Monthly Archives: February 2014

What writers can learn from J. Henry Waugh

My favorite novel of all time, always will be, is Robert Coover’s “The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh proprietor.”  It was written in 1968 and I discovered the book a few years later. I was attracted to the book because J. Henry Waugh was my kind of guy. He lived in a small apartment over a bar where he met B-girls. But more importantly he invented a baseball game played with dice. He created fictitious players on fictitious teams, keeping detailed statistics. He took the game one step further by creating charts which determined not only the players ability on the field, but what happens in his life off the field, including death.

Waugh is an accountant, paying little attention to his job, preferring his baseball pennant race. I love this guy, because I play Strat-o-Matic baseball games and as kid I played Negamco and invented another baseball games using a deck of cards. And I also prefer to pay, like Bartelby, little or no attention to my job.

But something goes wrong in the baseball game that demoralizes  Waugh. A rare dice and chart roll changes the game forever, as well as the characters he has created. The odds of it happening are off the charts, so to speak. And little by little the characters Waugh has created take center stage with a life of their own and Waugh completely disappears from the story.

Some critics have said the book is about creationism. If one sees the writer as a God I would agree. In the book Waugh is God who creates character/players whose failure, success, indeed their lives are represented by dice and charts, the two working together to determine the character’s fate. So why does Waugh disappear from the book? I believe it is because the writer wants his characters to live, to engage the reader, and the writer should be far in the background, invisible to the reader. J.D. Salinger would love J. Henry Waugh.

What writers can learn  is to create characters that live and breath, are real and engaging in a story where emotions impact the reader. And of course, in playing God, to disappear from your creation, let your creation speak for you. Of course if you see J. Henry Waugh as Yahweh, a Hebrew word for The God, then write your own dissertation. Long live J. Henry, wherever you are.

My baseball e-book novel that I disappeared from:



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Are your participles dangling-check your modifiers

The following I copied from Wiki: “A dangling modifier (a specific case of which is the dangling participle)[1] is an ambiguous grammatical construct, whereby a grammatical modifier could be misinterpreted as being associated with a word other than the one intended, or with no particular word at all. For example, a writer may have meant to modify the subject, but word order makes the modifier seem to modify an object instead. Such ambiguities can lead to unintentional humor or difficulty in understanding a sentence in formal contexts.”

I wish no disrespect to the person who wrote this. I assume it is a professor because one can’t understand what they say to begin with. A few things I would like to point out. I loved the phrase ” a writer may have meant to modify the subject, but word order makes the modifier seem to modify the object.” First; as a writer I rarely know what I mean to do other than make myself clear. I am not sure I want to modify anything. Second, I had to laugh at “the modifier seem to modify the object.” I laugh-not loud-because it sounds funny. I might as well be reading Latin.

Examples are needed for clarity. Fortunately, the writer provides some. Here they are: “A typical example of a dangling modifier is illustrated in Turning the corner, a handsome school building appeared.[2] The modifying clause Turning the corner is clearly supposed to describe the behaviour of the narrator (or other observer), but grammatically it appears to apply to nothing in particular, or to the school building. Similarly, in At the age of eight, my family finally bought a dog,[3] the modifier At the age of eight “dangles,” not attaching to the subject of the main clause (and conceivably implying that the family was eight years old when it bought the dog, rather than the intended meaning of giving the narrator’s age at the time.”

Even if the first example is wrong, it makes sense to me. The second example is clearly wrong and I see the problem here much better than the first. No writer wants to




a participle or modifier. So pay attention when proofreading. Make sure you know what each clause is saying, that it is clear, and that you are not dangling over the precipice at the abyss of confusion.

If you want to purchase one of my e-books and check for dangling participles and modifiers please don’t let me stop you.

Loonies in Hollywood:

Cemetery Tales and other Phantasms:

Loonies in the Dugout:

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Should Enheduanna be patron saint of female writers

Enheduanna lived  from 2285 to 2250 BCE. The dates are courtesy of Roberta Binkley who wrote the biography of Enheduana, an Akkadian princess, who moonlighted as High Priestess of the moon god Nanna. I didn’t know the Akkadians had birth certificates, but I will take Roberta’s word. The Akkadians were a Semitic people in Mesopotamia and their language is extinct which means reading her works is problematic as there is no Berlitz course being offered at this time.

