The Guilty Party

Monday, February 23, 2009


February 23, 2009

This past Saturday we went to the 25th Annual Matsuri Festival at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix. Actually, if one of the emcees there is to be trusted, and I see no reason not to, Matsuri is Japanese for festival. So the title is a bit redundant, but that's okay. Any society that can embrace the phrase "ATM machine" isn't all that picky when it comes to repetition.

We took our first journey on the new Valley Metro Light Rail and I enjoyed the fact I didn't have to contend with downtown traffic, including all the confounding one way streets, and the extravagantly priced parking garages. The day was sunny, the crowd was liberally sprinkled with costumed young folk celebrating their favorite manga and anime characters, the food was so-so, the music ranged sonically from soothing in the extreme to the sort that could rearrange your innards from a distance. All in all a most satisfactory day.

This is the third time I have attended Matsuri, each time with my daughter. The first time I was surprised by the number of participants who were obviously not of Japanese descent. Lots of folks whose last names would have put them right at home at the Highland Festival that was going on at another park in Phoenix on the same weekend. But there they were, dressed in kimonos, playing Japanese instruments, demonstrating Oriental martial arts, tending to their bonsai and generally reveling in all things Asian. I am no longer surprised by this but I do find it encouraging. To be able to seek out what each individual finds beautiful and worthwhile and to share that love with like-minded people, regardless of whether any or all of you can claim it as even a peripheral sort of heritage, is a good thing. A hope for the human race sort of thing.

Anyway, I thought I would share a few of the photos from Saturday.

There was a booth hosted by a church where for a dollar donation you could make a little ribbon whirly thing. Anne was assisted by a lovely lady
who it turned out was a retired teacher. So she and Anne had a nice
conversation while they were putting together the twirly. I just liked
the image of the two pairs of hands.

There seems to be something about whacking these very loud drums that appeals to Anglo Saxon women. Good on them!

This woman was featured in a solo dance. She was all poise and grace. Quite lovely to watch.

And of course the kids. They were great.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oprah, Coupons and The Container Store

There's nothing like a snappy file folder to brighten up Tax Time!

Last November my lovely day job employer, The Container Store, was featured on an Oprah Winfrey show. Along with the nice product references came an Oprah endorsed coupon for twenty percent off just about any purchase. It was a great deal then that lots of folks took advantage of and it seems it deserved an encore.

We just found out that an encore presentation of that show is airing today and the offer is back on the table. Twenty percent off an entire purchase (not just one item) at any Container Store or through the website. Heck, you can even shop, go home, print another coupon and come back for another round at the discount. And it's all good through March 1, 2009.

It's a fun store with, I think, something for just about everybody, whether you want to safely store your precious manuscripts or finally organized that darned garage.

Here's the link to the coupon, which you absolutely have to have in order to get the deal. Oh, and although I have a brand new post for the latest coupon, you can still get to it from this old one 'cause I did the edit thing. So, if it's the March 2009 coupon you're looking for, just click right here:

Container Store Coupon

And just in case you're wondering what to do with all that wonderful cash you're saving at The Container Store, may I suggest a terrifically fun read?

Close Enough for Government Work, by, well, by me, your host here at Sketches by Plumboz.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that the latest edition of this splendid book will be out soon. I gave it a fresh polish, a little bit of a rearranging of action at the beginning and a whole new title: Boomerang. It will be coming soon from YWO/Legend Press. So you have a really nifty choice. Buy the original, or wait for the new version, OR buy both and not only make an author very happy but ensure your place in the Good Karma Hall of Fame.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise

P.S. I got a bit of a kick when I did a Yahoo search for "Oprah Container Store Coupon" and found my old entry come up as the Number One result. Me and Oprah, takin' over the world, eh?

Now if I could only get her a copy of my book.........................

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

You Think Writing a Novel is Tough

Try writing a blurb.

I belong to a couple of online writing sites on which Not Yet Discovered Talent (like me) put their work on display in the hopes of Attracting Attention, Inspiring Praise, and Getting Published. Both sites have their individual positives, but they share one inescapable flaw: the competitors are the voters. It is rather like having the wanna-be popstars on American Idol voting for who gets the recording contract. You're not dealing with a disinterested crowd.

