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A Bit of Silliness

WTF
In a former life, I worked as a manager for a shoe store chain called Shoe Carnival.  Many of you in my half of the United States have probably heard of it, perhaps even shopped there.  They are built on the concept, as the name implies, of selling product in a "carnival-like" atmosphere.  This includes a barker-esque person who stands on a platform above the sales floor--the mic person--whose job it is to make announcements highlighting specific sales, run contests to give customers some kind of discount, and annoy any and all who try to leave empty-handed.

I, during my stay there, was among the most annoying.  Still, I could sell high heels to a lumberjack.  And during those times when there were no lumberjacks in the store, I had plenty of time to think of ways to parody the work I was doing and, before my bitter parting with the company, I began work on a musical tribute to the company.  I never completed it--having lost interest in it once I was working elsewhere--but I did complete the opening and lyrics to one song.  Based on Phantom of the Opera, it's a funny look at what I did while I was there and, in way, how I did it.  I thought it was lost with my late CPU, but I found a copy the other day on a disk inside my briefcase.

And so, for your guffawing pleasure and with mild embarrassment, I give you the incomplete Phantom of the Carnival:


Phantom of the Carnival

A Musical

 

(The play opens at the front of a Shoe Carnival. The mic stand sits in center stage with a couple aisles of ladies shoes to stage right and a couple aisles of kids to stage left. Ben, a new associate, is waiting in front of the mic stand for Rick, the General Manager.)

 

Rick: (walking to Ben and shaking hands) Hi, Ben, I'm Rick, the General Manager here at store 500.

Ben: Nice to meet you.

Rick: Yeah, great to have you aboard. Now, I know you've done your orientation and all that, correct?

Ben: Yes.

Rick: Great, so today we're gonna really kick off your experience here at Shoe Carnival. You've already toured the store, so you're pretty comfortable with where everything is?

Ben: (pointing) Yeah, that's kids, followed by mens, mens athletics, ladies athletics, and ladies dress and casual.

Rick: Good. Today, what I want you to do is stay right up front here and help our mic person. Here at Shoe Carnival, our mic person is the element that separates us from our competition and creates our fun atmosphere by promoting special deals, providing informational announcements, and just plain having fun with the customer.

Ben: Sounds great. What do I do?

Rick: Well, we're going to be pretty busy today, so I want you to help greet customers, try to encourage anyone leaving without new shoes to go back to look again, and answer any questions that the customers may have about where things are in the store.

Ben: No problem.

Rick: You'll also help Eric--he's our mic person--with anything he might need.

Ben: Okay.

Rick: If you have any questions, I'll be up in a little while to check on you.

(Rick turns to walk away, but stops and turns back to Ben.)

Rick: Oh, one more thing. Eric might seem a little bit eccentric. Maybe a little weird. But he's a very effective mic person, so we just let him do his thing. In fact, were about to open, so he ought to be out any time now.

(Overture begins. Fog begins to roll out of the mic stand.)

Rick: There he is. Let me know if you need anything.

(Rick walks off stage.)

Ben: (calling after Rick) Hey . . . wait . . .I . . .

(Ben turns toward the mic stand. Overture still playing. Fog continues to roll.)

Ben: (looking off stage) Uh . . . Rick?

(Ben turns back to the mic stand and stares motionlessly as Eric rises slowly in the center of the mic stand.    Eric is wearing a mic person shirt, a cape, and a Phantom of the Opera mask.)

(Overture fades.)

Eric: (booming down at Ben) Who are you?

Ben: (voice shaking) I . . . I'm . . . Ben.

Eric: (booming) Are you with the Opera?

Ben: The . . . Opera? No, I . . .

Eric: (loudly) Then be gone! Join the audience like everyone else.

Ben: But Rick told me . . .

Eric: Ahhh, Rick . . . the theatre manager. Very well, if Rick deems you worthy, you may stay. But you must not interfere with my work, or a disaster beyond imagination willl occur!

Ben: O-okay.

(A lady customer walks by the mic stand.)

Ben: Hi, ma'am, how are . . .