She wrote the “Sumerian Temple Hymns.”  The title says everything you need to know. She also wrote “The Exaltation of Inanna,” a collection of devotions. That the first known works are religious is no surprise. The ancients didn’t write mystery novels, thrillers, or anything to do with zombies and vampires. They were a serious sort.

Most credit the first male writer as Shin-eqi-Unninni, who wrote the famed “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Once again the writing was Akkadian. The tablets were found by either Austen Layard or Hormuzd Rassam, (depending on the source you are reading), during the 19th century when one of the two, if not both, were digging around in the library of Ashurbanipal in Assyria. The library was in ruins, but fortunately they did not use paper then; tablets last longer. The library dates to the sixth century BCE.

Just as there are differences on who found the tablets in the ancient library, it is difficult to pinpoint the time in which  “The Epic of Gilgamesh” was written because there are assorted Gilgamesh stories that predate the full version. It is a fact that the tablets themselves refer to Shin-egi-Unninni as the writer, so he may have been the first to autograph his book. When Shin lived is also up for debate.

Apparently Gilgamesh was a real person; the King of Uruk about 2500 BCE. One thing for certain is that the book predates the Old Testament and has many stories, such as the great flood that are familiar to Bible readers. Since “The Epic of Gilgamesh” predates the Bible, could writers of the Old Testament be plagiarizers. And if so, has the statue of limitations expired?

The important thing is know we know who are the patron saints of female and male writers. Now writers have someone to pray to.

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Writers beware: Paranormal acitivity in Word.doc

Before I discuss what could be a paranormal experience with Word let me state at the outset I have ten thumbs, and many of them miss keys  as I type. Sometimes I should strike the letter ‘p’ and somehow I hit ‘s’ instead which is on the opposite side and in a different row. I find this odd, but my mind works faster than my fingers, though in truth, for some reason, they can not work in concert. That is not the problem I wish to present though.

It is the paranormal part I want to talk about. Perhaps some of you have experienced it and can explain what is going on.  I correct typo errors as I go. Considering how many red squiggly lines pop up this is time consuming, and of course maddening. When I am through with the daily prose I read through what I have written, even though, as I was correcting typos, I often read what I had written. So I am actually rereading for the second time after the day is done.

Now for the weird part. I read through that first time while correcting mistakes, so I know what word I used. But the second time I read through there is a different word. It is almost like HAL (my name for what ever computer function is doing this) has changed the word. Who does Hal think he is? A writer? I don’t believe this is autocorrect, especially when it should be noted that when I transfer my manuscript to my formatter, having proofread the book about 50 times, the formatter will have changed words. I don’t know if that is HAL or a cousin of his. Sometimes, I swear after changing the word to what it should be and sending the manuscript to my Kindle PC for final check, it has been changed again.

Perhaps by now you think I am suffering from short term memory loss, or maybe dementia. But consider this. One night when I was alone in my bedroom one night, the lights off, I am getting ready to get into bed when I was thumped in the middle of my back between the shoulder blades. Ten yards from my bedroom window is a cemetery. Perhaps by now you think I am suffering from short term memory loss, or maybe dementia.  So it could be there is a ghost in my machine, so to speak.

If you have experienced something similar in Word where words change indiscriminately please let me know. I would hate to think it is memory loss or ghosts. A writers life is not for the feint of heart.

Cemetery Tales and other Phantasms:


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Are indie writers making literary agents dinosaurs

I tried, like all writers, to procure an agent by following their submission guidelines for queries. I actually found a few agents whose guidelines required exclusivity to the query for a few months. No writer trying to get his first novel published, nor any writer, for that matter, is going to stop sending queries for six months while eagerly waiting for that email, which, most likely will never come. Since agents reject about 96% queries out of hand, I assume this guideline is meant to dissuade queries being sent to them. I never did.

Though an agent represents a writer, it should be kept in mind that agents work with publishers for whom they try to fill requests for the type of books the publishing company is seeking, which means agents are scouting for publishers, and that means that publishers, in a real sense, are agents true clients.

Even if your query is read, a manuscript is requested, and if finally a publishing deal is in the works, it could easily take a year, maybe a year and a half. And writers want to get published now, not far down a road that perhaps  is a dead end. The digital world has created the venue for writers to control their own destiny. The downside is that with over one million titles, competition to get your books noticed means that fork in the road, like an LA freeway, is gridlocked. But better to be gridlocked going somewhere than parked in the garage.

Besides, since agents turned down “Gone with the Wind” over 170 times; rejected Fitzgerald, and every other writer who has ever been published, it seems they can’t read well to begin with. They are paid to say ‘no’ and stay with whom they know, not writers they don’t. They are brokers, more than readers.

