Thursday, July 19, 2012


Hi folks,

I’ve just returned—well, returned a few days ago and just now recovering from total exhaustion—from the week-long Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Check it out here:

Simply put: One of the single best experiences of my life.

I’ve been privileged to have participated in a bunch of really cool writer’s workshops and writer’s events, but this one is at the top. My favorites that I’ve taken part in include Wordburst in Phoenix for Phoenix College, the BEA, the Writer’s Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Gemini Ink in San Antonio, the First Annual Texas Book Festival, the Writer’s Retreat Workshops, and others. But, Antioch stands alone in my experience.

Lemme tell you about it.

 Audience at a reading in the auditorium at Antioch.

First, I want to introduce you to the participants in my own afternoon fiction workshop. I had six writers in my merry band, which all of us refer to routinely now as “The Best Workshop Group Ever.” There was my new best friend, Rob Boley whose laugh-out-loud novel about a Snow White we’ve never experienced had the first 50 pages requested by a visiting agent with the Fine Line Agency (Rob and I hung out every single night and closed down a few bars…). Along with Rob, our family included Sarah Zettler, a teacher in Columbus with an amazing YA novel titled Breaking the Flatline, Audrey Craig who grew up and lived for years in South Africa and is writing a very original sci-fi, titled Calidis, Toni Lapp, a magazine editor from Kansas City who has a novel based on a true story that is going to sell tons of copies when finished, Kate Geiselman, who brought to our group a brilliant short story titled “Presents” which she intends to be one of a collection of linked stories—a story that haunted me long after I read it, and Sherie Cooper-Daragh, who allowed me to call her by her real name (Cheryl—don’t try it without her permission!) and who is writing a stunning novel about a relationship that’s a winner.

Every single one of the writers in my group is a winner and is writing publishable stuff. They’ve all got major talent up the yazoo. And, I mean major talent. Made my job easy!

My group of writers provided me with the single biggest moment I experienced. A couple of days before the end of the workshop, I had left a restaurant and was on my way to our daily meeting spot, the Spirited Goat Coffee Shop (never did find out the source of that name…), and passed by the Ye Olde Trail Tavern, and there my entire group, sans one (Kate, who would have been with them but as she was on the Antioch board was required to be somewhere else at the time) was sitting at a table together, hanging out. They had bonded as a family! I may have missed it, but I don’t think any other workshop group ended up together just hanging out. It just drove home to me that we’d truly become a family.

Later, at the reading where all the groups read their work, I introduced our group as “The Best Group Ever” and said that while I was sure all the other groups were good, we were going to knock it out of the park. After the event, I had half a dozen people come up to me and tell me I’d called it—there was no doubt they were the best group. They hit it into the upper deck, way out past the Budweiser sign into the cheap seats…

 The Best Group Ever!
L-R front row--Cherie, moi, Kate, Toni and Sarah.
L-R back row--Rob and Audrey
(At our meeting place, the Spirited Goat Coffee Shop)

Private consultation. We presenters were also privileged to be able to offer private consultations with writers on their manuscripts and I had the pleasure of working with Greta Holt on her Mennonite coming-of-age novel, titled Babyface. We were supposed to spend 45 minutes on each consultation, but I liked Greta’s novel so much and saw so much promise in it that I asked if she minded if we spent another hour on it and she liked the idea, so we set up another time to do so a couple of days hence. I predict she’ll get this puppy published.

One thing jumped out at me when working with Greta. I only had one such consultation, and Hallie Ephron had nine. Not to mention, she was a major presenter in the mornings and had to take a day off to fly to New York to attend and participate in a memorial service for her late sister, Nora Ephron. I can’t imagine how she got it all done. I was exhausted after the week and Hallie did everything I did, plus, and, in addition, somehow found the time and energy to take part in nine evaluations. She’s not only an amazing author and teacher, she has a work ethic that is unmatched by us mortals.

