Sunday, January 30, 2011

As In Fish Belly White -- Back In the Day #4

I wasn't a bad kid.

That bit of news might come as a surprise given the childhood stories I've shared to this point, but those stories are more the exception than the rule. For the most part I stayed out of trouble, took care of my business, and made good grades in school. (except for the previously mentioned handwriting)

And contrary to the evidence on this blog, I was and still am a very good speller. Sure I transpose letters when I type but I blame than on my fingers not my brain.

So somewhere about 1984, could have been '85, I qualified as one of the two representatives from our elementary school to participate in the citywide spelling bee. I had grand illusions of winning that sucker and earning a trip to D.C., but I of course was thwarted. Not by a challenging word such as mystique or credenza. Oh no I spelled those correctly. I was undone by my own redneck tendencies. You see when my third word was read, my redneck ears heard P-A-I-L as in bucket, as in  ... Billy Bob carried the pail of slop out to feed the hogs.

I never asked for a definition.

I never considered the idea the word could be P-A-L-E as in ... Travis went pale when they said, "I'm sorry that is incorrect. You have been eliminated from the competition."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Weather Up Here

In the comments of my lat post, the esteemed bearded one, the ever lyrical and poetic Walking Man, Mr. Mark Durfree suggested I follow up with a list of reason why it is good to be tall. Here they are.

10) Even in a crowd I can see what is going on. 

9) When the bullshit gets deep not much more than my ankles get sullied.

8) My height combined with ample girth and breadth of shoulders tends to dissuade aggression from others. 

My favorite story here involves a NASCAR race. A number of years ago my cousins husband and I headed down to Ft Worth to catch a race. Traffic after the even was horrible and we ended up behind a carload of young guys in their early twenties. I was in my late twenties at the time. When I say stuck in traffic I mean moving less than 500 feet in 3 hours time as 180,000 people tried to exit at once. The guys in the car took offense to me being so close to their back bumper despite the fact there was a two mile long line of vehicles doing the same thing.

These guys get kept out to retrieve beer from the truck and each time they did so they'd make gestures I needed to back deposit the fact I had maybe 6 inches of room behind me. On his third trip or so for beer this one fella starts creaming at me to  ... "BACK THE FUCK UP!"

I smiled and waved.

He shook his head with disgust and got back in.

Ten minutes later he was back, jabbing a finger at me through the drivers window screaming obscenities.

I rolled down my window  and told him to go sit his drunk ass down at which point he says, "Why don't you get your happy ass out of the car and tell me that."

My cousin's husband urged to stay put. he said I bet he has a knife or something, but I was tired hungry and fed up so I hopped out.

Mr. Beer Fetcher's nose lined up even with my chest when I stood. His eyes widened and he immediately started apologizing stating how they needed to fix this traffic situation so the crowd could disperse quicker and no one would get frustrated trying tog et out. I never said a word as he backed all the way to his car and slid inside. For the next hour no one from their vehicle got out for any more beer.

7) Everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas. And given that I am named for one of the fallen heroes of The Alamo it simply would be going against nature if I was five foot seven.

6) Big and hairy beats little and hairy. I'd rather be described as a grizzly bear than cousin Itt any day.

5) Trout fishing is easier when you are standing in rushing water that comes only to your knees as opposed to your waist.

4) I can change every light bulb in my house without first finding a step stool.

3) Nicknames. Being called Sasquatch, Big Country, and Big T is better than say Hobbit, Little Village or Tiny T.

2) People remember me. I dare say the phrase "You know the big hairy women's fiction writer with the Texas twang," does not create a long list of images for fold to differentiate from.

1) Tall, Dark and Handsome Hell, I'm not greedy, I'm perfectly happy to be two of the three.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tall Tales

 Post before last I included a picture of myself and one of my weekly critique partners. Someone on Facebook then commented that I was either really tall or she is really short. I responded that I was 6'5" and than spawned a discussion about height. They complained that at only a hair over 5 foot life is harder for them. I wasn't quick witted enough to fire right back but after a bit of deliberations I have now created a list of hardships that plague we taller than average folks.

Y'all know by know I have a penchant for Top 10 list so here they are in reverse order or life altering impact.

 10) Due to my height, I will never be crowed world Limbo champ.

9) My odds of being struck by lightening, especially here in the tree deprived Texas Panhandle, are greater than those built closer to the ground.

8) I have a hell of a time folding my legs into most roller coaster cars and then when i do my knees stick up thus preventing the safety bar from fitting as snug as it does for others thereby increasing my fear factor and upping the potential of a life ending heart attack.

7) My feet tend to hang off motel mattresses increasing my chances of catching a cold due to frost bitten tootsies.

6) I am clumsy and despite this assertion I have routinely been selected far to soon in man a pickup basketball game only to gravely disappoint the person doing the picking. My vertical jump is just shy of 2 inches and that fact renders me useless beneath the net. it is never fun to disappoint others.

