2021: My Year In Writing


All in all, 2021 was a pretty good year for me, writing wise. Sure there were plenty of disappointments. I have several children’s books (a chapter book and three picture books to be precise) that haven’t found homes yet, and I think they’re pretty damn good. Early next year I’m planning on having the chapter book ripped apart by pro editor Chapel Orahamm, and then back out they all go. I collected a lovely bouquet of rejection letters from various magazines, but that’s actually a net positive, because that means I was submitting, which I think is about as much fun as dental surgery without anesthetic. I submitted a decent amount in 2021, and will force myself to keep it up in 2022.

As far as successes go, here they are, in no particular order…


My short story Treetown was chosen for this anthology of Ohio writers. It’s one of my favorites that I’ve written, and it’s not horror, science fiction, or fantasy. It’s the story of a touch old guy and how he comes to terms with his wife’s death. Here’s a link to the anthology:

You can read this story here:
But here’s the thing—I love this story, but it is all kinds of fucked up. Read at your own risk, but please give it a read if I haven’t scared you off.


This one started with an idea from writer/editor Chapel Orahamm—what if pairs of writers teamed up to reinvent classic myths and legends from opposite perspectives. A group of us from the Twitter writing community joined together under his leadership and paired up. Canadian author Renée Gendron transplanted the legend of the Wild Hunt to the U.S./Canadian border during the War of 1812. I had a great time with this; so much so, in fact, that I’ve agreed to work with her and expand our two story halves into a novella. Uncharted territory for me, but I love a challenge. I also created the cover art. Here’s a link to the anthology:


Orahamm, along with a bunch of the same writers and a few new ones, dove back into a new project. This one was a true collaboration amongst all of us. We invented Simmins, a small mountain mining town in North Carolina, created some shared characters, then all wrote stories of holiday horror set in the month of December, 1998. I have two stories in this one—A Visit From the Slayman, which attempts to give a slenderman-like character a new mythology; and The Ridges, which starts out as a Hallmark channel “meet cute” kind of story, and then ends not so cute at all. I also did the cover here. This one was just published. It’s available as an e-book now, and as a print edition any day now. Here’s a link:


Okay, this one is special. Not only did I win the short story category in this contest, which I understand is a pretty big deal, but my category was judged by Stephen Graham Jones. Jones has quickly become one of my very favorite authors. His two most recent novels, My Heart Is a Chainsaw and The Only Good Indians, are modern horror classics. Rat and Roach is a story of addiction and horror set on the streets of Cleveland, my home town. It will be available to read sometime soon. I’m extremely proud of this one.

That’s it, my year in writing. My goal in 2022 is to keep writing, keep submitting, and hopefully, find homes for more of my word babies.



Hey Dave, you may be asking yourself, you’re reviewing a book, why is this post in the writing section of your blog? What gives?

Glad you asked!

Author’s World Builder is a notebook for fiction writers, and it’s exactly what the title suggests—a well-thought-out, detailed, even exhaustive resource to help writers build their fictional worlds from the ground up. I’ve worked with Orahamm on a couple of projects and can attest to the fact that he’s a talented writer and editor, and that’s evident of every page of this meticulously designed notebook. It’s made to be interactive, with plenty of lined pages for you to take notes and build your world one brick at a time.

Orahamm starts with the big questions—what’s your title, your main idea, your themes, primary audience, and genre? Then, over the course of more than a hundred pages, he helps you flesh out your characters, setting, plot—everything down to the smallest detail. Does your world contain magic? What sort of magic system is in play? What are the politics, education, economics, geography, and so much more. All the questions are here for you to answer, and as you do, your fictional world emerges fully formed.

Orahamm has created an essential tool for writers of fantasy and science fiction, but I would argue that it’s equally valuable for writers of most genres, from mysteries and horror to historical fiction, even family dramas. It’s the perfect way to keep track of your characters, all the little details that give a book depth.

As a writer, I’ve always been a pantser—I usually start writing with only a general idea of where I’m going to end up. I never outline. This notebook may change how I work.

Author’s World Builder is available now on Amazon. As an added bonus, Orahamm has created several different covers, to help you differentiate between your various WIPs. If you’re a writer, this is a must-have.



I posted several days ago about the comic strip Roland Napoli and I created back in the 80s, Lunapurd—he as artist and me as writer. I only had a few strips to show, but it turns out Roland has all of them, and was gracious enough to scan them and send them my way.

So, over the next couple of months I’m going to occasionally post some more strips. Even if the pop culture references are dated (the 80s, remember), I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished. As always, Roland’s artwork is perfect.



I met my friend Roland Napoli in high school. He was then, and continues to be to this day, one of the best cartoonists and illustrators I have ever met.

Sometime in the 80s we decided to take a couple of characters he had been drawing for years and build a comic strip around them. The result was Lunapurd, the adventures of two cute aliens who crash land on earth, landing in the well of a mountain woman named Eunice. I wrote the strip and Roland drew it. We put together six weeks of strips, including Sunday strips and dailies.

It was a huge amount of fun. Unfortunately, we were young, inexperienced, and had no concept of how to actually pitch the strip to a syndicate, and the idea eventually died. I recently came across a few of the strips in my files. The pop culture references are out of date, as they’re more that 30 years old, but I remain extremely proud of what we came up with, particularly Roland’s artwork. Nice job, Roland!



Why am I posting this in the writing category? Well, I don’t have a general category, so there’s that. But also, I’ve been a movie fan for as long as I remember, and the visual storytelling that is cinema’s stock in trade has no doubt informed my writing. Even so, I’m not writing about movies here, except tangentially; instead, here are three small stories about things that happened inside movie theaters, all from decades ago, that I have never forgotten.

June, 1975. I’m 15, seeing Jaws for the first time. The theater is packed of course, because it’s Jaws, the movie that invented the summer blockbuster. Like always, I’m sitting where I always sat before my body betrayed me and made it too uncomfortable, third row center. Next to me is a young kid, maybe 7 or 8—way too young to see Jaws, but Mapletown Theater, my decrepit local theater of choice in Maple Heights, Ohio will sell tickets to anyone with a pulse—and he’s by himself. He’s got a jumbo pop (it’s Ohio, that’s what we call it)) in one hand and a popcorn in the other, because Mapletown, like many movie theaters back then, does not have cup holders. The kid looks scared, but he’s holding his own. Until the scene. You know the scene. An empty rowboat, and then a head rolls out of a hole in the bottom. In a movie with few jump scares, it’s the biggest. The kid next to me screams and throws both hands up in the air, drenching several rows behind him in a tsunami of pop and popcorn. Not only did it break the tension in a way that Steven Spielberg would not approve of, it brought the house down.

November, 1976. I’m 16, seeing Carrie for the first time. I’m back at Mapletown, because to them an “R” rating is just a suggestion. It’s the very last scene of the movie. Sue is bending down to place flowers beneath the cross that read Carrie White Rots in Hell, and…and…the film breaks. The sound continues, so I can hear Sue screaming, but no visual. I had read that there was a shocker of an ending. Could this be it? I had to go back the next night and watch it again, just to see that hand thrust up out of the ground.

December, 1986. I’m 26, seeing Platoon for the first time with my then girlfriend, now wife Carrie. We’ve got tickets for a special early screening, which, as it turns out, is filled with Vietnam veterans. And for the next couple of hours, we watch the movie, absolutely, but we also watch the crowd. It’s both sobering and exhilarating. The vets, many in wheelchairs, are totally involved. They laugh knowingly, and sob uncontrollably, and I think to myself, I have never felt as much of a connection to a movie as they do, then or to this day. It put Oliver Stone’s storytelling on a whole different level for me.



There’s a strange (to me at least) current that runs through the Twitter #WritingCommunity every once in a while, and that’s writers who proclaim that they don’t read, and further that they don’t need to be readers to write. This is an alien concept to me. I began to write, way back in junior high, because the books I was reading made me want to tell my own stories. I can’t imagine doing one without the other.