I want to share a column by John Yeoman whose blog Writers Village has given me many good writing tips and his recent blog on agents is a sharply critical rant on what might be a dying profession-the agent.



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e-Book sale on baseball story about 1911 New York Giants

As a writer, from time to time, I want to share what I have written and published, especially when something is on sale.  The following was written yesterday and published on my baseball blog “”Balls and Strikes.” I republish the blog for my other readers, those being you.

Spring training has arrived with pitchers and catchers reporting for the annual boot camp of stretching and playing golf. Whether you have baseball fever or not, my eBook “Loonies in the Dugout” based on the true story of the 1911 New York Giants and Charlie Faust, a satire of fame and celebrity, as well as a not so coming of age story, will be on sale for 99 cents through 8 AM Monday. Here is the start of chapter one:

          I did not hear he died until years after the fact and when hearing the news I felt surprise because he wasn’t that old, late thirties maybe, though it was hard to tell; then a sadness came over me because I hadn’t kept in contact with him, having left town suddenly without saying goodbye and never came back; then I felt emptiness, but not the emptiness from the loss of a friend, but an emptiness from not really knowing him to begin with. None of us truly knew Charley, though we spent nearly every day with him for three months.

          Charley and I stayed in the same hotel, dined together often, saw a couple of moving pictures together, walked the streets of eight major cities, did some shopping together, but I didn’t really know him. Oh, I knew his love for apple pie; I knew about Lulu; I knew a few things he told me about his life, but those things don’t tell you who a person is, or what a person is.

          What I can tell is why he showed up when he did, though I must admit on that well recalled day, I thought he had to be joking, or he was crazy, or something else entirely. That is why you couldn’t know Charley; you just couldn’t figure him out, not one bit.            

          I was playing catch along the first base line with our captain and star second baseman Larry Doyle, or “Laughing Larry” as he is known to be called, though truth be told, he doesn’t laugh much. Since he is a heck of a ballplayer and one of the keys to our success, we don’t care if he ever smiles, let alone laugh.      

          Larry and I, along with our New York Giant teammates, were in St. Louis, which always seems like Hades this time of the year, the flames frequently flickering in the 90’s.

           I hadn’t been a minute on Robison Field, had done nothing strenuous, yet my body inside my wool Giant uniform was soaked with sweat. It was a high sky, deep blue, with not a cloud to be seen; the air, unmoving and clammy, was suffocating my skin. This was one of the days I was glad not to be playing, not that there were many days when I was playing anyway.

          I had only thrown the ball to Larry four or five times as we warmed up before our game against the home team Cardinals when I saw it. The sweat rolling from my forehead into my eyes inflicting a salty sting could not prevent me from seeing the dark vision enter the field from the grandstand next to our dugout. I was just about to return my throw to Laughing Larry when I stopped, dried my eyes with my shirt sleeve and looked to see if my eyes were deceiving me.

          It first looked to be a black image shimmering in the hot sun coming towards me, but as my eyes adjusted and my brain caught up with my eyes, I realized it was a man. He was a sight. He was dressed in a threadbare black suit and derby hat.  He walked with long, loping strides with a little hop caused by a limp and his neck was leaning back, his chin stiffly pointing to his chest which was puffed out a bit due to an arch in the middle of his back.  Being from Minnesota, I am familiar with loons and that was what he reminded me of; a loon when he wants to scare off an intruder approaching the nest. If we had been on a pond I think he would have flapped the water with his wings to shoo me away.

          He squinted at me and asked in what sounded like a German accent “Are you Mr. McGraw?”  He was obviously not a baseball fan. Everyone knows John McGraw, manager of the great New York Giants baseball team. His nickname was “Muggsy,” but no one said it within earshot of Mac. Even if somebody quite innocently said Muggsy to his face, not knowing any better, there would be hell to pay.

           Me, nobody knows. I am Chester Lee Koski from Storden, Minnesota.  I was quite a ballplayer in the Midwest. They called me “stormin” because I was fast as lightning and had a thundering bat. Unlike Laughing Larry, my nickname reflected who I was. At least it did when I played in the minor leagues. But here in the great National League my bat doesn’t thunder too much as I sit on the bench, only playing when we are way ahead and Mr. McGraw wants to give a regular the rest of the game off.

