented this from happening. I find I keep tripping over life or it keeps tripping over me. Anyway I’m excited to see this project finally coming into fruition. All of the stories, save one, have been published in literary journals. Below you will find a roster of the lucky lit mags. Three of my stories first appeared in my MFA Thesis at Pacific University. They’re tickled pink to be freed from their buckram binding.

Many of the stories in this collection cross genre boundaries as well as myriad emotional landscapes. “El Mariachi” is set in Mexico and centers on the unrequited love a young man has for his aunt. “A Private Language” is an updated, reconfigured Stand By Me, following the lives of 4 latchkey boys, culminating in a gruesome moment that will forever change them. Some of the stories have a fabulist element. “Rejects from the Pretzel Factory” is a comical take on the exploitation of a sweet old lady, a former Rockette, who has been roped into a greedy corporation’s ad campaign. Also, included is “The Itch of Runaway Souls,” which was published this past April in the new insert of the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t have a favorite, but I’m also not going to share that with you either. Gonna play possum. Seriously though, I waited a long while to share this collection with the public because I wanted it to be just so. I’m most passionate about shorter works. I’ve always been a devoted reader of pithier prose: Flannery O’Connor, Kafka, Borges, Chekhov, Bernie Malamud. And of those writers who go long, I favor their short stories: Haruki Murakami, Thomas Coraghessan Boyle, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Hannah Tinti, Pete Fromm, Phillip K. Dick.

Maybe the time we live in is indicative of my predilection for concise works. I believe it’s Francine Prose who says something
to the effect that in short stories “each word must go on the trial of its life” in order to make it into the final cut. Something like that, and when it works, it’s something like bliss.
Thanks for all of your support and I look forward seeing you at the upcoming readings and such.

Publication List

Breakwater Review
Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row
Digging Through The Fat
New Pop Lit
Newtown Literary
Snapping Twig
The Main Street Rag
The Summerset Review
The Vehicle
Tulane Reivew
Twisted Vine
Vector Magazine
Writer’s Digest
Yellow Chair Review

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Charmed By Berlioz

(This article first appeared in Appellation Wine And Spirits newsletter on 5/17/12)

Jacquère isn’t a garage band, a perfume, or cool way of pronouncing the maestro of boutique chocolates. It’s a variety that rarely finds its way onto a brunch menu, but that’s not the grape’s fault. For one, it’s hard to find, flourishing in the heart of Savoie. Hugh Johnson refers to it as alpine Muscadet.

This noteworthy stuff is found in the village of Chignin which nestles between the communes of Les Marches and Montmélian southeast of The Bauges Mountains. Chignin also refers to the cru in the Vin de Savoie appellation which is often shortened to Savoie. Production is tiny. They make less than a fiftieth of the production in Bordeaux. Hello matchbox. The Bauges Mountains are part of the culprit and the diffused vineyards also add to the slim pickings.

Domaine Gilles Berlioz makes a polished Chignin. This Berlioz is no relation to the composer, but don’t hold that against the biodynamic maverick. The estate’s been practicing biodynamics since 2005. I find this wine to have a delicate aromatic structure of white flowers and just an insouciance of Mackinaw peach. Pale-toned, it is bantamweight, and earmarked for those who value reticence over car chases. I get citrus peel more than I get pulpy juice. There’s also a zestiness girded by a stony minerality. The Bourget Lake, the largest natural lake of glacial origin in France, is probably to thank for this. Lighter-bodied and well-balanced, Berlioz Chignin will go just as well with steamed mussels as with Gouda and wheat crackers. Daredevils might want to try it with medium-spicy Mexican fare— Huarache and Chilaquiles.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sidekicks: The Short List

Samwise Gamgee
Barney Rubble
The O in H2O
Luigi (Mario’s Bro)
Fully-licensed Sous Chefs
Chewie (y’know your favorite 8-foot wookie)
Schlemazl (Relative to the Schlemiel)
Sancho Panza
Harley Quinn
Jimmy Olsen
George Can’t Stands Ya
Jovian Moons
Any moons
Tae kwon do maneuvers
Art Garfunkel
Cole Slaw

Friday, February 12, 2016

Monkey See, Monkey Do

In honor of The Year of The Monkey, I am sharing this chapter from my 2009 novel Shades of Luz. Considering how the world economy is moving into another recession, I think this passage about dart-slinging monkeys picking stocks is particularly poignant, but what do I know. On the other hand, neither does your so-called financial advisor.

