Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Tree Hunting—Not For the Faint Of Heart

For men, Christmas tree shopping has got to be at the top of the list of life’s all-time stress producers—right up there with purchasing a new mattress, remodeling the kitchen or babysitting six-month old triplets… alone… on Black Friday.

Tree acquisition is usually irreversibly triggered by “someone” remembering the holidays. That is, once your wife decides it’s time to get the tree, any chance for escape is lost. So, it’s best to get on board early by showing your beloved that you already have a trip to the tree lot in your Planner, immediately after Thanksgiving.

Yes, you could volunteer to get a tree earlier, although that would likely be viewed as sucking up. Pushing the date out a bit might work—let’s say until the Thanksgiving left-overs are gone. But I would eat fast.

Let’s assume for a moment that you make the right timing decision. On the day of the big purchase you will be richly rewarded if you take someone with you to share the experience. Trust me, tree selection is a decision you do not want to make alone. If no other option is available, call in a marker and take another male with you to help deflect the blame when you totally screw things up. Your buying guide should be someone highly regarded by your wife—-you know, like Josh Groban, Bon Jovi or the Iron Chef.

In the event you don’t know someone rich and famous who can cook or sing, take children—preferably related to you. And remember to lavish praise on them when they make their selection. You’ll want them beaming when your wife first sees them marching through the front door, proudly toting their Charlie Brown tree.

It goes without saying, the gold standard is convincing your wife to come with you. Surely, if you put your heart into the invitation, she will willingly leave the warmth of hearth and home for a trip to the cold, poorly lit and newly sprouted urban forest—AKA Jack’s Tree Lot.

Once there, she will no doubt relish hearing your carefully studied views of height versus girth, spruce versus pine, relative trunk curvature, growth patterns, limb distribution and, of course, moisture content. By next summer you’ll both remember this as a bonding experience.

With any luck, you’ll be in and out of the lot in less than ten minutes after picking the first tree you come to. Hey! It could happen. However, as a precaution, it might be prudent to bring along a thermos and some snacks. Better yet, if you have room in your trunk, consider tossing in a stocked cooler and a portable grill—you could be there for a while.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Drop by my web site any time for updates on my children's books or just to browse around ( ).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sea Change in Publishing?

I've heard it said, sparking controversy is a good thing---you know just to get people riled up and to gauge whether anyone is actually reading one's blog (or other writing). So, in the spirit of saying just enough to be irritating, here goes---nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I'd like to see some commentary about the sea change which appears to be underway (started a few years back) as book publishing models and book formats change to keep pace with book consumption.

Specifically, the traditional publishing model in which large inventories of printed books are (were) warehoused in anticipation of sales, must certainly have been affected by the growing interest first in e-Books and more recently in Print On Demand (POD). That shift to non-traditional formats (extent unknown) clearly has the potential to, in turn, affect the entire book publishing food chain from traditional publishing houses to printers to brick and mortar booksellers. It's no wonder traditional publishers, though resistant at first, have added e-Books and POD to their quivers just to stay competitive.

So, in the wake of this apparent evolution, bordering on revolution, in the publishing industry, what are your thoughts: pro, con or neutral? Any observers or prognosticators willing to predict the "whether"... that is, are traditional big box makers of books in a bind?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Giant Beetle Invades Boy's Bedroom At Bed Time--Sort Of....

Yep. I regret to say it's been nearly a month between entries. But here I am very happy to announce the publication and release of "There's A Beetle In My Bed!" by Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc., in St. Louis, MO. This picture book written in rhyme follows the January 2009 publication of "There's A Spider In My Sink!"---same boy, different creature....

Wonderfully illustrated by Suzi Brown, the book tells the story of a young lad, Dylan (Dyl, for short), who has once again come face-to-face with the nightly prospect of getting tucked into bed. Well, what's a creative thinker to do but devise a tall tale to delay the imminent demise of his day? And what better creature than a giant (and growing) beetle to buy him a little time by shocking dad into prolonging the bed time routine.

If this sounds somewhat like the end of the evening at your house, pick up a copy of the book and read how the bed time conundrum resolves itself. The book is available on, Barnes and Noble, Borders Books and other on-line booksellers, as well as through the Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc., web site at . E-book copies can be downloaded from the Fictionwise at ( .


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some Days The Writing Will Wait

This is one of those days.

OK, I think I figured out how to do it---there should be a photo of my wife, Rita, and I with our grandchildren to the left. It's just too good not to share.

Ostensibly, the family was gathered at the beach to compose a family photo for our Christmas card this year. Of course, you have to take lots of photos to get the one that's just right. Protestations to the contrary from a few others in the family who might say this photo isn't the one, I would put it at the top of our short list.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Thanksgiving Dad"

Some days my writer's vision is totally different than my reality. Today is one of those days. Here is where I would be in my mind's eye:

Sitting at a small desk nestled amidst stacks of books in a cavernous, be-shaddowed library with shelves all around. A small light illuminates my immediate surroundings as I sit, spectacles perched on the end of my nose. Teasing out just the right words, I slowly add to the aging manuscript taking form on the pages before me. I could sit in that spot for hours in my reverie. But alas, the hours are fleeting.

In the meantime, check out the Rhyme of the Month on my website ( )---a little something for Thanksgiving, written in the spirit of Bob Newhart. Enjoy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Little Slice Of History

This entry may seem a bit less about writing than it is about personal history. But maybe the fact that it is written makes it writing enough.

Have you ever come across something on the Internet that strikes you as deja vu? That maybe you were somehow connected to the story or image? Here's a bit of a personal journal entry about a recent such encounter I had.

I saw a photo of an old steam ship which had been captured and frozen in time by a German photographer about 15 years ago, similar to the photo below. It was a ship which, as it turns out, has particular personal meaning to me, my three sisters and my mom.

I had seen this photo of the ship months ago---several times in fact. At the time, it struck me as just another photo, albeit a rather remarkable one for lots of different reasons. I mean, how often might one see a huge ocean liner stuck on a beach, virtually fully exposed from its keel to its stacks, rusting away but still magnificent looking even in its decay? Indeed it was a bit spooky in a ghost ship kind of way. Yet it wasn't until recently that I realized that the ship in the photo was not just any ship.