          I told him no, I was not McGraw and turned towards our dugout where Muggsy was standing next to the tall, slender, sports writer from the New York Globe, Sid Mercer. “Mr. McGraw,” I yelled, “this gentleman would like to talk with you.”

           Muggsy, standing with mouth open, must have noticed this sight come onto the field, because he had a look on his face like a loon had just sprayed him with water. He nodded to Mercer and they walked over to where we were standing.

          “My name is Charles Victor Faust, Mr. McGraw, and I am here because a fortune teller in Wichita, Kansas, a woman of uncommon insight into a mans destiny and whose integrity and honesty is beyond approach told me I was going to be a pitching star and help the New York Giants win the National League pennant. She was right sure about it. She was positive as the sun is hot. So better sign me up and give me a uniform for I am ready today if you need me.”         

          Faust, who must have been 6’ 3” or so, was squinting down at McGraw with a goofy looking, harmless smile which showed a gap between a couple of teeth and McGraw, who stood all of 5’7”, was looking up at Faust, but not with a smile. McGraw’s nickname should have been “Laughing Johnny.” The Devil was in his eyes.

          There was stillness, a disarming quiet during the pause while they eyed each other that drowned out all noise.

          In his high pitched, sharp and piercing Irish voice, McGraw asked “What do you mean she was beyond approach? Do you mean beyond reproach?”

          “Huh.” The loon looked befuddled.

          “You did approach her didn’t you?”

          “I did not touch her at all. I was a perfect gentleman.”

          “I am sure you were. Do you mean to say she was an honest woman?”

          “Absolutely she was.”

          “How much did she charge you for this great insight into your future?”

          “Mr. McGraw, no price is too high when your future is laid open to you and you can follow your destiny.” 

          “Give me the ball and your glove Koski,” barked McGraw.  He gave Faust my glove, handed him the ball and told him to go the pitching box and get ready to throw. Muggsy went behind home plate and took the catchers glove from our star catcher, Chief Meyers, squatted down, and yelled out to Faust to throw a hard one.

          So Mr. Charles Victor Faust, a man of about thirty or thirty-three by my estimate, dressed in his scruffy dark suit and still wearing his derby, stood in the pitchers box and leaned back with his right foot on the rubber, the right knee bent at an angle, his left leg straight, and his arms tight across his chest. Bringing both arms up over his head, his right arm went into a whirlwind motion, going round and round, his left arm pointing straight up to the heavens. His right arm continued whirling and whirling, faster and faster, then he finally brings both arms together while still over his head, leaned forward and with great thoughtfulness stepped stiffly forward with his left foot-I tell you the look on his face reminded me of a hunting dog who just got the scent-and threw the ball straight overhand. Weirdest motion I ever did see.

          The ball took as long to get to McGraw as the train does from New York to St. Louis.  It bounced in front of the plate, about a foot or so to the left, skipping by McGraw.

           “Again!” yelled Muggsy. Meyers picked up the ball which had rolled slowly towards the stands and threw it to Faust. Amazingly, to everyone I am sure, Charley caught the ball.

          Well, Charley goes into his loon whirlwind motion and once again let’s loose a pitch so slow you could count the stitches on the ball. He must have thrown about a dozen pitches and to his credit, some of the throws were actually getting close to the plate.

          McGraw stood up and yelled at Charley to grab a bat as he wanted so see how he hit. As Faust loped towards home plate, McGraw went to the pitching rubber and called over Laughing Larry, Buck Herzog, our third baseman, Art Fletcher, our short stop, and Fred Merkle our first baseman. I had a feeling something was afoot.

          McGraw asked if Charley was ready. He was standing to the right of home plate, the bat on his shoulder. He announced he was ready for action. So McGraw laid one in belt high and down the middle of the plate; a pitch any professional hitter, who standing in the box, would have swatted to the far reaches of the outfield. Charley swung at the ball, his body all twisted like a rung out mop. But he hit the damn ball. It did not reach the outfield though, as the bat just caught a slight piece of the ball and it bounced a couple of times towards McGraw who came in to pick it up. 

          The bugs-that was what we call baseball enthusiasts who come to the games- always showed up early, sometimes as much as two, three hours, and now they were getting into the fun, yelling for the loon to run and run he did. McGraw waited for Charley to get close to first, then threw the ball past Merkle, who chased it down as Charley slid awkwardly into first, if slide is the correct word. Everybody was yelling for him to run to second, so he got up and started to run. Merkle threw to Doyle who was perched on second. As the disheveled loon came towards the bag, Laughing Larry yelled, “Slide! Slide! Slide!” And Charley did. Well as any loon could slide. He lumbered in and sort of fell sideways rolling over and over, his head tucked into his chest, as he crossed the bag. The ball sailed past Doyle, who yelled, “Run! Run!”