So yes, the best writing advice I know is to read. But, it’s more than that. It’s to read with an open and curious mind, and also with a critical eye, to try to see behind the curtain and understand how the magic happens. That’s not to say that reading should be homework. I frequently find myself lost in a good book, coming up for air hours later, a little dizzy, my heart full, my head in a different place than it was when I began reading. I’m saying, let yourself be carried away by excellent writing, but take notice, if you can, of what makes the writing excellent.

Further, in my experience at least, you can learn different things from different authors. Some examples: Seanan McGuire, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter taught me that there is power in the deceptively simple language of fairy tales, beauty and terror as well. Speaking of terror, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Paul Tremblay, Gabino Iglesias, Chuck Wendig, and countless others taught me that words can be deployed like a scalpel or a bludgeon, and that both will keep you up at night. Joe Lansdale, and Elmore Leonard before him, taught me that in the right hands, dialogue can sing or sting or make you erupt in laughter. In fact, it can carry a story all on its own. From Joe Abercrombie, and Joe Lansdale again, I learned that violence in general, and fight scenes in particular, whether hand to hand combat or clashing armies, can have a visceral, kinetic energy that carries the reader along. From authors as diverse as R.A. Lafferty, Ray Bradbury, Alix E. Harrow, V.E. Schwab, and Tamsyn Muir, I learned that language can be transfixing, breathtaking, even transformative.

I could go on and on. Great writers not only teach me, but give me something to aspire to. I’m not there yet, not even close, but I know in my heart that reading will make me a better writer. That’s the best advice I can give.



Heads and Tales: The Other Side of the Story is a new anthology of reimagined myths, legends, and fairytales, that I’m lucky enough to have a short story in. The stories in the anthology are presented in pairs, with each pair telling their tale from opposite sides—Theseus and the Minotaur, Hansel & Gretel and the witch, you get the idea—with sometimes wildly reimagined settings.

In my case, Canadian author Renée Gendron and I took the myth of the Wild Hunt—berserker warriors and their hounds from hell—and transposed it to the battle for Fort Detroit on the U.S./Canadian border during the War of 1812. Mine is a supernatural war story, Renée’s is a supernatural romance, and they work together in what turned out to be very cool ways. I’ve never collaborated like this before, but besides being an excellent writer, Renée was great fun to work with. All in all, an awesome project to be involved with.

This all came about because editor Chapel Orahamm had an idea back around the beginning of the year, and the Twitter #WritingCommunity coalesced around it. Working with the other talented writers, communicating with them, and learning from them, has been a uniquely worthwhile experience, one that’s made me eager to participate in other projects of this kind.

One other thing—I was also given the opportunity to design and illustrate the book cover as well, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I created the art using an Apple pencil and Procreate. The more I work with digital tools, the more I’m excited by the possibilities.

If you have an interest in folklore, mythology, fairytales, or just plain good fiction, give this one a try.

To top it all off, all proceeds from sales will go to support The Trevor Project.

Heads and Tales: The Other Side of the Story will be available in both paperback and e-book beginning July 1st, but is available for pre-order now on both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.



Maybe it’s my age (a little shy of 61), or maybe it’s because my youngest kid (hi, McKenna!) will be 21 in a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s the sense of overwhelming dread and mortality we’ve all been marinating in for the past year. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling introspective, and thought I’d take a ramble on back through my sort of, sometimes, writing life.

Before I started writing, I had to start reading, and that happened my first week in junior high, when I found I, Robot and Martian Chronicles on the top shelf of my school library’s small science fiction section. By eighth grade I had read all the books in that section (including, if I remember correctly, about 87 Andre Norton novels) and had graduated to my local public library. I had also decided to try my hand at writing, starting with poetry.

In ninth grade I wrote a 25 page collection of poetry, and starting branching out with short stories. In my senior year, my English teacher (hi, Mr. Belden!), who I’m still friends with on Facebook, created a special class for me, where I could spend one period per day in the library writing stories and receive credit for it. By the end of high school I had won a couple of Scholastic Writing Awards with those short stories, and it was pretty much decided. I was a writer, at least in my own mind, and I was going to keep on writing.

I kept writing through my late teens, both poetry and short stories, but I submitted only sporadically. This has been a running theme throughout my life. I hate the entire process of submitting, and I downright suck at it.

I spent the first couple years of my twenties in the U.S. Army, which you wouldn’t think would be conducive to writing. Luckily, Fort Carson, Colorado, where I was stationed, had a post newspaper with a circulation of 30,000, and when I arrived there they were in need of a cartoonist and journalist. I spent those two years happily drawing cartoons and illustrations, and writing movie reviews and feature stories. The paper’s civilian editors were damn good, and they taught me a lot.

Fast forward a bunch of years, where I was still writing but not submitting much at all. I started working for a small Cleveland ad agency as a graphic designer in 1983, got married in 1989 (hi, Carrie!), and my son Eric was born in 1993. That’s when I began writing for kids, something I love and still do to this day. In 1999 one of my children’s stories was a top ten finisher in Writer’s Digest’s annual writing contest. I felt like I was on to something.

I submitted a picture book manuscript to the 2000 contest and the jury, led by the amazing author Kelly Milner Halls, chose it as the grand prize winner. I won some cash, and more importantly, a trip to NYC to meet with three editors of my choice. Weirdly, by the time the trip happened I had already sold the manuscript, to Smallfellow Books in Los Angeles. That’s when I discovered just how much of a crap shoot publishing is, because through a series of misadventures by little book, titled Up Ned’s Nose, was not, and still hasn’t been, published. I chronicled the story in more detail here: (https://davewritesanddraws.com/2020/01/16/so-close-and-yet-the-two-decade-journey-of-a-single-manuscript/).

I kept writing, mostly for kids but some fantasy and horror for adults as well, submitting off and on. In 2006 everyone’s favorite dentist office magazine, Highlights for Children, published my short story Tough As Daisy. This was, and still is, one of my favorite things that’s ever happened to me. I’ve since sold them another story, but it hasn’t appeared in print yet.

My publication credits during this time are a mixed and varied bag. I sold short stories to several horror anthologies. I wrote a bunch of song lyrics, even though I can’t play or sing a lick, and had several recorded by local musicians. I wrote ASL test passages, and greeting card sentiments.

In 2013 CBAY Books, a small publisher in Texas, held a writing contest, and by coincidence I had just finished my first longer work for kids, a 15,000 word chapter book. My book, Trapped In Lunch Lady Land, won the contest by a comfortable margin, and the prize was a publishing contract. I was beyond excited. Funny thing, though, the editor thought it would work much better as a 30,000 word middle grade novel, and I had roughly two months to double my word count. Turns out she was right. Lunch Lady Land was published in 2014. I had a book signing at my local Barnes & Noble, and I did a bunch of school visits, which might be the most fun I’ve ever had.

Meanwhile, I was now creative director at that same ad agency (38 years next month) and besides doing graphic design, I was taking on more and more of the writing work. I’ve now written hundreds of tv and radio scripts, reams of ad copy, and countless blog posts for a variety of clients. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy this new and different creative outlet.

In the fall of 2019 I started this blog, and that took up a fair amount of my free time. By the time the pandemic reared its ugly head, I had not been writing much fiction, but that all changed. Suddenly, since we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, I realized that if I didn’t do something to occupy my time, I would make myself, and my wife as well, crazy. I discovered the joys of writing to submission calls, and started writing short stories again. More importantly, I started submitting with a vengeance, not just the new stuff, but older stuff as well. I’m even tracking my submissions, with dates and everything. Yes, I know that’s how you’re supposed to do it. No, I never really did before.

I also started a RedBubble shop, Fan-Tasm, which features artwork inspired by iconic books and authors. A perfect marriage of my favorite things.