I'm not certain why but in somewhat of a reflective moment recently, I felt compelled to do a search on the SS America to see where it might be these days. You'll see the connection in a minute. I came across several sites with photos and history, including information about plans to convert the ship into a floating hotel or a museum. One such website was created by a former crew member trying to locate other former crew members and passengers who had traveled on the ship. I think he wanted to set up reunions and collect memorabilia people might still have.

Then out of the blue, a slide show arrived in my e-mail---a total coincidence. You know how these things on the Internet can just show up. I don't often spend time browsing through photo files. But I must admit to enjoying all the various scenes the photographer had captured in this slideshow. I was particularly drawn to the photo of a huge passenger liner which had apparently run aground and was being battered by the waves like a beached whale. That's when it struck me that this haunting photo looked very much like some of the photos I had seen during my Internet search of the SS America.

So, why the interest, you may ask. In fact, the ship in the slide show is the former SS America on which my Mom, sisters and I crossed the Atlantic in 1963. I was 16 at the time. It so happened that the photo was taken very shortly after the ship had run aground in the Canary Islands in 1994, over 30 years later. I hadn't realize at the time we were aboard that we had been on one of the final Atlantic crossings while the ship still carried the proud name SS America.

I have a vague memory of some talk when we were on the ship that the United States Lines was thinking about selling the ship to another company. But that seemed unbelievable to me. After all, how could the United States even think about selling the ship which had been the symbol of America on the High Seas for over two decades?

Alas, it was indeed sold in 1964 to a foreign shipping company. In the 30 years that followed, it would change hands and names several times until a powerful Atlantic storm ripped it away from its towing boats en route to what was to be its hotel conversion. Adrift, it finally ran aground in the Canary Islands and that was the end of it. The photographer had been in the right place at the right time to catch the ship while it was still intact and basically upright. For very soon after the photo was taken, the opportunity to capture this moment in time was lost.

Looking at the photo of the iron carcass still leaves me with a melancholy feeling---wishing I could have gone to the Canary Islands to see the ship while it was still in one piece---an opportunity missed. Now there is nothing much to see. The ship split apart in the pounding waves shortly after running aground. Over what some have reported as being a ten-year period the ship finally sank in pieces. At low tide, only a small chunk of it can sometimes be seen sticking out of the water---a sad ending to a grand old lady.

So, if you happen to see the photo of the ship as the slide show drifts by on the Internet, make note that the SS America was once among the grandest ships on the High Seas. This one-time passenger in the spring of 1963 remembers her in her glory.

Here is a URL to the site with the ship's history along with photos in her prime and in her decline: .

Monday, September 21, 2009

How's This Writing Thing Working For You?

Have you ever wondered how your books are doing out there in the world, "among the English" (as was noted in a popular movie a few years back)? Oh, sure, there's evidence in bits and pieces. But unless you have been Skyped on OPRAH, invited to speak at the Library of Congress---or, better yet, at the U.S. Mint---or are meeting the U.S. Poet Laureate for dinner this evening, the evidence is, shall we say, probably a bit sketchier. I'll just mention a few of the key indicators here.

For example, there is the quarterly royalty check. I've heard those things can go as high as $19.83 right after a school book sale. Family support is also critical. I once got a brief note from my Aunt Susie that she is holding two copies of my book for an autograph one day---you know, when I make the trip down to Tierra del Fuego where she is setting up a lending library among the Tierra del Fuegans.

Sales rankings are also a nice metric to reflect on, especially during the week immediately after the book is released---that's when there's a chance the one copy you bought on line to "prime the pump" will trigger a rank placement under one million. I used to let the rankings thing get me down but not any more. It's much more fun (read "less depressing") to declare the gargantuan number as actual sales---as in "Hey! Last week I sold 2,785,738!" I've decided not to worry too much that the royalty check is six months late, what with the almost monthly increase in postage rates of late. No doubt the check is so heavy it's permanently stuck in the "insufficient postage" loop.

Of course all those measures are important. I mean, I cherish the single comment from Bengladesh on my August 11, 2003 blog entry about my inspiration for writing my book on ants. But when I really want to know how my books are going to do or what impact they might have, it's best to get out there and put them in the hands of a child. Do a book reading or sign your books at a little table in an indie bookstore.

Watch the kids as their eyes scan over a display of books, flitting from one cover to another until they actually pick one up. Will they linger on the inside pages? Do they turn to look for Mom or Dad nearby to ask a question or show some particular discovery they have made right there in the book?

Yeah, there's a chance the book might go home with them on that day, with the author's well wishes and an autograph scribbled on the inside cover. But that really doesn't matter. I would rather the book speak to the child and that it might leave a lasting impression. Who knows? It could happen.

Here's to making those connections.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bend-ward Bound

Hi, folks STOP

Just a short note on my way out the door, bound for Bend, Oregon STOP

A group of artists and authors who are published by Guardian Angel Publishing is gathering in Bend (and Redmond, OR) for a GAP-West "Meet and Greet" plus a group book signing at a Barnes and Noble store in Bend on Saturday, September 19 STOP

Looking forward to seeing everyone and reading to the kids STOP

More news to follow STOP

Kirk out


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Whatever Happened To "Writer's Cramp"? Will It Soon Be Replaced By TD

You don't hear about "writer's cramp' much these days. Sure there is plenty of "carpal tunnel" to go around. But writer's cramp almost seems to be a thing of the past.

I remember as a kid hearing the phrase "writer's cramp" all the time. And I recall experiencing such an affliction often enough myself, especially when a lengthy writing assignment was due. With the advent of typewriters and keyboards, one rarely hears of writer's cramp anymore. We've moved from what was typically a short-lived pain in the inter-digital muscles that could be relieved by simply putting the pen down, to structural syndromes that linger long after the writing has stopped.

Fortunately, I don't yet suffer from carpal tunnel issues. However, rather oddly I have noticed a consistent inability to write using pen and paper for more than just a few minutes at a stretch these days---mostly, I think, from being out of practice. After all, how much actual writing do we do anymore?

My planner entries (yes, I still use a planner with real paper inside) are usually one-liners and they are short one-liners at that. Occasionally, I jot down a reminder to myself or maybe even leave a note on the counter so my wife knows where I've gone and what time I'll be home. But for the most part, I don't do much longhand writing anymore and my penmanship has suffered as a result.