Anyway, today we aren't going to go into that part of The Struggle to be Published. Today I would like to highlight a very few of the blurbs, the hooks that all of these fledgling writers are obliged to create in an effort to make the largest possible number of eyes (and even better, the most influential eyes) land on their manuscript. It is a fact of modern life that if you want to get someone's attention, you need to do it with skill, style and speed. Short, sweet and irresistible are the order of the day. As any skilled practitioner in the world of advertising will tell you, it ain't as easy as it may seem.

Here are just some of the blurbs from the "Newest Books" section of one of those sites.

Through an England full of wolves and jallocks goes Lino Franter with three friends, hunting the diabolical Farris Cable.

What is a jallock? And more importantly, how diabolical can somebody with the name Farris Cable really be?

Thriller-like fictionalization of the abandoned English colony of Roanoke, employing heart-pumping action, painterly descriptions and period-flavored dialogue, to enthrall –in the style of James Clavell.

First off, is it a thriller or isn't it? Second off, is the sentence construction this innovative throughout the book? Sure to enthrall. Or baffle.

A piffle of a book, somewhere between strawberry shortcake and linzertorte. Who reads this stuff anyway?

Good question.

A hectic year in the life of two newly qualified English teachers is not without its darker side. Who does Tania finally incite to violence?

I dunno. The school janitor?

Sylvia Trax has the key to the shadow's map and they want it back.

Who is they? And if the key doesn't belong to Sylvia Trax, then she jolly well ought to give it back.

This is a story in a story with a deeper meaning. An adventure, written for children and secretly for adults too.

Not much of a secret, is it?

- will light your fire and your mind.

I would just as soon it didn't, thank you very much.

A comic tale of morality, duty and the age-old question of what to do if you think your boss is a multi-million-pound-fraudster-cum-evil-hearted-serial-killer.

In what universe is that an age-old question?

A young German living in Paris discovers that his problems with three women arise from his struggle with his internal image of the eternal female.

No, his problems arise from trying to juggle three women at once. What a dummkopf.

An exploding garden triggers a story involving a struggle for power, multiple homicides, a sociopathic cop, and fragments of a postman.

You had me with “exploding garden”.

One of the rare works of crime fiction that includes generous helpings of mystery, betrayal, and Joseph Stalin playing tournement Scrabble.

Some things deserve to be rare. Correct spelling is not one of them.

Grab a sword and come with me on an adventure to a tropical planet beste with dinosaurs. 300 meets Jurrassic Park!

I had to pawn my sword some time ago whilst reading "Ivanhoe". The interest is incredible; as of last Tuesday that blasted Jew wanted eighty-five thousand gold pieces to release it. And what kind of tropical planet is considered to be beste (why is this the only example of Olde Worlde spelling in this blurb?) with dinosaurs? Dachshunds would be more of an improvement in my mind.

An unlikely love story flourishes in unbelievable times. The bird flu brought Nathan and Anna together, but the Y plague will tear them apart.

Yep, you’re right, unlikely and unbelievable. But it has given me a the beginnings of a bad rash.

Beware Harry - outlandish, obsessive and deadly. And he likes games. With Mel in his sights he decides to play his ghastly sport with her.

I've just got to find out what Harry's ghastly sport is. I'm thinking it's croquet. It always brings out the worst in people.

This chick lit story is about three young women, and all of the calamities, and life in general during in the Summer of 1996.

There’s nothing like a promise of “life in general” to make me want to lose myself in a novel. And, of course, there is once again the underlying promise of unconventional sentence construction.

…a brilliant, insightful novel that will become a Classic, alongside all-time greats such as Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice".

I’m sure it will. Goodness, would you look at the time! You have a nice day now, you hear?

...set in a Wild West full of magic and mayhem. You'll laugh until you spit up those re-fried beans...

That hasn't been an enticement since my college days. And even then you had to catch me at the right moment.

Michaela's counsellor told her to 'find herself'. You won't predict what happens next. No sex, no violence and a happy ending.

Is it just me, or should there be a spoiler alert in this one?

This happened. I was there:

And taking notes, no doubt.

Boy meets girl. Girl vanishes. Twenty years later, man disappears, seeks woman in parallel world at war.

Just a sec. If the girl vanished and the man disappeared, don’t we have an empty stage?

The Creative Writing course did not satisfy Ian. What had happened to the literature of the ancients who devised it to explain their universe?