I have a story due to appear sometime soon on an extreme horror website. I’m a little worried about people reading that one, it’s a doozy. I’m participating in the Two Sides of the Story anthology, teamed up with a wonderful writer from Canada (hi, Renée!). At last count I had more than two dozen short stories, kid’s stories, picture books, and a chapter book out on submission.

I have no more excuses keeping me from writing it, so the YA novel I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years is finally going to happen. I hope. It terrifies me a little, because I’m going to write it in first person, and my main character is a 17 year old girl. No idea if I can pull that off, but I think it want to try.

My writing life has been sporadic, in fits and starts, with just a few successes along the way. But I figure, as long as I keep writing, I’m a writer. That’s good enough for me.



I’ve been writing off and on since I was in junior high and I wrote my first poem (if you’re feeling brave you can read it here: https://davewritesanddraws.com/2019/12/02/from-the-vault-my-first-poem/). In the many years since then I’ve written a variety of things, including everything from reading passages for ESL exams to greeting card copy. I wrote a middle grade novel that was published, and a chapter book still looking for a home. I’ve written poetry and song lyrics. For my day job as ad agency creative director I’ve written a couple hundred radio and TV commercials, and countless reams of website copy.

Through all of that, whatever I was writing, either for pay or for fun, I was also writing short stories. I became a reader because of science fiction and fantasy, and I cut my teeth on the short stories that filled the pages of magazines like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy (and hard to find back issues of New Worlds), and long-running anthology series like Damon Knight’s Orbit and Terry Carr’s Universe. Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions showed me the great expanse of what science fiction could be.

So writing short stories seemed like a natural to me. I wrote short stories for kids (mostly fantasy) and short stories for adults (mostly horror, fantasy, and science fiction, go figure). The thing is, I would write a story whenever an idea occurred to me, and then try to find a home for it.

That all changed in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic really began to pick up speed. With nowhere to go and nothing much to do, I began to draw more, and write more. Only, instead of waiting for inspiration to strike like normal, I noticed that submission calls were popping up regularly on Twitter. I joined a couple of writing groups on Facebook, and more submission calls reared their heads. I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of writing to a call instead of my usual way. I thought it might stifle my creative flow. I thought I might find it constricting.

Yeah, I was wrong. Writing to submission calls has been downright liberating. By giving me some sort of basic framework to start from, it freed me to let my imagination run wild, building on that framework. And if a story was rejected by that particular call, then I was free to search for a new home for it the old fashioned way.

Have I been successful at this? Some. I’ve placed two of the stories I’ve written to submission calls in the past year, I’m still waiting to hear from others, and still others are now looking for new homes.

Meanwhile, I’m just going to keep writing.



My first novel, a funny fantasy adventure for middle-graders titled Trapped In Lunch Lady Land was published by CBAY Books in 2014. It sold a few hundred copies, I had a fancy book signing at my local Barnes & Noble, and, most importantly, I did a bunch of school visits. I read from the book and answered the kids’ whipsmart questions (Kindergartners: “Do you have a cat? I have a cat!” 5th graders: “How much did you make from your book? Did you get an advance?”). Those visits are the reason I will never stop writing.

Then, a few weeks ago, a funny thing happened that I did not see coming, although in retrospect I probably should have. Trapped In Lunch Lady Land officially went out of print. I was a little bummed, at least at first, but eventually decided to look at it as an opportunity to enter the exciting, confusing world of self publishing.

My first step was talking to my publisher for some much needed advice. She suggested, first, that I create new cover art for the new edition. Her second piece of advice, which I’ll be forever grateful for, was to take the Self Publishing Class from author P.J. Hoover (@pj_hoover on Twitter). Great class, covered all the basics. At the end of those three hours, I was confident I could pull it off.

Based on what I learned in the class, and my own research, I decided to publish through KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing. I created new cover art on my I-pad with my handy dandy Apple Pencil. KDP has templates available in a variety of sizes. I’ve been drawing by hand my entire life, and I’m not a pro with the pencil yet, but I’m really enjoying learning to use it. I laid out the interior pages of the new print edition in InDesign, which I’m very familiar with. Developing the Kindle e-book edition was trickier. The first edition of Lunch Lady Land didn’t have a Kindle version, so this was new territory. Even with what I learned in the class, I had a few false starts, a few missteps. I tried to make use of my print layout, which potentially should work, but I kept losing all the formatting. Very frustrating. Eventually I downloaded KDP’s free app, Kindle Create, and that did the trick.

So, now I have both print and Kindle versions of the new edition of Trapped In Lunch Lady Land available. Will I sell some new copies? Who knows? That’s not what’s important. I just like knowing that the book’s out there in the wild. And maybe some kid will read it, and enjoy, at least for a little while, spending time in a world I invented.

If you’re curious, here’s a link to the new edition. If you have a kid, or know a kid, they just might like it.



I wrote this song for local Cleveland group The Advocates, let by singer/songwriter Paul Senick. To this day it’s one of my favorite lyrics of all I’ve written.


Joanie’s husband beat her like a drum for nineteen years,
Held her ego hostage in a cage of pain and fear.
Bruises heal and bones mend, but what about the soul,
His fists and words just beat her down, and each one took its toll.
Joanie suffered silently, she never made a scene.
She kept it bottled up inside, a never ending scream.
Until the night her husband woke to the smell of gasoline.
As Joanie struck the match she said, give it back to me.

Give it back, give it back to me,
All the years and all the tears you took from me.
Give it back, give me back my life,
How’s it feel to dangle from the sharp edge of the knife.
Give it back, give it back to me,
Give it back, give it back to me.

Patty Anne was barely ten when her father came to call,
Creeping like a prowler in the darkness, down the hall.
You won’t tell a soul he said, here’s what it’s about.
I brought you into this world and I can take you out.
Patty suffered silently, she never made a scene.
She kept it bottled up inside, a never ending scream.
Until the night her father woke to the smell of gasoline.
As Patty struck the match she said, give it back to me.

Give it back, give it back to me,
All the years and all the tears you took from me.
Give it back, give me back my life,
How’s it feel to dangle from the sharp edge of the knife.

Give it back, give it back to me,
All the years and all the tears you took from me.
Give it back, give me back my life,
How’s it feel to dangle from the sharp edge of the knife.
Give it back, give it back to me,
Give it back, give it back to me.



I wrote this a long time ago, after my first visit to New York City. Reading it now, I realize it sounds like I don’t like the city at all, but the truth is it’s one of my favorite places in the world. I was playing a character here, imagining the lives of some of the people I watched streaming past me.


my old man drove me as far as the station
but he wouldn’t get out of the car
shook my hand and palmed me a twenty
told me again I was straying too far
every small town punk wakes up one morning
with big city lights alive in his dreams
but I guess we all have to find out for ourselves
those big city lights aren’t as bright as they seem
go on now, boy, your bus is waiting
I know this is something you think you have to do
but take this advice along for the ride
someone gave it to me when I was a punk just like you

you’ve got to hit the ground with both legs churning
shine like a comet with both ends burning
sweat and strain ’til the weight gets lighter
keep coming back, like a punch drunk fighter
and most of all, don’t forget this, Jack
sometimes when you hit the town, you know the town hits back

Grand Central Station at three in the morning
is something no boy from Ohio should see
so many lost people huddled together
so many dead eyes following me
I sat on a bench to wait out the daylight
wondered again how I’d come to this place
an old woman tugged at the hem of my coat
she said, don’t worry son, we’ll save you a space

you’ve got to hit the ground with both legs churning
shine like a comet with both ends burning
sweat and strain ’til the weight gets lighter
keep coming back, like a punch drunk fighter
and most of all, don’t forget this, Jack
sometimes when you hit the town, you know the town hits back

now here I am gazing from fifty floors up
at the lights of the city, completely alone
thinking that maybe those lights aren’t so bright
thinking that maybe it’s time to go home
I’m tired of running just to keep up
I need to sit down and rest for a while
I’m tired of thinking each handshake a challenge
it’s been so damn long since I wanted to smile

Grand Central Station at three in the morning
is something that no longer bothers me much
my eyes look away when voices are raised
I don’t get too close, I’m afraid to be touched
It’s hard to admit that my father was right
but there comes a time when you must face the facts
I won a few battles but I sure lost the war
sometimes when you hit the town, you know the town hits back
sometimes when you hit the town, you know the town hits back



I’m participating in a flash fiction competition where we’re given three prompts—a genre, a location, and an object—and must write a short story of 1,000 words or less. For the first challenge, my prompts were historical fiction, swamp, and pillow. I’m really happy with the result:

The swamp was different in Ohio, different from what they’d crawled through in Louisiana. 

