Hearts and Hours

The last night I spent in a hospital was early March of 1957. I checked out of my mother and into the hospital on March 1st of that year and I’ve never been back since. That streak is about to be broken, possibly, and quite poetically on March 1st of this year as I need a valve job. Apparently, I have a severely leaking mitral valve and I’m just not running right. I’m very much looking forward to the operation so that I’m purring on all cylinders.

That’s a personal update, and now on to an update on my 2018 writing projects, in which there are no automobile metaphors.

The as-yet unnamed sequel to The Secret of Their Midnight Tears is in the final stages of editing and I hope to publish it at the beginning of June. I truly appreciate those of you who asked for (in some cases, demanded!) a sequel. The sequel begins on New Year’s Eve 1942 and ends on July 17, 1944. As you may suspect from that ending date, there will be a third book to conclude the story of Elizabeth, Veronica, Buck, and Johnny but that is a ways down the road.

Last year at this time, I told you that I planned to publish a work entitled, A Faith in the

This masterpiece will be on your bookshelves (or your virtual bookshelves) before the year is out! [Don’t question. Just buy it.]

Crowd which is the story of one man’s spiritual journey. Only this journey is a literal one as Sam Cartwright finds himself aboard a jetliner bound for Heaven. Here, he meets Frank Sinatra, Methuselah, “The Boss,” and most importantly, himself. And while some journeys are inspiring or difficult or even tragic, Sam’s is rather comical. Of course, the world is rather comical or perhaps you might say that you may as well laugh because it beats crying.

In any case, because of the number of hours [title allusion] and the effort in publishing both The Secret of Their Midnight Tears and Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball As a Spiritual Experience, A Faith in the Crowd never made it to the published page in 2017. At some point this year, however, you’ll have another great piece of literature to place on your bookshelf. You can impress your friends by casually dropping into a conversation, “Oh yes, I know the author.” Impress me by adding, “I own his entire catalog and he has personalized each copy.” In fact, if you do that, I’ll even show up at your next social event to prove that you really do know the author. I’ll even wear a sports coat with elbow patches and smoke a pipe and generally mingle with your guest looking profound and authory.

Thanks in advance for your well-wishes on the heart thing and for your support with the writing thing.

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Don’t Nail Your Laptop Battery In Place

I recently bought a replacement battery for my laptop and I happened to glance through a small foldout entitled, User Manual. There, I came across some admonitions that I did not think needed to be put in writing, chief among which was “Never hammer a nail into the battery pack.”

?

I understand that these batteries come in different sizes for the various laptops on the market, but is there really someone out there who, upon finding that his battery doesn’t quite fit his laptop, decides that it would be a good idea to nail the thing in place?

Even worse is the fact that it can’t just be one person who believes that nailing the battery is a good idea, because if it was just one person, the manufacturer wouldn’t have to devote a section in the User Manual to informing people that nailing the battery is a no-no. Apparently, there’s an entire subset of people who practice some form of computer carpentry.

This same paragraph also tells me not to “hit a hammer on the battery pack” and to “never step or tread on the battery pack.” I have to admit that I’ve wanted to fix my computer with a hammer a time or two, but I’ve never thought about stepping or treading on the battery. Those cookies on the top shelf are too high to reach, but maybe if I stepped up on this laptop battery I’ll be able to snag ‘em. That could just be me, though.

Of course, I’ve never thought about throwing “the battery pack into fire” nor exposing “the battery pack to liquid.” I would certainly never think of exposing the battery pack to alcoholic liquid as I can only imagine the havoc that a tipsy battery pack could wreak on my files.

Well, what have we learned from the User Manual for my new laptop battery? We have learned two things, I think. First, never hammer a nail into your battery; and second, no matter what dumb things we may do on a given day, we’re not as dumb as the guy who needs to be told not to hammer a nail into his battery pack. Oh, and put down the staple gun as I’m sure the warning against stapling, riveting, and using screws to hold the battery in place are implied.

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Repost This Or Else

Keeping in touch with friends through Facebook is one of life’s little pleasures.

Among life’s great irritants are the Facebook posts that demand I repost something as my status or else I am not a true friend; or I am against veterans or I’m a fan of cancer or I hate puppies. Or I hate cancer-ridden military dog; I lose track after a bit.

Oh, and your fifteen requests a day to play Candy Crush are also irritating.

Oh, oh and you people who let the world know that there is an immediate crisis in your life, but only in vague and cryptic terms so that we really have no idea what the problem is—cut it out. Cut it out or quit being so cryptic and give us the whole story

Then, there are those people who post something along the following lines:  I just fell down an open manhole where a sewer-dwelling alligator ate half my leg off, to which I’ll reply, Oh, no, my friend! Are you okay? And then you say, Ha! Gotcha! Now YOU have to post that you fell down a manhole where a sewer-dwelling alligator ate your leg off. Failing to repost this or another selection from an idiotic list of scenarios will result in a worldwide outbreak of malaria. And will be a sure sign that I hate puppies.

