Saturday, October 27, 2012


As we approach the end of this October, the days get chillier and spookier, the leaves on the trees quit trying to look colorful, and every voter in America is afraid of how the coming election will turn out. Yes, there’s a lot to be afraid of these dark days, and that puts us in just the right mood for the ghosts, black cats, skeletons, and devils who will be pounding on our doors come All Hallow’s Even, demanding treats, threatening tricks.

Watch out! Here they come.…

To get you in the mood, here are seven short, short stories written to make you bite your nails.

Death is for the Living
“Martha, after you die I’m going to marry Alice.”
“My hospice nurse?”
“We want your blessing, Martha. Life’s for the living, y’know.”
Martha’s tears dropped from her cheeks to the pillow.
After Ralph left the house, Martha rose and spent the rest of her life swallowing Ralph’s medications and refilling his bottles with her own.

My Name’s Larry, and I...
I used to be an alcoholic. Booze was all I lived for.
Then one fateful day, my marriage broke up, I lost my job, and I got in a horrible automobile accident.
I haven’t had a drink since that day. That day changed me forever.
I don’t miss the alcohol. I just miss being alive.

Injury to Insult
“You’re foolish to insult a witch,” I scolded.
“You’re no witch.”
“You think not?”
“Prove it,” he sneered.
So I unlaced my bodice.
His jaw dropped.
His eyes fell.
His heart sank.
I kicked his heart, his eyes, and his jaw under the bed, then said to the rest of him, “I rest my case.”

The Second Course...
The unfaithful slave was ordered to choose between two doors. Behind one, the girl he loved; behind the other, a ravenous tiger.
Hearing growls behind the left-hand door, he opened the right. Entered.
Slam. Click.
The room was empty.
There was no partition between the two chambers.
Next door, a tiger was finishing his appetizer.

Catch and Release
He wobbled into school, still flinching.
“I was caught,” he said. “Thrown on a pile of dead bodies. It was all dry. All hard. I couldn’t breathe. Monsters squeezed me and ripped my mouth apart and threw me away. Brrrghhh!”
“They’d caught their limit,” I said. “You were lucky.”
He shuddered. “The others were luckier.”

Independence Day
I watched the little kid stamping up and down the sidewalk all morning. Finally I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Getting free of my mother,” he answered.
“You’re running away?”
“I can’t,” he whined. “My dumb mom won’t let me cross the street.”
“So how—”
He grinned and resumed his march. “I’m stepping on cracks.”

…And Have  Nice Day
Folks, this is your captain speaking. We’re experiencing some difficulty with three of our engines, and we’re going to have to lose some weight.
So I have volunteered to take the parachute and jump. Automatic pilot should keep you flying for a while, and eventually you’ Sort of.
Enjoy the rest of your flight.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Recalling Keplers in Fiction

Last week I posted on this blog a memory of having worked for seven years at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California. Memories of Kepler’s have been on my mind for a couple of years, because over the past couple of years I’ve written a novel, titled Hooperman, set in a hip Palo Alto bookstore during the summer of 1972. The store is fictional, although I must confess I couldn’t have made it up if I hadn’t had such vivid memories of Kepler’s Books and the wonderful, creative people I worked with during the 1970s.
The novel is set in and near Maxwell’s Books, a fictitious store in Palo Alto, California during the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in. Nixon is still President, and the war in Vietnam is still raging, as is the anti-war protest, along with other movements, such as civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, not to mention the sexual revolution. Some of that summer’s best-sellers are: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Joy of Sex, Be Here Now, The Pentagon Papers, Open Marriage, and Another Roadside Attraction. Customers who frequent Maxwell’s Books include Joan Baez, Ken Kesey, Stephen Stills, Jerry Garcia, and Wallace Stegner.
         The bookstore is owned and managed by Elmer Maxwell, a leader in the anti-war movement. It serves as a meeting ground for left-wing and counter-culture causes. The staff of fifteen include a socialist and an anarchist who argue loudly throughout the store, two lesbians, a painter, a guitarist, and an imposing bear of a man with Tourette’s syndrome in the back room. His name is Martin West, he’s in charge of shipping and receiving, and he knows more than he is capable of saying.
         Elmer is obsessed with the belief that shoplifters are robbing him blind, so he hires Hoop Johnson, a Stanford English Department drop-out now working as a pizza chef from across the street, to be a “bookstore cop,” to prowl the aisles and catch thieves in the act. Hoop is all too happy to take the job, in spite of almost no pay, because he wants so badly to be part of the Maxwell’s staff.