Eric: (interrupting loudly) Good morning, fairest maiden.

(The customer jumps at Eric's greeting and watches him warily as she goes down a ladies aisle.)

Rick: (peering out from just offstage by the ladies department) Hey, Eric, we have some ladies over here that want a special.

Ben: (to Eric, who is bending over out of sight) Now, let me see if I have this right: Attention, Location, Product, Price, Time, and repeat. Right? . . . Eric?

("Music of the Night" music begins.)

Eric: (singing) Listen, ladies,

Can you here me calling

In aisle X now

Prices will be falling

I have the magic pen

So now let the deals begin

And get ladies clearance shoes for just half price

For I control the music of the mic

 

Dress shoes, sandals

All will be included

That aisle looks like it has just been looted

I'll only mark ten pair

So get on over there

And ladies please don't push and please don't fight

Just listen to the music of the mic

 

Aisle X is the place

To pick up half-price shoes

Bring them here

And I'll gladly mark them down

Pick them out

and you'll save some extra cash

On clearance shoes,

The price we will now slash.

 

Slip-ons, lace ups

We have a wide selection

These great deals are

Sure to pass inspection

But we only have 10 pair

To mark down from over there

So pick them out, as many as you like

And save now with the music of the mic.

 

Lady Customer: (running to the mic stand with 10 pair in her hands) Me-me-me-me-me!

 

(Eric marks the shoes as Ben looks on.)

 

Ben: Wow! That was amazing! She got 10 pair--

Eric: Insolent boy! Do not speak to me!

Ben: (throwing hands up) Okay . . . sorry.

 

 

 

 

 


Success, or Rolling the Boulder Uphill


First of all, I know I keep saying that I’m going to do better on this whole blog thing and write more frequently.  Part of the problem is that I haven’t had a whole lot to write about lately, at least not much that I would consider blog-worthy.  Another part of the problem is my definition of blog-worthy.  I’m thinking about a more structured set up to what I write, with different themes on different days of the week.  It could happen.

Now with that disclaimer out of the way, I can move on to the following bits of good news:

--My short story, “The Hunt”, was published at Flashes in the Dark, a site dedicated to flash horror fiction, on August 5th.  I received two very nice comments—one from a friend of mine and one from my daughter—and I would encourage anyone with a few minutes to spare (the story is less than 1000 words long) to hop on over, give it a quick read, and tell me how great I am.  Yes, even if it means lying.  We writers have fragile egos and every positive remark, regardless of it sincerity, helps.  This story does have the distinction of being my first published piece, which leads me to . . . .

--My short story, “Salvation”, is now live at The Fear of Monkeys, a site featuring writing of a social or political nature.  I’m not sure when the story will go live, but when it does I’ll be sure to post it everywhere I can think of.  In the meantime, I recommend you check out the other stories they have already published.  The ones I have read are quite good and I am thrilled by the knowledge that I’ll soon be in the company.  “Salvation” is rather long (about 6000 words) but I think it is one of the best short pieces I have done and I hope other people think as highly of it as I do.

--My short story, “Santa’s Worse Stop”, will be in the fall issue of Ghostlight Magazine, an issue dedicated to dark humor.  I wrote that story mostly for fun, but when I found this issue of Ghostlight, I felt compelled to send it out.  I thought it was a riot and had a great time writing it and, except for my darling wife, everyone else that read it (yes, both of them) also thought it was very good.  In a related note, I’m currently working on the first of this year’s Christmas stories and maybe someday I’ll have enough to do an anthology of Christmas short stories, both fantastic and realistic, that will appear in bookstores everywhere.

Now, the question is this:  what now?  And the answer:  keep writing.  This seems like it might be easier now that I’ve had a few victories, but that is far from the case.  All three of these stories have been sitting for a while, lurking on my hard drive, waiting for just the right venue.  For the past year, though, I’ve been struggling to be productive, a result of numerous factors that I will explore in a future post.  I have a few more short stories in various stages of production, but finishing them seems more like an act of will now than an act of creation.  The work has become work, for various reasons, and I am trying to dig myself out of the creative rut I have found myself in.