The town of Yellow Springs, Ohio
I was absolutely knocked out by this town! I understand it was a “planned town” back in the day and if so, whoever planned it, got it absolutely perfect. I’d move there in a nanosecond. It’s a town you aren’t prepared for—once you visit it, you begin to think you’re on the East or West Coast and not in the Midwest. The shops are small and comfortable and interesting. And, everywhere. It’s a Made-for-TV town—exactly the kind of place one would design for families who are interested in intellectual stimulation and the arts. The Tannenbaums would be at home here. I hung out in a bunch of places, including the Spirited Goat, the Ye Olde Trail Tavern, Peaches Grill, and even my kind of bucket o’ blood bar, which I kept calling “The Dungeon” but was actually called The Gulch Saloon. (For my Vermont College friends, think “Charlie O’s.”) For some reason it reminded me of an old hangout of mine in New Orleans called The Dungeon. What sold me on the town was passing by a souvenir shop that had work by R. Crumb in the window. Where do you see R. Crumb’s art featured in the Midwest? Yellow Springs, that’s where!

It’s a bicycle town—a mecca for those nuts who ride bikes (like my wife…). There are gorgeous bike trails everywhere and everyone seems to ride every place they go. Didn’t see many skateboarders which was a good thing… One cool thing—we were advised to cross streets in the middle of the block—the residents would always stop—and nobody local crossed at the “official” crossing places on the corners and if we did, we might surprise the residents who might run over us in surprise.

Laid-back is the most apt description for Yellow Springs. All of the locals are friendly and speak to you and are genuinely happy you’re in their town. I’ve been to plenty of other towns where the citizens loved the tourists’ money but it was clear they didn’t always like the tourists themselves, but Yellow Springs folks are genuinely glad to see and meet you.

On the night of the participants’ reading back at the campus, I was down at the Spirited Goat where an out-of-town poet was setting up for her reading later on. We reluctantly told her we couldn’t attend as we had our own event and then, when I walked outside to go back up Dayton St. to the campus, there were two middle-aged guys, dressed and looking exactly like screenwriter Buck Henry, sitting outside with scripts in front of them, trying dialog out on each other and making notations on their scripts. I asked if they were screenwriters and they said no, they were playwrights and were making last-minute corrections to their play that was opening in an hour across the street. They invited us to attend and we had to decline. But, can you imagine? We had our reading at the college, a visiting poet was having her own reading and across the street a play was opening? What other town would this be a regular occurrence in? Can’t think of any, at least in a town of this size.

And there were street people like I’ve never seen before. Now, I’ve been a street person myself and homeless, but these folks were unlike any street people I’d ever encountered. Most were musicians and were the reincarnation of the wandering minstrels of old England. Only playing contemporary and original music. And, truly beautiful, gentle people in spirit and deportment. One morning, I struck up a conversation with a homeless musician at the Goat and as it transpired, he was from Goshen, Indiana, and as we talked, it turned out his older brother was best friends with my nephew, Kevin Bowen. He borrowed the Goat’s owner’s phone—a delightful guy named Michael—and called his brother back home to tell him he’d just run into Kevin’s uncle “Butch” (that’s me). It brought home to both of us how small our world really is. This young man—sorry, I can’t recall his name—will have to ask Kevin—was barefoot and showed me his feet, which were as black as Macbeth’s heart and covered with countless cuts. He showed me not for sympathy, but to ask what I thought his “sign” should be that day—to say “WORK WANTED” or “NEED BAND-AIDS.” I recommended the Band-Aids one… I thought originality might pay off better and he agreed.

Each night—most spent going back and forth between Peaches and The Gulch—we spent outside on their patios, chinning with both locals and the homeless and it felt like Haight-Asbury without any of the negatives. We had a “core” group of me, Rob and Amanda Winfield, who is a student at Antioch and works in the library. Three Musketeers and we all just hit it off wonderfully. Amanda is a poet and a beautiful person, inside and out.

Every day for lunch, workshop participants would sign up to have lunch with the faculty at various places around town and there’d be two of us faculty people and up to ten participants. Just like everything else, Antioch is integrated into the town and you feel the town is just part of the campus. Just a truly unique and delightful place.

Most days, when we had a bit of free time, I hung out with my other new best friend, nonfiction bestselling writer, Jerry Dennis. We flat-out hit it off. Turns out we have several mutual friends like poet and nonfiction writer Sydney Lee. I’m reading Jerry’s brilliant book right now, The Living Great Lakes, an instant classic and wonderfully-writ account of the history of the Great Lakes. When we met, for me it was like meeting my long-lost twin brother. You know how there are certain people when you meet there’s an instant and deep connection? It was like that for me with Jerry, with Rob, and with Amanda. Old souls I knew well in a former life. People I just want to spend lots of time with, sipping on a brew in an outdoor patio, and talking literature and life.