5) Airplane seats. They suck and those damn trays whack me in the knee and do not sit evenly if my feet are flat on the floor.  

4)  Dance partners. Now I'm no Fred Astair but on occasion I enjoy a bit of two stepping and it's cumbersome to bend to accommodate shorter women. Luckily, Jennifer is my dance partner throughout life at at 5' 10 she is on the taller side herself. 

3) Low Hanging Ceiling fans do not make the best barbers.

2) You go out and try to find jeans with a 40" inseam. 

and the numero uno disadvantage to being taller than the average bear? 

1) Vertical Sex - yep you've seen those steamy shower scenes in movies. Read about the viral man pinning his lover against the wall and engaging in some sultry lovemaking while standing.

Well guess what? That section of the Kama Sutra doesn't work too well when you gotta turn into crouching tiger, in order to hide your dragon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Handwriting Is On The Wall

This post may seem a tad familiar to longtime readers but trust me when I say it's different, even if the story I tell is one I've told before.

I made good grades in elementary school. Save for 1 particu;ar class I made nearly all A's with an occasional B. And yet, only once did I make the A/B honor roll, because there was one subject that never, no matter how hard I tried, could I earn higher than a C.

 That subject ... handwriting.

My cursive was, and is to this day horrendous. I tried hard. my mom made me sit and write for hours but I simply could not turn those curves into anything resembling nice handwriting. Trust me when I say doctors are envious of my shaky penmanship. One a very nice teacher gave me a B in the last 6 weeks. She even said to me,  "Travis you're handwriting has not improved one bit, but I know you work hard at it and you are so smart you deserved to be on the honor roll at least once."

Thank you for that Mrs Davis!

Then there was my 3rd grade teacher. One Mrs. McCarty. She had no pity, love or undersatnding for my plight.

But one day I was being forced to wait no so patiently at the beauty shop where my mom worked. The magazine choices were dismal so I was only perusing pictures when I spotted an article. Long story short this article was about a study that concluded people with the worst handwriting often have high IQ. It stated that sometimes peoples brain works faster than their hand.

So I clipped the article and carried it off to school.

however i erred when I handed to Mrs. McCarty and said, "Look, this explains why my handwriting is not nearly as neat as yours."

Boy was she pissed. I got a D that six weeks. The only one I ever got in all my school years.

Flash forward a quarter of a century.

My oldest son writes just like I did. He struggles mightily to lay down legible sentences.

Recently, I heard many states are cutting cursive handwriting from the curriculum.

I spotted at least three facebook message crying foul over these plans, but I for one think the time has come to ax it.

Wasting precious class time to teach kids cursive in this technological age asinine. When was the last time you used cursive for anything other than your signature?

Some people will rally around tradition and bemona its departure as a shame. They will yell but cutting it from school will makes lost art. Yeah, so is churning your own butter, but I don't see you getting up at 4 AM to milk Betsy.

What say you?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday #4

Tuesdays, here on the blog, are dedicated to holding myself accountable. Each week I going to toss out the facts and figures of my goals.

On this Tuesday, January 25th I weigh in at 280 pounds.

Again only a one pound drop. I think I'd have dipped below the 280 mark if not for those blasted Girl Scouts. jennifer brouhg home a box of those tasty little chocolate, coconut, and caramel circles. Those Caramel Delights taunted me until I ate every last one. To give you an idea of my current look, here is a shot taken of me and my friend Caron Guillo at her booksigning party on Saturday.

Caron's debut novel is out and titled An Uncommon Crusade. Buy a copy today.

My goal is to read 75 books this year.

I finished one book this week to bring my total to 4 on the year. Several people had told me how much the Sweet Potatoe Queen books reminded them of my Feedstore Chronicles so I finally read one, The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love.

To be honost I was disappointed. Sure there were funny parts but I truly think this is one best read by women. I din't usually say that as I have read and enjoyed a good many romance and women's fiction novels, but this book struck me as sort of a southern Sex and and the City. Sex in the sticks if you will. I'm taking HBO series as I've never read Candace Bushnell. My wife was a fan, but Sex and the City's humor missed for me as did the Sweet Potato Queens'. Here is a sample to illistrate my inability to relate ...

And panties -- Lord, deliver us from pretty panties. You just put them on and they immediately wedge up your butt, you don't even have to move. Thongs were a perfectly natural progression -- why not save all that extra material, they all end up in the same place anyway.

I sent a dozen queries on a variety of projects this week, but once again I ... 

Failed to so much as open the file on my bull semen story so that word count stays at 16,212.  this week. I did finish continued editing and tweaking Waiting On The River to get entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest.I also entered the opening of the bull semen story in Nathan Bransford's ...
The 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge.

I was fortunate enough to beat out over 2500 other talented writers to win the 3rd Sort of Annual challenge with the opening of the Feedstore Chronicles and I've entered again to try and defend my crown ...

