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The Curmudgeon
J. Conrad's blog
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
A Writer's Work Never Done
Topic: Writing

Since January’s Paradigm was published, I’ve written two subsequent novels based on the Joe January character — One Hot January and January’s Thaw, the latter completed nearly three years ago. About 18 months ago a publisher expressed some interest, but only if I agreed to combine both books into one shorter piece. To me, that seemed like censorship, and so I let the opportunity pass. I had other projects I’d commenced and so the January books were put on the back burner.

I recently opened the files on my hard drive and commenced skimming One Hot January and began to reconsider that publisher’s suggestion. It had been 18 months since I’d looked at this text and I began to see ways in which it could be improved, tightened up, polished. But knock off 28,000 words to get it to come in at 150,000? That was going to be a challenge. But I also considered that it would be a good exercise, too. So I got out my scalpel and commenced my nip/tuck.

I combined both files into one, renamed January’s Penitence, and have managed, in my first draft, to eliminate 20,000 words. I’m still about 8,000 words above my goal, but the exercise was a good one — it taught me to be ruthless in cutting text.

I’ve just submitted this old work under a new title to a publisher and hope to hear back from them in three to five weeks. In the meantime, I intend to take another pass with the scalpel. I figure if I can slice off an average 180 words per chapter, I’ll be right where I want to be.

I guess this whole process just goes to show that a writer’s work is never done, that a text can always be improved, and perhaps most importantly, sometimes less is more.

Stay tuned…


Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 8:05 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 21 April 2009 8:06 AM EDT
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Thursday, 9 April 2009
Never Judge a Book by Its Cover, but Instead by the Author's Photo
Topic: Writing

I heard on NPR today that an author’s photograph is “essential in marking a book.” The segment went so far as to state that review copies of books have been turned down on the premise the author’s photo on the jacket lacked attractiveness.

Excuse me? Women have been judged by their beauty and their body parts for centuries, and today that practice is considered politically incorrect – even as record companies award contracts based more on appearance than talent. Danica Patrick appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue a year ago to further her career as a racecar driver? Having won only one race, she’s typically passed by other drivers more than she passes them on race day. She wanted to be taken seriously as a racecar driver. So seriously she was willing to take off her clothes.

Sports figures from every major sport generate huge incomes for using their looks to sell products. American Idol (note the definition of idol: one that is adored, often blindly or excessively; something visible but without substance) endeavors to create empty vassals for the masses to adore. Corporate America dresses for success.

And now author photos, not the content of their texts, must generate sales.

I must confess that I’m guilty, too, of judging men and women alike based on dress, hygiene, looks. But it’s wrong – simply wrong, ethically wrong – to judge anyone on their appearance alone. Yet we do it every day as a matter of habit, unaware that we do it: attractive people are let off with a warning rather than receiving a ticket for a traffic violation, while less attractive people must pay the fine. Attractive people in courtrooms receive preferential treatment; innocent people are often found guilty because of their looks, while guilty parties go free because they are attractive. Vendors are awarded contracts not so much based on the presentation but instead on the attractiveness of the presenter, be they male or female. Even babies respond more favorably to attractive features – but they don’t know any better!

It’s enough that I must endure rejection of my manuscript submissions because an agent or publisher doesn’t think it is right for them; now I must consider that maybe it’s because someone doesn’t think I’m young and good-looking enough? Maybe I should consider using a thirty-year-old photograph of myself when I had dark hair and six-pack abs.

This country is far too obsessed with youth and beauty – plastic surgery (a practice in which both genders now indulge), liposuction, breast enhancement – all designed to enhance the superficial and distract from what really matters – in the case of books, what lies between its covers. Which publishing house will be the first to include in their submission guidelines: “Must be willing to agree to plastic surgery to enhance marketability of their work?”

Acceptance of this practice of forcing people into a cookie cutter mold based on someone else’s opinion of what will sell to an eagerly awaiting public doesn’t make it right. What’s wrong with judging someone for what they bring to the table, for their talent, whether as a sports figure, an executive, an actor, a singer or a novelist? I would never, never, consent to buying a book based on its cover let alone the author photo – and I don’t know anyone in my circle of friends who would – but for sake of argument, if I ever did and I found the author lacking as a writer, I never again would buy one of their titles. The publisher who wishes to sell books based on an author photo is interested only in the short-term, and this practice to me reeks of everything that brought down Wall Street: make a quick killing today and to hell with tomorrow.