I think it's a matter of exercise---or lack thereof. The hand and finger muscles are literally out of writing shape. I used to write journal entries daily and all my letters were written longhand. Even first drafts of lengthy papers and reports started with a hand-written rough draft. Now, short notes are about a much as I actually write.

But maybe "writer's cramp" lives after all and is just waiting to be rediscovered. All it takes is writing a couple pages longhand and there it is as if it had never left....

In a related language artifact, we call ourselves writers when, in fact, we generally don't do much actual writing anymore. And I don't know that there is a good replacement word or phrase---perhaps creative typers or creative keyers (as type-writers are vitually a thing of the past). Then again, maybe "author" is the best word after all because it covers a multitude of tools an author might use....

Just remember, the tool does not an author make. It's the product, however crafted.

P.S. Don't you wonder how soon it will be before we will see the first novel "written" in .txt.... Personally, I plan to avoid too much texting---I hear textual dysfunction is a bugger to get rid of....

Friday, July 17, 2009

When Opportunity Knocks---Be Prepared

Sometimes you get a surprise. On a lark I sent a poem (this one is a rhyme) to Boy Life magazine. Although it didn't quite fit the needs for the magazine, the editor offered that they were hoping to put it in a Scouting blog in what is known as the Cracker Barrel.

Let's face it, he had me over a barrel so how could I refuse. Knowing the Cracker Barrel is used as a source of useful information, helpful hints for Scouting activities and generally to give Scouts and Scouters a chuckle, I am a fan. So, I was glad my rhyme about taking a weekend Wilderness First Aid course would in some way contribute to the greater good. Besides another credit is one more cobblestone on the road to writer heaven.

Here's the URL that will take you to the Scouting blog if you wish to check it out. On the Trail to Eagle, it's all good. .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"No Bones About It"

This post may be a short one today. Mostly I wanted to share---yes, that's the right word. For I don't want to appear unseemly or unduly excited. The final proofed, edited and approved version of my picture book, "No Bones About It" has been sent to the printer. Yes, I know its official publication is still a few weeks away. But I must say, it feels pretty good to see it come this far. Are you kidding me? This is way too cool!

The book is the first of a series of anatomical rhymes designed to help kids learn about the human body. The series, which is called THE SUM OF OUR PARTS, will eventually cover several anatomical systems including the skeleton, muscles, skin, circulation, respiration and many others. The entire collection will be "kid-friendly" with just the right balance of technical content, humorous verses and anatomical factoids, brought to life through the playful illustrations of artist Eugene Ruble.

When "No Bones About It" finally hits the street, look for a press release on this blog and my website announcing the book's publication and launch. In the meantime, readers are most welcome to visit my website for more information about "Bones" and any of the rest of the series. Just look for the link to the THE SUM OF OUR PARTS on the right side of the website's main page.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Happiness Is A Book Cover

In the midst of being buried in the administrivia of book promotion, sometimes it's easy to forget how we got here in the first place---what it felt like to see the very first cover for that book that took years to finish, submit, revise, finish again and again and again and finally get accepted. So, for today, I'm remembering that moment and a few others like it when other book covers popped out or poems and articles got published or a manuscript finished second in a small writing contest.

In a way, I suppose it's a little like being in a runner's slump and getting an unexpected and very welcom burst of encouragement. It could come from a short but really good run or even from just seeing photos of an ultra-marathon that you have long had on your bucket list but have temporarily lost the vision....

So, here's to those moments and the memories of them that keep us putting one foot in front of the other or tapping at the keyboard or scribbling on small notepads in the dark at 3:00 a.m. when a fresh and very perishable idea pops into our drowsy semi-consciousness.

Some days a little boost is all it takes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hey! I'm Over Here...!

Some days, don't you wonder where everyone is out there? I'm mean, shouldn't there be some evidence left behind when someone has actually dropped by Ye Old Blogspot Blogging Post? They say Pinging one's blog is critical---can't do without it, you know. But what does all the pinging really do, anyway? What if I didn't ping?

I mean, can I really believe that all those pinged sites tagged as "Done" (as opposed to "Try Again Later") somehow alert the world that a new blog entry has just been filed? If so, why isn't anyone showing up---I mean besides the one or two folks who are willing to take the extra time and make the extra effort? Some days, don't you just want to yell, "Hey! I'm Over Here!"

Then, again, I suppose I ought to hold up the mirror about my own visitation routine. To visit a blog (and maybe even more a website), requires time that I don't often have. Even more telling, I need to remember to "make the rounds". After all, isn't it the memory thing that is most troublesome? Hats off to all those kind souls who both remember and act.

I'm imagining that all the blogs and websites and social network sites in the world are on some sort of giant community bulletin board in the sky, awaiting someone to notice our personal little sticky note or electronic version of a 3" X 5" card inviting any and all visitors. But when you get right down to it, how can we know where our ad has actually been posted on that large board or even how many layers deep we are after having been covered up with the sticky notes of millions of other visitor seekers?

Indeed, aren't we all to varying degrees inhabitants of small communities where everyone knows our name? Through some sort of magic---I think they call it branding---our identity may become known outside our own village and the foot traffic may increase as more and more visitors beat a path to our doors. Some say that process takes at least a year. I suppose some may be more precocious in a social networking sort of way and get a larger return much sooner---and others, not to name names, may hardly be noticeable at all. I guess it all boils down to effort. You got to get out there and make some noise.

OK. That settles it. Time to wrap this entry up and ping my blog. It may not be much but it's a start....

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Had A Moment In Church Today

I had a moment in church today. It was during the prelude as our organist played Ave Maria. The music was hauntingly beautiful. But what it made me think of was the masterful creativity that went into its composition, much less just the playing of it hundreds of years after it was written. It was awesome, as some might say these days.

That's when I got to thinking about my own level of creativity and what others might consider me good at doing---you know one of those moments when one might reflect on whether one's efforts might be deemed worthy. I mean, I play around on the guitar a little and I like to play with words, particularly words written in rhyme. But how does that stack up, really? Am I good at it or just mildly entertaining---a brief, perhaps clever or humorous diversion but not for so long that it becomes tiresome.