Grace McEwen was eight the first time she stood outside a closed door and listened to her mother squeal and sigh with pleasure. Thirty-one years later, she found the sounds just as awkward. Maybe more so, now that she fully understood the source of her mom’s vocal gratification. 

Two Line Tuesday is a blog feature started by the fabulous Women of Mystery. Click on over to their site for link to other writers sharing their work

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Back In the Day #3 a MTM post

A few weeks back, in one of these posts about my childhood here in Amarillo, Texas I mentioned that my neighborhood was on the far southeast corner of town. I wasn't joking and i recently captured some pictures to show y'all what I mean.

This is the view looking east from 32nd street where it dead ends into Eastern.

This is of course the sign at the intersection of 32nd and Easter.

And should you have your mind in the gutter and look down just a few few away from taht stop sign you will see this ... some of my earliest surviving writing.

 I scrawled my name in that patch of wet concrete  in the mid eighties. '85 or '86 if I had to guess. I got lucky in that we'd had a dusting of snow so the letters show up pretty good in this photo. My graffiti has not relevancy to this post other than it's location and to further prove I was a hooligan but I felt compelled to add it to the mix.

This post is actually about the only time in my life I've ever been shot at. With real lead and not paintballs or some other sort of harmless projectile.

The farmland that lay just beyond Eastern street belong to a grouchy, ill tempered man. He lived in a run down house that used to sit on this parcel of land but as you can see by this photo all that survives now is an old tin barn.

About half a mile south east of this shot, on the corner of this particular land there used to be a pond. it too is gone now, but back when this was a working farm actively growing crops the pond was what we call in this part of the world a tailwater pit.

You see farmers here have to irrigate their crops and back in the day they did this via irrigation pipe

Here are a couple of shots I borrowed from Google images to show you what I mean since the actual one of my childhood are no longer there.

The water that did not soak into the ground would run down hill and collect in the tailwater pit or pond where it could be pumped back up to the uphill side of the field and used again.

Some farmers stocked fish in these ponds.

Some Farmers do not like boys to grab a fishing pole and ride their bikes out to these ponds.

Some farmers do not like it when said boys catch the fish they stocked in their ponds.

Some farmers load up shotguns and pepper the the area to get their point across.

No I was never in any real danger given the distance the farmer would pop of shots at us, but when you are a kid that kind of logic does not enter your mind when fear kicks in.

Of course neither does the realization you really are trespassing. And even though we got "shot at" on several different occasion we kept venturing back. One it was the closest place to fish and two, the danger level added to the sense of of adventure.

So yeah, I can honestly say I've risked taking a bullet, or at least buckshot just to sink a worm.

You ever been shot at? Risked life an limb in pursuit of a hobby? Defaced communal property and had it last a quarter of a century?

For more My Town Monday posts check out the official MTM blog.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It Ain't the Starch Making Those Clothes Stiff

I've tried to resist blogging about this. Really I did but some things simply must be said.

I'll warn you. If you are have an intense liking for Jolly Rancher candy, or march in the Prude Parade you might wanna bail now and skip this post.

Now I give you Chelsea ...

Going beyond the info from that clip let me relay the gist of this gal's situation. Her husband is uanble to please her sexually so in order to find satisfaction she flipped her laudry basket upside down and taped a jolly rancher to the corner.With the candy securely in place this woman would get down on her knees and gyrate her way to Happyville.

Let's start at the beginning of this trainwreck of a story.
Where the hell did Oprah find these people, and has there ever been anyone more desperate to get on TV that this couple?

Personally, I think Oprah has an agenda here. My guess is she own a large amount of stock in the jolly rancher company and is look to drive up demand. But let's toss aside Oprah's involvement and focus on the couple.

In the spirit of positive feedback let me applaud the woman for her ingenuity. I mean come on this is some MacGyver style masturbating ...

I've got a laundry basket, a Jolly Rancher, some sticky tape , and a a yearning deep down in my loins. What ever am I going to do?

And it does but the Jolly in Jolly Rancher. One has to wonder of she liked the cinnamon for that extra burn?

Now I've had a Jolly Rancher or two in my day. (When I say had, I mean consumed, not had in the sense this lady has had them.) And you have to be careful because if you bite down at all these suckers will really stick in your teeth. I'm a wee bit concerned this lady might tense up at the wrong time and give whole new defintion to the term sugarpuss.

 And what of this poor gal's husband? The Dude, couldn't outperform a Jolly Rancher? What is half an inch long? I cannot imagine heading into work the day after this aired. The guys I work with would be on me like a lonely housewife on a laundry basket.

I bet they nicknamed him the Candyman and keep humming that damned Sammy Davis Jr tune every time he walks into a room. Actually a look at the lyrics of the chorus kind of take on a new meaning after hearing this story.

