Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What’s Left After Art

The only visible sign of the effort that went into the manuscript I will send to my publisher tomorrow are the huge stacks of worked over pages that will occupy a cardboard box in a closet in my apartment until the book comes out. Irrationally, I keep them as a talisman against loss. They are otherwise worthless.

Painters have their sketches and studies, which are surely art in and of themselves. Even their palettes look like art to me.

 I saw Vincent Van Gogh’s palette in an exhibit here in New York. It was so beautiful and exciting to see that the Metropolitan Museum made post card of it. I bought one. Here it is! It has all the beautiful hues that you find in his canvasses, and look at the energy with which he painted.

It seems the palettes of many painters have been preserved.

Here’s Delacroix’s and an example of the marvelous precisely detailed pictures he painted using it. You see him in both.

Gustave Moreau worked from this palette:

Here’s what he made with those colors:

This is Georges Seurat’s:

This palette is where he created his vocabulary. Here is how he put it all together, more like the experience of writing, it seems — point by careful point.

I could look at this stuff all day. But now I have to dot a couple of “i’s” and cross a couple of “t’s” before I send in that manuscript tomorrow.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, February 27, 2012

A New Way to Waste Time!

I was sitting in my living room, minding my own business, probably reading the newspaper, when suddenly, out of the blue, came a sound that sent me hurtling back in time to the 1940s. I was sitting on the floor with my brother, our heads bent toward the big, brown radio, listening to “Captain Midnight,” and the familiar announcer’s voice talking up Ovaltine! The sound I had heard was the opening chords of that program.

I opened my eyes to my own living room, with no brother or radio in sight, but my daughter, Anne, holding up her iPod and laughing. When she had recovered, she introduced me to “streaming” of “Old Time Radio.” How incredible! How fantastic! I lunged for her iPod, and she showed me how to find the index, search for my favorite old radio shows and play them. “Jack Benny,” “Information Please,” “It Pays to be Ignorant,” “The Shadow,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Lux Theater,” “The Green Hornet,” on and on they went…

I never realized how completely my childhood was wrapped up in radio. I woke up with it — “The Breakfast Club,” and went to bed with it (under the covers so my parents wouldn’t hear) with “Fibber Magee & Molly,” “Can You Top This?,” “Suspense”… It was all-consuming, sort of like TV and texting is for kids today.

Then there was the year I was home from school with rheumatic fever and could listen to all the daytime programs, “Ma Perkins,” Helen Trent,” Lorenzo Jones and His Wife Belle.” And now, with a touch of the dial – no, with a punch of the iPod – I can hear those shows all over again. Wow!

Goodbye writing schedule. Goodbye family and friends. Goodbye 21st Century. Hello “Tom Mix”!

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The "What Ifs" of Our Lives...

Mary Higgins Clark always teaches us to think in terms of "What If..."

I want to share with you a "What If" I had last week.

As a high school student down south, with high ambitions, I followed in the footsteps of a very wonderful guy whom I shall call Jim Smith.

Jim was the brightest, the most gifted, the most true-blue kid in the school and I tried to follow him every step.

I dreamed of being Mrs. Jim Smith, as well.

After he graduated, he went on to become the model minister of his church, then on to a bigger world.

He married a nice, homebody girl, a much nicer, more submissive person than I would ever have been.

Decades passed.

Later, in New York, I heard that Jim, now the famous and erudite Dr. Jim Smith, was then the head man at an internationally famous and prestigious institution for high/higher/highest learning.

Our paths never crossed, but I often read about him in the paper.

I hadn't thought about Jim in years...

Then, last Saturday night, while enjoying my Chinese takeout of tofu and hot and sour soup, I turned on C-Span - and lo, there was a panel on some big talking head program down in Foggy Bottom, with their top guest speaker, a Very Important Man.

Yep, you got it, Dr. Jim Smith!

Of course, I held my chop stick in mid air and watched...

Hmmm. As I listened to the guy pontificate, and tried to buy into how wonderful he was... is... will always be... all the gestures, head turnings and posturing we see on tv every night from THE V I P PEOPLE ...