Ahem, Dartboard Theory, Is It?

We were greeted by a fellow in a grubby lab coat. His name was Gus and he chaperoned the dart-slinging monkey room. Two humans, but only one monkey, were allowed in the room at any given time. This was strictly followed so as to prevent too much mammalian mimicry. The object was to keep things as random as possible. The monkeys were kept in holding cells, but they had a beautifully painted mural of St. Tropez or Lagos.

Gus coached through the Plexiglas. On the outside of the door two numbered ladders hung by copper thumbtacks, one ranked the monkeys and the other ranked the trainers. The term trainer was really a misnomer, but who was I, at that point, to make a stink.

Newspaper clippings lined the walls. Rudy, last year’s crackerjack, watched over his monkey, Nietzsche. Rudy’s name topped the ladder outside. He had good rapport with Nietzsche, the lone Rhesus of the lot. Nietzsche made three quick dart tosses each a foot apart from each ticker symbol. Rudy waited behind the masking tape on the floor, the line of demarcation where a monkey needed to stand in order to make his toss. Nietzsche gave his trainer a high-five.

Nobody knew what boomers would boom at least for a week although short-swing breakouts happened by market close. Boomer, referred to a stock that was going to bust through its resistance level and soar into a new stratosphere. No guarantees, but this was the accepted premise. There was no tickertape of any kind in the room. According to Gus, the monkeys might grow smitten with the flashing glow of certain ticker symbols and thus skew the random element driving dart board theory. It occurred to me that even if the monkeys were drawn to a glowing symbol that didn’t mean they weren’t going to tag that respective stock. Stereoscopic vision or not, the monkeys didn’t see such blurry newsprint from their vantage point.

A note on random. It was widely accepted that any stock could bolt into its own orbit, plunge into disrepute, or mosey ad nauseam sideways without a care in the world. The point being, that no cocksure dweeb could cook enough data to prove that his theories rocked the pure and accidental.

“Charlie, you and the new guy are up,” Gus said.

We waited by the door until Rudy came out with Nietzsche. Gus pulled Nietzsche by his fury digits and led him to his holding cell.

“Should we wait,” I said.

“Nah, let’s warm up,” Charlie said.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re getting fresh monkeys,” Charlie said, “Maybe even a couple
that have never tossed a dart before. We’ll need to break them in.”

No sooner did Charlie finish cracking his knuckles did Gus return with two new monkeys. One was a snow monkey the other was a
macaque. Charlie tossed a couple of darts, neither of which stuck to the wall. His monkey almost seemed to be laughing. Actually, it was pretty funny. Charlie’s tosses sucked. The first one didn’t even reach the wall. The second was a creampuff, an underhanded toss tail-first against the wall.

“Okay, enough,” Gus said.

He knocked on the Plexiglas then made a slicing motion across his
throat with his right hand.

“Give it a whirl, Benny Boy,” Gus said.

With that, I clutched my darts. I was afraid I’d prick myself and didn’t look at my hand. Darts was never my bag. I tossed all three with quick snaps. Each one hit the wall with a ping, the second one dead center of a ticker symbol. It didn’t matter which part touched. It counted. A bull’s eye, on the first try, must have been dumb luck, but it still felt

I couldn’t quite make out what Gus was saying behind the soundproof glass, but I saw his mouth curl into an O. When I pulled the second dart from the wall I noticed I’d hit the letter O, right in the hole. For some reason this made me flinch.

My monkey followed me to the wall and tugged my pant leg. I didn’t hand over the darts till Gus tapped the glass. My monkey almost jerked them out of my hand. At least, it seemed that way. He made three quick chucks. Each landed within a close range, as if he were trying to hit the same mark. Two of them actually did.

When I escorted my furry friend out, Gus put his hand up blocking me from crossing the hall’s threshold.

“You know, you’d be disqualified because you didn’t set him behind the line.”


“They always need to stay behind the line,” Gus said, “No exceptions.”

I then looked down at the masking tape on the floor and shrugged my shoulders.

That night I dreamt of great apes, monkeys, and prosimians. I was a hominid trapped in a mud bath and the apes tossed stones, nuts, anything and everything at me; couple of them busy sharpening spear points. A whole pile lay there waiting for my nose as its bull’s-eye. They picked them up and flung them at my head and when they cracked, egg dripped all over my face.

Woke up in a cold sweat. Took a hot shower with a brand new loofah sponge and scraped off dead and itchy skin.