Yeah, yeah, yeah
Who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream
Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream
The Candy Man, the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good
Yes, the Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good
a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man
Candy Man, a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man
Candy Man, a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man

That song will never sound quite the same.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Golden Tickets & Tarnished Critcs

Tonight begins a new season of American Idol. I'll confess to never being much of a fan, but this year looks even more dreadful. I always though Simon and the honesty he brought was the best part of the show.

Truth be told me I am not a fan of mainstream music of any genre. Pretty voices, even prettier faces, all packaged nice and neat. Predictable, boring fluff. And American Idol is simply the breeding ground for the next wave of cute predictable stars.

Growing up, my mom worked at our local civic center so I saw nearly every big concert that came to town. From Liberace to Metallica. Huey Lewis to George Strait. Lights, pyrotechnics ans sequins no longer interest me. I prefer to see a songwriter sit alone upon a plywood stage in some dimly lit bar. I prefer to hear a relatively unknown reveal the inner working of his mind to "big star" strutting around singing lyrics someone else wrote.

A singer that sings songs written almost entirely be others is no more than a karaoke performer in my opinion. The equivalent of someone with a good voice reading aloud stories written by someone else and then receiving kudos, fame, and fortune for being a talented "artist."  

I wanna hear a little gravel in that voice. The pain of that lost love. And no I don't care if the tone is "a little pitchy dawg." Sometimes it is that pitchiness that contains to very soul of the song.

Yeah, I do believe I'll skip American Idol. Give me the musical styling of someone like Slaid Cleaves and a cold bottle of Shiner any  day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rum, Boners, & Horny Protrusions - Yearly Goals Week 3

Tuesdays, here on the blog, are dedicated to holding myself accountable. Each week I going to toss out the facts and figures of my goals.
On this Tuesday, January 18th I weigh in at 281 pounds.

That is but a meager one pound loss from last week. I should be grateful I lost anything as I had my worst week yet willpower wise. I'd cold turkey quit Dr Pepper and soda, but Sailor Jerry and his harem of pin-up girls seduced me into a half dozen or so Rum and Cokes over the weekend.

My goal is to read 75 books this year.

I had a good week finishing two novels to bring my total to 3 on the year. I finished off the Jack London book titled, Smoke Bellew as well as Mark Spragg's latest, Bone Fire.  

Bone Fire is a follow up on Spragg's earlier novel An Unfinished Life. The first novel is one of my all-time favorites so I was eager to dive in. I wasn't though Bone Fire did not quit live up to the very high standard of its predecessor. Both are very much character books and they are honest looks at modern life in the West. I highly recommend you read both. Here are two lines from Bone Fire

She loved the odor of bars, especially in the summer. Damp, cool, and yeasty, like a sip of beer.


I sent zero queries this week.  Yeah, I know a big fat F on my report card for that one.

Speaking of failure I didn't so much as open the file on my bull semen story so that word count stays at 16,212 this week. But I continued editing and tweaking Waiting On The River for this years. Amazon contest. The contest open a week from today at 12:01 AM and I should be ready. I added a few new scenes to redirect the female protag's focus. Here is a snippet of that material.

Lindsay stood to the side and watched Blue hacksaw through the bony plate between the set of elk antlers. She stared as he cut his way through the skulls. Fine white powder of sawed bone drifted down and collected on the ground. She could have told him the truth then, but the jagged pieces of her past would sever their bond. And without Blue, her resolve would turn to dust. 

Two Line Tuesday is a blog feature started by the fabulous Women of Mystery. Click on over to their site for link to other writers sharing their work

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Back in the Day #2 -- Pin Me

He didn't look like a professional athlete.

His hair was thinning and combed over his mostly bald head. His face was round. His gelatinous belly even rounder.

When he came running outside to yell at us, his stark white belly contrasted with the dark brown skin of his arms.

Not once did I ever see him wearing a shirt.

Not when he left the comfort of his recliner to scream Spanish obscenities at us. Not back in day when I saw him wrestle down at the Sportatorium.

At various times he wrestled under the names of El Diablo, El Toro and The Zebra Kid, when away from Amarillo, but here, in his hometown, he always went by his real name ... Alex Perez.

Before he retired, Alex was a bad guy, a heel when he fought the Von Erichs on television. But all those matches took place in Dallas. In Amarillo he wrestled as a good guy. Back in the 40's he'd been a Golden Gloves champion and a professional baseball player.

To me and my group of friends he was the most interesting guy in the neighborhood. When bored we'd hunt up a bunch of dirt clods and head over to his house.Not caring that he was retired. Not caring that at best he was a card filler. A supporting actor there to prime the audience for the big name wrestlers. Guys like Mike Dibiase Terry Funk, and Harley Race.

Not when we tormented him, but we were enamored by him just the same.

Enamored by this former pro wrestler, me and my buddies would throw the dirt clods at his house until he got mad enough to come out side and chase us away.

We'd  point and say, "Look there he is!" as we took off running.

