Monthly Archives: April 2018

Symphony 132

His memory was there, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle that had been dumped on the floor. A lot of it was just scattered pieces, but large chunks here and there retained their structure. He remembered Lisa’s distress; he remembered talking with Bill about what to do, and arguing with Mrs. Cobb and Jim Pollard.

He remembered the fist coming in and the feel of grating teeth. That was very clear. But the rest of the fight was a complete mystery, and he would have to wait until nearly four to get his answers because Carmen and Bill were both at school.

# # #

When Bill came in, Neil’s first question was, “Where is Carmen?”

Bill laughed, pulled up a chair, and said, “Well, thanks. I guess you are getting better. She had a conference with a parent, but she will be along in a half hour or so.”

Bill reached out and took Neil’s hand, like a father taking the hand of his son. Neil squeezed his fingers. He said, “Where is Lisa?”

“They put her in a foster home. I don’t think she will be there long. Her mother is in counseling, and I think Lisa will be able to go home in a few weeks. With Pollard out of the picture, she will be able to think of her daughter again.”

Neil said, “I don’t have a clear picture of what happened after Pollard broke my jaw. I do seem to remember jumping him and hanging on.”

“I’ll say you did. That was the only thing that saved us. He’s right down the hall now, and when he leaves it will be to head for the county jail.”

“What happened?”

“It was the strangest thing. I was trying to get out the door to go for help when you came back to life, jumped on Pollard and dragged him down. He thrashed around like mad, but you had him in a grip that he couldn’t break.

“That’s when Judy Cobb went crazy. She had been standing there like she didn’t know what to do, but when saw him down, struggling and helpless, she started screaming curses and jumped right on him. She beat him with her fists until he shoved her off, then she hauled back and kicked him as hard as she could right in the crotch. That took the wind out of his sails.”

“She put him in the hospital?” Neil asked in awe.

“Not exactly.” Bill looked embarassed. “What she did, she got his attention and let me get to the next room. I grabbed the fire extinguisher and put a dent in his skull. That’s what put him in the hospital.”

Neil grinned, then cried out in pain. His eyes watered as he got control of himself again. “Don’t do that to me, Bill,” he said, “I’m in no condition to move my mouth.”


“So! You accused me of being a hothead. It seems you still have some steam in your boiler, too.”

“I have to admit that seeing a good friend getting beat up started my adrenaline pumping.”

You never called me that before, Neil thought.

Neil raised his hand and Bill took it without embarrassment. To change the subject, Neil asked, “How are my kids taking it?”

“Fine. Gina Wyatt came back to fill in for you. She says she misses teaching and was glad of an excuse to get back into harness.”

Neil said, “Oh.” He wasn’t sure that he liked a teacher as popular as Gina filling in for him. more tomorrow

Symphony 131


If he tried really hard, Neil could remember the ambulance, and the uniformed officers standing around taking statements; but it was vague, like a memory belonging to someone else, so he let it go.

A doctor said, “Can you feel that?” and Neil was surprised to realize that the pain had gone away. He tried to shake his head, but something was gripping him so tightly that he could not. He was trying to puzzle that out when the darkness came again.

Later he saw a moving grayness, like the unrolling of an unexposed film. Round objects swept into his field of vision from below and disappeared above. When he finally recognized them as electric lights, the grayness came into focus and became a ceiling sliding by above him. He felt the lurching of a gurney and the jar as they stopped. Hands lifted him into a bed, and he tried to say, “Where am I?” It came out as an infant’s shapeless gurgle.

Then the world went away for a century or so.

# # #

Neil was not sure when he wakened. The world was a slow, abstract dance of unrelated patterns for a time, and he could not judge how long that time was. Eventually the blur of light became a window, the swaying blot suspended above him became an I. V. bottle, and the smear of yellow close in at his right side became a blouse, with Carmen wearing it.

When she came swimming into focus, he said, “Blumurf.” She smiled and swept her hand across his forehead in a caress. Neil said, “Whisimulf.”

“I’m sure that makes sense to you, Love, but you are going to have to learn to talk with your mouth wired shut before the rest of us can understand you.”


She leaned over and kissed his forehead. There were tears in her eyes. She said, “You had us worried. You had me worried; the doctors said you were going to be fine.”


“What happened? You were very brave and noble and got the crap beat out of you. Don’t you remember?”

“You ‘ont sunn vry worrd t’me!”

Her mouth quivered and she bit her lip. Tears ran freely down her cheeks as she threw her arms around him. With her face buried in his chest, she whispered, “You’ll never know how scared I was!”