I do have a few other stories out on submission.  My short, “A Coup in Chuckistan”, failed to gain notice at Glimmer Train (no surprise—they accept about .17% of all submissions), but I think the story deserves a good home somewhere.  “The Interview of Harper Milton Todd” is currently out on submission following positive remarks from anthology king, John Joseph Adams.  Never before have I been so happy about a rejection.  And there are a few other stories, biding their time.  I can’t say if my writing has improved, thus leading to these acceptances, although I think it has, but I have become a lot more adept at targeting my markets based on the writing I have rather than shooting stories out blindly into the ether and hoping for the best.

Hopefully, I can build on this with the other finished stories I have and the ones that are currently in production.  In time, I hope to have enough publishing credits that I feel confident about going after an agent to represent one of my novels, either one I’ve already finished or one of the serious works in progress I am constantly tinkering with.  Having a few requests for my full manuscript of Dead and Dying without any published shorts, I have high hopes for what I can do with a few credits to add to my resume.

Kiss my ass, Sisyphus.

One Very Long Year

Quill
I had planned to write something today about my mother, who passed away a year ago today, but instead of repeating what I have already written I will instead post what my wife said here:

One year ago today, the world lost a remarkable woman. Anna Lois Smiley was my mother-in-law by title. Yet, she was so much more than that. Lois was the person whom you knew would ALWAYS be there, no matter what...and then she was gone.  For the last year, I have wrestled with the guilt of not being there the moment she died. I had to work the next day and decided to stay home while Lee and the kids went to visit Nana. She was sick, but she had been before...and she always got better. She was a fighter, and she hated being in the hospital. So I was certain I'd see her in a couple of weeks when she came down to see us. 

When I got the call that she was "really bad," I went for a walk. It was a beautiful but still day with not even the hint of a breeze. As I walked, I talked to God...out loud. I asked him if I needed to get in the van and drive to KY. As soon as I asked the question, the wind began to blow. It stopped me in my tracks. I thought surely that couldn't be God answering me. The wind stopped, and I continued walking. Again, I asked God, "Should I go?" Again the wind began to blow. At that point, I did not walk, but rather ran, back to the house.  I packed some clothes and hastily grabbed a suit for Lee, knowing he wouldn't need it. I got in the van and began to drive. Twenty minutes later, I received a message on my phone: She's gone.  

Two words that changed my life. Two words that said so much more. Two words that translated to a million different things. "She's gone" meant no more encouragement from the woman who took me as her own daughter. It meant no more days of "Let me take the kids so you and Lee can have a night together." It meant no more giddy excitement from a grown woman at the thought of putting up a Christmas tree. Those two words also translated, in my mind, to "Why didn't I go with them?" "Why wasn't I there for her and Lee and the kids?" "Why was I so selfish?"  

A few days ago, my feelings of guilt were eased a bit when a friend pointed out that if I had gone, Lee may not have been there in time. You see, he arrived at the hospital just a few short minutes before Lois left us. I think she waited for him. Had I gone when he did, I may have used up those minutes getting ready for the trip. I may have asked to stop on the way. I may have never been able to talk to God like I did during my walk. 

There were so many gifts given to the family by those who loved Lois so dearly, but the one Lee and I both treasure the most is a set of wind chimes that now hang on our front porch. You see, I don't think it was a coincidence that those were given to us. Just as I don't think that it's a coincidence that as I sit here writing these words, the wind has begun to blow. Those chimes are a constant reminder to us that Lois is still here with us. That she is still in our corner, cheering us on through the good times and comforting our hearts through the bad. 

To say that I miss her would never be enough. To say that I love her more than I ever thought possible would be an understatement. And yet, here I go: Lois, I miss you like crazy and love you so very much!! Thank you for touching my life for the first time over seventeen years ago and for continuing to remind me of your love for us every time the wind blows...
 