Sometimes, a series of carefully selected notes or chords or a painting or sculpture can do that; can challenge the very supposition that the things we do are a meaningful measure of a particular talent or skill or even knack.

Most days, I think I might settle for a knack---either one I, in fact, may have or one others simply think I have.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy....

I suppose there's got to be just the right balance between pathos and vanity---needing to be not just seen but recognized without having to make a scene just to be recognized.

Are writers any different? Especially in the early stages, how many times are we told to get a website up and running, start a blog (or two or three), hook up with as many social networs as possible, all to get name (nay, brand) recognition started. And then wait.... For supposedly nothing much happens for at least the first year---I mean besides the one or two or five daily visits to your website or blog. Getting more visits that? You may be on the verge of superstardom!

One year is supposedly the minimum necessary elapsed time for cyber maturation. Somehow, after about a year, the web crawlers have apparently crept over, under, around and through your cyber identity enough times to for your site to reach some measure of critical mass for the number of visits and visit frequency to start to pick up. At least that's the theory.

But while you are waiting, don't forget to update your website with interesting tidbits and keep your blog(s) current. And, whatever you do, the remember the three "Ss": socialize, socialize, socialize. Just think of all the blogs there are to read and comment on, networking pages to visit, connections to establish, mailing lists to build, quizzes to take, photos to send and causes to join.

Depending on what "generation" we may find outselves in (I'm talking cyber generations here), you may be doing all these things with technology that runs the gammut from a plain old ordinary computer with regular old ordinary Internet access, all the way to the fastest, most compact, app-intensive and interconnected hand held device on the market. Of course, the more technologically current one is, the more there is to do. Why, it's enough to leave one breathless from the doing or even just the thinking about it....

Now where is that story I was planning to work on today, anyway? Guess it may have to wait until tomorrow after all. Time for my weekly podcast....

Monday, June 29, 2009

Writing As A Series Of Essential Connections

I seem to be waxing poetic lately---OK, maybe I'm giving myself too much credit. But after all, poetry certainly takes its full measure of meaning as seen by the eyes of the beholder. So, I'll make the claim as my own primary beholder and leave it to others to agree or disagree.

At any rate, it has struck me that writing becomes a series of essential connections as we attempt to give birth to a story in whatever form it may take. Forgive me for taking liberties with the poetic form as I remind myself that remembering that series of connections from time to time is probably a good thing to do.

If All Else Fails, Remember The Connections....
By Bill Kirk

Just the other day
I was thinking—
You know, how when you
Start to write and
A totally novel story concept
Starts to form and
You’re thinking you can finally use
That ideal main character and serpentine plot
You crafted so many years ago and
The best opening sentence ever written Pops in your head and then…?
And what about that
Perfectly polished manuscript
That just got rejected for the tenth time?
And what’s up with the editor
Who’s been stringing you along
For two years, asking for revisions,
Teasing you with interest until,
“This project isn’t going to work for us after all” or
The too restrictive contract or, worse,
A book far too comfortable
On book store shelves because
It just doesn’t resonate?

That’s when it struck me.
A concept won’t be formed,
A character won’t quite fit,
An opening sentence will languish,
A story won’t be written,
A manuscript won’t be accepted,
A contract won’t be signed and
A book won’t be bought
Simply, undeniably, invariably
There is no connection
Between concept and story,
Characters and plot,
Author and editor,
Publisher and booksellers or
Between the book and the readers.
Any single disconnect
Is as good as a disconnect
Between them all.
But when it all hangs together,
‘Tis indeed a thing of beauty.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Here's To Memory Joggers, Whatever They May Be?

Times Not Forgotten
By Bill Kirk

It’s not that I remember everything, mind you.
But I’m often asked to recall things
Others have long forgotten.
Why is that, I wonder?
Is it a birth order thing?
Do first born siblings just happen
To get all the memories?
Somehow, I doubt it.

There have been a few things
I don’t seem to be able to recall.
But most of the time I’ve found
It’s not so much my not remembering.
Instead, it’s that I may not remember things
From another’s perspective.
Was the dress silk or chenille,
Above the knee or just below,
One bare shoulder or two?
Such details may matter to some
But to me it was just sexy and black
And, boy, could that dress move!

Alas, perhaps good memory is an affliction,
Like knowing too much for my own good
Or remembering things that shouldn’t be repeated—
At least not in polite company.
Perhaps I should conveniently “forget”
A few more things.

Reaching back, I suppose there are some things
I simply can’t remember, at least not consciously.
My mother swears I was speaking German
As well as English at age two,
With our German housekeeper
As my first linguistics tutor.
But to tell the truth, I can’t remember
That far back in either language.

So, I rely on others to tell the stories,
Each time perhaps a bit differently
Than the time before.
And, then, those stories themselves
Become part of the memories
That I just can’t seem to forget.

A Writer's Lament

Alas, the writer's rite of passage is an endless journey spent searching for just the right words to write---the right thing to say to convey meaning to someone other than the writer.
Here's to all writers in search of the full measure of meaning contained in the fewest, most expressive words. And apologies in advance to e e cummings.

Writers’ Rites
By Bill Kirk

they are a funny lot
seeming never to be satisfied
with just any old word
instead they are
constantly in search of
just the right one
to convey
just the right meaning
and to nestle in
just the right spot
in a well-strung string
of other such particular words
which will of course
if well chosen
punctuate a thought
in the most righteous way

woe is he or she
whose evasive word
is indeed lost
for it is likely
in the company
of a muse
who has excused herself
for parts unknown
sadly leaving
the forlorn word lover
unamused to
suffer in silence
these are the rites
of the un-written writer
seeking just the right words to write

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Here And There

If you haven't had a chance to check out the Rhyme of the Month for June on my web site, here it is for your reading pleasure. May your "heres" always be where you want to be and your "theres" be where you are glad you were. Hear! Hear!

"Here And There"
By Bill Kirk

Each one of us is somewhere,
Which could be far or near.
Wherever you may find yourself,
Your where is always "here."

Our "heres" may all be different;
Or, sometimes they're the same.
Remember, where your "here" is now,
Was "there" before you came.

A "here" is quite specific.
It's always in one spot.
So, when you leave your "here" behind,
It's then a "there" you're not.