Ooh! Ooh! I know this! No, really! The ancients never got an agent and their literature ended up in the back of the sock drawer!

A bullied girl discovers another world where all of your dreams become true… or not!

Let us know when you make up your mind.

A well crafted high velocity tale of intrigue, sex and betrayal. Dialogue driven and told in flashback, it spans fifty years of one mans life.

I like my intrigue, sex and betrayal at a slow, leisurely pace. Otherwise it seems that commas and apostrophes often get lost in the rush.

A boy, a Nazi and a dead body in the dining room.

Now that has entertainment written all over it!

Wrongly arrested online dominatrix Mistress Blackheart learns the true meaning of commitment the hard way when her booking officer lays down the law!

The life of an online dominatrix has never been an easy one, but it's nice to know at least one has a booking officer who cares.

Conan the Destroyer meets Gladiator meets Ben Hur

Wouldn’t you love to be a fourth at that dinner party?

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and in the end, you just may veiw some of the issues of our day in a different light.

I'll say this, "veiw" did indeed almost make me cry.

Sometimes funny. Sometimes moving. Always turbulent. Matty Whistler is the curmudgeon's curmudgeon - a passionately unkempt reminder of the brevity of human life.

I think I'd rather it was always funny, occasionally moving and infrequently turbulent. Sensitive stomach, you know.

This started out as a short story…

Let me guess, nobody was there in time to stop you.

There you have it. Which one (or ones) are calling out to you?

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Guess It's Good to Know That...

...I'm Really Quite Ignorant

I have developed what I think is a pretty effective immunity to most of the commercial messages that we are all bombarded with damned near every waking hour of our days. It is the rare advertisement that makes me sit up, pay attention and actually yearn for whatever product or service is being hawked. A flyer advertising a promising sounding local restaurant (a species that up until the past couple of years has been rare indeed in Arizona's third largest city) can catch my eye, especially if a generous introductory coupon is attached, but other than this sort of appeal to the fairly unsophisticated but enthusiastic gastronome in me most solicitations head directly into the recycle bin.

An exception to this rule showed up in our mailbox almost a week ago in the form of a fifty page catalog featuring products that, although they are presented like darned near everything from hybrid automobiles to reinforced toe socks as possessing qualities that will make my life better--a claim we all know is, in nearly every instance pure nonsense and snake oil--in reality brought into sharp focus how many doors there are in this world and how few doorknobs I have even put hand to and jiggled. Within those fifty pages are offered sixty-eight of those doors and darned if I can stop looking at them, wishing I had the time, the funds and, probably most importantly, the determination to bust open those doors and explore, absorb and generally dance amongst everything on the other side.

This fifty page, in-my-face reminder of just how little I know or am likely to ever know, even if I had generous amounts of not only time and money, but determination, is called The Great Courses. Their catalog offers audio and video lecture series on everything from Argumention: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd Edition to Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy, (also) 2nd Edition. For just $39.95 ($59.95 for the DVD version) I can attend, without having to go anywhere, twenty-four lectures by Professor David Zarefsky of Northwestern University and benefit from his insights regarding Argumentation and Rhetoric, Establishing Correlations, even Arguments between Friends. And at any time I can switch gears completely, settle into my favorite easy chair and be enlightened by Professor Alex Filippenko of University of California, Berkeley on the subjects of The Fingerprints of Atoms, White Dwarfs and Nova Eruptions, Cosmic Powerhouses of the Distant Past and ninety-three other astronomically fascinating subjects. And of course if I want to put this big, big picture into human perspective one of the fifteen philosophy or religion courses is bound to be just the ticket, I'm thinking maybe No Excuses:Existentialism and the Meaning of Life.

Problem is, while I'm bouncing between those three courses I will all the time be wondering if my time wouldn't be better spent dipping into The Joy of Mathematics (well, okay, probably not) or The Story of Human Language (that's more like it!) or any of the other sixty-plus courses on the menu. I know I would love to dive into Professor Peter N. Stearn's A Brief History of the World and see how it differs from say, Mel Brooks' version.

The lesson here, and yes, there is always a lesson, isn't there? is that life really is too short. I can't know all of this stuff. There's just too much of it and too little of me. There is some solace in the fact that while Professor Sean Carroll may very well be one of the leading experts on Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe, he probably could learn a thing or two from Professor Robert Greenberg about Understanding the Fundamentals of Music.

