A Clown Conspiracy

2015-03 PicAuthor’s Note: Every once in a while I like to publish a writing prompt on Twitter (@sueremi).  I like the challenge of coming up with a short statement that fits the size of a Tweet, yet, still offers something that inspires a story.  For this month’s blog, I used one of those prompts to experiment with flash fiction.  The prompt I chose is the first sentence of the story that follows.  If after reading that sentence you decide to write your own story, I’d love to know what you wrote.  Also, please share your insight – did I succeed in producing a story that meets the standards of flash fiction?  Why or why not?  In the words of Bill Gates, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”  I welcome all your comments!

Edgar stood sweating and certain that only a clown could like the outfit his mother picked out for him.  Today being class picture day, his embarrassment would soon be eternal.  Once the picture goes up on the wall, the sting of the teases and taunts from his two older brothers would haunt Edgar every time he looked at the photo.  His stomach flipped a little just thinking about it.

The line snaked down the hallway to the multi-purpose room where the photographer set up shop.  Kindergartners stood at the front of the line, followed by first graders, second graders and then Edgar and his fellow third graders.  The older kids hadn’t been called to the hallway yet.  The principal instructed everyone to keep quiet while waiting.  That, of course, had everyone itching to talk to each other.

At first, Edgar tried not to look at anyone, as if by not seeing he could not be seen.  Soon boredom overcame him and he started looking around.  Both girls and boys combed their hair and put the tools away only to pull them out moments later to go through the process again.  A few of the older girls had lip-gloss that they carefully applied while checking themselves in little pocket mirrors.  Boys were smoothing out their shirts or picking at things that had fallen on the fabric during breakfast.

A heavy sigh brought his attention to the person standing behind him.  Amy Myers looked down at her solid pink dress.  She scrunched her mouth and nose in a way that left no doubt she didn’t like the outfit.  Looking up she whispered, “Isn’t it just awful, Edgar?”

Edgar shrugged, “It looks okay to me.”  The line moved down a few feet.  Amy and Edgar followed automatically.

“I wanted to wear my sweater with the butterflies and ladybugs, but Mom said it was too busy for a class picture and put me in this plain old thing.  What does ‘too busy’ mean anyway?  She wouldn’t even let me wear my striped tights or put a butterfly clip in my hair.”  Amy crossed her arms and let out a harrumph.

“At least you’re not wearing a bowtie,” Edgar flicked the edge of the bow with his finger, “with polka dots to boot!”

Amy started to giggle.  “Oh, great,” thought Edgar.  “The girl who likes wearing striped tights and butterflies on her clothes is laughing at me, too.”

“Is it a clip on?” Amy asked.

“So what if it is?” he snapped back.  Shhhh… came from the principal down the hall.

After a few minutes of awkward silence, Amy said, “I’m sorry I laughed.”

“My brothers were laughing at me all morning, why not you, too?”  Edgar shrugged again.

Though they were already whispering, Amy cocked her head down and toward Edgar and spoke in a softer, conspiratorial tone.  “Have you thought about taking it off?”  Her eyebrows rose as she finished.

Edgar thought about it now, so deeply that the skin on his forehead crimped in deep folds.  “It sounds easy.  Who’s to stop me?  It will be a few months before Mom sees the pictures.  Maybe she won’t even remember how she dressed me.”  Then he got another idea.  Down his head went and he whispered to Amy, “Do you think it would look good on your dress?”

Amy squealed with delight, mouth closed and into her hand to muffle the noise.  “Yes, I think it will.”  Edgar undid the clip and slipped the tie to Amy who quickly snapped it into place right in the middle of her boat neck collar.  “How does it look?”

Edgar sighed with relief to have the tie off.  “A lot better on you than it did on me.”  Amy beamed a smile so wide he almost felt embarrassed – almost.  He smiled back.  “Don’t forget to give it back to me when we get back to class.”  Amy nodded as they moved to the door to be next in line for pictures.

When the photographs came a few months later, Edgar’s mother scolded him royally for taking off the bowtie.  Though angry, she still put the picture up on the wall.  Instead of feeling the sting of taunts or even his mother’s wrath, Edgar remembered Amy back in the hallway and smiled every time he looked at the photo.

“There Is a Seat for Every Ass”

P.T. Barnum is supposed to have said that in reference to filling up his Circus’s Big Tent with paying customers. Or so I’ve been led to believe for many years because I’ve used this quote in the past. But when I go to famous quotes websites I find no attribute to Barnum or anyone else.