Poet Jeff Gundy came down to The Gulch and had beers with Amanda, Rob and me, and we had a great conversation. Another poet, Jim Daniels, was a guy I would have liked to have spent more time with, as I would have like to with Dave Halperin whose new novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator is one of the most original coming-of-age accounts ever.

All of the faculty gave readings of our work. Since Hallie Ephron had to leave for her sister’s memorial, we switched places and I read on Monday along with Sandi Wisenberg and Chet Kelly Robinson. I read one of my personal favorites, “Toothache.” Other readers included Crystal Wilkinson, Linda Gerber, Trudy Krisher, and Carrie Bebris, every single one a winner.

The participants had their own reading night at The Emporium, a coffee and wine shop downtown and it was amazing. There were close to forty readers and I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life—there was not a single clunker in the bunch! This never happens! There wasn’t even one reading that was mediocre! They made a mistake, perhaps. They let comedian John Bunyan lead it off and he is one tough act to follow. Just laugh until your ribs crack humor.

Maureen and Richard Lynch
I stayed in a private home that I kept raving about to my wife Mary when I called home. I kept describing it as a “Frank Lloyd Wright designed-home if it were commissioned to create his dream house.” My gracious and wonderful hosts were Maureen and Richard Lynch and if I were them, I’d never leave their house!

Antioch Writers’ Workshop folks
I hesitate to begin naming names as I know I’ll leave somebody out and then I’ll feel bad as each and every person I met became my “new best friend.” It begins with Sharon Short, the guiding light of the workshop and the hardest and most tireless worker that I’ve ever met who wasn’t on drugs. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Especially when you meet Sharon and are pretty sure the only drug she’s familiar with is her amazing adrenaline. Get Sharon’s newest novel, the forthcoming “book club” novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska, or any of her previous nine mystery novels for a terrific reading experience.

The first person I met upon arrival, Cyndi Pauwels, greeted me warmly and set the tone for the entire week. One of my many “new best friends” was Dave Kunka, the bookstore manager who not only went way, way out of his way to help me, but we really hit it off as friends.

Two guys who helped run the place and who I became good friends with, were Tobin Terry and Ron. Tobin was the second-in-command working with Sharon and was everywhere I went, organizing things. Ron, I’m sorry I can’t recall your last name, dude! He and I really hit it off as we’ve lived in some of the same places in Louisiana—he’s a Cajun and a graphic artist. The reason I can’t remember Ron’s last name is that he’s one of only two Cajuns who aren’t named Boudreau…

*Late note. Tobin just emailed me and told me Ron's last name is Maynard. No wonder I couldn't remember it. What Cajun is named "Maynard?" Change it to Boudreau, dude! Ron is one of the coolest guys I've met in a long, long time. Just on top of his game.

I wish I could remember the names of all the dozens and dozens of people I got to chat with, but hope they’ll excuse me and attribute it to my Halfzeimer’s… Just so many terrific people!

If you can only go to one writer’s conferences/workshops in your lifetime, this is the one I’d recommend. I’ve been to dozens and while they were all wonderful experiences, none were like this for just a pure enjoyable experience for everyone.

Tell ‘em I sentcha!

Blue skies,

Postscript. All week long, I kept telling my workshop group that when I left Yellow Springs, I was going to appear at the Indiana Romance Writer’s group in Indy on Sunday. I kept raving about what a terrific group of professional writers romance writers are—and they are! Well, the only problem was my appearance was scheduled for Saturday, not Sunday. I got back into Ft. Wayne on Saturday and went immediately to bed. I was utterly exhausted. Left over 900 emails unopened. Just too tired to even think about opening them.

My bad.

I got up early Sunday, preparing to drive down to Indy, and opened my email… to discover I was supposed to have been there the day before! I have never done anything like this in my life and I can’t begin to tell you how awful I felt! I emailed Jeana Mann the director and told her what had happened. What a gracious person she is. Not only did she forgive me, but has invited me back in October. Jeana—I’LL BE THERE! I PROMISE!