Down there they were wet more often than they were dry, waist deep in the muddy water, weaving between cypress trees draped with spanish moss. Snakes big around as a man’s arm hung from the trees, and the hot, thick air hummed with mosquitos. 

Third night on the run a gator took Leon. He was six years old. One minute he was stepping down off one of the rare dry, grassy hillocks where they had stopped to rest, trying not to lose his footing on the slick cypress roots and go under. Then a gator had its jaws clean around his narrow chest and started to roll, tail thrashing, roiling the water, red blood mixing with the brown. 

Judah planned their escape for months, starting right after his wife Mina died of an infection that went bad. The overseer had begun to take an interest in his daughter Delphine, not yet thirteen. Judah could not abide that. He gathered what food he could—they would have to make it through the swamp and all the way to the station in Jackson. An old woman named Maria had helped keep an eye on Delphine after Mina died, and Judah promised to take her and her grandson Leon along. 

The four of them slipped away quietly the night of a party at the big house, lost themselves in the festive chaos. Judah had the food and the clothes on his back, Maria a small bible. Delphine carried a burlap sack that held her mother’s pillow.

The pillow had been Mina’s prized possession, a gift from the boss’ grandmother she tended to. It was down filled, trimmed with lace. Judah told Delphine she had to leave it behind, but she was adamant. She said, “Papa, this is all I got left of Mama. I’ll carry it, you don’t have to. Mama never laid a free head on that pillow. I’m gonna keep it wrapped up safe and clean, and I won’t lay my head on it until I know we’re free.” Judah started to argue, but he saw the same fierce look in Delphine’s eyes he used to see in Mina’s, and he let it be.

Delphine was true to her word. She kept that pillow swaddled like a baby, kept it dry through the swamp and all the way to the Jackson station. They were taken in there, given a hot meal and a place to sleep. From there they made their way to Montgomery, then Nashville, and Frankfort, Kentucky. In Frankfort they heard that two teams of slave catchers had been hired to track them. It was decided they had a better chance if they split up, and Judah and Delphine continued on alone.

They crossed the Ohio River near Cincinnati, huddled in the bottom of a jon boat, covered with a tarp. A preacher dressed as a farmer met them with a hay wagon on the Ohio side. The wagon had a false bottom Judah and Delphine crawled into, stifling hot, black as pitch. They were stopped twice on the way north. Judah held his daughter close, both of them numb with fear, as they listened to slave catchers try to bully the preacher. The preacher remained calm, serene, unflappable, and in both cases the slave catchers finally walked away, frustrated.

They parted ways a little north of Lima. They were staring at a wall of trees that went on for miles in both directions. The preacher said, “This is the Great Black Swamp. There are easier ways to reach Lake Erie, but this is the safest. Not even the slavers will follow you in there.” The preacher handed Judah a compass, and they shook hands. “Stay north. When you come to the Maumee River, follow it to the mouth and wait. Stay hidden. A week from now, a fishing trawler will anchor in the bay, with three lanterns hanging in the bow. They’ll take you to Canada.” They shook hands again.

If the Louisiana swamp was unending muddy water, cypress trees and hidden dangers, the Great Black Swamp was mud. Cottonwood and sycamore forests, the trees so close together you could barely squeeze through, grassy lowlands, and everywhere deep black mud that sucked at your feet, sucked the energy, the very life from your body. One thing was just the same as the other swamp, and that was the mosquitos, great clouds of them. 

When they finally reached the Maumee, Delphine burst into exhausted tears, and Judah felt his own eyes well up.

They had been holed up for three days in a grove of trees on the banks of Maumee Bay when the trawler arrived, three lanterns shining brightly in the dark. Judah and Delphine were both sick with fever, half starved. A small skiff rowed in to take them out to the larger boat. Delphine hugged the burlap sack to her chest.

Lake Erie looked like rippled grey glass beneath a canopy of stars. The ship cook fed them bowls of stew until their bellies were full. The captain offered them a place to sleep below deck, but they chose to stay above, settling in near the bow, the lanterns above them. “Are we really free, Papa?” Delphine asked. 

“We are,” Judah answered. “When we dock, we’ll be in Canada. We’ll make a new life. It’s what your Mama would want.”

“Then I think it’s time,” Delphine said. She untied the twine that held the burlap sack closed, and removed the pillow. It was clean and dry. Delphine made a nest in a pile of fishing nets on the deck. She placed the pillow carefully, and laid her head down. As she drifted off to sleep, Judah heard a whispered, “I love you, Mama.” Judah was soon asleep himself.



Here are a couple more examples of the poetry I was writing when I first started writing poetry. Is it good? Nope. But it started me writing, and I will always be happy about that.


In the air beneath the surface of the golden lined clouds,
In the turning, brewing breezes like a falling silver shroud,
In the burning of the thunder, in the freezing of the night,
Lies the Kingdom of Cadabra, spreading far to left and right.

It’s a land where time is twisty, where years are but a jumble,
Where gypsies do their dances while they prophesize and mumble.
It’s a land where fire-spitting rockets fly alongside brooms,
And atoms vie the esper force in many-crystaled rooms.

Pilgrim prudes and pagan gods coexist so nicely,
And beggars beg for glowing gems, expensive, even pricely.
The royals frolic merry at their happy final fling.
In the burbling wine of apricots fly dinosaurs with wings.

Witches brew and white-foamed beer mix in velvet lined seas,
And pinkly glow the elephants, with tiny, dimpled knees.
Schooners fit with milky sails fly ever swiftly by,
In the Kingdom of Cadabra, in the softly glowing sky.


A wrought iron fence, tall and black,
encloses the graveyard—
a twilight boundary between different worlds.
The gate is rusted. It comes open at a touch
with a flurry of fine red dust.
Slippery with dew, the gravel path is unkept, overgrown,
nearly invisible beneath the moonless night.
It twists and turns into the rustling grass,
into obscurity.
Shadows flit between trees in imitation of lost spirits,
or spirits in imitation of shadows.
The headstones are islands of marble
in the low-lying sea of mist.
Crimson-veined and distant,
monuments in the corridors of time.
In the far corner something moves.
The mist parts to reveal a woman bent over a grave,
the angled planes of her shoulder like atrophied wings,
taut against the faded fabric of her coat.
She lays wilted flowers beneath a wood cross,
not marble like the others,
and falls against it.
The mist swirls, closes.



An unabashed, yearning love song. Not my usual style, but every once in a while I write one.

so here we are again like so many times before
you crying in your beer, me trying to ignore
how the bar lights sparkle in your eyes even through the tears
how many times I’ve heard this same old story through the years
so I hold your hand and tell you things will work out for the best
and I ask myself again how I got into this mess

baby I got heartstrings that never been played
I try to see you differently but these feelings just won’t fade
come on hold me close and feel the heat begin to rise
I can’t be just your friend, I’m your lover in disguise
I need to be your lover, your lover in disguise

so here we are again like so many times before
spending all night talking, sharing hopes and dreams and more
I wish that I could reach out, cup your face between my hands
tell you I won’t hurt you, tell you let me be your man
I won’t take your heart for granted, and I won’t tell you lies
so look at me and try to see this lover in disguise

baby I got heartstrings that never been played
I try to see you differently but these feeling just won’t fade
come on hold me close and feel the heat begin to rise
I can’t be just your friend, I’m your lover in disguise
I need to be your lover, your lover in disguise

so here we are again like so many times before
but now my heart is open wide and I’m standing at your door
take me in yours arms and try the two of us on for size
and spend a little time with your lover in disguise

baby I got heart strings that never been played
please try to see me differently ’cause these feelings just won’t fade
come on hold me close and feel the heat begin to rise
I can’t be just your friend, I’m your lover in disguise
I need to be your lover, your lover in disguise



I wrote this piece of flash fiction to be a bit of a short, sharp punch to the gut. I hope it succeeds. It first appeared in a literary journal called Iceberg.

