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....