I’m a better writer today than when I started, nearly twenty years ago. How depressing to consider I must give up my craft when I’m so close to achieving the best work I’ve put to paper simply because I’m too old and too wrinkled to have my work considered for publication.

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 11:16 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 10 April 2009 10:27 AM EDT
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Waxing Nostalgic
Topic: Sports

For all the talk of fan comfort, Detroit’s Comerica Park provides plenty: no obstructed seats (all angled toward the infield), lots of concessions, restaurants, microbreweries, a cigar lounge (which benefits ownership), plenty of restrooms, and a grand view of the city skyline.

Yet for all these comforts (at age fifty-two, I can do away with the carousel), what’s missing for me is the closeness to the field that existed at Tiger Stadium. Fans at Fenway and Wrigley will understand me. A game at Tiger Stadium included the sounds of the game. At Comerica, most fans seated outside the diamond area can’t hear the crack of the ball off the bat, the umpire calling “Steee-rike! An architect would argue that this is because Tiger Stadium was an acoustic structure, closed in. In Comerica, little structure exists to hold the sound in; but that doesn’t account for the fact that fans along the upper bowl and in the outfield can’t pick up the ball off the bat, especially during day games.

For all Comerica offers in terms of comfort and modernity, for an old purist like me, I wish the Tigers were still playing at the corner of Michigan and Trumball, adjacent to Kaline Drive. The stadium couldn’t be blamed for the deterioration of the neighborhood in which it was situated. Like Fenway and Wrigley, Tiger Stadium was a true Hall of Fame ballpark for fans – where Norm Cash cleared the roof in right field several times, and where the ornery ghost of Ty Cobb still roamed center field. I was there with my dad in 1968 the day Denny McLain blooped a pitch to Mickey Mantle to hit over the fence in right field in his last ever plate appearance in Detroit. The Tigers won it all that year – ah, nostalgia.

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 10:58 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 3 May 2009 11:00 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 8 April 2009
Change is Inevitable, or Is It?
Topic: The Curmudgeon

I was in a Barnes and Noble recently where I picked up the 50th anniversary Legacy Edition of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, expanded and enhanced, a CD I’d recommend to anyone as the definitive jazz album, indeed an album that music experts hail as “crossing genres, speaking to generations, and a cornerstone to any music collection.” I’d owned a vinyl version of this gem and had purchased the CD when it was released many moons ago. But this version was expanded to two discs and included a jazz-cool tee-shirt – Miles on the front facing front, Miles on the back facing away. Its color? Kind of blue. What can I say? I’m a sucker for slick marketing ploys, especially where cigars and CDs are concerned.

As I was checking out other CDs, my eyes alit on the photo that adorns the famous Abbey Road album by the Beatles – for the uninitiated, it shows the Fab Four, in single file, crossing the famed Abbey Road, Paul sans shoes (yes, Paul McCartney played in a band before Wings). What attracted me to the display was that this was a vinyl pressing. So I thought, When did B&N consent to selling used merchandise? Then I saw the Diana Krall album, Quiet Nights, next to Abbey Road, which had been released just last month. Amazon had alerted me to its release because I’d once purchased from them an Ella Fitzgerald compilation. Then I noted the price on both albums was listed as new. The sales clerk stocking a nearby DVD bin, noting the look of confusion on my face, said, “Cool, huh?” He was obviously a Baby Boomer like me. I said, “They’ve taken to rereleasing original presses on vinyl? Whatever for?”

He laughed and said, “There’s a whole new market for albums in their original format. Two-hundred-thousand titles are already available and the company in New York producing them is backed up with more titles.”

“A new market?” I asked, incredulous. “Who?”


“You’re kidding? I thought they were into iPods, or as John Laraquette called them on an old House episode after waking up from a ten-year coma, ip-ods.”

“They love the artwork in the larger format,” the clerk told me. “And it’s a tie to their parents generation.”

“But is anyone even making turntables anymore?” Again for the uninitiated, turntable is the term for what my parents called a record player.

“They are,” the clerk confirmed.