When I get on Facebook, I just want to see how you’re doing; maybe see a nice photo of your grandbaby or your dog or even your lunch. I might watch your video and I might even take your quiz to find out what French monarch I was in a past life, but I did not get on Facebook to be irritated. So, you repost-or-else, candy crushing, drama queens need to cease and desist. After all, the alligator who lives in the sewer has a Facebook page and he never posts stuff such as this.

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Musical Harassment

I read in the paper recently that the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has come under heavy criticism for what some consider its promotion of sexual harassment. An Internet search reveals that the debate over this song, written in 1944 by Frank Loesser and which publicly debuted in the 1949 film, Neptune’s Daughter garnering an Academy Award nomination, has been raging for several years. (I had been blissfully unaware.) A Salon piece from 2012 goes so far as to ask, “Is ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ a Date Rape Anthem?”

No. No, it is not.

The context for the song in the film has the suave and debonair Ricardo Montalbàn, trying to coax the beautiful Esther Williams to stay with him perhaps for the night or at least well into the evening because “it’s cold outside.” Esther is tempted, but like any self-respecting lady, she is not going to throw away her reputation for one night of . . . how would they have phrased this back then? . . . carnal delight. In fact, she would not risk her reputation on even the suggestion of such an impropriety, and Esther sings her concern about what her mother, father, brother, sister, AND the neighbors would think.

Meanwhile, in the room next door, Betty Garrett is trying to convince Red Skelton to stay a little while longer because, after all, “it’s cold outside.” One could argue that this scene, in which the lady is pursuing the gentleman, is a parody of the wolfish Ricardo Montalbàn’s pursuits. In any case, Ricardo wants Esther and Esther wants Ricardo, but her message to Ricardo, herself, and the audience is “Wantin’ ain’t gettin’” and ultimately, he respects her and the norms of the day. (It occurs to me that perhaps sexual harassment is rampant now, at least among certain segments of the population, because there are no norms for our day, but I digress.) In any case, watch the original clip from the movie below and judge for yourself. And please note that it is NOT a Christmas song!

It’s a good thing the critics of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” never listened to “Go Away Little Girl,” in which the singer tells a younger woman that she better leave because she’s “much too hard to resist” and to go away “before I beg you to stay.” The song, originally sung by Steve Lawrence, was a top record in 1963, and was later covered in the 70s by Donny Osmond. It was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and I’m pretty sure that they were not promoting sexual harassment or pedophilia, and of course, the line about “before I beg you to stay” indicates that the girl, young as she might be, has the final say in the matter.

It’s a really good thing, those critics haven’t listened to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap sing “Young Girl.” This chart-topper from 1968 includes the stanza, “Young girl, get out of my mind; my love for you is way out of line. Better run, girl. You’re much too young girl.”

Now that one does seem a bit creepy and I remember thinking so at the age of 11 when the song came out.

I doubt that there is any way to measure this, but I suspect that significantly more girls than boys bought those records. An older man with cash, confidence, and an ability to keep his shirttail tucked is still considered attractive after all. I also suspect that those “young girls” were 14 and the “older man” for whom they pined was a junior in high school. In those days, a guy might flirt and flatter and even push, and girls knew how to parry flirting and flattering and they knew how to push back. Regardless of whatever “moves” we employed, we knew that coercion was never to be one of them. That’s because those days included the ideal of a lady and a gentleman. In those days, shame was real and respect was genuine. In those days, we believed in ideals even when we failed to live up to them. Hopefully, these good things from the old days will be included in the new days to come. If not, we’ll have many more laws and lawsuits, but not an increased regard for the women in our lives or for our neighbors or for ourselves.

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Creating People

I create people.

As an author, I create characters, endow them with a past, present, and future, put them in predicaments and then extricate them. I can make them tall, short, handsome, ugly, and I can make them make you cry. But, I don’t really control them. They will say and do things that will surprise me. Sometimes, they make me cry. Sometimes, they have a story that I didn’t even know existed when I first brought them to life and if I pay attention to them, it often turns out their story is much more interesting—or tragic—then the one that I created for them.

In thinking about this it occurred to me that we all create people.

They’re not fictional people on a page, however; they are the fictionalized versions of the real people with whom we interact every day. Our husbands, wives, children, parents, friends. We create images of these people, which is very problematic indeed, because we constantly confuse the image with the actual person. We want those people to behave according to our notion of how they should behave. That doesn’t leave those folks any room for growth, which means that they’ll have to get away from us to achieve it. Even purely fictional characters are allowed to grow—if the author truly cares about them.

Your acquaintances, your friends, even your children and spouse have stories of which you’re probably not aware. Humans do not like incomplete stories, however, and so we use our own imaginations to fill in the parts of other people’s lives about which we know nothing. But, of course, those other people don’t know the role they’ve been assigned. That “aloof” person may simply choose not to talk about herself, for example, (unlike most of the rest of us.) Or she may not want to talk now. Or she may not want to talk to you about whatever “it” is. Which may be nothing but a plot device of our own invention.

Respecting someone, indeed, loving someone, means giving that person room to grow, even if it’s in ways that aren’t in our author outlines. This doesn’t mean that we have to like everyone, but if we discover that we just don’t connect with a certain person, then we can let him or her be without creating an explanation that fits our own narrative.