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Surgically Impaired

Galahad
In honor of the one-year anniversary of my completing radiation therapy, I offer for your listening pleasure (I could only find an audio version), Stephen Lynch:



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Here is a list of various things that I should be working on, but am not:

--Project Supervillain.  Status:  In production.  This novel is stalled at almost 40,000 words.  I still work on it a couple of days a week, making a little headway against the rushing waters of doubt.  I still think this is my strongest novel-in-progress.  I think if I can work through the section I'm in and get to the next part of the story, the pace should pick up and the writing should get easier.  It's a rough thing when you're writing and you know in the back of your mind that everything you put down is going to have to be redone.  Still, you have to get through the night to get to the dawn.  I'm hoping dawn comes quickly, because I'm sure as hell tired of writing in the dark.

--Project Steampunk.  Status:  In production.  This short story is nearing completion and I've found a few markets I would like to submit it to once I have it done and polished.  I need to go back and particularly work on trimming up the end, which I let drag out a bit too long.  I'm guessing that the first draft will come in at about 6000 words, with about 1000 words of fat to be cut away from that.  I like the story and I like the characters, now I just have to give them the end they deserve.

--Salvation.  Status:  On submission.  I've sent this out to a couple of places over the past week and already had one rejection.  On the positive side, that rejection told me a few of the issues with the story, issues that I have corrected, and now it's back out there and will hopefully find a good home.

--The Interview of Harper Milton Todd.  Status:  On submission.  This short story received very good feedback from John Joseph Adams when I submitted it for an anthology he was putting together, but didn't quite make it, so I have a reasonable amount of hope that I will find another suitable home for it.

--The Pilot.  Status:  On submission.  Considering all the science fiction markets out there, I shouldn't be having as much trouble find a place to submit this story as I am, but I think I need to go back and revise it a bit.  I haven't looked over it in a while, so I'm sure that in the cool aftermath of my last failed submission, I need to regain that familiarity again.  It's hard to feel confident about submitting a story when you don't remember much about it.

--Christmas 2010 #1.  Status:  In production.  The first of this year's Christmas short stories for my blog is off to a good start.  I have the story in mind and am seeing it more clearly than just about anything else I'm working on right now.  I'm also working on ideas for the other two (for those of you new here, I'm trying to do three Christmas short stories a year on my blog) , although I need to get a move on if I'm going to have them written, edited, and polished by December.  Maybe some day I'll be able to yank them off my blog, do a print anthology, and have people do productions of my off-color holiday tales on stage years after my death.

For the most part, I plan on finishing all of these "In production" pieces before I move on to something else.  My goal is to have them all completed and ready for submission by the end of the year, which seems like a long time for those of you who don't have four children and a fifty-hour-a-week job.  I'll probably write again soon on here about that very topic--how jealous I am over my lack of writing time.  Alas, that will have to wait for another time.

And, if any of you have found your way here from my short story, "The Hunt", appearing on Flashes in the Dark, I welcome you and hope you'll stop by occasionally to say hello and let me know what you think about whatever it is I'm rambling about.  Feel free to email me at leesmiley@gmail.com . 

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If I Was Writing the Dark Shadows Script…


I am an anomaly.  For those of you that know me, this will come as no surprise.  I found a great deal of humor during my cancer treatment, my favorite musician is Elton John (no, I’m not gay), and I write gut-churning scenes of horror while listening to Christmas songs.  And, if that was not enough, I’m a huge fan of a television show that most people my age have never even heard of.

Dark Shadows ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971, a Gothic soap opera centering around the eccentric Collins family in the small shipping town of Collinsport, Maine.  The characters were typical fair for soap operas—all with secrets and somewhat broken moral compasses.  The series went along for nearly 200 episodes with mostly blah storylines ripped largely from classical literature, but then the producers decided to take a risk and created the character of Barnabas Collins, a 175-year old vampire, who is released from his coffin and introduces himself as a cousin from England.