I couldn't help going back to those earlier days and thinking, oh-my-god-what-if...
As I watched this man, showing us how inportant a man he was, etc. etc. etc., all I could think, was ...

What if... I were his other half now, and had to listen to him ... night after night after night after night after night ... year after year after year... and nod my head on how great and important a person he Is, Was and Evermore would be...

Oh, my, what wisdom, those thoughts of Mary Higgins Clark...

Thelma Straw

Friday, February 24, 2012


Erma Bombeck
When I was young and giddy I used to aspire to be a writer like Erma Bombeck or Peg Bracken. I'm sure you remember hearing of Erma Bombeck. If you're too young to have followed her columns, your mother probably did. She wrote riotously funny pieces about mundane housewife stuff, day in, day out, in good times and bad. She died too young.

Peg Bracken

Peg Bracken penned such classics as The I Hate to Cook Book, The I Hate to Housekeep Book (my bible for many years), I Didn't Come Here to Argue, and I Try to Behave Myself: Peg Bracken's Etiquette Book. In the old days there was such a thing as etiquette. Hey, did I ever tell you I knew Judith Martin (Miss Manners to you) socially, when we were both young and giddy and working for the Washington Post? Yes. I have a past. I go back a long way. Once I knew The Great Ones.

But I never could be as consistently funny as Erma Bombeck or Peg Bracken (although I can be pretty funny on a good day), or as certain of what was right and good as Miss Manners, or as light-hearted and innocent as they all used to seem. Few can. The world has changed for woman writers. Nobody wants to hear about etiquette anymore, or about women who do nothing more than rattle around the house and try to keep it together. The women who don't want to hear about politics and world problems – topics I don't have the chops to write about – want to hear about body building, exercise, and grooming, which if you think about it are even more narrow and self-absorbed than etiquette and housekeeping. Or they want to hear about who is sleeping with whom and who is having or has had whose baby. And who is divorcing. Who are these Kardashians that you speak of? Are we to emulate them? Why would I want Kim Kardashian's skin?

As you can see, I've been spending too many hours standing in line at the supermarket, perusing the tabloids. Sorry about Whitney Houston. Sorry for all the dead ones. But, I tell you what, I like good fluffy froth. Not dumb gossip about stupid people, not, gawdhelpus, advice, how to lose weight, how to have Kim Kadashian's skin, but writing that skates lightly over the brutalities of real life with grace and humor. This is what I still try to do. Sometimes it works.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Over-the-hill Revolutionaries (Encore)

I am on two deadlines. Forgive me for repeating myself. Here is my post from November 30 of last year. I promise something new soon!

I am no fan of "Madmen." Glamorizing the sexist attitudes of the fifties and sixties seems to me the last thing the world needs at this moment. I admit that I have seen only one episode, the first, and about twenty-three minutes of the second, but that was enough to turn me off from the series for good.

My favorite "good times" of the second half of the twentieth century involve the antidote to the culture of Madmen – the international effort that is still spreading known in those days as The Women's Movement.

Betty Friedan and Friends
If you are fifty-five or over and worked for a living during the 1960's, 70's, and 80's, in the US, Canada, or Western Europe, you participated in this revolution that profoundly and forever changed the entire world.

If you are younger than fifty-five and came of age or were born into a world where working women’s rights were protected, stick around find out a bit about how we got to where we are today.

Bella Abzug
There were, in those early days a few widespread influences: books like "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan and "The Female Eunuch," by Germaine Greer; "MS. Magazine"; the marvelous New York Congresswoman, Bella Abzug. The National Organization for Women emerged eventually. We did have a well-publicized march for equality – down Fifth Avenue. My father, the World War Two combat Marine, pushed my daughter in her stroller in that demonstration, while I carried a sign that said, "THREE GENERATIONS FOR EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN." But none of these publications, societies, or events can be credited with the Movement’s widespread success.

Rosie the Riveter
Of course, the demand for equal rights did not come out of nowhere. A wonderful example was set by the Civil Rights Movement. The employment of women in war-time manufacturing during the "Rosie the Riveter" era had changed women’s self-image. The demographics of the country – a growing economy and a lower birth rate pointing to a need for more entrants into the workforce also had an impact. All of that history and more. Yes. But.