My new year’s advice for us all is this: Let’s be slower to judge the plot of other people’s stories at least until we hear them tell it for themselves, and if they choose not to, let’s leave the story untold.

You don’t know if the sun is rising or setting in this snapshot, but it’s pretty just the same.

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December 18, 1941

Thursday, December 18, 1941

Christmas is one week from today. The excitement of children grows and the scurrying of adults increases. Imagine this date in 1941, however. Christmas is still one week from today, but Pearl Harbor occurred only 11 days before. The twinkling had gone out of the holiday lights.

It would be five more days before three sailors trapped below decks of the severely damaged U.S.S. West Virginia would run out of air and perish, their days marked on a calendar in the storeroom where they were found months later. Christmas was observed, but not celebrated and traditions were performed, not for their usual joy, but in an attempt to restore a sense of normalcy.

The chapters in The Secret of Their Midnight Tears are various days in the lives of the characters in the little town of Marsh Point, who on this day, like everyone else in towns and cities and farms and villages across America are still in a collective shock. The following scene from the novel occurs when Marsh Point High School’s principal, Gerald Bittner has just arrived home. The school’s Christmas pageant will go on as planned, but even this will be altered by the news from Hawaii. Bill, his daughter’s boyfriend and aspiring songwriter, is caught up in the furor.

It was dark by the time Gerald arrived home that night. The string of lights around their Christmas tree which stood in the corner of the parlor were lit, but this year, they did not twinkle.

“Is that you, Gerald?” called Margaret from the kitchen.

Affirming that it was, Gerald went out to his wife. Margaret had been baking all afternoon. The kitchen was toasty and smelled of ginger snaps. Wisps of brushed flour streaked down her red blouse. Gerald hugged her and kissed her on the nose.

“I wasn’t sure if that was you or Elizabeth.”

“No, she’s still at school. Mrs. Wightman wanted to run through the Christmas Pageant one more time. Ought to be along soon though.” . . .

The sound of footsteps and conversation drifted into the kitchen from the back porch. Margaret looked out just in time to see Bill kiss Elizabeth good-bye before he hurried away, and her daughter hurried into the warmth of the house. She smiled to herself as one of the old days drifted to mind.

“Are you all ready for the Christmas Pageant tomorrow, dear?”

“Mrs. Wightman says we are, so I guess we are.”

“Daddy, I hear you gave Bill permission to sing his new song.”

Gerald sighed. Again. “Yes, I did. What do you think of it?”

“Well, it’s not his best effort, but he’s all excited about it. At least he was able to write that one quickly. He’s been working on a song about the river for weeks now and he can’t get it finished.”

“What’s this one about?” Margaret asked.

“It’s about how we’re going to kill all the Japs.”

“Heavens! What does that have to do with Christmas?”

“Nothing,” answered Gerald, “but it has everything to do with the times.”

“Well,” said Elizabeth, “it certainly isn’t as nice as that Eddie Cantor song, but nice or not, Bill’s right!”

“What Eddie Cantor song?” asked Gerald.

“You know, Daddy; ‘We Did It Before (And We Can Do It Again.)”

“Yeah, and the problem with that is that we do have to do it again.”

“Well, I’ll be glad to get back to the days when we can sing songs about rivers or apple blossoms or something pleasant,” said Margaret who leaned against the white kitchen cupboard and surveyed the vast array of cooling cookies. She looked at Elizabeth and she looked at Gerald. “Christmas is one week from today, but it sure doesn’t feel like Christmas,” she said as the tears rolled silently down her cheeks.

Available in soft cover and ebook form. Please click the “Fiction” tab in the ribbon above.

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The Perfect Christmas Gift

Giving someone a new idea or perspective is a perfect gift. So is the gift of laughter or even a good cry. When you give someone a book, you give someone any and all of those thoughts and emotions.

Most books are now published electronically as well as in traditional paper form and these e-books may be given as gifts as well.Click here for directions on sending an Amazon (Kindle) e-book. All you need is an email address—and an account with Amazon, of course. You can even set the date on which the e-book will be delivered.

While I enjoy e-books (and the shelf space that they save) a personalized book makes a good gift even better.

I have copies of each listing in my catalog and would be happy to make sure that you or your “gift-givee” receives the message you desire. I only have two copies left of Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser, however, so if you may want to act quickly to read the life of the man who was, for a time, baseball’s most colorful character.

If you enjoy local baseball, then look into Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley, and join me as I spend a year with the New Market Rebels of the Valley League.

For those of you who like to ponder, consider Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience. There’s a reason that baseball people are so passionate about their sport.

If you need a quick read while you’re on the go, then purchase a copy of Time Is A Pool, a ten-story collection of flash fiction.

I know that many of you enjoy learning about World War II as much as I do, in which case, I invite you to purchase The Secret of Their Midnight Tears, a fictional look at what it meant to come of age even as the world descended into chaos.

For information on ordering either a personalized hard copy or an e-version of any listing from my catalog, please visit either the Baseball Books page or the Fiction page.

Thank you, and good luck shopping!

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