For the first time in a long time – I mean, a very long time – I was utterly amazed. Just when I thought nothing could surprise me.

For the clerk’s benefit I told the story a friend of mine recounted for me maybe twenty years ago. He and his, at the time, seven-year-old son were crossing the parking lot of a Target when his son stopped dead in his tracks, his attention fixed on an old 45 rpm record someone had discarded. “Dad, what’s that?” he asked. His dad patiently explained what it was and that that was how music had been recorded back in the day. “Wow,” was his son’s one-syllable response, eyes big as, well, big as CDs. “They must’ve been able to get a lot of music on them.” My friend laughed and informed his son that, “No, they were able to get only about seven minutes of music on each side.”

The clerk and I both laughed at the story and I paid for my Miles Davis Legacy Edition CD grateful that I had never sold my original vinyl pressing, or my Abbey Road. But I winced at the recollection of my buddy’s sister-in-law – she’d sold, at a garage sale for $1, his original, limited edition numbered Beatles White Album, pressed in white vinyl.

I left Barnes and Noble scratching my head and thinking my dad was right: The more things change the more they stay the same.

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 5:14 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 9 April 2009 10:42 AM EDT
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Monday, 6 April 2009
Opening Day
Topic: Sports

I wrote this a year ago and it originally appeared on Bleacher Report. While the Tigers opened the 2009 season on the road, in Toronto, I thought I'd repost this piece here as a tribute to the new baseball season.



For, lo, the winter is past,

The rain is over and gone;

The flowers appear on the earth;

The time of the singing of birds is come,

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.


– Song of Solomon 2:11-12



Last night, as I listened to the sound of rain on my roof, sleep came to me but slowly. It was a Sunday night, just like any other, but different. Spring has been in the air these past few days, but only just – Mother Nature threw a curveball last week, calling for snow instead of sunshine; but I forgave her. The snow is today nearly melted.

I awake early, before the clock radio sounds its revelry; it’s pre-dawn, the rain has stopped but I hear the sound of water slow-dripping from the eaves outside my bedroom window. I head for the shower, forgoing my customary morning shave (I’ve got the day off from work and feel like a lad playing hooky from school).

From the bathroom to the kitchen, where I grind some beans, pour water and inhale the bitter fragrance of bourbon flavored coffee slowly brewing. I scratch morning stubble on my neck, open the window blinds: no flowers yet abloom in the neighbor’s yard, but there is beauty in this day nevertheless – the beauty of anticipation.

It’s been said birds sing not because they are happy, but instead are happy because they are singing. There is a song in my heart this damp Monday morning; I reach for the cream in the refrigerator door, admire the brauts on the top shelf in front of the chilled beer before I close the door.

Last night’s talking head on the TV told me that drizzle is in the forecast for the early afternoon (I’m fine with that even if she doesn’t assure me that it will taper off by mid-afternoon) and the temperature is expected to reach near 60 by 4:00.

Eggs are scrambling in my skillet, with onions and cheddar, while an English muffin toasts in my toaster oven. Man that coffee sure does taste good, and it tastes good every morning. But this morning is different.

I watch the neighbor’s car pull down the driveway; he’s off to work, but I’m just off. I’ve nothing to occupy my time for the next several hours: work the morning crossword; catch up on some reading – there’s that article in Cigar Magazine about where cigar boxes go when they die, and the morning Free Press sports section.

Enjoy the day off, the moment, this final day of March. The Super Bowl is two months past, hockey playoffs start in just over a week, but the boys of summer are due to take the field at Comerica Park in little more than four hours.

The game has changed since the boy I once was developed a love affair, nearly fifty years ago, with the game of baseball. The pitcher’s mound has been lowered to accommodate the hitters (and still no one can top Ted Williams’s 1941 average of .406 for a full season), the playoff format has been altered to accommodate three divisions in each league, and the athletes are better conditioned, stronger, faster, perhaps even more skilled. The salaries are higher, the egos bigger, and many more names seem to hail from South America, but those who don the English D of the Detroit Tigers play for my team, even if they don’t make their winter home in Michigan, or anywhere in the northern hemisphere. In a few hours I’ll get the brauts to grilling, pour a cold one, light a cigar and down a shot of bourbon – the good stuff – as the Tigers kick off their 2008 campaign in the American League Central.