And I could probably teach both of them a thing or two about How to Handle a Customer Making Unreasonable Demands or The Best Way to Merchandise a Department When Half the Items are Out of Stock. Maybe I'll send a syllabus to The Great Courses folks and see if they want to expand their offerings.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pasta with Tomatoes and Leftover Ham

Or chicken or, if you're larder is lucky, pancetta.

We haven't done a recipe lately, so here goes with one I put together with What Was In The Cupboards and Fridge.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Ham
  • 16 ounces rotini
  • leftover ham, diced up small. I had maybe six or seven ounces
  • olive oil (about three tablespoons)
  • one small red onion, diced (I bet you can use a nice yellow onion)
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
  • 32 ounce can of diced Roma tomatoes (or what ever you have in fresh or canned tomatoes)
  • Shake or two or three red pepper flakes, whatever works for you
  • a handful of basil. I'm lucky because I've got it in the garden. If that's not the case with you or it's just too damned expensive, skip it
  • a splash or three of red wine. If you've got a Trader Joes close, I do recommend Nero d'Avola, the best $4.49 Italian wine I've found. Drink it with your meal too!
  • Parmesan cheese. If at all possible, avoid that nasty stuff in the green can. The best is the chunk you grate yourself. The stuff in a bag is just fine.
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

So, here's what you do:

Get a pot of water to boil. Cook the rotini to package specs. Drain.

Heat up the olive oil in a skillet and saute the onion for about three or four minutes.

Add the garlic and continue sauteing for maybe a minute. Don't go too long or you'll burn the garlic and that's a not good thing.

Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes.

Put in the tomatoes.

Let the sauce simmer for a bit while you do the rest.

Heat up a bit more olive oil in a smaller skillet or a saucepan. Get it nice and hot.
Toss in the diced ham (or chicken). Keep it moving while its in the pot. The object here is to get it kinda crispy. You can add a bit of salt, especially if it's chicken. I also popped in about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Usually I'm not big on dried seasonings, but this worked.

Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the pasta to the sauce, stir in all round.

Dish it up in nice, big bowls.

Sprinkle the ham (or chicken or pancetta or heck, you can use bacon) and parmesan cheese on top. If you've got the basil, sprinkle that on top too.

Pour a glass of wine, sit and enjoy.

Have a great day, everybody!

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Would You Keep Reading?

Turn the Page
Close the Book?

I have been participating in a couple of writers' sites where member read and critique each other's work. It's a system that has its positives, but ultimately you are dealing with folks who have an agenda: namely to get their own work as much attention as possible. Understandable and pretty well unavoidable. But it makes it difficult to get a real Reader's Reaction.

So here we have the opening pages to my Novel In Progress, The Baer Boys. It has received a whole raft of "reviews" over the past umpteen months, but none of them have come from readers who approached as just that, readers.

What I am hoping for here is a bit of feedback. Did you like? Not like? Anything stand out? Anything you think should be thrown out? Boring? Enticing? But mostly what I would like to know is Would You Keep Reading? It can be as simple as a Yep or Nope.

Thanks so much.


The Baer Boys


It's a great speech from what just might be the greatest play of all time. And I was doing it pretty darned well. Hell, from where I stood, which happened to be downstage center at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland, Oregon, home of one of the finest Shakepeare companies in the world, I thought I was nailing it.

To be, or not to be―that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
And by opposing end them?―To die,―to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand...

“Excuse me,” A voice came from the dark. It was followed by the flick and snap of paper and a muffled whisper. “Ah, Mr. Baer?”

I shaded my eyes against the harsh white lights. It wasn't much help in seeing the person attached to the voice, but it's kind of a reflex when you're talking to somebody in the house.

“Darin,” I said. “Darin Baer.”

“Mr. Baer, have you ever made a decision?”

“Excuse me?”

“A decision,” said the voice.

“A decision?”

“About something quite important.”

“Sure,” I said. “I mean, of course I have. Lots of times. Should I start again from the beginning? Or just where I left off?”

“That won't be necessary,” said another voice from the dark. “Thank you very much.”

“I can put more decision in it,” I said. “Or indecision. Whichever you want.”


