Harlequin: You Must Submit

           Harlequin Special Edition wants me to do edits on Coming Attractions, then resubmit. This is not a guarantee they’ll buy it.

            But it’s also not a rejection, and gets me a step closer. The editorial assistant used such words as “loved”, “skill”, and “write very well”, which ain’t too shabby when accompanied by “I would welcome a revised manuscript”.

            Then there are those two long paragraphs detailing what she didn’t like. Some of the problems were niggling at the back of my own mind, which tells me I should have listened to my internal editor from the first. But a few suggestions include major, moving the whole book around stuff, of the “months of revisions” variety.

            So, am I going to do all that work, or move on to a different publisher and try again with the story as it stands?

            Well, it’s Harlequin, man!

            Yes, I’m aware some writers hate Harlequin. No, I’m not afraid to take a pass. However, the editor is absolutely right about almost all the concerns she mentioned. I’d be a fool not to take advantage of that critique, make the changes, and try it again … so that’s what I’m going to do. However, I’ll probably start by making the obviously needed changes, save that version, and then go on with a new Harlequin version.

I guess free time will be out of the question between now and the holidays.

Humor Outcasts

I’m a newbie writer at Humor Outcasts:


I’ll have some of my humor columns there, and will also go back to post some of my very old columns that you probably haven’t seen – and that may not have gone up online at all, yet – along with some original material.

Iraq and Syria: Learning From History

Yeah, I actually wrote this almost four weeks ago ... but since the problem was handed over to the US Congress, I figure it's still a problem.


            After writing this column about Syria, I realized my 9/11 column was due that week. As a result of that delay, by the time you read this America might have turned Syria into a relief map of Edward James Olmos’ face. More likely, Congress will still be debating how much extra pork-barrel spending they can tack onto a law authorizing an attack on Syria.

            The mistrust fairly oozes from my pores when it comes to Congressional authorizations. Mostly they love to authorize the spending of giant Godzilla fists full of dollars. However, while I’m a well-known hater of Congress and pretty much everything President Obama stands for, let’s try to do something a little different, for a change:

            Let’s look at this objectively.

            I know, crazy, huh? Obama’s sitting in the Oval Office, trying to get us into a war while polishing his Nobel Peace Prize, and I don’t make the most of the comedic opportunities? Have I snapped, fallen from my partisan perch and fractured my humerus? Or is this too important to make fun of?


            It doesn’t matter. Anyone who wants to argue will cherry-pick facts, statements, and books to suit their point of view, so let’s just go for it.

            You have to give Obama credit for making a big, risky decision. If he’s now sharing that risk by asking Congress to approve, hey – that’s what he’s supposed to do. Basically the President wants us to go in and blow up somebody, somewhere, because someone used chemical weapons (also known as a Weapon of Mass Destruction) to kill Syrian civilians as part of their ongoing civil war.

            Fair enough. WMD’s are bad.

            Here’s a question: Suppose we do attack, then move in troops and inspectors to find the WMD’s and dispose of them. Suppose we then go in and can’t find those chemical weapons? Will we blame Obama? Will we picket with signs that say, “Obama lied, people died!” No?

            Okay, it’s not really a fair comparison. After all, Iraq didn’t have chemical weapons before we invaded it, nor did it use them on civilians in that country.

            Oh, wait. Yes it did.

             And there’s the problem, the trap that Obama could fall into. He’s obsessed a lot on the G.W. Bush Presidency, so I would hope he doesn’t repeat the mistakes, but it’s a real danger. Before the invasion of Iraq, almost everyone was positive Saddam Hussein had WMD’s. Hussein held up UN inspectors at every turn, in one case stopping them at a front door while evidence was taken out the back door. Virtually every intelligence agency in the world was sure he had them.

            In fact, he did have them: He’d used them, both against Iran and against his own people.

            And yet when we went in, they were gone. Maybe they’d all been destroyed after the Gulf War, maybe they were hidden, but they disappeared. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen in Syria?

            Besides, the biggest mistake in Iraq wasn’t the invasion itself—it was the aftermath. I was in favor of kicking out Hussein because he invaded two nations, and fired missiles at two others. He was obviously someone who had regional ambitions. I saw that and couldn’t help wondering: What would have happened if the other nations of the world had invaded Nazi Germany in the 30’s, as soon as Hitler stepped foot into Austria?

            They would have faced criticism from people who said they were being warlike and hostile, but in the long run that may have saved a lot of lives.