They say location matters.
I guess they could be right.
For if your "here" is far away,
Then you'd be out of sight.

Although you have but one "here",
I hear there's "theres" to spare.
So, if the "here" you're in gets old,
Just switch your "here" to "there."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Writer's Life On Some Distant Earth-Like Planet

"The grizzled writer (place yourself in this paragraph) wakes to the smell of fresh, strong brewed coffee wafting through the air from a steaming, old-fashioned percolator atop the ancient gas stove. Just the mere thought of that first sip is enough to force calloused feet into slippers/sandals/old deck shoes. Pulling on the tattered sweatshirt/sweater/shawl and jeans/chinos/kakhis, the author finally begins his/her morning trek, moving slowly yet deliberately across the well-worn hardwood toward the familiar kitchen.

The immediate objective is to retrieve the large, heavy, up-side-down mug---rinsed out, never washed---from the drain board between the chipped porcelain sink and stove. Not until the coffee is poured, the brew properly concocted to taste, the aroma fully savored and the first, stimulating sip has meandered past waiting taste buds en route to its target somewhere between heart and soul, does the author acknowledge the day to no one in particular. Then and only then can even the thought of this day's writing begin.

On the dark wooden desk an old manual typewriter waits for the imprint of leathery finger tips ready to attack. Looking through the open French doors and beyond the porch, the author scans the approaching tide for inspiration, waves providing a steady but variable rhythm punctuated by the call of sea birds searching for weak or unfortunate links in the food chain.
All is right with the world. Let the writing begin."

Hello.... Earth to Earth-like planet. Good luck with that. Reality check to follow....

Friday, March 20, 2009

Some Opportunities Are Just Plain Better Than Others....

Things seem to happen for a reason; sometimes quite unexpectedly, bringing joy in the most interesting forms. One day in 1992, I picked up a community weekly newspaper at a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop after starting a new job with the State of California. I had recently changed jobs and work locations and my new work location away from the main headquarters held lots of interest given all of the opportunities to check things out on my walks to and from the bus stop.

Sitting in the coffee shop, I skimmed through the stories and ads in paper that day. The press of work had not yet caught up with me in my new job. As I sipped on a freshed squeezed cafe latte, there it was, a lonely little ad inside the back page: "Writer Wanted at community newspaper. Call for details or send resume and list of credits."

OK. So, the ad just got a smile out of me at first. Afterall, I hadn't majored in Journalism, didn't have a writing resume and couldn't boast of any writing credits---well, besides 20 years of business writing. Then, I thought, why not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides the coincidence was too strong that the paper was being run out of a small office only a block from my new job.

Fate couldn't have knocked on my door more loudly. Yet there was no joy when I stopped by with my professional resume which was chocked full of bureaucratic work experience and academic credentials. Did I mention none of it had anything much to do with writing? The scruffy-bearded publisher-editor-owner, sitting behind his manual type-writer in jeans and an open-collared shirt wasn't looking for a bureaucrat at the Suttertown News. And there I was in my brand new suit and tie, looking for all the world like the G-Man that I was.

But you know, sometimes an itch and a scratch are the very best of matches. Two weeks later I got a call from "Mr. Scruffy." Who cares that he was slightly desperate? I got my first assignment on a Wednesday with the final copy due the following Monday. And a week later, my second story became the cover story for the week. Soon after I was living the life and loving it, as a member of the editorial board, drinking free coffee with the rest of the gang, coming up with story ideas and making monumental news decisions for the "run on a shoestring" paper each week.

Thus began my three-year career in the newspaper business, chasing leads, pulling all-nighters to finish hot articles, joining paste-up parties the night before final copies went to the printers, and even making an occasional delivery to Espresso Metro, the little coffee shop downtown where I first caught the newspaper bug. The result was a momentary slice of Sacramento's history through the eyes of a novice journalist pretending as hard as he could to be a newspaperman.

If you get a similar chance to roll up your sleeves and get hands-on experience in journalism or in anything else that tickles your fancy, my advice is to jump first, then figure out what you are going to do....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wanted: Muse With Attitude

Author seeks ruthless muse who will accept no excuses and permit no distractions even it if means sitting there in front of the blank screen until something---anything---comes out. AKA: Muse With Attitude.

We've all been there from time to time. All of a sudden, as if through miraculous cloning of the clock, there appears a block of time before us where none was expected. Amidst the days which become filled with life in high speed, you find yourself gifted with time to write.

Who knows why these things happen? They just do. An appointment gets cancelled, the picnic gets rained out or the Room Mother calls to report the fifth grade class already has enough drivers for the field trip today.

Mostly, it's best not ask questions or something else might come along to fill the vaccuum. Just take it and relish in the possibilities: finally you can reconnect with the draft of the last chapter of your YA novel; you can continue your search for something that rhymes with gastrocnemius; and then there is the slush pile---faintly, then louder, you hear the bits and pieces of brilliant ideas in their half-formed states crying out for a word here, a strike-out there. "Oh, what a time we'll have," you think. Just you and your words like a potter at the wheel.

Were it only that easy. Walking with purpose on the way to the desk, you pass that lurking laundry basket which hasn't had an exposed bottom for days, nay weeks. That newspaper sure looks inviting. When was the last time you read the Obits anyway? Isn't it about time to replace the baking soda and wipe the "sticky" off the shelves in the fridge? And what about those flower bulbs? OMG, I haven't blogged in weeks.

What was I thinking? There's no time to write.

Fear not! The muse with attitude is on her way. She laughs at laundry piles---clean laundry is a sign of misplaced priorities. News? Way overrated, she says. Besides the Obits aren't going anywhere. Forget those bulbs, you had your chance last winter.

And blogs? Now, that's a nice deception. The ordinary muse might be tricked by seeing you sit down at the computer and attack the keyboard. Pretty impressive, what with all the key tickling, poking, tapping, and urgent back-spacing. But the muse with an attitude will bring that ruse to an end quickly and without mercy.

So, grab a fresh cup of java if you must. But make it snappy. Time's a wasting and your mc is waiting. Besides, the muse has already written your note: "Please excuse all the mess. Author is the subject of divine intervention. What's for dinner, you ask? We'll get back to you on that...."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Seen Through The Eyes Of A Child or "Where The Rubber Meets The Road"

Wow! Here it is almost the end of February and nary a blog entry from me this month. Where does the time go? Well, after my experience yesterday at our granddaughter's pre-school, I can't let the month end without telling the story of my telling of the story in their classroom.