          Charley got up and headed towards third as Fletcher got the ball and threw to Herzog. Charley went into his rolling slide, nearly knocking over Buck, who missed the ball. After getting up Charley ran with a loping gait towards the plate, yelling “Yippity, yippity, yip, yap… yuppity, yuppity, yippity” and this time did not roll into home plate, but dove feet first as Meyers jumped out of the way. Charley bounced once, then skidded more than slid, ending up in a sitting position, his legs pinned underneath him like a pretzel. He was short of home plate by three feet.

          The bugs were whooping and hollering. When Charley got up, his Sunday suit was not fit for service. The trousers had large holes in both knees, there was a big split through the crotch and his jacket was torn at the seams below both armpits. Merkle brought Charley’s derby, which had flown off in his attempted slide at first. Somehow there was a big dent in the top of the derby which gave Merkle a great laugh.

          McGraw and the boys had their fun, the bugs were entertained and Charley was still smiling. It was a nice diversion before we had to play the Cardinals. We needed one. Last month when we were here, Al Bridwell, who was traded to Boston last week for Herzog, got Malaria, and Bugs Raymond, a terrific pitcher when sober, fell off the wagon again. He fell hard enough, that McGraw finally let the wagon continue without Bugs. St.   Louis is just not a good town for us.

          Standing straight with his chest proudly puffed out, smiling from ear to ear, his face red, his breathing labored, the sweat poring from his face, Charley said, “I know your boys tried hard… to get me out… but my great speed forced them …to hurry their throws… and I would have been safe… but my slide needs some work… but as you can see… from my pitching and my running… I can be used to help win the pennant.”

          As Merkle handed Charley his hat, McGraw said, “Not today Mr. Faust.”

          “But I have to pitch… the Giants to the pennant. I can do it. It will happen. I know it…. The fortune teller told me. Sign me up. I got to pitch.”

          “I got no time to talk business. We have a game to play.”

          Charley was silent. He stood in front of McGraw for a moment with a blank look in his eyes. Still smiling, he turned around and walked back towards the stands where he entered the field.

          Following Charley on his return to the grandstand was Mercer. Must have thought he was onto a story, although what I could not imagine. But Mercer, with his creative and imaginative mind, can see the hook of a developing story, real or imagined.

          As Charley got into the seating area, bugs were shaking his hand, patting him on the back, and making quite a fuss over him. I heard later they took up a collection to get him a new suit. I bet Mercer was behind it.

Here is the link to my amazon page for the book:

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Words a fiction writer should never use

The following is a list of words a writer should never use. It is not my list, it is compiled by scholarly, erudite, professionals, who know more about writing than yours truly. These words are: extremely, totally, especially, very, almost, particularly, absolutely, really, ordinarily, unusually, generally, fairly, rather, nearly, mostly, somewhat, usually. I am sure there are more, but we will use these words for my discussion.

 I totally agree with ‘totally’, but I am somewhat peeved at ordinarily fine words being generally blackballed by grammarians. Is there not a place for these words? Are there not exceptions where very fine words can be used in a clear, concise manner, in which readers know and really understand?

I think it fairly obvious these words were intended for writers of non-fiction, particularly journalists. I am also absolutely sure this list is not intended for fiction writers. The reason being fictional characters, especially blue collar ordinary folk, should talk like people usually talk. When you look at the above list you recognize words you probably use when speaking, though of course the word ‘totally’ is only used by teen girls from the 90’s. Nearly all the other words you say at one time or another are on the list. As for myself I would rather (a perfectly good word) write my characters dialogue like normal people, in conversational tone.

Bear with me I am almost done.

I find it unusually anti-Oxfordian to list perfectly fine words that writers are told to avoid. It is akin to word banning and once you start banning words, will not book banning be far behind. I find this extremely unsettling, so much so, I feel the need to defend those words, for someone must speak for them. These words we are told not to use are intensifiers and qualifiers.

As you can see-if you were paying attention- I have used every word on the list and I think I was mostly clear in my grammar though I was using those  words. I am just a rebel grammarian. And extremely proud of it. And I am sure that is rather obvious to you. Okay, now I am absolutely done.


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