            However, like our government, I made the mistake of not thinking about the region’s history, and what would happen afterward. America took a shot at turning Iraq into a democracy, but it’s a shaky, flawed experiment that came at a huge cost. (Maybe the same thing would have said about a peaceful 1940 Germany, I don’t know.)

            So we shoot missiles at Syria. Then what? Assuming we can help drive the Syrian government out of power without sending in ground troops, who will take over?

            There is not one single group of Syrian rebels. There are dozens, by some estimates hundreds. Some are Islamist extremists. Some are Muslim Brotherhood. At least one has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda. One rebel commander ate a man’s heart.

            Most don’t seem all that anxious to start an experiment in democracy.

            Oh, don’t get me wrong: Bashar Assad is evil, as evil as Saddam. But there is absolutely no guarantee that Syria won’t be taken over by someone who wants to kill just as many people—maybe the same people, maybe a new bunch, maybe both. There’s no guarantee that, Egypt style, a post-dictatorship won’t be a pre-dictatorship.

            There are dictators who oppress their people all over the world. America is broke. It’s time we stop being the world’s policeman, stop giving them money we don’t have and arms they may turn on us, and let it go. We need to realize our own problems. If they don’t leave their countries to invade the nations of others, then let them be. Face the fact that they hate us, and meddling in their affairs will only make them hate us worse, probably without improving the situation.

            President Obama, who loves to look back on the era of President Bush, should take history and experience into consideration.

            Oh, one more thing. Just before America invaded Iraq, large truck convoys fled across the border, leaving Iraq for Syria. Nobody ever found out what was in them.
            Wouldn’t it be ironic if those same WMD’s that never showed in Iraq are now drawing us into Syria?

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of Severus Snape

You could only hope to be this cool.

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of Severus Snape: First things first. Go on over to Norma's blog  and see what kind of week she's been having. And my photo blog  Ottawa Daily Photo ...

"Scout" Story Drafted

    I fought through on oncoming sinus infection and completed the first draft of my “Girl Scout” novella – a hair over 28,000 words. From the time I started the outline until I wrote the last word was one month and four days, which is hardly a record but still pretty good, considering. And what’s next? The second draft, of course.

    It’s a humorous action story (as usual, I hope it’s humorous) set in a girl’s camp during a summer drought. Now I have to come up with a title … after all, I can’t keep calling it my Girl Scout story because there are no Girl Scouts in it—just a group like the Scouts, which I also haven’t named yet. Usually I’m not this far into a project before I come up with a title. But then, usually my early titles stink.

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Cubs Fan

I think it might be best if my father-in-law never saw this.


Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Cubs Fan: 1:45 PM. A great day in the Windy City. Cubs are playing those rotten Cardinals tonight. Our boys are gonna kick their asses, baby! S...


Form rejection letter from Asimov's on my short story, "Grocery Purgatory".

*shrugs* That was only my first try; on to the next market.

Fifty Authors from Fifty States: Good Morning Lovely People of the World from Oklah...

Fifty Authors from Fifty States: Good Morning Lovely People of the World from Oklah...: I’m Penelope Jones A.K.A. Bad Penny! I hail from the great state of Oklahoma, and I write relationship poetry, erotica, and erotic roma...

Bad Advice For Good Writers

Today, believe it or not, I'm sponsored by an online grammar checker that I tried out and was very impressed with ... after all, one good writing rule is that you have to know the rules before you break them. So I use Grammarly for proofreading because somebody has to know what they're doing -- and judging from the mistakes they turned up, it's sure as heck not me.


            I’ve been invited to be the guest of honor at a writer’s group. In their defense, they don’t know me all that well.

            On October 16th, at 6:30 p.m. in the Peabody Public Library in Columbia City, I have to pretend that (from a writing career standpoint) I know what I’m doing. It’s daunting, to be asked to lie that much.

            Oh, I know what I’m doing from the standpoint of actually writing … forty years of experience will do that. It’s the career part. Have you ever seen one of those movies were some idiot bumbles his way through a series of misadventures, and in the end beats the bad guys and wins the girl by complete accident? That’s how my career developed.

            I’m the Larry The Cable Guy of writing.

            Still, there should be some advice I can give. You know, like “wear clean underwear”, except for writers. How about, “Wear padded underwear: You’ll be sitting a lot.”

Okay, let’s see what I can come up with.

            First and easiest, let me steal a clich├ęd but all-too-true truism. A true truism is like a false truism, only it’s not from Congress:

            There are three rules that, if followed, will guarantee your success as a writer.