Oh well. I still like it because the same could be said for antiquarian books. For every old book there is buyer. Somewhere. I bring this up because that’s what I’ve been thinking as I sort through the 3,000 plus volumes Birchwood Books acquired last month. It’s been full-stop on the novel-in-progress, Knock Softly (working title), while I get this inventory sorted. So far, the oldest book dates to 1631, is in Latin, was printed in France and is about a Spanish Governor. The newest dates to 2001. I’m only about two-thirds of the way through the initial sorting.

To sort, I separate the books into four primary categories: keep; next; too low for online; and donate. Keep means this is a book I’d still like to find on my shelf tomorrow morning, so it will be among the last books to be listed for sale. I’ve found a couple hundred of these. The largest category is next, and that is sub-divided into older and newer books. Newer being post-1960 in this case, and that’s what most of this collection is. The books that are too low for online will be sold, hopefully, in bulk to other bookstores for a few dollars each.

So far, we have donated over 400 books to the John Dingle V.A. Hospital in Detroit and to our local library. Why would you donate a collectable book? Because the market has changed over the past 30 years and these are books that do not have any true collector appeal anymore, mostly due to their condition. Today’s collector, that person who will take out their wallet for a title they really want, is only interested in good looking material. No doubt, there is a seat for this ass (the donated book), but the time and effort it would take to find makes it a losing proposition in today’s market. All collectable books fluctuate in value but they don’t always increase. With the addition of Amazon and eBay, there are more choices for any given title than ever and that has driven the market down sharply over the past decade. Better to take the donation value now and let someone else have the fun of owning it and taking a little profit years later if/when the market rebounds. If it takes another thirty years, I’ll be in my nineties, or my grave. Folks will find some great stories in these books. But in truth, nobody is collecting Christopher Morley these days, or Patrick O’Brian, McPhee, Harte or Haycraft. Their stars my rise again, but with shelf space at a premium around here, I have to be as careful with what I keep as I am with what I donate.

There is a fifth section to the sort; it’s called 2018. As in, do not open this box until 2018. There are only about 75 of these so far. They are all good, collectable books but there’s just too much competition right now. Think Ann Rice, Norman Mailer and John Updike. All shinning-star authors, all first edition books in fine or near fine condition, but only saleable at around fifteen to twenty dollars in today’s market. Their future looks brighter so we’ll hang on to them. You don’t get in the antiquarian book business for quick turnarounds and profits. Some books, many in fact, we’ve held for a decade or longer.

What’s the best thing I’ve pulled out of a box so far? On a personal note, that would be A. Conan Doyle’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes in true first edition. I’ve been looking for an affordable copy for over 30 years and I literally dance around holding the book over my head after I pulled it from the box. But from a collector standpoint, it has to be Thomas Payne’s 1791 Rights of Man. A fine example of the first edition, second printing, in the original paper wraps. It appears unread all these years. America was fifteen years old when Payne wrote this book. Born British, Payne also penned Common Sense – the book that sparked the American Revolution. For Rights of Man, England convicted Payne in absentia for “seditious libel” and issued a standing order for his arrest if he ever stepped foot on British soil again. Now, that’s a book with impact!

Special callout here to friends and fellow Author, Tony and Bonnie Virag (Stove Pipe). It was Tony who told me about this collection last September. Thank you, and, Bonnie, I understand Stove Pipe is in its second printing now! That’s the only sign of success in this business, and you did it! Congratulations. If you haven’t read her book, it’s a terribly gripping story.

Next month, we’ll get back to Knock Softly.

Read on, friends.

I Do Not Believe…

This is an opinion piece. It expresses my opinion and only my opinion. I hope, after you read this, you will agree with me. I understand that you may not. Either way, I look forward to reading your comments in the Comments Section at the end. – Claire Murray

“I Do Not Believe…”

At a private dinner featuring Governor Scott Walker, Rudy Giuliani said, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” (Darren Samuelsohn, Politico)

What does Rudy mean? What is he trying to say? This is my opinion of what he means when he says these things:

If President Obama doesn’t love America and he wasn’t brought up the way we were brought up, what is the message?

I think the message is code for President Obama is not like us. He’s not a true American like we are. In other words, he’s not white. And, if you’re not white, you can’t be patriotic and love America. Everyone in the United States today knows that only white people are patriotic and love America. It comes with the skin color.

When I first heard Rudy’s comment, I started thinking about the future, say 35 years from now. That’s not so far away. According to current predictions (CNN), by 2050 the majority of American citizens will be Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other people of color. They’ll have the tan skin that we white people lay out in the sun for hours trying to acquire.

If all these people don’t love America because they’re not like us, how is the U.S. going to survive?