There I was, book in hand---"There's A Spider In My Sink!" The teacher showed me to the lone chair reserved for the guest reader. No, it wasn't a nicely over-stuffed reading chair you might find in a vintage library or coffee shop---just an aluminum frame with a vinyl-covered seat. But with 25 four-year olds gathered around on the floor before me, the nature of the chair didn't really matter.

My granddaughter had been practicing her introduction of "Grandpa Bill" for several days. I could hardly keep my mind on my purpose that morning as I listened to the best introduction I have ever received. Then the story telling began.

Because my children's books are written in rhyme---at times a bit quirky and odd---I felt compelled to tell the story, to talk the kids through it, rather than read it. After all, I didn't want the kids to lose interest just because the words might not make sense. Well, my concern was misplaced.

Yes, the telling of the story and showing all the wonderful illustrations went very well. "Do it again," they shouted! But when I started the re-telling, a little boy in the front called out, "Just read it!" Having my doubts about comprehensiion, I started slowly. But the combined look on the sea of faces---OK, so maybe it was a small pond of faces---was enough to tell me the rhyme was working.

It wasn't the words themselves but the same-sounding endings, the rhythm and beat in each line and the colorful pictures on the pages that captured their imaginations. That's when I realized the words in the story join the illustrations to literally create action from still life in the eyes of a child. Mouths agape, eyes moving in darts and dashes, they were soaking up every word, putting their own spin on the word-art images. For the brief moments we lingered on each page, the story before them was all that mattered. The transfixed eyes of a room full of children is a gift like no other for both writer and artist.

This is where the rubber meets the road on a journey of the imagination. Read a book to a child and you'll see what I mean. If you're lucky, they may take you along...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dick Van Dyke: Fashion genius

Some days life unexpectedly presents what can only be described as an unassailable truth. Yesterday was one of those days---actually, it was last night, as I watched an ad about "Mary Poppins," a magical English Nanny back in the day, immortalized in a Disney film that is making a come-back on family TV.

Granted, this topic has nothing to do with writing really. But when such time-tested truth presents itself, it would be unfair to the rest of humanity not to share the revelation. I can only hope that those few of you who stumble across my post might feel sufficiently driven to pass it along---to teens in particular. Some day they might thank you for it.

In the ad, one short scene shows Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins. No doubt many of you remember it well but you are probably wondering where I'm going with this thread. Well, there Dick Van Dyke was, all decked out in striped jacket, hat, dancing shoes and trousers---the latter downwardly adjusted to make his penguin dancing partners feel right at home.

That's when it hit me: the low-slung pants in that penguin dance 50 years ago were the forerunners of the "below the drawers" style sported by today's teenage boys. Who could have known back then that Dick Van Dyke would be the genius behind the youth fashion movement of today. Admit it. The similarities are uncanny---the low-slung crotch nearly down to the knees, the waist barely suspended from the hips. The only real inter-generational difference is the drawers.

Today any youth hoping to survive the darts and arrows of his high school peers, must "step in time" (another Dick Van Dyke song in "Mary Poppins") with the uniform of the day. The weight of the jeans must be precisely calibrated not to exceed the anti-gravitational resistance of multi-colored drawers, themselves appearing to beg for help from hipbones seeminly not quite up to the task.

Even the walk---or I should say the penguin waddle---looks the same as in the penguin dance. Every three or four steps requires a hitch in the giddy-up to keep jeans and drawers from sliding beyond decency and wearers from falling on their faces. I'm thinking such attire among prison inmates might be almost as effective in escape prevention as ankle chains.

I wonder how long it might take for the slightly off-putting, low-hanging youth fashion to change if teens were to realize that their penguin look isn't irritating to us old folks at all but only humorous and cute---kind of like Dick Van Dyke and his penguin friends?

Something to think about, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Three Ps: Patience, Perseverence and Passion

This will probably be a short post but it is one that I feel compelled to write, if for no other reason than to remind myself that there's a whole lot of writing, submitting, editing and finally publishing going on out there.

Today I took notice of a list of recently published books on the site. My interest was somewhat casual but focused because I wanted to see if my recently released book was on the list. I also wanted to get a sense of which and how many other recent works would be competing with my humble offering for the attention of the book buying/reading public.

As I began my scan of the list (most recent first) I thought it might be a relatively short list, maybe on the order of a couple hundred titles. I mean how many books could have been published in the last month anyway? Well, after scrolling through all 52 screens of books, just for children and young adults mind you, the end total was 1,279 titles published during the past 30 days. And if that number weren't eye-opening enough, my book wasn't even on the list.

That told me even more books had been released but hadn't yet been picked up by the Jacketflap detectors---a humbling experience to be sure. But it was a useful one in that it provided me some perspective and a likely explanation for the scant number of visits to my web site and the very few visits and comments on my various blogs.

The reality is that except for the small circle of people who know of the relatively recent appearance of my electronic footprint in cyber space, my existence is essentially unknown. Said another way, as a small sapling, it is easy to feel lost amidst all the trees in a large forest. The clear lesson for me is patience, perseverence and passion above all things will likely win out in the end.

Back to work....

Friday, January 23, 2009

Flu, Flu, Kerchoo!

For those of you who have managed to escape the flu so far this year, keep reading to improve your odds of staying healthy for the rest of this flu season.

By the way, I am proud to say this rhyme has found a home on the Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails web site as part of their Lung Health page ( and is shared here to increase the "exposure" to flu prevention....

Flu, Flu, Kerchoo!
By Bill Kirk
Sacramento, CA

Five A.M.? That’s my alarm—
Like a rooster on a farm.
Ten more minutes? What’s the harm?
Need my latte wake-up charm.

Now I’m up, but in a haze.
Eyelids struggle with each raise.
Can’t quite focus—eyes ablaze.
Must have slept at least three days.

What’s with all these aches I’ve got?
Head is feeling really hot.
Common cold? I guess it’s not.
S’ppose I should’ve had my shot.

First, I cough and then, “Kerchoo!”
Sneeze until my face turns blue.
Mouth feels like it’s filled with glue.
Sure does sound a lot like flu.