About two hours and five beers later I made a decision. I decided to go back to college. I was thirty-six years old and had been trying to make a living as an actor for almost twenty years. Six years at Western Oregon University and thirteen part-time jobs later I had my secondary education certificate.

Like they say, those who can do.

Those who can't, teach.


I was leaving, practically out the door, when the phone rang. I could have ignored it, just kept going. After all, it really wasn't my phone. But you know how it is with phones: they ring, we answer.

“Theater room, this is Darin Baer.”

“Oh good. I was afraid I might have missed you. Could I ask you to come to the principal's office?”

It was a voice that gets a man’s attention, the aural equivalent of a finely manicured female fingertip attached to a fine female tracing figure eights on your belly. In my experience such ravishing tones are most often distributed to women who are from a personal appearance standpoint strictly made for radio, or, as in this case, the telephone. To be fair, the same can be said for a lot of guys, yours truly being a prime example. I've been told more than once that I can sound more charming that Hugh Grant and darned near as suave as Cary Grant (come on, nobody can beat Cary at suave), but the bathroom mirror reminds me every day that I'm a skinny guy with lopsided shoulders and eyebrows that for some perverse reason have started to go if not exactly bushy at least kind of multidirectionally wiry.

“The principal’s office?” I said.

“You will find it just past the counselors’ office, at the end of the hallway,” said the Voice. “One of the ladies in the front office can direct you.”

“I'm on my way.”

I didn't need directions to the Westview High principal's office. I had been there before, just not recently. I paid my share of official visits to Principal Sturdevant's office during my career as a student. The person doing the summoning back then was Sturdevant’s secretary, Mrs. Crumbkaeuer, a wizened apricot pit of a woman who, according to school lore, was something over one hundred years old and drank a quart of Johnny Walker Black Label each and every day. Her age may have been exaggerated, but, judging by her voice, which was gravelly to the point of boulder-strewn, a couple of fifths and a carton of Camels might have been a closer estimate of her daily vices ration. Or maybe the woman never touched a drop or lit up at all and her voice was just a genetic fluke and we were all being cruel and judgmental teenagers, I don't know. But it wasn't a fingertip on the belly sort of a voice.

I locked up the theater room and headed for the administration building.

The office was hopping with kids, support staff and a few lost looking parents. I didn’t see Mrs. Cahill, the lady who had sped me through check-in that morning, registering my presence so I could get paid the ninety-two dollars and forty-eight cents that is the daily stipend for high school substitute teachers. She had also given me the keys to the theater room. Now nobody said boo as I went past the counters, around a corner and down the hall. I figured The Voice, if she was stationed in the same spot Mrs. Crumbkauer used to stash her scotch, should have her desk in the big open area at the end of the hall, just outside the principal’s office.

There was a desk but it was unattended so I couldn't see if my Ravishing Voice/Lumpy Exterior theory held up in this case. But whatever the current secretary looked like, she certainly kept a nice, clean desk. Nothing on top of it but a computer monitor and a telephone. I looked for a name plate; every desk in a school office has the occupant's name displayed on or above it. Except this one didn't.

“Is that you, Mr. Baer?” It was The Voice, this time combined with a faint background of music. It took me a second before I realized the voice and music were coming from the phone on the desk. An intercom.

“That's me. I mean, I'm me.” I waved at the phone. “I'm here.”

“Please, come on in. The door just to your right.”

I stepped into the sound of a string quartet and the look of professional success. The walls of the office were covered chair-rail high with deep-toned wood paneling. From paneling to ceiling the walls were painted in a greyish-green, with some sort of dimensional treatment to it. Thanks to a short term live-in relationship I had with an ambitiously domestic—hence the short term—female named Rachel, I've seen enough decorating shows on television to know a mysterious technique had been applied, but I didn't pay close enough attention to be able to tell you its name. Along one wall of the office were what I think are called lawyer's bookcases, the kind with beveled glass doors hinged at the top. In the middle of the floor was a plush looking oriental rug and in the middle of the rug was a massive desk with carved detailing. Everything in the office, with one exception, gave off an aura of refined, confident masculinity.

The exception was the woman standing behind the desk. There was nothing even remotely masculine about her.