            Unfortunately, no one knows what those rules are.

            The problem is that different paths work for different people. Some writers sprint to success, going straight to the finish line without detour. Well, a few writers. Very few.

            Some writers plod along in a marathon, steadily writing their way forward until they finally make enough money to quit their day jobs, usually a year or two after they retire from their day jobs.

            Some writers go the slalom route. That’s a race in which you head toward the finish line but never quite go straight at it: Instead you weave back and forth, going off on tangents and around completely different places before you finally reach the finish line almost by accident.

            Outside of sports, we call that flailing.

            I flailed. To give you an idea of how much I flailed, I started off as a science fiction short story writer, and headed straight forward until I got my first paid writing job—as a non-fiction humor columnist. Then I published a romantic comedy. Then I finally sold a book of short stories, but none were science fiction. Then I released a history book.

            To this day I still haven’t sold a science fiction short story.

            Might I suggest you, as a writer, skip the slaloms? Shoot for a long distance race, and consider yourself lucky if you get a writing contract before you reenter the stadium. I have no idea where all these sports analogies come from … I haven’t watched a sporting event since the 1992 Olympics.

            As a humor writer, people often ask me what the trick is to writing stuff that makes people laugh. I have a simple answer:

            I don’t know.

            Humor is so subjective … well, let me give you an example. Put a bunch of people in a room and have them watch three movies: The Three Stooges, How Harry Met Sally, and A Christmas Story. Then tell them to get together and agree on which is funny, and why.

            Within half an hour you’ll have a riot.

            Humor is like pornography: You know it when you see it, even if no one else agrees on what it is. Heaven knows I’ve studied it in detail. Humor, I mean.

            When it comes to writing, deadlines are good. A lot of writers love to have written, but they don’t like to write. They’ll do anything to avoid writing: clean the toilet, the grout, the oven. Then, at the end of the day, the pages won’t magically appear and they’ll kick themselves for having a dust-free home right out of a 50’s sitcom. A clean house is a wasted life, people.

            The best thing that ever happened to me was getting a weekly humor column, because it put me on a deadline. I write the equivalent of a novel every year. And if I can write one novel in a year, I can write two.

            Did I mention not giving up your day job? Don’t do that. If the time comes when you make enough money writing to think about it, think about this: You have to make enough to live on, and replace any benefits your old job might have given you—like insurance. Vacation days? You don’t have those anymore. Sick days? You’ve got a deadline, fella. Retirement plan? Writing is my retirement plan.

            Many writers stress out over how many words they turn out in a day. For most, a thousand words is a good day. In my younger days I’ve done ten thousand in a day once or twice, although I had to have therapy afterward. But last week I turned out 2,500 words in three hours to finish a novella, and it took me two days to recover.

            That’s not the hard part of writing. If you’re any good at all, for every hour you spend writing, you’ll spend three times or more editing and polishing. Someday you’ll hear a successful writer say they never edit. They’re lying.

            Then, just as you conclude editing is the hardest part of writing, you’ll produce a beautiful finished product … and you’ll have to sell it. There, especially for those writers who are introverts (like me and most of the rest), you’ll finally learn the hardest part of writing.

            And my final piece of advice to the writer: Wear black. Why? Because it marks our dark, creative personalities? Nah.

            Because it’s slimming.

            Listen, when you work eight hours in some office cubicle, then go home and pound away at a 
keyboard for five more hours, all while sipping power drinks and reaching into the drawer where you keep the snack of your choice, you’re going to need slimming.

            That might be the best advice of all.

Or maybe not.

I updated my biography on Yahoo.com. Naturally, I expect a 500% increase in sales any second now.


More on Girl Scouting at risk

            My column about the closing of Girl Scout camps has gotten some attention. It seems, as my research had already hinted at, that Girl Scout camps are being marked for closing all across the nation, to the extent that there’s a call going out for it to be investigated. It’s clearly a problem coming from the top, and affecting those on the bottom – the ones who need those camps the most. (Rumor has it an underfunded pension fund may be involved. Could the famous Girl Scout cookie money—and yum, by the way—be going to something besides the girls?)

I’ve been asked to spread the word around, so I’m asking you, my friends and readers, to share my column and pass it around to the extent you’re able. You can find it here:

Also, please sign this petition calling for an official investigation into the situation:

            In return, I’ll write you a cool and funny (I hope) novella about teenagers who take the initiative and due awesome things … just like Girl Scouts do.