Maybe the problem is, Rudy doesn’t know what it means to be patriotic and love America. Maybe he wasn’t as lucky as I. He didn’t learn about patriotism and how to love America in school.

I learned about it a long time ago when I was a child. It meant starting each school day pledging allegiance to the flag and singing the Star- Spangled Banner. It meant learning American history, especially about the early heroes and founders of our country, people like George Washington, James Madison and Crispus Attucks.

I don’t think Rudy learned about Crispus. He was the first man shot and killed in the Boston Massacre. This was the first battle in the Revolutionary War. Crispus was black. Giving his life for his country, for people like you and me, and even Rudy, I feel, makes him very patriotic. He loved America before there was a country to love.

So, Rudy, maybe you want to rethink things. All people can be patriotic and love America if they choose to. Skin color doesn’t make you patriotic. Your actions do.

Your comments?




Additional References:

US Census Bureau

December 12, 2012: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-243.html

March 2015: https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p25-1143.pdf













Do You (Still) Read Books?

When is the last time you read a book?

My answer to that question is: late February.  But my real answer should be: I don’t read enough.  And that’s a sad thing for a writer.

I talk a lot about the way we wrote as kids, just for the fun of it, no expectations, just playing with words.  I should also be dancing with books, traveling through other worlds to experience the words of others.  I should be reading not necessarily to learn from or to study with an eye towards technique, but really, just to pass the time.

“Should” is an evil, passive excuse of a word.  Anything that “should” be done “needs” to be done.  That is so much easier to say than do because there is so much more in the world to do.

Welcome to the world of social media.  We pass our time with heads buried in our phones or tablets, getting neck cramps from looking down too much, missing the scenery we ride by and not hearing the people around us.  Given that, who wants to carry a book when you’ve got hundreds downloaded onto your Kindle or Nook app?  Further frustration:  who wants to open those apps when you can have the three-star-rush of Angry Birds or discovering five new Pinterest recipes for banana nut bread?

The world of electronic gadgets and the bright shiny oooooooh of it all do suck me in.  I don’t spend my time reading books.  That makes me sad, but I don’t see myself changing my routine.

The most recent book I finished was a memoir recommended to me.  I bought it—a physical copy—because that person said, it sounded like the type of memoir I was writing.  I bought it to study and learn from it, the story being a secondary aspect.  It turns out that the approach worked for me; the story was not a great one and I didn’t connect with the character, but there were lines of brilliant emotion that struck my heart.  I wonder: would I have bought that book just off a bookshelf, physical store or otherwise, if I didn’t have that writing connection to it?

I’m writing this in a Starbucks, and what a twist of coincidence just now.  I overhear a conversation between two women where one says, “Have you read the latest James Patterson novel?”  I’m pausing to listen.  The music’s loud enough and the women are far enough away that I’m only hearing snippets.  “He has a team of writers.”  “He’s always on top of it.”  “It’s always a mystery story.”  “Reading Wall Street Journal,” at which point I think the discussion has moved on to other topics.

I am thrilled to hear this conversation.  Angled towards each other, these women are still a community of two.  What are they doing?  I have to get a closer look.  I’m a terrible judge of age, but they look the age of people who still prefer reading paperbacks.  Do they have a roughed-up paperback between them?  That’d be so cool.  I tell myself I need to sweeten my coffee more, so I shuffle by and peer over their shoulders.  They’re both looking down at large smartphones or small tablets.  I am actually disappointed.  I tell myself that regardless where or how they read it, they read it.  Together.

They’re doing more than I am.

Months ago, I made reading a priority and set goals for the year.  I contributed my part to my writers group’s list of our New Year’s Writing Non-Resolutions.  You can read everyone’s lists here. One of my non-resolutions is what I think is an achievable reading goal for me.

As a writer, I feel a need to be more involved on Goodreads, so I updated my pathetically outdated account.  I enrolled in the 2015 Reading Challenge.  The number of books that I think is achievable for me is…well, check it out here and form your own opinion.

My list of books “currently reading” or “want to read” include two that people want me to review and/or critique.  Now I’m a reviewer.  Now I’m reading with a purpose, an obligation.  It’s more like a job.

When was the last time I wandered a bookstore with the intention of finding a book to read for selfish pleasure?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  There’s a lack of bookstores in my part of southeast Michigan.  There are two Barnes and Noble bookstores located a short drive from me.  There is one nice local independent store of new and used books, and then there’s one junky, cluttered used bookstore.  There’s a fabulous large used bookstore on the edge of Detroit, but it’s just far enough away for me to think of it as out of the way.  Nice excuses soothing my guilty conscience.

I guess I should stop making excuses for not reading.