Looking back now I see how stupid we were. No doubt Mr. Perez would have enjoyed talking to us, telling stories had we simply knocked on his door and said we were fans. Instead we antagonized the man simply to get a glimpse of him.

I Google searched his name and discovered that he died of Parkinson's back in 2001 at the age of 71. That means he was in his 50s back when we were tormenting him. Funny .... he seemed much older to us.

I am amazed, but I found an old video of one of his matches. The commentary is in Spanish. I hope Mr. Perez is up in the big ring int he sky wearing a championship belt and getting to enjoy the time is his recliner without crazy kids tossing rocks at his house.

Don't forget to pop over to the MTM blog to read posts about other places from all over this globe. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Holier Than Thou

I'm a blue jean and t-shirt kind of guy. Matter of fact I walked down the aisle in a starched pair of black Wranglers. I do not own a single pair of slacks or what most of the world would describe as dress pants.

My wife tells me I must give in and acquire a pair by Easter. She claims I cannot wear jeans when at the Easter vigil I officially become Catholic. I'm of the mind, God will welcome to the club even if I come in naked, walking upside down on my hands.

But the rub here is I have to get baptised seeing as to how I never have been. For that I am told I'll have to don a white robe of some sort. Zalen, my 8 year old son told me to start growing my beard so I'd look more like Jesus when I put on the robe.

But I'm getting away from my intent with this post, so lets slip into something more comfortable and get back to blue jeans.

I wear a 40 length inseams so it's never easy for me to find jeans. Only rarely have I ever found a pair of Levi's that long so for years I wore Wranglers. My mother in law once gave me a pair of Carhardt's, but I ripped the crotch out of those suckers in no time flat.

A few years back Cinch jeans became the chic pants of choice for the discriminating Texan and so being the fashion plate I am I've worn mostly Cinch for a while now. Though I still own a pair or two of Wranglers.

Blue jeans tend to come with 5 pockets. The two which grace each butt cheek, a right and left one on each hip and that mysterious little pocket high up on the right side.

Most folks consider this fifth pocket to be about as useful as meat grinder in a Vegan commune.

It's small, oddly positioned, and rather hard to get you hand into. A lot of people incorrectly assume this odd pocket is designed to hold coins. Some jean ads even describe it as a coin pocket.

Originally the pocket was meant for watches. Before the days of the wristwatch when men carried pocket watches on chain fastened to their belt loop. So the pocket was never meant to be reached into but rather a fella could haul out his watch from the tiny space by yanking on the chain.

I can't say for certain Levi Strauss invented the watch pocket, but he certainly incorporated it into his jeans. And while Ol' Levi has been gone a spell I'm here to urge his successors to bolster the fabric they use for said pocket because while many might regard the space as a casualty of technological evolution I am here to tell you the watch pocket has a very viable function to today's needful writer.

I use to it carry and store my thumbdrive. which contains very nearly every word I've written in the last decade. Four novels, a memoir, countless short stories and blog posts. I am never without my storage device and it is always stowed safely right there in that little pocket high up on my right side.

But as with all thing in life, no system is fool proof and the pocket wears out far too quickly. Soon I will have to retire yet another pair of jeans and this is why.

And yes, I am afraid you have just read an entire post based solely upon my personal sadness in regards to a hole in my favorite pair of jeans.

But fear not, because I am interested in your life as well. Do any of y'all use this long forgotten pocket or do you consider it the clothing equivalent to your appendix? Do you have a sad story about the demise of your favorite pair of jeans. Do you think I should grow my beard and show up at my baptism looking like Jesus?

Drop a line in the comments and let me know what is on your mind.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Two Tuesday

 Weighing In Week 2

I've decided to use Tuesdays here on the blog to hold myself accountable. Each week I'm going to toss out the facts and figures of my goals.

TUESDAY January 4th I weighed 285. Today I weigh 282.

I'm quite shocked that I managed to drop three more pounds this week given the late night Whataburger run on Thursday, the 13 or 14 Shiners I drowned my football loving sorrow in during the Saints loss and the 4, yes 4 Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches I consumed to soak up all that beer.

My goal is to read 75 novels this year. So far I stand at 1 complete, as I did not finish a novel this week. i did however read about 70 pages of Mark Twain short stories and I'm nearly finished with an old Jack London book titled, Smoke Bellew. Here is a short passage from that novel which appealed to my carnivorous sensibilities ...

Kit was divided between two impressions: one, of the caliber of his comrade, which served as a spur to him: the other, likewise a spur, was the knowledge that old Isaac Bellew, and all the other Bellews, had done things like this in their westward march of empire. What they had done, he could do. It was the meat, the strong meat, and he knew, as never before, that it required strong men to eat such meat.

I sent out one short story submission three agent queries this week.

I had a dismal week of writing word count wise as my bull semen story grew by a mere 1,000 words. From 15,200 last Tuesday to 16,212 this week. But I did a ton of editing and tweaking in anticipation of entering Waiting On The River in this years. Amazon contest. here is a snippet of dialogue from those 1,000 words. A little mother/daughter conflict.