Whatever the historical factors, I doubt the revolution would have gotten off the ground it were it not for thousands and thousands of ordinary women on the line who fought the battles on the job, who showed up every day and got the work done, and thought up imaginative ways to thwart the status quo when it stood in the way of progress.

I know a lot of stories from the pink collar wars. Here's one of my favorites. It is a perfect example of what made the Movement move:

In the state of Nevada in the 1970's, there was a thriving printing business. Big firms stamped out mail order catalogs, magazines, Sunday supplements for newspapers, all kinds of color work on shiny paper. The jobs were divided into heavy printing and light printing. Those who did heavy printing were all men and made near twice the hourly rate of those doing light printing, who were all women. The women wanted into the higher paying positions, but a state law stood in their way. Nevada’s books said that if the job required employees to lift more than twenty pounds, the work had to be done by men. Women protested, testifying that females in everyday life regularly lifted more than twenty pounds. Any mother of a toddler or housewife who did laundry and grocery shopping for a family of four could have told you that. Nevada women took their case right up to the State Supreme Court. But the justices held their ground and upheld Nevada's right to "protect" women in the printing industry from getting a sixty percent increase in their wages.

Not ready to be frustrated once and for all, the ladies looked for another way.

Printing was the second biggest industry in the state. The first biggest was gambling. And that's where our “light” printers found their answer. The big-time casinos employed hundreds of women who waited tables at the headliner dinner theaters. They preferred ladies with long legs and pretty faces. The statuesque, scantily clad members of the "weaker sex" hefted huge trays piled with dishes, glasses, cutlery.

Casino Waitress
The printing women did a little study. One Saturday evening, when the restaurants were packed, they got the waitresses to weigh their trays. About a third of them were over twenty pounds.

Nevada had two choices. Either force the casino owners to put men in the place of the waitresses in stiletto heels, or change the law and let women do jobs that required them to lift more than twenty pounds. The casino owners, with their enormous political clout, weighed in, as it were, on the side of the women printers. The law changed and so did the take home pay of hundreds of women workers.

It happened that way over and over, a little triumph here and rule changed there. Progress.

Things are not perfect yet. But they have gotten better. And will continue to do so. Because of the revolutionaries in pantyhose who made it work those decades ago.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, February 20, 2012

What to Read (or not) While Writing

Recently I was writing away at a nice clip. The book was going well. I was turning out chapters at a good pace. Suddenly, one morning, I realized I had slowed down; instead of scampering across the page I felt as if I were slogging through deep mud. My sentences were long and contorted. The right words were escaping me. I had to grope for them, and often consult a Thesaurus. What was wrong?

That night I picked up my bedtime reading, Wings of a Dove, by Henry James, and had my answer. Subconsciously I’d been trying to imitate James all day. Not only had I failed to equal James, I’d lost touch with my own voice. I remembered another time, long ago, as I was writing a Dr. Fenimore mystery, suddenly the doctor began to sound like Sam Spade. Why? I’d been reading The Big Sleep, by Dashiell Hammett.

I’m not alone with this affliction. A writer-friend, Stephanie Patterson, was working on a novel and had the same problem. She was writing along at a merry pace until one day she slowed down to a crawl. The cause? Villette, by Charlotte Bronte – a wonderful novel, but not Stephanie’s natural style. She put it aside and all was well once more.

You can’t be too careful what you read while writing. To be on the safe side, stick to non-fiction – articles and light essays, or even poetry. Otherwise your mystery may turn into a poor imitation of Swann’s Way or The Brothers Karamazov.

Robin Hathaway

Friday, February 17, 2012

The War of 1812 Is Heating Up

There's a new book out on the War of 1812: Gillum Ferguson's Illinois in the War of 1812. Probably one among many, but this one looks like a corker. Full disclosure: I haven't read it yet, because it's going to take me a while to scrape thirty-five dollars together. So this isn't a review. More of a heads-up for my fellow War of 1812 buffs.

One thing I can tell you about this book, without even reading it, is that the account of the Fort Dearborn Massacre will raise your hair. Metaphorically speaking.