Barnabas, portrayed with wonderful intensity and and often humorous tendency to forget lines by Jonathan Frid, turned the show into a sensation.  Children and adults alike would hurry home in the afternoons to watch Barnabas attempt to work through his many, many issues—his search for his long-lost love Josette, his witch ex-girlfriend Angelique (played by the brilliant Lara Parker), his guilt and anger over becoming a vampire and the lives he has taken, his desire to help those who, like himself, have crossed the wrong people.  Originally designed for a storyline lasting only a dozen or so episodes, Barnabas Collins became the core of most of the shows 1225 episodes.  Throw in a dashing werewolf or two, some menacing ghosts, a European nobleman with a penchant for black magic, and more time travel than a Harry Potter book, and you have one of the premier shows in television history.  Even considering the missed lines, the cheesy special effects, and the crew’s numerous appearances on the show, Dark Shadows was, and still is, prime watching.

Recently, Tim Burton signed on to make a new movie based on Dark Shadows, with long-time fan Johnny Depp agreeing to play the role of Barnabas Collins.  More recently, the duties of preparing a script for the movie went from Burton’s frequent collaborator, John August, to Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the mashup novels Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the book I’m currently reading, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I hope Grahame-Smith does an excellent job paring down the 600+ hours of television, 12 or so hours of miserable revival series, and two moderately successful spin-off films from the original into an entertaining script that appeals to fans old and new.  That said, if asked to offer advice on the movie, I would say the following:

--Scrap Victoria Winters.  In the original series, she became the governess for David, but when the actress (Alexandra Moltke) became pregnant and wanted to move on to other things, the character vanished into 1795 and never returned.  The show didn’t need her then, and the movie doesn’t need her now.

--Keep the original theme music.  Sure, update it if need be, but the theme for the original show is an iconic audio experience for the spooky and supernatural.  It sets the tone perfectly and I’d love to hear people whistling the tune as they exit the theater.

---Focus on the Barnabas/Josette/Angelique storyline.  Everyone loves a good love triangle (e.g. Twilight), and Angelique is too good of a character to leave out.  When William Congreave wrote, more or less, that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, he obviously never had sex with a witch, then wanted to marry her employer.  Angelique called upon Hell to deal with her fury and that made for some interesting dilemmas for Barnabas.

--Don’t treat Barnabas as some incarnation of evil.  On the other hand, don’t treat him as some angelic, Cullen-like vampire either.  The closest comparison to Barnabas I can make is to someone with a drug or alcohol problem.  He feels intense guilt over what he is and what he has to do to survive, but he can’t stop himself without outside help.  Barnabas is a blood junkie, constantly fighting against the need for a fix.

--Let Dr. Julia Hoffman sit this one out.  If the film does well enough, bring her in for a sequel.  For now, there is just too much going on introducing the other characters to throw dear Julia in.  The unrequited love she had for Barnabas and their complex friendship makes for a great story, but that will have to wait for another film.

--Go for the special effects.  Audiences have grown used to high-dollar blockbusters that spend a fortune on special effects.  I think to capture the attention of a younger crowd, there needs to be action scenes that were never in the original series, particularly on the lines of the later Harry Potter movies where the effects add to the dark atmosphere of the stories without overpowering them.

--Keep enough references to the original series to keep the time-tested fans interested.  Fans who grew up watching the series will tolerate a fair amount of change as long as there are anchors here and there to tie them to what they know and love.  Keep some of the more memorable elements (e.g. Barnabas recounting the tale of Josette’s death by candlelight in the study, etc.) and throw in other references that only die-hard fans will catch (e.g. perhaps have a painting of Quentin Collins in plain sight, have the original music box in the story, maybe even throw in a few of the funnier flubbed lines).  It’s a hard thing blending new fans into old ones, so don’t make it harder than it has to be.  Give us all something to love about it.

--Finally, stay true to the characters.  Barnabas is afflicted, not an affliction.  He kills because he has to kill and he hates Angelique for it, even as he loves her as the only person who truly understands him.  The two of them are linked as strongly as any two characters in the original series (this is evidenced in the show when, at the end of their storyline, Barnabas realizes that he has loved Angelique) and they should provide the main conflict of the story.

So, Mr. Grahame-Smith, if you read this, I hope you will take my words to heart.  I’ll watch it regardless, but whether I enjoy it is now largely up to you.