This stuff’s thrown me for a loop.
Brain feels like it’s flown the coop.
Wheezing sounds a bit like croup.
Think I need some chicken soup.

What’s that ringing?! It’s the phone.
Doctor says my culture’s grown.
Head feels like a ten-pound stone.
“Can’t be sick, just tired,” I moan.

Me? Have flu? There is no way!
Sick leave? Not a single day.
Gotta get to work and stay,
Or it’s good-bye to my pay.

Called my boss—was that a sneeze?
Then I heard his distant wheeze,
“Stay at home, now, if you please!
Stay at home ‘til your flu flees!”

Next year, when I have a chance,
I’ll not cop a stubborn stance.
Flu shots surely will enhance,
Odds against a flu-like trance.

Think the flu shot’s not for you?
Miss the shot and here’s a clue.
Though most days you’ll run, it’s true,
You can’t hide from Mister Flu.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

We Don't Need No Stinking Copyrights.... Do We?

Call me old-fashioned.

But there's something reassuring about the notion that some place in an old office building in Washington, DC, there could be a fellow at his dimly-lit desk, with rubber stamp in hand, wearing green sleeve garters and an eye shade. There he sits, waiting for my hardcopy (albeit paperback) book to arrive so he can apply his special notations, speak his incantations ("here comes another one"), and record my unique number in a massive, leather-bound registry, which will preserve and protect my (and my artist's) work for all time.

I'm imagining something along the lines of what could be an opening scene from an Indiana Jones movie, with all the textured golds and browns, wood and leather. The scene infused with mystery and intrigue and an almost palpable sense of historical urgency to get the covenant between me and the nation properly recorded.

Sure I've taken all the steps in and out of vogue over the years of mailing a copy of some particular thing to myself, now filed away in its postmarked, sealed envelope as proof that I created it. One might do the same thing now, I suppose, by sending files via e-mail to oneself (or others), allowing the computer time stamp to establish proof of existence.

These days, although I could be more religious about it, I've got an external hard drive to periodically backup my writing and I have hard copies of most of my stories in their various stages of completion. Also my web site content is protected by my web site host.But there's something very comforting about having a copy of my book(s) filed away in the nation's capital. Or, better yet, maybe it will find a home in that cavernous underground vault we saw recently on TV, designed to preserve the nation's documents for 5,000 years.

Will I ever have to take my copyright to court to wage war against an infringer? Probably not. Could having such a document be a little like having a baptismal certificate? Although I may never have to show it before taking communion, I'll have it if I need it.

Who knows, I may get to a place one day when going through the copyright process will seem unnecessarily tedious and mundane. For now, whether required or not, I'm looking forward to my long anticipated rite of passage of the step-by-step, bureaucratic dance with the guy in the green eye shades.

Come back...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"There's A Spider In My Sink!"

OK, folks. After almost six years in the making, my first children's picture book has now been officially released to the world. It may be a couple days before it's available on But happiness is an ISBN and LCCN.

To save me a few minutes---or leverage time already invested---here's the press release with the details.

Picture Book Written by Sacramento Author Bill Kirk Released Nationally

SACRAMENTO, CA – Local author Bill Kirk’s children’s picture book, “There’s A Spider In My Sink!”, has just been released nationally. The book was published by Guardian Angel Publishing in Saint Louis, MO under their ACADEMIC WINGS imprint, which is ideally suited for children in “read to” ages 4-6 and “read alone” ages 7-12.

THERE’S A SPIDER IN MY SINK! will be released simultaneously in e-book and hardcopy print form. The e-books will be distributed by Follett, the largest distributor of ebooks to schools and libraries, as well as through the Guardian Angel Publishing web site.. The print version will be available for sale from most online retailers, such as Amazon, Google,, Border Books and Barnes and Noble. It can also be ordered through your local brick and mortar bookstores, including Barnes and Noble and Borders Books.

Book's Blurb: “There’s A Spider In My Sink!” describes a young boy’s discovery that a spider has moved into the bathroom sink without even asking. The little spider seems likable enough. But after all, a boy has hands to wash and teeth to brush and this spider is right in the way. Read on to find out what happens.

Author's Bio: Kirk's writing has been influenced by his travels on five continents and the more recent inspiration from his grandchildren. In addition to stories written in rhyme, Kirk writes fiction and satire for local and national publications. His work has appeared in Boys' Quest, Fun For Kidz, Grandparents, Wee Ones and Saplings magazines. His poems have also been published by North Dakota Horizons, Absolute Write and The Baseball Almanac. Kirk also wrote news and features for two Sacramento newspapers in the mid-1990s, The Suttertown News and The Old City Guardian.

Kirk says his goal for his children’s stories is to challenge the imagination of his readers, young and old, by exploring everyday life, simply and profoundly, and having fun in the process. Bill and his wife, Rita (a clinical psychologist) have been married for 39 years and have made Sacramento their home since 1985.

To request review copies of “There’s A Spider In My Sink!” or to request interviews with the author, please contact the publisher, Lynda Burch, at or (314) 276-8482.

Title: There’s A Spider In My Sink!
Author: Bill Kirk (

Illustrator: Suzy Brown (

Format: E-book and Print
ISBN (e-Book): 13: 978-1-935137-39-9
ISBN (print): 13: 978-1-935137-25-2
Library of Congress Control Number: 2008944188

Publication Date: January 2009
Number of Pages: 18

Price: Ebook $5.00, CD-Rom $9.95 (+$5.95 s&h), Print: $9.95 (+$6.95 s&h)
Available at most online booksellers or from: Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. (

Monday, January 5, 2009

When Rhyming Gets Slumpy

For all you rhymers out there who's muse has left you stranded. If you have hit the wall, not to worry. It's just a matter of time until you get your rhyming groove back.

When Rhyming Gets Slumpy
By Bill Kirk
(Published by Absolute Write in May 2005)

Have you ever dealt with
A slump in your brain
That keeps you from writing,
Come sun or come rain?

A Slump so lugubrious,
Nothing will help;
Not chanting or singing,
Not even a yelp;

Not saying words backward
Or running in place;
Not closing your eyes
Or gazing at space.

It won’t even help much
To vacuum the rug;
To sort all your laundry
Or bathe your pet pug.