James Madison and the U.S. legislative branch gave little thought to reinforcing (or even warning) the outlying forts when they declared war on Britain, in a fit of spleen, on June 18, 1812. No navy? No army? No problem. The first they knew in the fur-trading fort on the island of Michilimackinac that war had been declared was on July 17, when they were surrounded and captured. And so it went, fort by western fort.

On August 15, 1812, Fort Dearborn, on the site of what is now Chicago, was evacuated by the Americans, who went off into the woods with an escort of "friendly" Potawatomi, headed, as they thought, for Fort Wayne and thence to Detroit (being surrendered even then to the British). They hadn't gone but a couple of miles when the Indians turned on them, killing eighty of them, men, women, and a wagonload of children, and enslaving most of the others. Potawatomi chieftain Black Partridge helped a few to escape. But most of the Indians, let's face it, behaved very badly.

So that was the sort of thing that went on during the War of 1812. The outcome of the war meant a lot to Illinois, as you can discover from Gillum Ferguson's Illinois in the War of 1812.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Life-Long Love

This is going to be hokey. If you can’t stand the idea of romance after sixty, come back in a couple of days. I am sure you’ll find something really cool to read here. If you are in your forties or younger, however, you might stick around and see that romance can get you through a lot of the tough spots that life doles out more or less indiscriminately.

Our Wedding
Members of the generation after mine that I know, or know about, report being lonely and longing for a “relationship” but can’t manage to find one. Parents of people in their late teens and early twenties tell me their kids are lovelorn under their veneer of jaded carelessness. Younger people today are willing to bungee jump off old railroad trestles, but they can’t allow themselves to fall in love.

My generation was not so constricted.

Halfway Between Then
and Now
My favorite party of the year, thrown by my best friend of over fifty years and her husband of nearly 45 of those years, celebrates the love affairs of five couples, four of which have been to together for decades and one that fell in love after they started collecting Social Security. The bonds we have with our spouses, and now with one another after about ten years of meeting every Valentine’s week, are gorgeous to behold. Each year, our hostess asks us to read something about love. This year the theme was love over sixty. We had quotes from famous writers, a sonnet by Shakespeare; one couple had us sing along with The Beatles to “When I’m Sixty-Four.” I admit that I liked the song long before it described my demographic cohort.


The highlight this year was a reading of personal ads from “The Villages,” a Florida newspaper. I reproduce them here for your amusement and inspiration:

FOXY LADY: Sexy, fashion-conscious blue-haired beauty, 80’s, slim, 5’ 4” (used to be 5’6”), searching for sharp-looking, sharp-dressing companion. Matching white shoes and a belt is a plus.

SERENITY NOW: I am into solitude, long walks, sunrises, the ocean, yoga and meditation. If you are the silent type, let’s get together, take our hearing aids out and enjoy quiet times.

WINNING SMILE: Active grandmother with original teeth seeking a dedicated flosser to share rare steaks, corn on the cob and caramel candy.

BEATLES OR STONES? I still like to rock, still like to cruise in my Camaro on Saturday nights and still like to play the guitar. If you were a groovy chick, or are now a groovy hen, let’s get together and listen to my eight-track tapes.

MEMORIES: I can still usually remember Monday through Thursday. If you can remember Friday, Saturday and Sunday, let’s put our heads together.

MINT CONDITION: Male, 1926, high mileage, good condition, some hair, many new parts including hip, knee, cornea, valves. Isn’t in running condition, but walks well.

LONG-TERM COMMITMENT: Recent widow who has just buried fourth husband, and am looking for someone to round out a six-unit plot. Dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath not a problem.

If these folks can still contemplate romance, come on you young folks out there. Take the plunge. Fall in love. If you power through the inevitable rough spots, it could last your whole life long. And even if it doesn’t, in the long run, it will have been worth it. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

Now sing along with this:

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentines Are Not Always Chocolates and Flowers!

It was 10:30 on a bitter cold morning in Chicago. The date was February 14, 1929.

While children happily tore open their valentines in classrooms across the city, lovesick twenty-somethings waited impatiently for the postman, and middle-aged housewives wondered if their spouses would even remember what day it was, a very different scene was unfolding in a warehouse on North Clark Street.