The Sound of Silence

Intermission
I've been a very naughty writer the past few months, both on here and with my fiction. I could give a multitude of excuses--tired from work, tired from cancer, tired from children, tired from being tired all the time--but one factor in particular takes the lion's share of the blame, one which I am still working through--discovering what kind of writer I am and what kind of writer I want to be.

I read widely, as most wannabe writers do or should. Fantasy, science fiction, suspense, humor, mysteries, historicals, literary fiction, and so on and so forth. I usually have at least two different books going at the same time, almost always completely different from one another. For example, I have been most recently reading Last Words: A Memoir by George Carlin and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.  Also, I've been listening to an audio version of Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer (if I hear one more time about how beautiful Edward is, I'm going to puke on my treadmill.)  I have no trouble keeping them all straight, as long as they are completely different from one another.

Like my reading habits, my writing preferences stretch across the spectrum.  I have written fantasy novels and short stories, both contemporary and traditional.  I have written hard-boiled crime stories.  I have written about vampires, werewolves, and zombies.  I have also written moving stories about Christmas and stories about Christmas with zombies.  I'm as eclectic on the writing front as I am when reading and that, in part, has led to some difficulties of late being productive.

My problem is that I have lost track of what kind of writing I do best.  I have a particular style that works for me and, through the course of my reading, I find other people's styles attractive and I tend to drift toward how other authors write rather than sticking with what I know works for me.  The result was that everything I wrote seemed flat and lifeless to me and, for some time, I couldn't figure out why.  What I finally decided was that I was too concerned about the individual words and how pretty they were and not concerned enough with telling the story.  Word choice is important, don't get me wrong, but you cannot shake your responsibilities as a writer (i.e. telling a story) just because you want to string together a few pretty phrases or mind-jarring images.  Style, I have learned, is not only deciding who you are as a writer, but also who you are not.  While I may admire the work of Lethem or Michael Chabon or Umberto Eco, I am not them, nor should I pretend or aspire to be.  The stories I see best are not those where I can drift into pages upon pages of literary navel-gazing, but ones where dynamic characters interact and move the story forward through dialogue, action, and a few well-chosen images meant to represent everything else I'm not describing in the scene.  I may admire the creators of literary masterpieces, but I am not, for now, among them.

So, with this new realization that I should just tell the damn story and get on with life, I can feel the constrictions I've placed on my writing beginning to lift.  For the first time in several months, I'm beginning to hear my characters again--at a distance, but drawing close enough so that I can capture what they have to say and put it down.    The best part about writing, to me, is going back through something I've written and not remembering the act of typing it, knowing that whatever is on the page came from the characters and the situation rather than from my attempts to force something onto the screen.  That unconscious effort produces the best of my writing.

Speaking of writing, I placed my first short story, "The Hunt", at the ezine Flashes in the Dark .  It will go live on August 5th and I encourage everyone to stop by and check out the site.  It publishes "horror flash fiction in daily doses" and provides a fun, quick escape for anyone out there looking for a little darkness in their otherwise sunny lives.  I still have a few short stories out on submission, including one entered in the Short Story Award for New Writers at Glimmer Train, rated as the least accepting market at Query Tracker.  In the meantime, I am looking for more places to submit my stories and will update when something comes of that.

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The Writing Group


I mentioned in my last post that I'm interested in starting a writing group in my hometown and, while I have a few minutes on my lunch break, I wanted to put out a little more about what I'm looking for. Granted, these are just my own selfish wants and the foremost of those would be that the group build itself towards the greater needs of all rather than molding my own, but I hope that at least some of them would coincide.

--A venue. I would like to find a place to meet that could hold a fair number of people as needed (say 20-30), but that can be just as easily and effectively used for much smaller groups. I would say somewhere on Bethel University's campus would be ideal, especially considering I'd like to approach their English department to see if any of their students or faculty would like to join/speak to the group. I would like to stay away from restaurants--the meeting places for so many civic and special interest groups--and other places where people would feel obligated to purchase something to be in attendance. I would like for people to focused on writing, not what they are going to order from the menu or when someone is coming along to fill up their coke. On a less important level, it would also be great to have access to such things as a digital projector for instructional things like powerpoint presentations and editing exercises that would benefit the group as a whole and could be doled out to anyone with a particular level or area of knowledge the rest of us might not have.