The girl surfaced into consciousness briefly to the smell of pine trees, eyes still squeezed tightly shut. Her body lurched violently and a wave of nausea washed over her. She sank back into darkness.

She choked back the urge to vomit the next time she came to and cautiously opened her eyes. Her vision swam, doubled, refused to clear. There are the pine trees, she thought. But why are they growing in the sky? Darkness again.

When the girl awoke for the third time the nausea had subsided and she could see, but that only made things worse. She was in the back of a van. The pine tree sky forest resolved itself to be dozens of pine tree shaped air fresheners hanging from the ceiling. They bounced and swayed together with the movement of the vehicle. The van had been stripped to bare metal, the walls and floor filthy, caked with rust and dirt. The pine trees could not completely mask a foul smell that filled the small space.

The girl was sprawled on the floor as if she had been thrown there. Her head throbbed, and a sharp pain burned between her shoulder blades. She tried to sit up and realized her hands were tied tightly behind her back. Her legs were bound, knees to ankles, with duck tape. The girl pushed with her feet until she was wedged against one wall, and managed to sit up. She looked toward the front of the van. She could see through a half-open metal door into the cab, where a middle-aged man was driving. His hair was cut short, and he wore old-fashioned black-rimmed glasses. The girl noticed that one corner of his glasses was wrapped with tape. The man was wearing dirty coveralls, and leather gloves even though it was stifling hot in the van.

The girl did not panic. She had been trained for this. She knew exactly what to do, what to say.

“My father will pay whatever you want, as long as you don’t hurt me,” she said in a strong, clear voice. Her father was very rich, and had long been fearful that someone would kidnap one of his children. He had drilled them all on how to act should the unthinkable happen. Be cooperative. Be respectful. Do not show fear.

The man glanced back at her in the rearview mirror. “What’s that, honey?” he asked.

“I don’t know how long we’ve been driving, but I’m sure my father knows I’ve been kidnapped by now. He’ll be waiting by the phone for your ransom demand.” The girl tried to sound brave, but she heard a little quaver in her voice and it annoyed her.

She could see the man smile in the rearview mirror, and she thought, it’s going to be alright. She forced a smile of her own and said, “Please, sir. I’d like to go home now.”

The man turned his head so he was looking at the girl directly. “Darlin’, you got it all wrong,” he said. “I don’t know who your daddy is, and I don’t care how much money he has. There’s not gonna be any ransom.”

He turned back to face the road and said, more to himself than to her, “That’s not why I took you.”



Flat on my back staring up at the sky
watching the cloud caravan sailing by
holding the grass as the earth spun around
feeling the dew still wet on the ground
I closed my eyes tight, imagined myself
spinning through space on a trip somewhere else
my feet like a comet burning a trail
light years behind me, straight as a rail
then a shadow crept in and eclipsed the sun
I opened my eyes and knew you were the one

pull me down, hold me down
plant my feet on solid ground
baby be my gravity
can’t you see I need you to be
my gravity
can’t you see I need you to be
my gravity

there I was flat on the bottom of the pool
holding my breath like some kind of fool
thinking about God, thinking about death
thinking I should open wide and drink a deep breath
I imagined my friends all gathered around
and me in the coffin, not making a sound
they’d stop one by one to pay their respects
then move on, my dear dead soul to dissect
but a face swam above me, bright as the sun
I opened my eyes and knew you were the one

pull me down, hold me down
plant my feet on solid ground
baby be my gravity
can’t you see I need you to be
my gravity

please pull me down, hold me down
plant my feet on solid ground
baby be my gravity
can’t you see I need you to be
my gravity



I woke to the pitch and the roll of the deck,
with a rope at my neck and rough planking beneath me,
the foaming white sea spray trying to reach me,
the sky a dark yellow that whirled above me,
and two pale red suns that the sky bled and ran.
I felt a soft touch and my fingers met silk,
and a girl with no eyes took me up by the hand.
Guided by fingers that slid along railing,
her hair whispering back to the sea wind’s lost wailing,
she led me past crewmen that bent at their oars.
With lean muscles straining and braided hair trailing,
they sliced at the water that tumbled and roared.
Each face looked up as we walked slowly past,
and each face was eyeless, from one to the last.
She led to a place at the end of the oars.
I sat and took hold of the long wooden handle,
and lost myself soon in the rhythm and pull,
in the flapping of wings and the screaming of gulls,
in the slapping of water ‘gainst the barnacled hull,
in the two suns that set and the three moons that rise,
in the dark yellow sky that whirls and sighs.
I am a sailor on an alien sea.
I have only the gulls to talk to me.
I have only the wind to hold me up straight and tall,
only my eyes to search for a shore that we never will see.
And a long ago dream that answered the call.



We haven’t spent a night apart
Since I first took your hand in mine
Our lives forever joined together
Like grape vines intertwined
We’ve driven down some bumpy roads
Without a light, without a map
The two of us we always knew
We’d somehow make it back

I don’t need a choir singing
I don’t need angels winging
I don’t need a cloud with a view
Heaven better be something special
To be half as good as life on earth with you
I don’t need those golden gates
I’m in no hurry, I can wait
I don’t need a sign to know it’s true
Heaven better be something special
To be half as good as life on earth with you

Images of days long past
Like breadcrumbs floating in wine
Surface now and then
Golden moments out of time
Every time I lose myself
In long forgotten memories
And travel back on through the years
Your smiling face is all I see

I don’t need a choir singing
I don’t need angels winging
I don’t need a cloud with a view
Heaven better be something special
To be half as good as life on earth with you
I don’t need those golden gates
I’m in no hurry, I can wait
I don’t need a sign to know it’s true
Heaven better be something special
To be half as good as life on earth with you



In my head, I’ve always heard this one as a strummy but driving folk song, something like what the Indigo Girls might do.

On an island not on any map, on a rocky, windswept bay,
sits a rough and tumble harbor town that goes by Devil’s Cay.
The fishing boats set out each day with morning still a dream,
and straggle back long after dark, another day redeemed.
The longshoremen and sailors come with pockets full of pay
to Darilyn’s, the finest tavern in all of Devil’s Cay.
They come to drink, and talk, and fight, and tell a tale or two.
They come to laugh at stories that were old when they were new.
But every night at ten o’clock, wherever she may be,
the dark haired beauty behind the bar looks out across the sea.

Then Darilyn begins again
to sweetly play her mandolin.
Her fingers dance upon the strings,
she sings about her true love Jim,
with eyes cast down she looks within,
and dreams of how it might have been,
her song so sad that eyes begin
to well with tears for her and him.

They say it happened long ago, when she was just a girl,
and a sailor name of Captain Jim was the center of her world.
Jimmy was a handsome lad, and many a lady tried,
but the slender waif named Darilyn was the apple of his eye.
He pledged that they would marry on the day she turned eighteen,
but all that ended one March night when the wicked sea turned mean.
Jimmy saved a dozen men, then saved a dozen more.
As the clock struck ten his ship went down and Jimmy was no more.
Now every night at ten o’clock, wherever she may be,
the dark haired beauty behind the bar looks out across the sea.

Then Darilyn begins again
to sweetly play her mandolin.
Her fingers dance upon the strings,
she sings about her true love Jim,
with eyes cast down she looks within,
and dreams of how it might have been,
her song so sad that eyes begin
to well with tears for her and him.