But first, some background. It was during prohibition in the United States. At this time the bootlegging territory in Chicago was divided pretty evenly between two gangsters — George ‘Bugs’ Moran and Al Capone. But Capone wanted it all. He decided to take Bugs down. This was the plan. Capone knew that Bugs and his clan were meeting at their headquarters (a warehouse on North Clark Street), the date, and the time. Capone’s gang stole a police car and two police uniforms, and hired some gangsters from out of town, who would not be recognized, to play the roles of policemen. They arrived at the warehouse and pretended to perform a normal, everyday, police raid. Moran’s seven gangsters amiably complied, agreeing to stand facing the garage wall while being searched and relieved of their weapons. But instead of being taken to jail, the usual procedure, they were ruthlessly mowed down by machine guns and other lethal weapons.

The neighbors, hearing the gunshots, ran to their windows and saw two men in street clothes being escorted by two policemen to a police car. Assuming that everything was under control, they didn’t call the police, but went about their business. It was several hours later before the bodies were discovered. Only one gangster was still alive and he was unconscious. When he, the only witness to the carnage, came to and was asked, “Who shot you?” he said, “Nobody shot me,” and promptly died from his fourteen bullet wounds.

Although everyone in Chicago knew Capone was behind this heinous crime, no one could prove it. He had an airtight alibi; at 10:30 that morning he was being questioned by police in another part of town, on some misdemeanor. Bugs, on the other hand, was late for the meeting, and seeing the police car parked at the garage, decided (wisely) to skip the meeting, which ever after was known as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” It wasn’t until many years later that Al Capone went to prison on a charge of tax evasion.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Love Story, U.S.A.

We watched with bated breath, as Gabby climbed, cumbersomely, up to hand her resignation to the Speaker.

Then the long, long, long applause, that never seemed to end. . .

Not a dry eye in the House.

Or my house.

We'd thrilled to see the Leader of the Free World embrace this frail woman at the State of the Union, to the sound of thunderous applause.

Assisted by her Washington "sisters," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords showed the whole world the meaning of courage, clarity of purpose, sense of duty.

Downright American pluck and guts!

She looked like a model in her red jacket, tasteful jewelry and charming smile.

We wanted to stand in front of the TV, join all those pillars of government, clap 'til our own hands were red, join Joe and Hillary and Nancy and John — even Eric Cantor — and Barack in saying — "We haven't seen the last of this extraordinary woman!"

I never met Gabby Giffords. But I'd heard of the Washington triumvirate, the trio of rising leaders of our government - Kirsten, Debbie and Gabby. And decided to follow their careers, an unknown, unseen devotee.

When Gabby was shot, that fateful day last year, I wanted to yell... "Don't go, Gabby!!! We need you!!!"

Through the days of complex surgery, the induced coma, the horrors of skull removal, the agony of rehab, the twilight zone of — would she make it...

Would she walk, talk, smile, laugh, cry again???

We stood arm in arm with Mark Kelly, as the former astronaut kept vigil by his wife's side.

Days became weeks.

Then months.

And now, years.

Into what is still an unknown, uncertain future.

The Olympian climb back — the naked badge of courage — the strength to climb out of hell to the land of the living. . .

Then, as we watched her struggle to walk, ever so slowly, in that historic hall, we knew Gabby had her mojo back!!!

God bless you, Congresswoman Gabby!

We - luv - ya, kid!

T.J. Straw

P.S. The Navy has named its newest combat ship after Gabby. The 3,000 ton ship, an Indepdendence Variant Littoral, will be the USS Gabrielle Giffords, named after someone "who has become synonymous with courage."

Friday, February 10, 2012

What if They Won the War on Women?

I received yet another email today warning me that my personal donation of $5 was all that stood between the women of this country and the relentless war being waged against us by the evil forces of the Republican Party. Gosh, I said to myself. What are these people going to do if they defeat us? What, for instance, are they going to do for consortium? (I was going to write "nookie," but this is a family blog.)

We take you now to the offices of Senator Bigbooger, who is wrestling with this very problem in a hypothetical future. Enter Toady, his aide.

Toady: Good news, Senator! Kate Gallison failed to send in her donation to the liberal left. We won the War on Women this morning. Homeland Security surrounded the last holdouts in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boise, Idaho. Those who weren't killed have surrendered.