There is no way to tell if the Tigers will be in the hunt for the gonfalon come September, but for today, they’re tied for the division lead heading into the month of April, and our expectations in the Motor City run high. We’ve talent and perhaps the best manager in the game: Jim Leyland understands players as well as how the game is played. Most of the buttons he pushes throughout the long season are the right buttons.

Win or lose, I expect a lot of exciting ballgames to be played by the home team over the next six months. There will be many highs and some lows – walk-off wins, heartbreaking losses, and unforeseen injuries. But such is life.

I’ve watched a lot of baseball in my life, including three World Series appearances by the Tigers (two championships) and have had the pleasure of seeing some of the greatest players ever to play the game – Hall of Famer Al Kaline (perhaps the greatest right fielder to ever play), Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker, the most enduring keystone combination ever to play their positions, and Jack Morris, who deserves a place in the Hall of Fame even if his mercenary ways took him away from Detroit. At age ten, I thrilled to watch 31-game winner Denny McLain serve up a pitch to an aged Mickey Mantle to hit over the fence in right field at Tiger Stadium. Robert Fick hit a rooftop shot to right field in the last game ever played at the corner of Michigan and Trumbell, and Reggie Jackson, the Yankee I loved to hate, hit the light tower in right field, estimated at 520 feet, in the 1971 All Star Game.

I have many fond memories of Tiger Stadium, where my dad introduced me to this grand old game, but I’m creating new ones at Comerica Park, already having hosted an All Star Game and a World Series during its seven-year infancy. Somehow this kid’s game I love so much makes the stress of everyday life seem trivial. Sometimes it’s great being a kid, especially at age 51. Even if it’s only for a day.

Tomorrow when I head in to work, I’ll have on my game face, but terms like “contract amount,” “quota” and “win the business” will pale in comparison to the home plate umpire’s call to “Play ball!”


– JCG/March 31, 2008

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 10:05 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 6 April 2009 10:10 PM EDT
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Thursday, 26 March 2009
Heroes: They Don't Make Them Like They Used To
Topic: Sports

I was saddened yesterday by the news that Hall of Fame baseball star George Kell passed away at the age of 86. I never had the pleasure of seeing Kell play, but I know he played for my hometown Detroit Tigers between 1946 and 1952, beating out Ted Williams for the batting title in 1949.

The sad news recalled for me my youth, growing up listening to Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell call Tiger’s games on the radio. My boyhood idol, growing up in the 1960’s, was Al Kaline, also a Hall of Famer. Somehow, listening to a game on the radio made the players larger than life, invincible heroes. Kaline prowled right field like a, well, like a tiger. In my mind’s eye I watched him glide to catch balls in the gap that other players would run toward, elbows flailing, caps falling off, only to play on a hop or misplay altogether. He had a cannon for an arm, made for right field, once throwing out two base-runners at home in the same inning. He could hit, too, for average and occasional power, and he stretched more singles into doubles with smart base-running. But he became a true hero to me when he turned down $100,000 a year contract, embarrassed to be paid such a sum for playing a kid’s game, even while drawing criticism from his team mates because he was an obstacle to them being awarded such a contract. In 1999, Kaline ranked number 76 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 greatest baseball players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Looking back it’s easy to see why I idolized Kaline. He really was that good.

Ray Oyler, the shortstop for the 1968 Tigers (pulled for the World Series because of his anemic numbers at the plate), was the first from that team to die, of a heart attack, having barely achieved forty years of age. First baseman Norm Cash, whom the Tigers acquired in a trade with Cleveland for Rocky Colavito (my, were the fans outraged!) was next to die, in 1986, falling off a pier in upper Michigan while drunk, to drown. Stormin’ Norman quickly won over Tigers fans after the trade by winning the batting title in 1961 while clubbing forty-one homeruns. Cash launched more than one ball over the roof in right field during his years with Detroit. Cash once approached the plate for an at-bat with a table leg late in a game, later saying that the stuff Nolan Ryan was tossing that day, on his way to his second career no-hitter, was unhittable with a piece of regulation lumber. The umpire declared the bat illegal, but the fans loved the stunt.