Tonight there’s something magic in the air at Darilyn’s,
and all eyes are upon her as the clock approaches ten.
Now the door swings slowly open on a ghost from days long past,
and Captain Jim says, Darilyn, I’ve made it home at last.

Then Darilyn begins again
to sweetly play her mandolin.
Her fingers dance upon the strings,
she sings about her true love Jim.
With smile wide she looks at him,
and wonders what tomorrow brings.

With smile wide she looks at him,
and wonders what tomorrow brings.



I can’t play or sing a lick, but I’ve been lucky enough to have a few songs recorded by various singers/songwriters. This one hasn’t been, but it’s one of my favorites, so I’m keeping my hopes up it will happen some day.

when I first met Tracy she was walking the ledge
outside my window, toes over the edge
she tapped on the glass, threw me a smile
that was a little bit crooked, a little bit wild
she stepped through the window like she did it all the time
said, hey how are ya, thanks I’m fine
or so I’ve been told–then she started to laugh
and that’s what I remember when I think about our past

she said, I used to walk the tightrope and swing on the trapeze
well, not really, but don’t you think that’s a cool thing to be?
did you ever tap dance ten floors up and know you just can’t fall?
you know, I’d rather go crazy than never go anywhere at all

we talked that night for what seemed like hours
but when she left I didn’t know a damn thing about her
can’t really say that night was the start of some big love
but that crazy girl with the crooked smile fit me like a glove
Tracy had her problems, I knew that going in
I could live with her addictions as long as I was one of them
I get high on life, she’d say, but smiling when she said it
there’s a lot of turns I’ve taken wrong, but I never will regret it

she said, I used to walk the tightrope and swing on the trapese
well, not really, but don’t you think that’s a cool thing to be?
did you ever tap dance ten floors up and know you just can’t fall?
I believe I’d rather go crazy than never go anywhere at all

she’d disappear for days on end, never tell me where
huddle in the corner, say, you know life’s just not fair
from the giddy heights of ecstasy to the bottom of her soul
Tracy was the pilot, but she never had control
I knew one day her dance would take her too close to the edge
I knew one day her fingertips would slip off from the ledge
I knew our time together was a trip that had to end
but I didn’t know how much it hurts to lose your dearest friend

Tracy used to walk the tightrope, and swing on the trapese
and if she said she did it, well, that’s good enough for me
I never learned to tap dance and ten floors is just too tall
but I think I’d rather go crazy than never go anywhere at all



This is my attempt at a sort of noir song lyric. I always pictured Johnny Cash singing it.

smoke on the horizon, wind in the trees
high whine of sirens following me
back country roads, gravel and dirt tracks
carry a full load, U-turns and switchbacks

I’m hellbound, and I can’t be found
hellbound, holed up in hell town

smoke on the horizon, wind in the trees
trying to get by but nothing is free
across the state line, getting lost in the shadows
biding my time, retreating from battles

travel at night, sleep through the day
stay out of the light, finding my own way
keeping in touch with the man with the money
playing my hunches, sometimes it’s funny

I’m hellbound, and I can’t be found
hellbound, holed up in hell town

smoke on the horizon, wind in the trees
no one can follow what no one can see
doing my work, each job as it comes
wherever they lurk, just keep myself numb

slipping through shadows, feeling the fear
nothing worth loving, nothing held dear

I’m hellbound, and I can’t be found
hellbound, holed up in hell town
hellhound, holed up in hell town

Trapped in Lunch Lady Land


In 2013 CBAY Books (which, I was happy to discover, stands for Children’s Brains Are Yummy Books) held their first writing contest, and I was the first winner in the Middle Grade category. The manuscript I won with clocked in at 15,000 words, but my wonderful editor, Madeline Smoot, suggested it would be a much stronger novel at 30,000 words. Turns out she was right.

Fast forward to 2014, and Trapped In Lunch Lady Land was born. Did my life change? Was I able to quit my job and become a full time author? Nope. But having a published novel was way up there on the bucket list. I had a book signing event at my local Barnes & Noble (no indie bookstores in my neck of the woods, unfortunately), which was a blast.

The very best part of the whole publishing experience, though, was doing school visits. I did a bunch, reading to kids from kindergarten through fifth grade, taking questions, and generally being flabbergasted by just how smart and funny they were. Kindergartners wanted to know what kind of pets I have, and told me in great detail about theirs. By fifth grade they were asking how advances work.

So what’s Trapped In Lunch Lady Land about? Here’s the elevator pitch:

Josh and Patty Anne aren’t exactly the best of friends (ok, they detest each other), but after they both end up trapped somewhere beneath their school in a land made completely of school cafeteria food, they quickly learn they have to work together if they want to survive. With the help of some unusual friends they meet along the way, the two must brave countless dangers unlike anything in the normal world. If they can survive the skybeater, the canisaurs and the tater-tot throwing ladle monsters, Josh and Patty Anne might just make it home alive.

Interested? Know an eight to eleven year old boy or girl who might be interested? You can check it out on Amazon at:

Here I am doing a school visit!



My SUV gave up the ghost just outside Junction City
Left it there, no burial, I guess death is never pretty
Walked twenty miles through corn and wheat as far as the horizon
I know that it’s good exercise, but I wish I was still drivin’
Sad and sleepless in a Motel 6, waiting for the break of day
Out of luck, and that damn girl is still half a state away

She said,
Call me a dreamer, call me a fool
Prove that you love me as much as I love you
Come climb a mountain and lay down beside me
Follow the trail to the love deep inside me
Leave that life behind and start everything new

Come on, she said, let’s run away and keep on running for a while
I shook my head and silenced her with an absent, condescending smile
She was gone next morning, left behind a map from Triple A
That led to Colorado, where she wrote, “I’m heading this way”
And she left behind a letter that cut right to the heart
And I knew I better hit the road ’cause she had a good head start

So here I am with thumb outstretched and not a car in sight
But I think I crossed into Colorado sometime late last night
There’s a mountain in the distance that I know I’ll have to climb
You know, it’s worth the trouble if it makes that dreamer mine

She said,
Call me a dreamer, call me a fool
Prove that you love me as much as I love you
Come climb a mountain and lay down beside me
Follow the trail to the love deep inside me
Leave that life behind and start everything new



I like poetry as much as the next fella. I even write some myself. But there’s something about a perfectly written song, a set of lyrics that speaks to your head and your heart, words that ride a melody like a longtime lover (or a brand new one), that makes me want to put pen to paper.

Here are some lyrics that speak to me, and, to be honest, lyrics I wish I had written. These were the first songs that came to mind. I’ve just scratched the surface. There are so many more, and I’ll probably do this again.


I remember Christmas in the blistering cold
In a church on the Upper West Side
Babe, I stood there singing, I was holding your arm
You were holding my trust like a child


broken down shacks engine parts
could tell a lie but my heart would know
listen to the dogs barkin in the yard
car wheels on a gravel road
child in the backseat about four or five years
lookin’ out the window
little bit of dirt mixed with tears
car wheels on a gravel road

RICH MAN’S WAR Steve Earle

Bobby had an eagle and a flag tattooed on his arm
Red white and blue to the bone when he landed in Kandahar
Left behind a pretty young wife and a baby girl
A stack of overdue bills and went off to save the world
Been a year now and he’s still there
Chasin’ ghosts in the thin dry air
Meanwhile back at home the finance company took his car
Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man’s war


But you blew hot and cold
Turned my heart to a cinder
And with each passing day
You’re less tender and more tinder
Now you’re not the only flame in town

32 FLAVORS Ani Difranco

and god help you if you are an ugly girl
course too pretty is also your doom
cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
for the prettiest girl in the room
and god help you if you are a phoenix
and you dare to rise up from the ash
a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
while you are just flying back


Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Oh, give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
Everybody knows

TENNESSEE Arrested Development

Outta the country and into more country
Past Dyesburg and Ripley
Where the ghost of childhood haunts me
Walk the roads my forefathers walked
Climb the trees my forefathers hung from
Ask those trees for all their wisdom
They tell me my ears are so young
Go back, from whence you came
My family tree, my family name
For some strange reason it had to be
He guided me to Tennessee

WHEN I WAS A BOY Dar Williams

I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw
My neighbor come outside to say, “Get your shirt,”
I said “No way, it’s the last time I’m not breaking any law.”
And now I’m in a clothing store, and the sign says less is more
More that’s tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me
That can’t help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat



The closing jaws of entropy

that snap and foam and say to me,

you are the stumbling primate, tamed.