Though looking to rhymers
To break your word jam,
Might seem the right thing
When your mind’s on the lam;

At times even tactics
Like these are no use,
To make your words flow--
To break your rhymes loose.

Then just when you’re ready
To give up the fight,
Your brains get unslumped;
You soon see the light.

Your ears hear the rhythm
Of iambic beat.
Your unrhyming ailment
Is now in retreat.

At last your line endings
Again sound the same.
As if it were magic
You’re back in the game.

So, if you get plagued
By words that don’t match;
You’re laying an egg
And your rhymes just won’t hatch.

Please don’t get all frazzled
And threaten to quit.
Just step back a moment
And let your words sit.

Remember when rhymes
Are just plain ol’ stuck.
The harder you try
The worse your luck… gets….

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why Do You Write?

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as
you are dead, either write things worth
reading or do things worth writing."

Thus wrote Benjamin Franklin in what seems to have been a reflective moment. How could those who lived in Franklin's time know just how their actions (and the way those actions were recorded) would change the future? How do any of us know how what we do now will make a difference?

Could Franklin's dictum have been advice given to young up and comers in his day to either do something that might change history or the live of others--or to write about it?

Maybe not. But his thought does raise an essential question for those of us engaged in the art of writing. If the fact that something notable was done is not recorded in some way, will it exist beyond the immediate memory of those who saw it done? Perhaps writing about such things is the literary equivalent of taking note of the proverbial tree falling in the forest.

The significance of the written word is that it becomes the de facto record of what has happened or might happen, whether in fact or only in the creative minds of human kind. So, pick up your pens, cuddle your keyboards and capture what is going on around you or in the lives of the tantilizing characters you create. Will you write poetry, a journal, an essay, an article or a book? Will it be fiction or the real McCoy? Will you entertain or incite? Will you satirize reality, giving life a funny face?

And, by the way, who is your audience? After all is said (whether done or not), will anyone read what you have so meticulously recorded? Will what you have written become its own version of the tree falling in the forest?

Perish the thought! Because thinking that thought may be enough to put an end to the writing. And that we can ill afford. So, take heart, my friend, and keep writing. Make every word count as a grand, bold, essential step forward. toward preserving who we are and what we have done.

Now, Maestro, please! The Crescendo!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Print On Demand: It's Here! It's Now!

Wow! Where has the year gone? It's already January 3 and I meant to add this post bright and early on January 1. I had this thought of getting something meaningful said on the first day of the new year. I mean, the first day only happens once a year. So, it's not something you can replay. Could this be a harbinger of other assaults on my writing focus? Let's not go there just yet.

What was it I felt so compelled to say on the first day of the year anyway? It all started with our trip to Borders Books on the last day of 2008. It was kind of a lazy day in anticipation of a quiet evening at home with Dick Clark and a visit to a bookstore seemed like the right thing to do. Many others seemed to have the same idea as the store we visited was busy with browsers. And the checkout line was sufficiently long for the waiting time to be noticeable--both of which are good signs for those of us in the book writing biz, right?

As it turned out that day, the flurry of activity in the aisles and around the cash registers was at least partly related to the New Years Eve sale. The discounts were deep, even on the newer stocks in the store, and the sale table bordered on a "give-away". There were beautiful photographic books on Italy and on the architectural wonders of the world that originally would have sold for $75 - $100 or more. That day they were stacked and stickered at $15. And a $25 book published in 2006 about Michael Phelps' pre-Olympics days was marked down to $3.

There was also the headline in the days before Christmas that one of our area's Borders Books stores was closing its doors in January. I suppose at a certain point, the cost of the brick and mortar is too much for the books to bear. Which brings me to what got me to thinking.

While we were in the store, I drifted past the stacks and rows of books on virtually every topic imaginable. There, next to one of the support pillars was a small, flat-screen monitor with a mouse and keyboard. On the screen was an invitation to "Just Click The Mouse To Get Started".

A search window with fields for title, author or publisher came up. Choosing "publisher", in seconds every book in the Borders Books inventory was displayed in publication order by year, also sortable by author. Each book had a brief synopsis with the target age and price. Although leaving the store with the book in hand was not an option, the screen announced the book would arrive within two weeks.

That got me to wondering, where are all these books coming from? Were they in a large, dusty warehouse someplace in Kansas City, in boxes or shrink-wrapped and waiting to be shipped? Well there is a bit of that still going on. But as it turns out, more and more publishers are catching on to the fact that keeping inventory is expensive, from the printing cost to the storage costs to the recycling cost for books not sold. What to do? What to do?

What if the books weren't printed ahead of time--at least not in large numbers requiring storage? What if printers could turn a publisher's order around in days, including the binding and shipping? What if the book sellers were connected directly to the printers? And what if the printers could respond to buyer demand as if the books had already been printed, inventoried and warehoused? Print On Demand (POD) by any other name would smell as sweet.

Well, printing technology has advanced to the point that a book can be printed and leave the printer bound for the buyer as fast as or even faster than a book can be retrieved from a warehouse, processed for shipping and sent to the customer (either a bookstore or the buying public). The downside is that brick and mortar bookstores will find it more and more difficult to stay profitable as they shift from being a desirable customer destination shopping point to simply being a middle man adding unnecessary time to service delivery.

In point of fact, bookstores have evolved to quasi-libraries, although a bit glitzier with coffee shops and music. Lots of people go to bookstores these days to just hang out and browse. And bookstores have taken note of this shift, creating comfort zones for shoppers to get out of the cold or heat or rain, take their time checking out the merchandise, have a cup of gourmet joe and a designer muffin. It's a great way to spend a couple hours.

Maybe the next evolution will be that bookstores will only keep enough books in stock to meet "hit and run" demand, while expanding the network with printers who can print on demand. Then, again, maybe we're already there. But why has it taken so long? Could this be the equivalent of the automakers' shift to green? It should have, could have, occurred long ago but it appears vested interests got in the way.

Stay tuned. Just as public libraries have installed banks of computers to replace their card catalogs, you may soon see more computer terminals appearing in your local bookstores to give customers instant access to book lists and ordering. It's all quite amazing actually.

Repeat after me: Print On Demand. Print On Demand. Next up? E-Books....