"Save the drama, Callie. Talk to me in a few months. Once your father starts in about the way you dress, and the time you spend texting, or on the internet, or when you bring home another shitty report card. Let me know how great he is then."

"I've lived with him before. Until you threw him out."

"I'm not having this discussion again, and I have work to do."

"I'm sure your boss will understand. After all you are marrying him."

Two Line Tuesday is a blog feature started by the fabulous Women of Mystery. Click on over to their site for link to other writers sharing their work.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Salamanders, Toads, And Naked Women -- Oh My! Amarillo, TX Circa 1984

It's my turn to host My Town Monday this week, but t be honest this post fits only in the fact it, and all my childhood stories took place in Amarillo.

We lived on the corner of Trigg and 32nd street. The same house, the same friends, the same neighborhood colored every one of my school years. As I got older what I considered entertainment and my motivations changed but looking back I have nothing but fond memories. Yeah I'm lucky to have escaped serious damage to myself or other given some of the crap we did but most of our activities were harmless.

Many of the best stories took place in the alleys behind our houses.

These alleys were wide gravel lined areas strips that for us were easier to navigate than the streets. The dumpsters offered places to duck behind during games of hide and seek, as well as other treasurers for those willing to get their hands dirty. Many homeowners neglected the narrow strip of lawn on the alley side of their fences and an adventuresome boy could crawl through the tall weeds and stomp out a shady place to laze away in secret. And then there was the water mains behind each house.

Heavy cast iron lids covered the holes but we quickly learned how to pry those up and look for critters inside. Toads, tiger salamanders, and a great variety of creepy crawly insects enjoyed living in the dark damp caverns of these water mains.

Mostly we were after the toads and salamanders, but if we spotted something cool like a big centipede or something we'd capture it as well.

We would each pick a toad or salamander and take it home for a few days where we kidded ourselves by claiming to train them. Then we'd get back together and see whose toad could hope the farthest or whose salamander could crawl the fastest.

Perhaps this was the beginning of my lifelong gambling addiction though none of my friends enjoyed risking their milk money quite as much as I did.

We did this for several spring summers without incident. Oh the occasional man would catch us digging in his water main and assume we were up to no good. He'd scream and shout and we'd take off giggling knowing no fat old man was going to run us down.

I remember the day it happened was a hot one. Fairly late in summer if I'm not mistaken. The July or perhaps August before my 6th grade year.

There were four of us and we'd already covered a couple of alleys, but it had been a hot dry summer so even down in the water mains there wasn't much moisture. Toads and salamanders were scarce but we kept up our search.

We pried the lid off a water main and there they were ...

Not reptiles but nubiles.


Naked women.

We'd unearthed a stash of porn mags.

When I say porn I'm not talking about tasteful, sophisticated  Playboys or even slightly cruder Penthouses. I'm talking sleazy hustler style porn.

I suppose I'd seen the female form before but never in such brazen glaring light as on display in that hot steamy alley. The things those women were doing defied logic to my 11 year old mind. There were 3 magazines but four of us. There might have been a fight except one kid shrugged off our discovery and announced, "Hell those ain't nothing. My dad has a whole closet full. Videos too."

The neighborhood I grew up in was lower middle class and VCR's were still expensive back in those days so not many of friends had one. And none of us had ever seen a porno tape much less watched one.

Quicker than you can say PeeWee Herman we were off to this kids house to substantiate his claim.

He was right. And looking back I do believe that was the last day we ever searched for toads or salamanders. Was our innocence stolen that day? I guess you could make that argument as our discovery led to a newfound appreciation of the opposite sex.

We divied up the three mags among those of us without a closet full of porn hidden at home. My brother found mine and absconded with it within the week which probably saved me trouble later down the road.

Of that group of friends not one of us became a rapist or sex fiend so you can't claim the experience scarred us too deeply. But I've often wondered about the person that stashed them there. Were they a kid like us trying to sneak a peak? Was it a husband looking to get his jollies without his wife finding out? Maybe that particular water main was simply the home of a scandalous and horny salamander.

So tell me fellas. When and how did you get your first good, full on look at a naked female. And ladies, feel free to expose your own salamander spotting experiences. 

For more My Town Monday post check out the links as I add them here and over at the official MTM blog. Feel free to join us by writing a post about something in your town or area. Should you crate such a post today or tomorrow I'd be glad to add your blog to the link parade.

Barrie Summy practices her camping skills at Cibbets Flat Campground near Pine Valley, California. 

Laura K Curtis has a howling good time at the Mount Kisco, New York public library.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Fricassee

More and more I realize how sheltered my boys are. Back in the day me and my friends freely roamed the entire southeast corner of Amarillo. from Whitaker road east of town all the way to Southeast park we rode our bikes and went wherever we wanted. We rarely ventured north of I-40 but we could of had we wanted.For those not from Amarillo we are talking about a large area. Perhaps 5 miles east to west and 3 or so north to east.