--A time. My schedule is, to say the least, hectic. It is also very erratic. Some days I work early in the day. Others I work until nearly midnight. I also work weekends and just about any other time I'm needed. That said, I could arrange, through the excessive power I have at my job, at least one regular night off per month. I think meeting more than that would put too much pressure on participants to produce work in a hurry and less often than that would reduce the benefit of support and solidarity I'm hoping to establish in the first place. I realize that people have other things going on and that no time will work for everybody who might be interested in joining, but if we can find a time that will suit the majority of people, that will have to be good enough.

--Writers. I would not want to put much of a restriction on who could join the group. I think anyone serious about writing and is old enough to understand the challenges of writing well and not feel awkward by the occasional bit of inappropriateness would be welcome. I also would not want the group to only be people interested in publishing. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who simply wants to write better--regardless of the end result of that writing--would be welcome as long as they are a.) willing to give and receive criticism in a courteous manner, b.) willing to take the group seriously and be supportive of its members, and c.) able to contribute to the meetings on both a creative and informational front.

That's pretty much what I am hoping for. I've heard some interest from other members of the community around me and if any of them read this and have any ideas regarding the above topics, please email them to me at leesmiley@gmail.com. Once a group is established, we could look at things such as finding guest speakers, attending conventions, and other such writerly things.

Now, back to work.

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I live, to say it kindly, in the middle of nowhere.  Nestled in the northwest corner of Tennessee, my little town is two hours from both Memphis and Nashville.  No movie theatre, no bookstore, not even a Wal-Mart.  Yes, really, McKenzie is that small, so it should come as no surprise that we are largely ignored by the cultural winds that blow through bigger communities.  Things like book readings by published authors are nearly unheard of in towns like this, where few people read beyond the obituaries.

What we do have, however, is Bethel University, an institution of higher learning plopped down in the middle of the corn fields and cow pastures that dominate this area.  So, on Monday, I got to hear a reading by Darrin Doyle, author of a number of short stories and two novels—Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet and The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo.  Both are quirky, humorous takes on family and all the things that go with it.  I got to hear a bit from Revenge at the beginning of the program and, if the rest of the book is anything like the beginning, it should be a very entertaining read.

After the initial reading, Mr. Doyle took questions from the audience of about a dozen who did not have scheduling conflicts.  A general discussion about writing and publishing followed and, although I didn’t hear much that I hadn’t already heard, I was pleased to hear that Mr. Doyle’s methods of writing and revising are very similar to my own.  He writes late at night to avoid distractions and he prefers to plow through the first draft before worrying about how to fix its problems.  Better still, the students in the audience asked excellent questions about the stories and the language, helping to restore a shred of my lost faith in our education system.

Overall, I enjoyed hearing Mr. Doyle speak and would recommend someone looking for a quirky, fun read to check out his works.

In addition to that, I have been giving very serious thought to starting a writer’s group in my town.  Talking to a local teacher who also has publishing ambitions, I think the knowledge I have amassed through my years of research and tortuous submissions could benefit other writers in the area who would like to get serious about their craft, but don’t really know how to go about it.  Part support group, part critique group, the group would accept anyone, regardless of age, who is serious about the craft of writing and wants to improve.  The main obstacles, for me, in forming this little commune of the written word are my erratic work schedule and finding a venue to hold the meetings.  The scheduling, I don’t think, would prove too much of an issue, since I think meeting more than once a month would not be practical, and I think I can manipulate my schedule enough to have one regular evening off per month.  I do plan on asking around about a venue---a restaurant or a meeting room or even a classroom—where we might have access to the internet as well as tools to do, say, a multimedia presentation.  I would even prefer a classroom, so no one in attendance feels obligated to purchase anything as they would in a restaurant.  I’ll give it some more thought over the coming weeks and be sure to provide any updates on here.

Off to work now.  Toodles.