 Signing books after my reading. The tall drink of water standing in line is comedian John Bunyan.

 Next to me is my other "new best friend" Jerry Dennis
Me, Chet and Sandi (Triquarterly Review editor taking questions after our readings.
 Urging audience to "buy 10 copies of my book apiece--Christmas is just around the corner!"
 Me and my new best friend, Rob
 The rest of our class on the patio at the Ye Olde Trail Tavern. 
L-R beginning bottom left--Cherie, Kate, Audrey, Sarah and Toni. Rob and I left to have a smoke break on the other "smoking" patio.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Hi folks,
Still without electricity! This bites... Word is, we'll have juice back on tomorrow. Anyway, I can get down to a nearby coffeeshop once a day to charge the ol' laptop and check emails. Usually have about an hour to do stuff, and one of the things I'm doing now is posting this.

Noir writer/editor Court Merrigan contacted me a while back to ask if I'd send him a short story for his emagazine Bareknuckles Pulp Press which he was relaunching after a hiatus, and he did me the honor of saying he'd like mine to be the first story for the relaunch. How in the heck can anyone refuse such a distinct honor? I sure couldn't! Problem was, I don't write short stories these days, but I came up with a solution, and came up with an excerpt from my as-yet-unpublished black comedy crime novel, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING.  This book was the most fun I've ever had in front of a typewriter and with most of my clothes on and I'm writing a second novel with the same characters in what I hope becomes a series. I sent the excerpt to Court and he claimed he loved it and I guess maybe he did as he published it and if you want to check it out, just go to and start reading.

Not to give stuff away, but there's a scene in it where the protagonist's main squeeze, Cat, who happens to be a call girl, provides a diversion for him in a black bar so he can escape being rendered room temperature by Sam Capelli, the enforcer for the local Mafia to whom he owes money. This novel came to life first as a short story published in THE SOUTH CAROLINA REVIEW, and then I wrote this novel, and then I wrote a screenplay based on it. When I wrote the screenplay, I was teaching for the UCLA Writer's Program, and was engaged in co-writing another screenplay with Steve Duncan, a black screenwriter who wrote THE COURT-MARTIAL OF JACKIE ROBINSON (A TNT Special), and was the creator/runner for two TV series, A MAN NAMED HAWK and TOUR OF DUTY. I was afraid this scene might offend black readers/viewers, so I ran it past Steve to get his opinion from a black man's pov. "Shit, Les," he said. "This is just plain funny stuff! Nobody's going to be upset at all." And so I kept it in.

Hope you enjoy the read. Also, if anyone happens to be friends with Woody Harrelson, I'd love to have him read the screenplay. I wrote it envisioning him to be the lead character, Pete, but he'd need to read it to determine if he'd be interested or not. I almost had a chance to contact him a few years ago when my dentist said he'd send it to him, but that never materialized. My dentist, a cool guy named Ron Rumbaugh played in a band with Woody when they were both at Hanover College and they've remained friends, but time passed and I didn't press Ron to send it to him and now we've kind of lost touch. So...

(You just never know who knows who...)

Blue skies,

Monday, July 2, 2012

Storms, electricity, reviews and a contest!

Hi folks,
It’s been a hectic few days here in Ft. Wayne. Last Friday, the temp reached a record 106 degrees (108 by our own thermometer!), and then a cold front came in and along with it near-tornadoes. Don’t know if we had any actual tornadoes—rumors were that two touched down—but the winds were fierce—reportedly 80-90 mph--and power lines were (and are) down all over town. As of this morning, there are still over 70,000 homes and businesses without power—including us. We’re still staying in our house and nights are miserable as the heat’s back. They’re telling us we may be without power until late Wednesday night. I’ve been able to go to coffee shops and cobble this together a bit at a time.

First thing is, I want to post a review I did of Brit author Richard Godwin’s amazing new novel, MR. GLAMOUR. A fantastic read! Here’s what I think of it:

My review of Richard Godwin’s MR. GLAMOUR

While most readers and reviewers were drawn to the plot and the mystery of Richard Godwin’s brilliant novel, Mr. Glamour--as I was as well--I was struck even more by the setting. After all, once you know “whodunit,” usually there’s no reason to return to the book. In this case, there is. I’ve now read it twice and will read it several more times and it’s not to find out “whodunit” but to learn even more about both the psychology of the characters and to learn about a part of London I was sharply ignorant of. The insights Godwin provides of both are worth many hours in rereading what I predict will become a classic.