She had shoulder length chestnut hair framing a face that, if I had been casting a film requiring a Helen of Troy, would have been overqualified. She was wearing a conservative dark blue suit and a buttoned to the top cream colored blouse, but it was pretty obvious that underneath was a figure that would have launched an armada or three all by itself.

She pointed a tiny remote control at one of the bookshelves and the string quartet faded.

“I can’t seem to get anything but the classical station,” she said. It wasn’t an apology, more a statement of fact. She came around from behind the desk and offered her hand. I can't identify perfumes any better than I can paint treatments, but I'll tell you this: she smelled good. “It is nice to meet you, Mr. Baer,” she said as we shook hands. “My name is Natalie Willoughby. I am the principal here at Westview.” The principal was The Voice. So much for my Rule. She gestured to a chair in front of the desk. “Please, won’t you have a seat?”

I sat.

She sat. On the edge of the desk. For about half a minute she seemed to be studying me. I tried to look worth studying.

“Mr. Baer,” she finally said. “I want you to know how much I appreciate you helping us out on such short notice.”

“I'm a sub,” I said. “That's my job. Besides, I live just a few blocks away.” I motioned vaguely in what had a one in four chance of being the direction of my home. “I am sorry about missing first period.”

“Well, that certainly was not your fault,” she said, which was true. Usually I get called for my substitute jobs either the day before or at least a couple of hours before school starts. This morning the call had come just in time for me to make it in by second period.

She crossed her legs. She had freckles on her knees. Perfect, shapely knees with a faint sprinkling of freckles. I know I shouldn't have looked, but there they were, those knees and those freckles and I've got tell you it was a killer combination.

“Mr. Baer, are you all right?”

From the tone in her voice it registered that maybe she had said something before that, but I had no idea what it was.

“Hmm? Oh, absolutely. Doing great.” I tore my gaze away from her knees but wasn't quite sure where to redirect it. The first place my eyes landed was her chest, which, although it had at least a couple more layers of fabric between it and my eyes than her knees did, was obviously not a wise choice for lingering. I redirected and found myself focused on a bookcase behind her. The hardware was highly polished brass. Nice bookcase.

“Your day went well?” she said.

Ah, maybe that was what she had asked while I was distracted by her knees.

“Oh, absolutely. It was great. Just great.” Which was, from a substitute teacher's perspective, true. You know how pilots say any landing you can walk away from is a good one? Well, for a substitute teacher any day you make it through with your will to live intact and the inclination to lobby Congress in favor of mass sterilization kept in check is a great day.

I didn't so much see as sense that she had started to swing one foot back and forth. Like it was calling me back to her legs. This was not fair. It was kind of exciting, but if I wanted to continue getting substitute teacher gigs in this school district that sort of exciting I didn't need.

“I understand you applied for a teaching position with Mesa Schools and there were no openings at the time.” She leaned forward just a bit and tilted her head ever so slightly to one side. Stage left tilt. Christ.

“Well I did just move back to town a couple of months before the semester started,” I said. “I'm sure it was kind of late to be raising my hand.”

She slid down off the desk, giving me a brief glimpse of maybe two more inches of leg above the knee, then went around the desk. She sat and referred to something I could not see on her computer monitor although I really wasn't trying that hard. My mind's eye was replaying her sliding off of and walking around the desk, complete with a Jobim soundtrack. Maybe our first date should include dancing.

“Mr. Baer,” she said, and hesitated.

“Darin,” I said, taking advantage of the pause. “If that’s okay, I mean. I would use that old line about Mr. Baer being my father’s name, but everybody calls him Art. Short for Arthur. Darin’s not short for anything. It’s just Darin.”

Forty years old, okay, forty-two as of last April, and a pretty woman was making me babble. Admittedly, an extremely pretty woman, but still.

Principal Willoughby looked at her computer monitor again. Probably trying to hide a case of eye rolling, I thought. She turned back, looking nicely composed.

“I see from your resume you have quite a bit of professional experience in the theater.”

I shrugged what I hoped was a charming, self-deprecating kind of shrug.

“Just regional stuff,” I said. “Not exactly the Great White Way.”

“Isn’t that boxing?”

“Isn’t what boxing?”

“The Great White Way.”

“Actually, that’s Broadway.”

She nodded and bit her lip. I won't even bother to tell you my assessment of the attractiveness of her lip biting. “What was I thinking of?”

“Great White Hope?”