Bigbooger: Excellent. This calls for a celebration. Get my mistress on the phone.

Toady: Oh, I neglected to tell you, sir. She died yesterday.

Bigbooger: Died? What did she die of?

Toady: An illegal abortion. Don't you remember? You gave her the money for it.

Bigbooger: Oh, yes. And an outrageous sum of money it was, too. Call my wife, then.

Toady: I'm sorry sir, but she's gone to Canada.

Bigbooger: What for?

Toady: Her feet.

Bigbooger: Her feet?

Toady: Yes, sir. The puncture wounds from the tacks you strewed in the yard were becoming infected. Since we abolished Obamacare she has no health insurance in this country.

Bigbooger: There must be someone around who wants to party. What about those attractive interns?

Toady: Gone, sir. As I said, we won the War on Women. All the females have either left the country or died from inadequate healthcare.

Bigbooger: I did not foresee this. We have a problem, Toady.

Toady: Possibly, Senator. On the other hand, there's a lobbyist in your outer office who may offer a solution.

Bigbooger: And what might that be?

Toady: Insourcing Asians. This man owns a trillion-dollar shipping company. It seems that with just a few minor changes in the law, which he will happily help you draft, enough Asian women can be brought to our shores to fulfill every need, at very little cost to the taxpayers.

Bigbooger: Excellent. Show him in.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Surprises in Buenos Aires

Whenever friends go to a new place or a relative comes to New York for the first time, my favorite question to ask is "What surprised you about what you saw?"

I’ve decided to ask this of myself about my recent trip to Buenos Aires. First, I should say that I took this trip to get a better sense of the setting for my next book. I had not been to BA, as everyone there calls it, for over twenty years. The trip fulfilled all my hopes and more. And gave me some really pleasant surprises to boot:

In the “Paris of the South,” corner restaurants that look like tourist joints from the outside very often turn out to be lovely, with white tablecloths and excellent food. You could have fooled me. The buildings are almost always curved at the entrance and often have huge Coca-Cola signs over the front doors — nothing at all like the charming little mid-block bistros and trattorias I was seeking and would have easily found in the real Paris or Rome or even London, for that matter. There were none of those little places that I ever discovered. What we did find when looking for a good lunch were huge eateries that seemed as if they belonged in Times Square. But — we ate very well at most of the ones we visited and in one, near the subway stop for Plaza Italia, we had Brochette de Lomo (filet mignon en brochette) that was spectacularly good and would have cost $34 all by itself for one person in NYC. In BA, it was $30 for two and included good salads, desserts, and two glasses of very nice wine.

Almost as delightful was the male pulchritude that was on display almost everywhere. There are more good-looking men by percentage of the population in BA than in any other city I have visited, except for Reggio di Calabria. (ALL the men in my next book are going to be handsome—maybe even the murderer.) I spent a little while trying to figure out why this might be, but then I realized it was way too much of distraction from the task at hand. I went back to looking at the buildings, the statuary, and the trees. Except for the occasional sidelong glance.

My biggest surprise actually began in New York. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we walked out of our building onto 11th Street and saw a woman looking at a map. She was accompanied by a girl in her late teens. As is our wont when we encounter lost tourists, we asked if we could help her. During the ensuing conversation, we found out that she was from BA, told her we were going to visit there in a few weeks, and exchanged email addresses so we might have a coffee together while when we arrived.

After a warm correspondence in the intervening weeks, she offered to pick us up in her car at 8 one evening. (Eight PM is way too early for dinner in BA.) She came for us and showed us the university where she is a professor of hydrology. We then had dinner together on the Costanera, and then she took us for a midnight drive through the city all lit up and looking absolutely gorgeous.

Upon hearing of my interest in seeing the villas miserias — the slum towns where Perón’s descamisados lived, she arranged to pick us up on Sunday morning and take us through them. The hovels are still there and still occupied by the poor. The factories are abandoned shells for the most part. I cannot imagine that I would have gone there on my own. What a gift! Now I can say, not only that I have seen Buenos Aires, but that I have a dear friend who lives there!