What Eugene Izzi did for the city of Chicago in novels like The Criminalist, Richard Godwin has done for London in Mr. Glamour. Like Raymond Chandler who was one of the best at creating a character out of the setting—in his case, Los Angeles--Godwin has given us London as a character. A London not seen heretofore, at least in noir. Most writers deliver us the seedy underworld of the city—the world of workingman’s and thieves’ bars and prostitute haunts and dank gaols populated by sadistic guards and murderous felons—whereas Godwin has sharply defined the world of the upper crust as being veined with the same dark blood as flowed through Jack the Ripper’s carotid… if Jack wore Armani and ate at the best four-star restaurants.

This is a story of the “Beautiful People” but none are beautiful save for their designer clothes and cars and mansions and platinum cards and the other trappings of wealth. All are twisted and ugly in one way or the other. This is surely the nihilistic view of a writer who has experienced life and thought hard about it and knows with a surety that’s discomfiting, that we all possess what Jung termed “the shadow side” no matter what level of society we find ourselves perched on. This is a story about the upper crust, but not the faction that we normally expect to see—not the royalty of London and England, but the portion of wealthy society that’s gained its advantage in ways other than inheritance or family. This is a part of London that’s more akin to Hollywood than either the England of Lord Faversham or the London of Tiny Tim and Nell. It’s a world that is particularly of the 21st century and could not have been set anywhere else or in any other period.

This novel reminds me of something author Sharon Sheehe Stark told me during one of my MFA residencies at Vermont College where she was on the faculty and my workshop leader. She said, “When you create a villain, if you want a truly great one, don’t use that oft-advised technique of ‘making ‘em like kittens.’” No, she said: “Paint them as black as you possibly can, for if you do that, the light will shine through the cracks.” She’d be pleased about Mr. Glamour, for that’s exactly what Godwin does.

Flannery O’Connor, in speaking of great endings, would doubtlessly approve of Godwin’s ending here, when she said (badly paraphrased) that “a great ending will surprise the reader, but, upon reflection be the only possible and best ending to be had.” A perfect description for Mr. Glamour. Trust me—you won’t see this one coming! And then… you’ll exclaim, “Of course!”

For readers of mystery, of thrillers, of horror, of noir—this novel will satisfy each particular taste. It will also satisfy the palate of those who enjoy simply good literature, for it is that as well. If this were a restaurant, it would have earned its Michelin star.

Susan Lerner
And now I’d like to give a wonderful new author some props with her first novel. Please meet Susan Lerner. Susan asked me to work with her on her novel A SUITABLE HUSBAND. It’s out now, available both in paperback and as an ebook. Here’s the review I wrote for Amazon and Goodreads:

A stunning portrayal of the changing social and political climate of 1930s Poland as embodied by Bianca Lieber, a young Jewish woman caught between the traditional family values of her parents and those of a volatile younger generation, unwilling to accept the status quo.

It has become almost a cliché to describe a novel as a `page turner,' but in this instance, the description is apt. The writing is never forced, and the pressure never lifts from Bianca, her mother, and her twin brother; each with their own, often conflicting, hopes and dreams, but all of them struggling against increasingly anti-Semitic government policies and harsh new realities.

Occasionally, a work of fiction appears that transcends mere genre and simple entertainment and enters a new level of literary worth. A Suitable Husband is a book that is a truly modern look at the issues that face all of us in a rapidly-changing world. It is one of those books that has the potential to change the reader in a profound way.

You’ll be glad you did—it’s a truly remarkable novel.

And, finally… Zurich writer Veronica Sicoe is having a little contest on her blog that includes yours truly. Kind of a cool contest. Veronica liked my 5-sentence outline so much that she’s having a competition to see which of her readers (or anyone else who wants to, including you guys) can come up with the best 5-sentence outline for their novel. Veronica and I will judge them and the winner will receive a signed copy of my lil blue book, HOOKED.

Well, my time here at the coffee shop is over. They’re giving Mary and me dirty looks, so… Just hoping the juice will be on when we get home…

Blue skies,