“That must be it.” She turned back to the computer. “I also see that you were voted best actor right here at Westview.”

“Twice, actually. Junior and senior years. I think it was the first time that happened here.”

“And apparently,” she said. “no other student has matched that accomplishment since.”

I was the holder of a twenty-five year record at my old high school. For the briefest moment I felt kind of proud. But let's face it, unless you happen to be a female gymnast reaching your peak at the age of seventeen could be considered more than a little sad. Hell, even Willie Loman peaked later than that.

“Well,” I said. “I don't really like to live in the past. Here and now, that's my philosophy.”

There's acting with a script and then there is improvisation. It's all acting.

“A commendable attitude,” said Principal Natalie. She put a fingertip to her chin, leaned in and asked, “Do you happen to know Ms. Daviot?”


“Maureen Daviot. Our theater teacher. The one you substituted for today.”

“No, I haven’t had the pleasure.”

“She turned in her resignation on very short notice. By email. I’ve tried to get in touch with her several times but haven’t had any success.”

“Just up and gone?”

“That's the way it looks.”

“That’s a shame.” Not really. Not if it meant a few more days of gainful employment for me. Gainful employment in the vicinity of the world's most beautiful school administrator. “If there’s anything I can do to help.”

“As a matter of fact,” she gave me another look of assessment, “there is. Would you possibly consider accepting the position of permanent substitute drama teacher?”

“Permanent substitute?”

“Essentially it means you would take over Ms. Daviot's classes for the remainder of the semester.”

“So I'd be like a real teacher?”

“In a way. I am afraid it only means a fifteen percent increase over the regular substitute rate.”

Not quite real teacher pay, but it would put me dangerously close to three digits a day. For me these were giddy financial waters.

Principal Natalie seemed to mistake the cause of my hesitation. “I know it’s probably not what you have been hoping for—“

“Hey, it's great. The theater department is mine and I get a raise.”

“It is just for the rest of the semester you understand. But if things go well it could work to your favor in securing a regular contract.”

From where I sat things were working in my favor already.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rejection sans Submission

In January I ran Boomerang as a serial on my MySpace blog. What I was hoping for was some feedback, maybe even generate some interest in purchasing the book, whether it was the Quite Possibly Soon To Be Released YouWriteOn/Legend Press version or the dusty, Stubble On Its Chin version called Close Enough for Government Work. I ended up having a pretty substantial increase in blog "views", up from the typical five to ten a day to over fifty most days of the serial, but almost nobody commented so I had no idea who was looking or what they thought. As I neared the end I started pulling random chapters off the site and finally, after asking for some sort of feedback and not receiving any, did not post the last chapter and pulled the entire thing off. Marketing experiment dud.

While I was posting the chapters the method I used to alert folks to them was by sending MySpace messages to as many of my "friends" as time would allow. Since I have several publishing houses as friends I included them in some of these mailings. Yesterday I got this from Penguin in response to one of my "Hi, drop on by notes". My original "mass mailing"comes first.

----------------- Original Message -----------------
From: Alan
Date: 16 Jan 2009, 15:33

The latest installment of Boomerang is now on my MySpace blog. Doreen and Amelia are trying to find there way around the Valley of the Sun and Ted and Jerry are trying to find their way out of Sky Harbor Airport.

Here is a short excerpt, in which Doreen is trying to get directions from a convenience store proprietor in Casa Grande:

The heat, now that was one of Eugene's favorite subjects. One of the few capable of pulling him back from memories of the theatrical wonders of Las Vegas. He indicated the radio. “You bet it’s warm. Fella says it's one-hundred-sixteen.” Emphasis on the sixteen, as if it were significantly different from one-hundred-fifteen or one-hundred -seventeen degrees. “Pretty unusual for this time of year, you know; monsoon season. But when we got the winds it usually don’t get much above, oh say, one-ten or so. Can get pretty nasty out with the humidity though.” Another nod to the radio. “Said it’s forty-three percent humid and thirty percent chance of thunderstorms tonight. But heck, they say that every night this time of year. Haven’t had a good rain yet. Nothing but a lot of show in the sky. That's the temperature at Sky Harbor anyway. One-sixteen. He ran for President you know. Back in sixty-four.”

“The man on the radio?” Amelia asked. She was still puzzling over her beverage selection. There must have been two dozen choices. No ginger ale, though. Amelia liked ginger ale.