Denny McClain, the last pitcher to win thirty games over a season and who nicknamed Cash Tyrannosaurus Rex because his arms were disproportionately short for his body, ended his career early with a shoulder injury and a gambling problem, spending time in prison. Catcher Bill Freehan went on to coach the Michigan Wolverines but left in disgrace, the result of recruiting violations.

As a lad I knew little of these facts, and today I realize these idols of my youth are mere mortals, as ballplayers as well as men. Some were great players and good men, even while others fell short, giving in to the temptations that so often accompany fame. It won’t be long before I hear of the death of Willie Horton who, with a flick of his bat, heroically united a city torn apart by riots in 1968; Mickey Lolich, the 1968 series MVP who now owns a donut shop north of Detroit and can occasionally be seen at Comerica Park; eventually, Kaline — known as Mr. Tiger in Detroit — who was a day younger than Cobb when he won his batting title and who still looks good in a Tigers uniform.

Yes they are mortal, and perhaps not as heroic as I once thought. Cash, who often showed up for games hung over, after his playing days were over admitted to corking his bat during the 1961 season.

Yet I can’t help but feel that, as they pass on, a part of my own youth, the part that believed in heroes, will pass with them. Heroes, you see, aren’t just for the very young.

Maybe I look at the past through rose-colored glasses, but the players of today are more openly not as heroic as those from my youth. Today’s game is tainted by big salaries, bigger egos, behavior unbefitting a major league ballplayer, and substances far more illegal than alcohol. Today it’s not uncommon for a ballplayer to ignore an autograph seeker who has waited patiently for two hours for his hero to exit the clubhouse after a game.

Before his death in 1961, Ty Cobb accused the modern player of being in the game only for the money. Cobb conveniently forgot that he sat out a contract dispute more than once in his career. But unlike today’s players, he went out and earned his money. Today’s ballplayer rarely earns his paycheck until the final year of their contract.

In the 21st century we have an entire generation of ballplayers whose morals will forever be questioned. From, “No, I never used,” to “I used only from this year to that year” when the evidence becomes undeniable. And Roger Clemens, who continues to deny he ever used despite proof to the contrary. No one, it seems, can be taken at their word. It’s fitting that anyone proven to have used steroids be banned from the Hall of Fame, but what happens to the player inducted into the Hall who, after the fact, is proven to have used?

In a world in dire need of heroes, I feel for our youth who idolize the likes of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriquez only to learn that they cheat. I’ve heard players say, “To hell with the fans — I just want to play baseball.” Translation: “I just want to collect my paycheck.” Maybe it’s the stubborn little boy that still lives in me, wanting to believe that he could’ve played major league baseball, but isn’t fandom part of the game? When today’s major-leaguers were kids, did they dream of playing before a cheering crowd, or was it only of multi-million dollar multi-year contracts of which they dreamed? With fame comes responsibility. For a ballplayer, while he’s in uniform his responsibility is the team, but he also has a responsibility to the fans — that is, if he wants to be a true hero. And who wouldn’t want to be a hero?

I love the game baseball, maybe more today than in my youth — in my youth it was the players I idolized. Today I understand players come and go. Like the seasons, the names and numbers change, each player having but a few years as their moment in the sun. But the principal of the game has gone unchanged since Cobb’s day: hit squarely a round ball with a round bat.

I miss the good old days as much as my dad missed the good old days of his youth even if, in baseball at least, they haven’t changed all that much. I guess it’s me who has changed – having become more cynical with age. A chip off the old block. Dad would be proud.

Still, I want to hold onto the ideal of heroes, because without them we have only…

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 7:59 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 26 March 2009 8:00 AM EDT
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Thursday, 19 March 2009
American Idol: All that is Wrong with America
Topic: The Curmudgeon

Webster’s defines idol as an image regarded as an object of worship; a false god; a person or thing blindly or excessively adored; something visible but lacking substance.

They might add to those definitions: See also American Idol, Fox TV.

I can in good conscience say I’ve never seen this popular show, but I’ve seen enough trailers (who can miss them?) to know how important attaining the status of American idol is to these idol wannabes. The panel of judges, who think nothing of ridiculing the markedly less talented, in turn heap words of praise along with looks of unabashed adulation upon the talented hopefuls while the live audience voices their approval. Those talents who make the cut to the next level often scream and weep out of sheer ecstasy. They are driven to be worshipped, adored by the masses, even though that image lacks the substance of reality.