I haven’t been able to find a publisher for this novel. I suppose it’s hard to categorize: it’s a mystery without a murder. Or maybe publishers know there’s not a great deal of interest among today’s readers in the grand old days of independent bookselling, and the seventies aren’t a popular destination in nostalgia tours.
As any writer would feel, I’m disappointed that Hooperman hasn’t found a home. Like any sane writer, I don’t let this disappointment interfere with my general happiness. Like any happy writer, I’m glad I enjoyed the time I spent writing Hooperman, revisiting a past I tremendously enjoyed. I suppose I could epublish the book on Kindle and Nook, as I have done with my Fergus Powers novels; but somehow it seems sadly defeatist to epublish a novel that celebrates real, brick-and-mortar, independent bookstores.
I won’t give up my search, but of course I have moved on and have written myself halfway into another novel.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Remembering Kepler's Books

My friends Mike and Karen Moreland, who were recently in Paris, send me this photo they took of a shop window in Montmartre. They said it reminded them of me.
Well, I can see why. This character doesn’t look much like me now, but I think it looks a lot like who I was in the 1970s, during the seven years I worked for Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, California.
During the 1960s, ’70s, and into the ’80s, I worked for a great many independent bookstores. Of course those were the halcyon days when there were a great many independent bookstores. Most of those jobs were temporary or seasonal work. But my main bookstore job, and the one that fulfilled me most, was my stretch at Kepler’s. During that time I learned more about the publishing business than I’d ever known before. I learned about product, and sales, and trends. I also enjoyed, more than ever, working with that gentle segment of the public known as readers.
Kepler’s Books was an important store, an intellectual focal point of the San Francisco Peninsula. It was known for Roy Kepler’s brave pacifist philosophy and it was also the hippest place in town to be. Just being a clerk there gave me minor status in my community; it also gave me a community of friends like none I’ve ever had before or since.
I started out at Kepler’s in late 1970 as the returns clerk, sorting out a mountain of returns that hadn’t been dealt with for months. I learned quickly that I loved shipping and receiving. Within a few weeks I started taking on more and more hours clerking on the floor, until I eventually had three full days of work a week. I enjoyed my work days as much as my days off. I felt like a gardener in the store, weeding the shelves, arranging the stock, making the order more orderly, watching the crop grow, get plucked, be replanted.
In 1974, when the buyer retired, I asked Roy if I could replace him. Roy agreed, and I became a full-time, responsible employee with a decent salary and a challenging job. Roy had recently doubled the size of the store, so part of my buying job involved filling vast space with stock, and in those days the paperback book business was growing madly. It was a buyer’s dream.
I think I did well. I introduced a number of improvements, kept the store stocked, and saw the store grow. That year’s Christmas was the biggest yet for Kepler’s Books and Magazines.
But, alas, I was not ready for full-time work, nor was I ready for that kind of responsibility. I freaked out. Couldn’t handle it. So in the summer of 1975, I called Roy and asked him if I could have my old job back. Once again Roy gave me my wish, and I returned to being a part-time bookstore clerk, the happiest job I’d ever had, and a job I kept until 1977.
It may have been a mistake for me to forsake the buyer’s job. Part of my conscience tried to get me to grow up and become a responsible bread-winner, to grow into a growing career. Who knows? Maybe I should have stuck with it. Instead, I cruised for a while, then became a free-lance editor, then became a small-press publisher.
I can’t say I have a single regret.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

For this month’s invitational blog post, in honor of October, I asked people to send me a 99-word story about Halloween. I asked writers to make the stories dark and scary. I guess that was too much of a challenge for some, because I received only two submissions!
The good news, though, is that they’re both fine stories, and they’re suitably spooky in their separate ways. They’re featured below.
For next month’s invitational, please send me a story about a Thanksgiving dinner. Remember, the story must be 99 words long, and it must be a real story. What makes a real story? Conflict. Plot. People.
Meanwhile, have a fine month, enjoy the season of pumpkins and bright leaves, and have fun with your writing.


All Hallow’s Eve
by Denise Dreany

“Did you see that?!”
We were out in the dark, the road before us vanishing into a night that shivered in the wind. Dry leaves rustled and fled; the flap of owl’s wings.
“What is it?”
White vapor, not quite human, slithered by, caressing us in coldness, lingering as if the world was too precious to let go.
“Hold me,” it seemed to say. “Where have I gone?”
Our hearts stopped, clenched in fear; icy fingers slipped through our hands.
“Don’t let me go.”
She was a suicide, we learned, who encountered us on the road to another world.


A Different Kind of Halloween
June Kosier

October 31, 2003.
No candy, no trick or theaters, no jack o lanterns. The good Lord has delivered us “from ghoulies and ghosties and long- legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.” Might just as well say, no Halloween.
There is a party and one must dress for the occasion. But first, one must go to church. What horror!
The lights go out. The service begins by candlelight. The pipe organ is played. Women in black dresses walk down the aisle followed by a woman in white.
It is a wedding!