I get nervous allowing my boys to walk to the park a a few blocks from my house.Sure the times have changed but I think the real factor here is my own fear that my boys will do even half the crap I did. I was raised my a single mom. She worked and depended on my brother to keep my alive when she was away. Sad thing is my brother really shouldn't be entrusted with a  goldfish. Let's just say he is not and never has been of the responsible sort. Six years older than me he didn't care what I did long as I did it away from him.

What I enjoy most about this blog is having the opportunity to share stories with y'all. I have a lot of great stories from my free ranging childhood and I've decided to start sharing a few of those here. Starting Sunday and continuing most Sundays thereafter. Of course I'm prone to changing my mind regarding reoccurring blog features so don't hold a gun to my head. I will change the names of my buddies since they didn't agree to have our misspent youth trotted out on the blog for the world to read.  This week's story will be about naked women and salamanders.


In other news I have decided not to go way back and enter my first novel in the Amazon contest. Yeah, I know I was all gung ho a few days ago, but I have since decided that last year's entry, Waiting On the River has a better shot of winning. And while I'd love to get a judge's take on that first novel I feel The alter book is more polished.


Last night I dreamed  that I was working at a convenience store. Twice during my shift the joint was robbed. The first crook asked to use the restroom and upon his return brandished a clear pitcher full of yellow liquid. When out eyes met he screamed. "Give me all the fucking money right now or I'll fling hot piss on you." 

The 2nd dude wasn't as scary. He only had a gun.

Fell free to offer your interpretation of that one.  


As previously mentioned I am coaching a storytelling competition for a group of 2nd graders. It is going well and this week I let them read me a story which I retold in the same fashion they are supposed to. When I finished one little girl looked up at with wide -eyes and said, "Wow, you are really good at this."

The awe in her voice made my week. Hope you had a great week as well. Would love to hear about your highlights this week so drop me a comment if you have time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

You Gotta Change a Lot of Dirty Diapers

Writing is a lot like parenthood for me. Both endeavors have changed me. Both have led to my personal growth in ways I never would have imagined. Both have their moments of heartbreak and worry but the joys far overshadows those things.

I became a parent in the Fall of 2000. I began writing with publication in mind during the spring of 2001. Writing and parenthood they are both huge parts of who I am. Who my friends are. And who I want to be ten years from now.

Did we, my wife and I make a few mistakes with our first born. You betcha. Hell we are no doubt still making mistakes, but we do the best we can given what we know and think.

Did I make a few mistakes writing my first novel. Damn right, Except back then I knew very few of the so-called rules. I was writing to write. I was writing to tell a story which filled me head. I was writing to introduce the world to these fabulous characters only I knew on an intimate level. But I felt certain readers the world over would fall in love them them also. All I had to do was release them onto the page.

I just knew my book would be a hit, a best seller, a great addition to the debate over, What is The Great American Novel.

I wrote Small Town, Big Lies with the mind of a reader rather that a writer. For at that point that is what I was. I wrote a story I would want to read.

It took me a year to write it. I entered it in a contest at a local writing conference. A month or so later I found a postcard in my mail box. Small Town, Big Lies had been selected as a finalist. I signed up to attend the conference. I'd also attended the year before, but I broke my leg a week before and had surgery only two days before the event. Hopped up on Hydracodone and limping along on crutches is now way to experience your first conference. So this, my second year was going to be first writing conference with a  clear head.

As part of the workshops you could submit the opening to your novel for possible critique by a real live New York Editor. I submitted. Was picked. and then the nerves kicked in when I learned I would read my worm out loud for the editor and the other workshop attendees. I'd never read my work aloud at that point, much less to an editor.

I was picked to go first. The editor was a pleasant woman but she shot my a strange look as I stood and cleared my throat. I no more than read a paragraph than she stopped me and said, "Sorry to interrupt but I can't believe you wrote this. I felt certain a woman had written this. Or maybe a gay man."

She laughed at what no doubt was a dumbfounded look on my part. "Trust me she said. I'm not saying you are gay. I'm just saying it is extremely rare for a straight man to write with your sense of observance and the kind of emotion you showed in this work. Please continue," she said.

I did, and when finished, she broke my piece down talking about the things I did well, the things that needed work and the potential my story had. Later that day I won first place in  the mainstream category and I was on top of the world. The editor had asked to read the rest of the manuscript and I thought, "This writing stuff is easy."

A year later and two edits later that same New York editor believed my manuscript was ready. She told me the time had come for her to submit it at their next acquisition meeting.

She did.

Marketing shot it down. they said it didn't have enough hook to separate it from all the stuff already on the shelf. They said I brought nothing to the table marketing wise. they said it would lose money . They wounded my dream.