A Google search of American Idol brought up the following items, from the last 24 hours:


  • Ratings: ‘American Idol’ leads Wednesday as ABC dramas suffer (Entertainment Weekly)
  • ‘American Idol’ Loses Alexis Grace and Pesky Rumors of a Fix (FOX News)
  • He struck gold with American Idol, and Simon Cowell gets richer every year (Times Online)
  • ‘American Idol’ Trading Cards! Collect all 138! (ZAP 2 it)
  • Do we need an a cappella American Idol on NBC? (TV Squad)


I appreciate a good entertainer – an actor or a singer – as much as anyone, and as much as I value a good movie, good music, a novel or a work of art. I’ve been moved to laughter, to tears, to grief, to joy by all of the above, but to affix the word “idol” to the winner of this talent show, no matter how much talent they may possess, I find not only offensive but downright vulgar, nearly pornographic.

American Idol plays off everything that is wrong with America: our fascination with and addiction to fame. Are our lives so devoid of the things that matter – family, spirituality, career, community, world events – that we must escape our reality because of our perception of the aforementioned as ordinary? The global economy is in ruins, unemployment in this country continues to rise as people lose their homes, unable to afford health care; global warming is at the tipping point, threatening the polar bear with extinction; our youth are being abducted off our streets, in affluent neighborhoods, and forced into prostitution and pornography. And we continue to turn our nescient heads in preference of our weekly fix of American Idol.

Another idol, Christian Bale, recently went on a tirade while shooting a scene for the new Terminator movie because a member of the crew moved while in his line of sight, distracting him. Bale later apologized for this invective, after an audio file showed up on the Internet, asking his fan base to imagine their worst day and to forgive him for his outburst, the result of his own bad day. Bale makes what, $20M for play-acting, and his bad day, resulting in having to reshoot a scene, is worse than someone’s who has lost their job and can’t pay their mortgage?

Our troubled youth today aspire to follow in the footsteps of former pop star Britney Spears and Hilton heiress Paris Hilton, both whom we created. The former’s fame has brought her only ruin, while the latter’s resulted in jail time, even as each of their falls from fame brought ridicule to them, while in Spears’ case, it fueled her demise. Fame does not bring happiness to the despondent; it merely makes their despondency, for a time, a little easier to bear or hide from.

It’s been said that giving to charity eases our conscience, and while I won’t deny the necessary role entertainment holds in our society, ours has taken it past the level of diversion or distraction from the reality of the homeless, the starving, the infirm, to the point of outright denial. The aim of any society should be to acknowledge these sufferings of real substance and to do something about them, not turn from them, pretending they don’t exist by losing itself in false images.


Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 10:18 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 19 March 2009 10:28 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
Topic: Writing

I recently had an exchange on a writer’s forum regarding the semicolon as a viable tool in a writer’s toolbox. The other writer called them god-awful ugly and interchangeable with the comma in separating items in a list and preferred, rather than using a semicolon, breaking independent clauses into separate sentences. Compound sentences were unheard of in his ears – too hard to write, apparently, and too easy for a reader to get lost. But really, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; the same can be said about ugliness. Many people find the common bulldog cute as a product of its very homeliness.

The exchange led me to the conclusion that writers misunderstand use of the comma. Consider that when someone commits suicide they put a period at the end of their life. A New York cab driver might look at a comma as he would an amber light: accelerate. I look at a semicolon as old age – it gives me pause to reflect.

Replacing a semicolon with a comma alters, if only slightly, the rhythm of a sentence (the semicolon alerts the reader to take a slightly longer pause before moving on). A writer can choose to make two sentences, but sometimes I don’t wish to make that great a distinction in my thought process, forcing my reader to stop completely when it is unnecessary for me to ask them to do so. Sometimes there is no “need” to connect two thoughts, but I merely feel a desire to do so. And what good is a desire if one does not give in to it on occasion?

I rarely use semicolons in business writing, but in creative writing a writer should have in his or her toolbox all of the tools necessary for good writing, and what good is having a tool if you don’t pull it out to use once in a while?