Kindling for the star-fed flame.

The slow and terrible unwinding,

the fabric of the void untwining.

God’s hand draws the star strings tight.

You huddle with your feeble light.

You rattle a tired fist and curse

the gods and all the fates diverse,

and rant at the darkness that slowly comes,

and the stars that blink out one by one.

The last man dies, insane and alone,

and his scream is the voice of Gabriel’s horn.



When I talk about my writing here on the blog, I’m talking about fiction writing. Whether writing for kids, or writing science fiction, fantasy or horror for adults, fiction is my favorite pool to splash around in.

What I don’t talk about much here is my day job, which I’ve done now for almost forty years. I’m creative director for a small, close-knit ad agency here in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio (And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I love this city, except for the weather.). Funny thing is, if I add up the minutes, I spend more time writing for work than I do at home. Don’t get me wrong, my main gig is graphic design, but in any given week I write radio and TV scripts, website copy, blog posts, print copy—the list is long. My co-workers are aware of my fiction writing, and insanely supportive, which is very cool.

The questions I find myself asking are these: Does the fiction writing make me a better advertising writer? Does the advertising writing make me a better fiction writer?

I don’t know for sure, but I think the answer to both questions is yes.

My fiction tends to the fantastic, to flights of fancy, often to humor. I lean on my imagination pretty hard. I would argue that all those things come into play when I’m writing advertising copy, because I try to look past the first, more mundane ideas, and aim for somewhere near left field. I might be selling sewing machines, or home heating and cooling systems, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a fun and unique way to make that sale. The skills I’ve learned writing fiction help me do that.

Conversely, When I sit down to write fiction, the skills I’ve learned writing advertising copy come into play. I’ve had to learn to make a point clearly, succinctly, in as few words as possible, to describe something so that the mind’s eye can see and understand it. I find this really helpful when writing action scenes in particular, the ability to keep all the pieces moving without the story desolving into a muddy stew of imprecise verbs.

So, in a word, yeah. I think writing a lot makes me a better writer in both my day and night jobs.

I would love to get some other opinions here. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know!



Look at you now,
sprawled out on the floor.
Tried to reach the bathroom
only made it to the door.
When you left last night
you were looking so fine,
I would have told anybody
I’m so proud that he’s mine.
Now your tie’s around your head
and your shirt’s buttoned wrong,
and I can see from your position
that your underwear’s gone.

You were too drunk to remember,
and now you’re too cool to care,
and you’d like to ask me what you did
but baby you don’t dare.
Now, that lipstick’s such a pretty color,
but it’s not one you should wear.
You were too drunk to remember,
and now you’re too cool to care.

The cops left here
about an hour ago.
From the story they were telling me,
you put on quite a show.
I understand the bloody nose–
sounds like you saw some stars.
But where’d you get that haircut,
and where the hell’s the car?
You left home with a Rolex–
Now you’re wearing Mickey Mouse.
From the buzzing cloud above your head,
you’ll have to be deloused.

You were too drunk to remember,
and now you’re too cool to care,
and you’d like to ask me what you did
but baby you don’t dare.
My bags are packed, I’m leaving,
and I would probably tell you where,
but you were too drunk to remember,
and now you’re too cool to care.

My bags are packed, I’m leaving,
and I would probably tell you where,
but you were too drunk to remember,
and now you’re just too cool to care.



Lulu has a plastic Jesus on the dashboard of her car
she likes to think that maybe he protects her
Lulu sees the eyes of angels when she looks up at the stars
she says that sometimes late at night the statue smiles at her

Lulu has a radio on the nightstand by her bed
she spins the dial, searching through the static
Lulu hears the voices of the saints around her head
she says that if they ever stop it would be so tragic

Lulu had a mother, hung herself in Lulu’s room
promised everlasting joy if she would join her soon
promised that the hand of God would pull her from the tomb
people say that Lulu’s mom was crazy as a loon
now they say the same about Lulu

Lulu has a bible that she carries like a shield
she parries each attack with verse and chapter
Lulu reads aloud from it as she walks across the fields
she says what others think just doesn’t matter

Lulu has a television, the on/off switch is crossed with tape
she says the devil lives behind the screen
Lulu turned it on just once, a very bad mistake
now she sees the devil in her dreams

Lulu had a daddy, used to visit Lulu’s room
Lulu would lay very still and look up at the moon
finally he just up and left, and not a day too soon
people say that Lulu’s dad was crazy as a loon
now they say the same about Lulu

Lulu has a scrapbook filled with clippings from the paper
she says the rapture hides between the lines
Lulu says she doesn’t really care if people hate her
the earthly ones are the only ties that bind

Lulu has a journal where she keeps her secret thoughts
she sits each night and writes ’til long past dark
Lulu keeps it locked up tight, afraid that she’ll get caught
she says she fears the dog that doesn’t bark

Lulu had a boyfriend, never came to Lulu’s room
the time he spent with Lulu was like watching a cartoon
he only ever held her hand, but people just assume
people started saying he must be crazy as a loon
he would never say the same about Lulu



Do you remember the TV show Inside-Out Boy? It was an excellent piece of claymation that ran on Nickelodeon for a few years in the late 80s/early 90s. Fast forward to a couple of decades ago, and I had an idea for some new stories set in the Inside-Out Boy world. Not content to sit on an idea I liked, I wrote a few spec scripts, and hunted down the production company that had produced the original series. As it turned out, they liked it. We started talking about the possibility, and it was a slim possibility, that we could move forward with the idea. Then…then 9/11 happened, and they were in New York, and that was it. But I still like the idea. Here’s one of those spec scripts.

Inside-Out Boy In:

The Grass Is Always Greener On The Inside-Out

SCENE: Bird’s-eye view of a suburban neighborhood at dusk; kids playing, lawns being mowed. This wholesome vision is shattered by the sound of a—


Help! Leave me alone, you bullies!

CUT TO: An access alley behind a garage with garbage cans, etc. Two punky looking teenage boys are teasing a cute young girl (Carla). They have taken her bike.


Give me back my bike or I’ll tell my dad!


Ooooh, I’m really scared! She’s gonna tell her daddy!


Not if we put her in a garbage can…come on, Stu, let’s get her…

They approach her menacingly.

CUT TO: Close-up of Carla, looking terrified, as the shadows of the boys fall across her. She trips and falls.

CUT TO: The two boys approaching, from Carla’s P.O.V.


Hey! Why don’t you dorks pick on someone your own size!

The punks look around puzzled.


Who said that?!


 I did!

Inside-Out Boy leaps down from the garage roof, landing on top of a garbage can. He waves his arms and sticks out his tongue at the boys, making loud noises, exploiting his inside-out-ness. The punks become scared little kids and run away screaming. Inside-Out Boy watches them go.


Hah, that’ll teach ‘em.

I.O.B. turns back toward Carla, and really sees her for the first time.

CUT TO: Close-up of Carla’s face as I.O.B. sees her…she’s a blonde vision, light radiating from her face.

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B.’s face with a dumb smile and faraway eyes. He is clearly smitten.

CUT TO: I.O.B. kind of shakes himself, realizes he’s staring. He reaches to help Carla.


Here, let me help you up.

Carla recoils from his touch, tries to hide the look of revulsion that crosses her face but does not succeed. She scrambles to her feet, keeping her distance. This is one girl who does not think I.O.B. is cool.