But I wasn't ready to throw in the towel. I mailed it off to dozens of agents. Form letters came in droves. Then one day I opened one that looked a little different. Handwritten it said exactly this,

Dear Mr. Erwin,

Your meandering storytelling and excessive verbiage does not appeal to me now or never.


The Evil One

He may have been right but his tact left something to be desired and perhaps that is why the man in question is no longer an agent.

Anyway a few weeks later a few requests came in. Some for partials and a couple of fulls. I spent two more years making various edits while writing a second novel as well, but in the end Small Town, Big Lies whimpered away to a dark corner.

I have since wrote a third, fourth and fifth novel. Dozens of short stories and a memoir.

But lately I have began to think of my first born novel. And Amazon is again hosting their breakthrough novel contest. So I dug it out. I started reading. The dialogue seems a bit clunky and there is the occasional awkward sentence. Along with a bit of overwritten scenes and overly repeated dogmas.

But the story still captivates me. And the setting is spot on if I do say so myself. And the characters. I still love those guys and gals. And the plot ain't too shabby either.

And most remarkably the writing shows a confidence that only in the last few years have I gotten back. There was a period where I wrote by the rules. Where I wrote from the brain and not the heart. That first novel had heart of nothing else.

But do I love it for what it is? My first born. Or is there more to it. Am I objective or delusional?

Can I polish its flaws and have it ready for the Amazon deadline in 18 days, or should I stop looking forward and reach for the future?

Hell if I know, but these are the question filling my brain this fine afternoon. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Weighing In Week #1

I've decided to use Tuesdays here on the blog to hold myself accountable. Each week I'm going to toss out the facts and figures of my goals.

December 23 I weighed 293 pounds. Today TUESDAY January 4th I weigh 285.

I finished one novel this week. A free mystery/suspense e-book from Barnes and Noble titled Deadly Sanctuary and written by Sylvia Nobel.

As of today I have not sent of any submissions or queries on any of my writing. I hope to report otherwise by next Tuesday.

On January 1st, my novel in progress, an as yet untitled humor story involving a woman who believes her life is being ruined by sex and the over-rampant libidos of the world surrounding her stood at a word count of 12,000. Today that word count is up to 15,200.

At my current pace of 750 words per day it will take me approximately 114 days to finish the novel. I should point out that I tend to do lots of editing as I write so while the finished product will not be a polished draft it will be tighter than a rough or normal first draft.

114 days from now the date will be April 28th so I am setting a goal of May 1st to finish a draft of this current novel.

Until I arrive at a title I will refer to my WIP novel as the bull semen story as that particular substance plays a substantial role in the characters lives.

Tuesday also happens to be Two Line Tuesday a blog feature started by the fabulous Women of Mystery so I am going to try and share a few lines from what I'm working on. Today I am sharing more than a few but here is a scene from my latest chapter.

A skinny woman with flaming red hair sat down in the seat directly across from Ty. Two kids took the places on each side of her. The older, a girl, had clammy, sallow skin, runny, pink-rimmed eyes, and a bored expression as if being sick was commonplace for her. The younger, a boy with unkempt hair the same shade as his momma’s, was covered with freckles the color of old pennies.

Ty watched the boy, who couldn’t be much older than five or six, chomp on a piece of gum way too big for his mouth. His own kids were three years apart in age. About the same difference as these two.

He tried to remember if Heather had ever had to do this, take the kids to the emergency room by herself, while he’d been off fishing a tournament. She must have. Cade had broken his arm twice, and like all children, they’d both gotten sick from time to time.

The redheaded boy took the gum from his mouth and began rolling it on the arm of his chair until it resembled a long pink snake. Next he stuck it back in his mouth and chewed some more. The mother never noticed, but Ty couldn’t help wonder how many germs the kid had just ingested. Of course, kids did all kinds of things when you weren’t paying attention -- like grow up.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Trip Down Drury Lane

Muffin Top ...

Do those two words make you think of this ...

 Or this ...

I suppose the clean minded. The righteous. The pure of heart, still think of moist sugary sweetness when they hear the term muffin top. But I'll confess. a cynical, wise cracker like myself thinks of cellulite and too small clothes when i hear muffin top.

Now I'll be the first to admit I've gone right on passed the muffin top state of unfitness and progressed to the whole damn cake. Truth be told I think muffins are kind of dumb. (I'm talking the pastry here) Those stupid little paper wrappers only get in the way and I happen to like the moist middle (of cakes people, keep your mind out of the gutter) the best, so to break a good thing up into a dozen min cakes seems asinine.

But to each his own. I watched Seinfeld back in the day so I know some people like muffins and especially their tops. But with the popularity of the slang term, muffin top, I must wonder what the hell Malt-O Meal was thinking when they produced this product ...

What's next ... Boob shaped breakfast cereal called Ripe Melons? ... Bologna Ponies? I bet as soon as you poured those suckers out, they'd be trying to get right back inside the box.