Eugene laughed at her joke. “Now there was one hell of a man, if you’ll pardon my French,” said Eugene. “Named part of Sky Harbor after him. He liked to fly. Airplanes.“

”I don’t give a bloody damn about the airport or who likes this or that,” snorted Doreen. “Will you please give us directions to Gilbert!”

“And you just came from Sky Harbor,” said Eugene.

“Doreen, dear, would you like a Coke?” Amelia asked from in front of the soda machine. She thought she might like a Mountain Dew but wasn’t quite sure yet. It sounded refreshing.

“No!” Doreen snapped.

“Now if its one-sixteen at Sky Harbor,” said Eugene, “you can pretty well count on it being close to, oh, say, one-twenty down here.” He nodded in agreement with his own assertion and got on with the other subject at hand. “He would have shown them Veetnimese a thing or two in pretty quick fashion, yessir.”

“Are you or are you not going to tell me how we can get to Gilbert?” Doreen thundered.

“Sure, I can tell you how to get to Gilbert.” Eugene looked hurt. “All you need to do is head north about oh, maybe ten, twelve miles.” He winked at Doreen, which she didn’t like one bit. “You know, the direction you come from?"

I am running the complete novel on my blog. Please accept my invitation to come over and check it out!


From: Penguin
Date: Feb 5, 2009 3:16 AM

Dear Alan,
Thank you for your letter regarding submission of your work for publication. I'm afraid we are unable to consider any unsolicited manuscripts or synopses since restrictions of time and resources make it impossible to give full attention to the 50-60 submissions we are receiving each week.

May I suggest you approach a literary agent, a list of whose names and addresses can be found in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, published annually by A & C Black. An agent would be able to advise you on your work and will know the most suitable publisher(s) to whom to submit it.

Alternatively, you can visit www. penguin. co. uk for further information on how to get published.

Best Regards,
Penguin Online

Well, it wasn't really a submission, was it? But heck, it's been a while since I've added a rejection letter to my file. Nice to know I can get 'em without even really trying!

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A King, Three Prisoners and Five Hats

June 22, 2009: Welcome! According to the info I get from Statcounter, this entry is the most popular one on my blog. Seems like everybody, all around the globe, is searching for the answer to this question about hats and kings and incarcerated folks. Interesting question.

While I've got you here, I would like to let you know about Boomerang, my recently released novel. You can read the first chapters right here on my blog and of course it is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all those other places that sell books. Not a lot of hats, and no kings, but it's a comic novel of international intrigue and those who have read it love it!

Boomerang on Amazon

And now, the hat entry that brought you here in the first place!

Our son is in his final year of college, on his way to becoming a teacher. Yesterday he came home with a problem his "How To Teach Math" professor had given his class as an example of a long term problem they could give their students to ponder. According to this professor, this question usually takes most people quite a while to solve. Our son said he got the answer in less than a minute.

Here 'tis:

A king has three prisoners brought before him. He has their eyes covered and a hat placed on each of their heads. Then he has the eye coverings removed. He tells them,

"I have five hats, three black and two white. Three of those hats have been placed on your heads. If you can tell me which color hat is on your own head I will set you free. If you say wrong, however, you will be put to death. You may look at your fellow prisoners to see what they are wearing, but of course may not look at the hat on your own head."

The first prisoner looks at the other two, ponders as best as he can, and finally says,"I have no idea."

The second prisoner looks at numbers one and three and shakes his head, discouraged. "Heck if I know."

The third prisoner, who is blind, says, with nary a bit of hesitation. "I am wearing a black hat."

The king says, "Correctomundo! Off you go." And sets the fellow free after first restoring his cane and seeing-eye iguana and pointing him in the direction of the nearest Tastee-Freeze.

The question is: Did the blind man know or guess? And if he knew, how did he know?

My first response was that the blind man had a monkey on his shoulder who tapped out the answer in Morse Code. This did not satisfy my son.

My next answer was that the blind man was so despondent over his condition and the fact that the prison had no soft serve ice cream that he did not care if he guessed right or wrong and simply lucked into the right answer. My son tells me I am mistaken and the ice cream reference was inserted by me without his permission.

Any answers out there?

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

A Bit About Me

My photo
I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.