No, no, that’s okay. I’m fine, really.

Carla hurries past him, jumps on her bike. She pedals away, one bent wheel squeaking.


Um, thanks and everything.

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B. He realizes what has just happened.


Wow, she was scared of me. I, I think I grossed her out!

CUT TO: I.O.B. walking home, slumped and dejected, as indignities are heaped upon him. Dogs and cats follow him, sniffing. A bird lands on his head, begins to peck. An elderly woman carrying a big pie to her neighbor sees him, screams and flips the pie up in the air; naturally it lands on his head.


I’m tired of being inside-out!

A gopher pops his head out of his hole, sees I.O.B., lets out a loud EEEK and dives back into his hole. I.O.B. hangs his head and sighs.

DISOLVE TO: The next day at school, I.O.B. sits in class, still grumbling. His teacher enters with Carla in tow, and I.O.B. perks up immediately.


Class, say hello to your new classmate, Carla Calloway.


Hello, Carla…


Carla, why don’t you find yourself a seat.

I.O.B. realizes there is an empty seat next to him. He looks at Carla and smiles hopefully. Carla sees him and ducks her head. She heads for a desk on the opposite side of the room. I.O.B. drops his head on his desk.

DISOLVE TO: I.O.B. eating lunch with his best friends; Darcy, who lives next door, and Thomas, a bit of a nerd who thinks of I.O.B. as his own personal science project. I.O.B. gazes longingly across the cafeteria at Carla.


What’s with him?


He’s in love with that new girl, Carla, but she thinks he’s gross!


Shut up, Thomas!

Darcy looks daggers at Carla. She’s been carrying a quiet torch for I.O.B. for years. She thumps I.O.B. on the head to get his attention.


Huh? Ow! What?!


If Blondie over there can’t see what a cool guy you are, even inside-out, then she’s not worth the time of day!


You’re just saying that ‘cause you’re my friend.



Darcy storms off, upset.


What’d I say?


Man, you really have a way with the ladies.


Shut up, Thomas!

DISOLVE TO: Later that day, after school. I.O.B. and Thomas sit on the playground swings, talking.


Where’s Darcy?


She went home. She’s still cheesed off at you. You know she kind of likes you, right?


You’re crazy! Me and Darcy have been friends forever!


Yeah, whatever.

They sit in silence for a moment, I.O.B. deep in thought.


Hey Thomas…I don’t want to be inside-out any more. Can you find a way to change me back?


Are you sure?


Yeah, I’m sure.


Well, I love a challenge. Let’s go to the lab.

DISOLVE TO: Thomas’s room. It’s a nerd’s paradise, with computers, test tubes, Bunsen burners, etc. Thomas is wearing a lab coat, the pocket bristling with pens. I.O.B. looks apprehensive.


Now what?




We have to run some tests.

Collage of scenes, one dissolving into the next, as I.O.B. is subjected to all manner of silly tests while Thomas takes notes. He’s poked and prodded with odd-looking instruments. He’s hung upside-down and spun in circles. He hops on one foot while holding a goldfish bowl in one hand, balancing an umbrella on his nose and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

CUT TO: Thomas pressing the ENTER button on his computer keyboard, while I.O.B. looks on, exhausted.


Keep your fingers crossed, here it comes.

A sheet of paper slides out of the printer. Thomas picks it up, not letting I.O.B. see it.


Hmmmm…why didn’t I think of that?


What? What’s it say?


You have to swing up over the bar backward.


You’re kidding…




Let’s do it.

DISOLVE TO: The swing set. I.O.B. takes his seat as Thomas and Darcy look on.


I hope you know what you’re doing. What if you turn inside-out again? You’ll end up being a big gooey mess.


I’m already a big gooey mess…besides, that’s not going to happen, right, Thomas?


Um, right. At least, I don’t think so. So, you ready?



Thomas and Darcy get in front of I.O.B. and each grab a side of the swing. They back up, pulling the swing forward as far as they can.


On three. One, two, threeeeee!

They rush forward, flinging I.O.B. backwards. The swing goes up in a big arc, almost parallel to the ground, before heading back.


Almost, keep pushing!

Thomas and Darcy keep pushing, the swing inching higher and higher.

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B. as he finally loops over in slow motion, upside down, chains slack. As he comes over the top he begins to transform, turning right–side out. He comes to a bouncing stop, looks down at himself and lets out a loud


Yeah! It worked!

Thomas and Darcy join him in cheering.


I knew it would work! At least, I was pretty sure. Science triumphs again!


So now what? You going go tell your family?


Yeah, they’re really gonna be surprised!

DISOLVE TO: Mom and dad hugging I.O.B. in a stranglehold.


Oh honey, we love you no matter what. Plus, now I can take the plastic off the furniture.

CUT TO: I.O.B. with his little sister, Shelly. She pokes him experimentally.


Hmmm. You’re not sticky anymore. I’m gonna miss that.

She looks at him with a frown, then bursts out laughing and hugs him.


Just kidding!

CUT TO: I.O.B.’s big brother Steve. He looks I.O.B. up and down, then bops him on top of the head and walks away.


Inside-out or not, you’re still a dweeb.

I.O.B. sighs, rubbing his head, then smiles.


There’s no place like home…but now there’s a certain blonde girl I have to go see.

DISOLVE TO: I.O.B. in a jacket and tie, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. He’s obviously nervous as all get-out as he walks up the porch steps of a nice house and rings the doorbell. Carla answers the door. She looks at him dismissively through the screen door.


Can I help you?


Um, yeah, I mean yes. (HOLDS OUT THE FLOWERS) These are for you.


Who are you?


It’s me, the kid who saved you when those older boys took your bike. I guess I look a little different now. Anyway, I was wondering if you’d like to go to a movie or something.


As if. So you’re not inside-out any more, I still don’t owe you anything. You really thought I’d go out with you? Yuck!

Carla slams the door in I.O.B.’s face. I.O.B. slinks away, crushed, and the night just gets worse. He runs into the elderly woman who had the pie before and tries to scare her out of spite. She hits him with her umbrella. A gopher pops up out of his hole and bites him on the ankle. Finally, as he crosses an alley, the two punks from before grab him up, pulling him into the darkness. We hear loud banging sounds, then the punks exit the alley, dusting off their hands, laughing.

CUT TO: I.O.B. in a garbage can, banana peel and miscellaneous trash on his head.


I guess there’s only one thing left to do…

DISOLVE TO: The playground, late at night. I.O.B. peeks up from behind some bushes, scanning the playground. He zips from bush to tree like a ghost, making his way toward the swingset. When he’s sure the coast is clear he gets on the swing.


Here we go again!

I.O.B. begins to swing, higher and higher. As he climbs into the sky, his determined frown is gradually replaced with a smile. Finally, with a triumphant yell, he loops over the top and turns back inside-out. He leaps off the swing, plants his feet and raises his hands into the air.


Inside-Out Boy is back!

DISOLVE TO: The next day in the school cafeteria. I.O.B., Thomas and Darcy are sitting together, I.O.B. inside-out as can be. Thomas is shaking his head.


I just don’t get it. I can’t figure out why you turned back inside-out.


It’s a real mystery all right.


So what’d your family say?


Oh, you know. Steve bopped me on top of the head, Shelly loves me no matter what, and Mom put the plastic back on the furniture. I guess life is back to normal. So who wants to hit the playground for some kickball?


I’m in. Darcy?


You guys go on, I’ll be there in a minute.

Darcy reaches into her pocket and pulls out a big, juicy worm.


Darcy, what’s that for?


That Carla girl is looking a little pale. I think she needs more protein in her diet, so I’m gonna add this to her spaghetti.

Darcy and Thomas high-five.


You go girl!


No one messes with my boy—best friend. (SHE BLUSHES)

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B., a big embarrassed smile on his face.


Shut up, Thomas.


I didn’t say anything!


You were going to…