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, February 6, 2012

HOOT! (It's sheer poetry)

Today Robin is yielding the floor to Amanda Vacharat, who edits a unique magazine called HOOT. We will let her tell you all about it.

HOOT is a magazine...on a postcard!

We work like a traditional literary magazine, in that we accept rolling submissions from authors worldwide. Each month, we select one piece of poetry or prose to be designed, with complimentary artwork, onto the front of a 4x6" postcard. Our authors range from first-time writers to experienced, published novelists and poets. Occasionally, we accept submissions from artists as well.

The idea behind HOOT is that quality, contemporary writing should not just be available to capital-L Literary types — we wanted to make something that everyone from casual readers to serious writers could enjoy and participate in. Our issues are short (<150 words), and small enough to be hung as art on fridges or passed to friends. They are sort of like, in a loose way, a tangible form of a Tweet or a Facebook post — something that can be shared. In line with making the literary world maximally accessible, HOOT also publishes an online-only issue each month, and runs free online feedback sessions for short work every Wednesday evening. In March, we will also be running free, in-person workshops at the Moonstone Arts Center in Philadelphia. Subscriptions are also priced minimally, compared to other literary magazines.

For a look at the online issues, click here. The postcards look like this:

And here are two pieces I'm especially fond of from the online magazine:

From Issue 4, HOOT Online

by Marcy Campbell

I was under pressure from management to boost weeknight attendance. We’d given haircuts in the outfield. We’d trained a goat as bat boy. I’d worked with the talent agency before, hiring clowns, jugglers, strolling magicians, but this Jesus they sent me was a problem.

He was standing in the dugout in his sandals and robe, along with our sponsor’s mascot, a soft pretzel. When I explained my plan for the race around the bases, he said, “It’s undignified.”

“I already paid for you!” I replied, yet he refused to run.

“I’ve always wanted to pitch,” he suggested.

So with the fans primed for 7th inning stretch shenanigans, I sent Jesus to the mound. I realize it’s no feat to pitch to a pretzel. Yet, when that wad of twisted dough went down swinging after three strikes from the Almighty, I tell you, there wasn’t a soul left in his seat.

From Issue 2, HOOT Online

by Stewart Lindh

Could be the name of a town
Out in the Mojave,
A place to gas up,
Buy a cold drink and look around;
Telling yourself,
“I sure wouldn’t want to live here.”
But someone
Overhears your thoughts,
And your troubles begin.
Years later, an Eagle Scout ducking behind
A boulder to piss, finds your skull
Emptied of everything.

Writer's Guidelines can be found in detail on our website ( Basically, we like zest (!) — and things that follow the Refrigerator Rule (i.e. you could hang the piece on a fridge for all your friends to see, and you wouldn't mind looking at it for a month). All work must contain fewer than 150 words. We do pay the authors we publish on postcards.

Amanda Vacharat has interned at The Potomac Review, worked as an editorial assistant for a fiction/nonfiction editing company, and has studied fiction in classes through the Johns Hopkins Creative Writing MA program. Dorian Geisler (co-editor/co-founder) recently received his MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, has work published in The Believer and The Berkeley Poetry Review, and currently teaches English in Philadelphia.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Russian Fan Club

The guy didn't look like any plumber I'd ever met. Stylish tee shirt, pressed slacks, gold chain on his neck as big as a Cartier window display, a fist-sized diamond on his pinkie, he smelled like an ad for Bergdorf for Men!

The gentle giant moved with grace and spoke with such a heavy accent I had to concentrate hard.

After he finished the work in my shower, he glided on his buttery-soft loafers into the hall and studied the book-cover posters I'd taped on the walls. For a launch party in honor of Bob Knightly's debut novel, I'd made photo-copies of the cover and stuck them on the walls and never taken them down.

Bodies in Winter by Robert Knightly.

The plumber, whose name was Boris, told me he was an emigre from Russia and lived now in Little Odessa (Brighton Beach) with what sounded like half the population of the Motherland, all of whom were his close kin.

After close scrutiny of one poster his face lit up. "Ha! Miss Sllubtaw - (Straw does not translate well in Cyrillic) your very fine president! We love Mr. Kennedy. Most great man, yes?"