A writer should know how to craft a variety of sentences of varying length and complexity. Short sentences composed of no more than one or two commas are good for building tension or drama; but an entire text composed of these types of sentences will tire a reader with all of its stops and starts akin to rush hour traffic in L.A.

Today’s publishing industry prefers a text to be written at a ninth-grade level, which means dumbing it down. Perhaps many readers don’t understand fully what a semicolon implies, but I find a well-crafted sentence that uses commas, semicolons, an em dash, to be visually sensual. It whets my appetite for a literary experience I will remember long after I’ve closed the cover for the last time.

Long live the semicolon.

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 4:24 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 3 February 2010 7:22 AM EST
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Sunday, 15 March 2009
The Cobb Legacy
Topic: Novel excerpts



I was a Cobb, and stuck behind a mule that broke wind when the breeze was the wrong way. I resented it deeply.


Ty Cobb



Cagney felt the forceps grasping his right pinky finger tighten and so he ceased to struggle. He glanced up at the nurse who gripped the forceps—a pretty woman in her late thirties with dark hair and eyes to match: Bethany. She smiled at Cagney demurely, through ruby red lips, trying to assure him that all would proceed well so long as he didn’t struggle. The armrest of the chair in which he sat shielded from his sight her legs—dancer’s legs—those assets of hers that had driven him to his indiscretion.

The face of a doctor now loomed above him, his head mirror reflected for a moment the light that shone from a nearby table lamp, leaving Cagney temporarily blind. When Cagney opened his eyes the doctor’s visage filled his vision: a round, fat face with multiple chins; mustache waxed into the shape of handlebars; thin, oily hair combed over from just above the left ear in a failed attempt to cover a bald pate, sun damaged and covered with age spots; steely blue eyes rimmed in red from their addiction to laudanum. Heavy perspiration covered the doctor’s face, beaded on his mustache as he smiled, revealing a good-sized gap between his two front teeth—teeth blackened by tar—a feeble effort to assure Cagney that he was in good hands.

The doctor raised his hands—sausage-like fingers, gnarled, more akin to those of a hard laborer than a doctor—to show a scalpel in one and forceps in the other. Cagney struggled and felt Bethany squeeze the forceps that gripped his pinky; Cagney was mute to give voice to his pain.

“It will be more painful for you if you struggle,” the doctor advised in an accent with which Cagney was unfamiliar. “Now come, open wide.”

Cagney was here for a tonsillectomy but wondered why he hadn’t been given anesthetic. He struggled again to find his voice, failed. Cagney felt the onslaught of panic, yet his breathing remained even, if labored. He wondered that the doctor seemed oblivious to the terror he was certain must be reflected in his eyes.

“Come now,” the doctor said impatiently. “The sooner you open, the sooner we can be done.”

Bethany gave her forceps a squeeze and Cagney complied. The doctor leaned in, exhaled, and Cagney was accosted by the virulent scent of laudanum, its herbal base mingling with that of burnt rubber. Cagney wanted to retch but found himself paralyzed; indeed, when the doctor reached into his mouth with his forceps and, a moment later, scalpel, he found his gag reflex immobile.

Conscious of the pressure on his right pinky, Cagney thought that surely he must be dreaming. Yet his efforts to rouse himself from slumber proved futile.

The doctor sighed loudly and whispered something in a foreign language that Cagney took as a curse; Bethany tittered. A moment later he felt a searing pain at the back of his throat and the doctor removed the forceps from his mouth to reveal in their grip a bloodied baseball…

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 8:49 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 3 October 2010 12:51 PM EDT
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Saturday, 7 February 2009
Detroit Tigers Scouting Report: 2009
Topic: Sports

The Super Bowl is past and on February 2, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so I’m assured of at least ten more weeks of hockey.

It’s forty degrees outside my window, the snow is melting (although to either side of my driveway it’s still knee deep), but Detroit Tigers’ pitchers reported to Lakeland, Florida last week, and position players report this week, and so my thoughts turned to baseball. In Michigan we can expect much snow before the start of the baseball campaign, maybe more arctic temperatures; but they’ll be playing baseball in Florida later this month, and that, my friends, does my heart good.


Click here to read the rest of this article.

Posted by J. Conrad Guest at 12:16 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 7 February 2009 12:27 PM EST
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