The Gentleman’s Game and a Lady’s Ambition

Dear Readers, I had planned on blogging about a carpenter who uses his professional talents in his pastime of building sand sculptures. I met him and his wife last month and intend to share his story. However, I’ve decided to submit that article to a magazine and hope to get it published. For those of you, especially Marc and Debbie, who were expecting to read that article here, this month, please stay tuned for an update. If all goes well, I’ll have good news, and the article itself, to reveal at a later date. For now, please enjoy the following post in which I explain my perspective on golf.


“Do you golf?” seems to be a polite way for a golfer to ask someone else what he or she really wants to know: “Are you a good golfer?” The first question, although gentle, invokes just a hint of tension, as in “What do you do for a living?” The more specific second question verges into the realm of intrusiveness, like “How much money do you make?” A skillful, confident golfer would respond with a simple “Yes,” and no additional explanation would be needed. Instead, both good and bad golfers feel compelled to either elaborate on their level of expertise or mention how little they get out and practice.

Married to a golf addict, I refuse to be a golf widow. I play just enough so that I have a decent drive, can handle my irons, and don’t embarrass my husband too badly on the course. The one important thing I need to work on, however, is establishing my handicap—a golf score average developed from more than par, in my case. Somehow, I’ve avoided attaching the tell-tale label of a high handicap to myself for my entire golf life. Now I’m realizing the far-reaching extent of not embracing the numbers and exposing my personal limitation: I’m in golf limbo.


Oasis Nine fairway, The Phoenician. Scottsdale, AZ. Photograph by Greg Bixby, March 2015.

Without figuring out my own handicap, I can’t expect other golfers to know if I can keep pace or if I’ll slow the game down and burden my partners. To play with undesignated handicappers like me calls upon gracious golfers to offer, “We’re just out to have fun.” They’re good sports. Impatient golfers quickly seek to round out their foursomes with other known decent golfers so they can avoid the discomfort of playing with someone who makes it on the green in two and then takes a four putt.

I appreciate the gracious and can’t blame the impatient. Athletes of all kinds push themselves harder when they know their competitors have talent. Good golfers are motivated that way, and sometimes it’s just more fun to be evenly paired. You’re more likely to be relaxed and finish each hole in a timely manner.

Because I don’t play regularly, my golf prowess is subject to speculation. There’s a tendency for people who don’t know me to pass judgement on my abilities. Recently, after a round of golf during a business event, a woman who hadn’t been able to golf that day herself asked me if I had gotten stuck behind the slow group. I was pretty sure she thought I was the cause of the delay, since I was the only female in the two foursomes, and it’s often presumed to be difficult for women to keep pace with men. Feeling a bit defensive, I carefully selected my response and admitted to her, “I think we were the slow group.”

I wasn’t significantly hampering my group’s time, however. One of the men hadn’t played in several years. It took him a little while to get used to the set of clubs he had borrowed from the course and to find his swing again after being away from the sport for so long. As he worked out the kinks in his play, I relaxed more and more and shot one of my best games to date.


Sunset view from the 8th tee, Desert Nine, The Phoenician. Photograph by Kelly Bixby, March 2015.

Even so, I realize that I have to focus on lowering my average score. Not just because of the image I want to present, but so I can enjoy specific privileges. I discovered that without an established handicap of 36 or less, I can’t play at world-renowned St Andrews Links, known synonymously as “the home of golf.”

Located in Scotland, St Andrews offers seven courses and is revered by golf’s masters. The Links’ online history page proudly boasts, “When Nicklaus waved goodbye to his adoring fans from the Swilcan Bridge in his final round of professional golf at the 2005 Open it demonstrated the warmth and affection held for the place where the game started.” Jack Nicklaus himself professed: “If a golfer is going to be remembered, he must win the title at St Andrews.” As one of the world’s most accomplished players, he achieved three Open wins, and two were at St Andrews on The Old Course.

St Andrews is open to the public and fuels the aspirations of amateurs, including my husband. His passion has infected me and I’ve learned to love and respect the gentleman’s game. After years of warming up to it, I’ve gathered fond memories: a particularly awesome chip shot and a well-played round; gorgeous scenery connected by expertly-groomed greens and fairways; intrinsic challenges and friendly conversations. My husband’s pilgrimage to golf mecca is important to me as well and is a part of our future plans. Someday it will be my turn to step upon the sacred ground at The Old Course, push my tee into the soft earth, and square up to take a swing. By nightfall, I’ll tally my score and tuck away favorite moments from across the pond. ‘Till then, I’m perfecting my answer to that loaded question, “Do you golf?” by simply and confidently replying, “Yes!”