Plumbers' fees being what they are in New York City, I did not argue, question or correct him.

I quickly realized he saw the capital K and his mind read the familiar K-word to him - Kennedy not Knightly!

"Uh, no, this is a picture of a book by my friend Mr. Knightly," I stammered, trying to steer him toward the front door.

But he stood his ground and waved his arm toward the wall. "Ah, yes, Kennedy – your friend?"

Clearly we were on different mind-tracks.

"Your friend, Robert Kennedy!" he exclaimed, with devotion all over his wide smile.

"You worship the Kennedys in your house," he said, glaring at me with a beatific smile.

"No, my friend's name is Robert. But his last name is Knightly, not Kennedy," I repeated, trying to dig in my memory what you called names in correct Russian grammar.

"Oh, we are being kindred souls," he said, sounding like a Russian orthodox priest pronouncing a benediction, "My family is liking your President Kennedy and his family. My wife she have pictures on house wall of man. We live in Kennedy country now. We are leaving our country many months to live your American dream, now."

I pulled out my purse and fished for my wallet.

He touched my hand gently.

"No charge," he said proudly. "All in the Kennedy family!"

Out of my dim past I found the word. "Spacibo," I said quietly.

How do you follow that act?

Thelma J. Straw

Friday, February 3, 2012

Getting Up with the Chickens

Sometime in the recent past a truck carrying live chickens turned over on U.S. 90 where it runs through Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Crying, "We're free! We're free!" (or possibly, "Kut! Kadawkit!") the birds fled the scene of the accident and settled all over town.

Like many another civilized municipality, Ocean Springs has an ordinance against keeping farm animals, so the animals were forced to keep themselves. Some ran in traffic, putting an end to their struggles. Some took to hanging out on Government Street, begging for handouts from the merchants, living on crumbs from the donut shop, ignoring people's complaints about their droppings. Others penetrated deep into the residential neighborhoods and found homes in bushes, under porches, anywhere there was shelter and protection from the cats and the zealous city government, there to increase and multiply as best they could.

I first became aware of the chicken phenomenon last week on a visit to my mother-in-law. I woke up before dawn the way one does sometimes and noticed that Harold's breathing sounded funny. "That's strange," I thought. "He seems to be wheezing. He never did that before." But as time went on the wheezes increased in number and direction. At last they could clearly be heard to be coming in through several different windows. Not Harold, then. Roosters. "Erka-erka-wheeze." Pretty close to "cock-a-doodle-doo."

Feral chickens are roaming Ocean Springs! What does this mean? Some say it's good for the tourist trade, making the town more like Key West. Some say it reminds them of their grandmothers, who always kept chickens. Those folks reminisce fondly about the ways their grandmothers used to kill their chickens, sometimes by wringing their necks with a casual flick of the wrist, sometimes by cutting their feathery heads off and letting them run around the yard till they dropped.

I like that the roosters crow just before dawn. That way I know to get up if I'm not asleep.

There are those in Ocean Springs who abhor the chickens, emblems of hated rusticity, spoilers of the polished, upscale, artistic image of the new Ocean Springs. One of them is a city alderman, pledged to get rid of the chickens. But most of the townsfolk view the chickens philosophically. Because that's what the Gulf Coast is all about. They take what comes, chickens, tourists, hurricanes, aldermen, and they make the best of it. Let the good times roll.

Here in the Northeast, maybe even here in Lambertville, if a truckload of chickens got loose you could hear the screams all the way to Ocean Springs, and they wouldn't be coming from the chickens. Call my lawyer! Sue! Sue!

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This Just In - Winners of Lois Winston's Book Annouced

With the aid of a random number generator, Lois Winston has selected the five winners of signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll from everyone who posted comments during her blog tour. She’ll also be posting the winners on the sidebar of the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog at and on her website at under the Contests section. The winners will need to send their mailing addresses to Lois at

The winners, and the blogs they commented on:

Holli Castillo — Marilyn’s Musings
Lynn Demsky — Suspense Your Disbelief
Rita Horiguchi — Lesa’s Book Critiques
Pat Gulley — Cindy Sample Books
Jane R. — Killer Characters