# # #

Things stayed blurry all that day. He knew it was Sunday because someone told him, but he couldn’t fit that into any kind of personal time line. He kept remembering his time of crisis in Oregon. He could remember that it was in his past, but it felt like last week, not a year ago.

If today was Sunday, then tomorrow was Monday and he would have to make up lesson plans for a substitute. He asked for paper and pencil, then sat for five minutes trying to remember what chapter of Macbeth they were studying before he finally remembered that he had been teaching that a year ago and five hundred miles away.

After that he just slept.

He slept until ten o’clock Monday morning, then woke clear headed. He found that his mouth was wired shut; his lunch consisted of mashed bananas and cream of wheat. His memory was there, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle that had been dumped on the floor. more Monday

483. Blogging Calendar

I actually post from six to eight times a week now,
but the disclaimer above was placed into my posts
in November of 2015. I’ll tell you why, below

I recently wrote a post called How to Get Readers for Your Blog. It was mostly for fun. You see, the only post I ever made with Porn in the Permalink got more views than anything I had ever written, even though there wasn’t a naked woman in sight. It cracked me up, and I wanted to talk about it.

I actually don’t know much about getting viewers. Of course, I’ve read every book on the subject. They all lie. That isn’t anything new, however. When I was a new writer in the seventies, I read every book about how to get published. They all lied, too.

I did get published, and I do get viewers — you’re here aren’t you — so I know something, but it’s a tricky world where they keep changing the rules.

I’m going to give you links to my three sparse posts of wisdom, and then I have one more thing to add.

Behind the Curtain

Wordcamp Sacramento

Blogging Hints

Most people who read our blogs are bloggers themselves, and most of them find us initially through Reader. It took me a while to figure that out, and longer to realize that those Reader posts go by fast. Did you look at Reader as your last post hit the airwaves? Go back in an hour and see if you can find it. You may have to scroll down a mile. Those Reader posts just keep on rolling in, and you (I, we) keep sinking out of sight.

You could repost every hour, but the powers-that-be would get very angry at you, and you can’t afford that.

After a couple of months as a new blogger, I realized that all my posts were going out between 7:30 and 8:30 Pacific Time because I am an early bird. Suppose someone lived in Boston. My posts would be reaching his Reader about 11 in the morning. If he/she wasn’t on her/his computer at that time, chances are that person would never find me. What could I do about that?

I went to my spreadsheet and made up a calendar, which I still update and use. Column one was the dates I post, skipping weekends, since I don’t post then. The second column was for the Serial post and the third was for the A Writing Life post. Words don’t do this well, so let me show you:

                    Dec. 14, 2015                 8:45                 8:55

                    Dec. 15, 2015                 9:45                 9:55

                    Dec. 16, 2015               10:45               10:55

                    Dec. 17, 2015               11:45               11:55

It is an artifact of a previous way of doing things that the A Writing Life post always comes ten minutes after the Serial post. The next set of numbers would repeat the hour and move both minute settings forward ten minutes, so that we get.

                    Dec. 18, 2015                  8:55                  9:05

This one worked for me, covering most of the US for most of morning and early afternoon by the time it had cycled through roughly a month. I could add details, but why bother? If you like the idea, you will certainly set up a posting calendar that meets your individual needs.

It looks logical, but can you tell me why more than half of my views come from every country other than the United States? I love it, but that part is a mystery.


UNRELATED, BUT FUN, and it fits into the spirit of this, on April 10, I hit 1000 posts.

Symphony 130

Neil knew he had to do something now to break Pollard’s calm and drive a wedge between him and Judith. “Mrs. Cobb,” he asked, “haven’t you talked with Lisa about all this? She must have come to you.”

“Lisa complains all the time,” Pollard cut in. “You can’t listen to her.”

“I was talking to Mrs. Cobb!”

Pollard’s face darkened. He said, “I can speak for myself, whenever I want to.”

“Yes. So you can. But can she?”

“Judy can talk for herself.”

“So, let her!”

Judith Cobb hunched down and looked miserable. Neil asked again, “Didn’t Lisa complain to you?”

Pollard glowered at her in silence. She shook her head.

Neil swiveled around to Bill Campbell and said, “I think one of us needs to talk to Mrs. Cobb alone.”

“No!” Pollard took her by the shoulder and half dragged her to her feet. 

Pollard was getting desperate. Neil felt his heart sink. This had started as attempted rape; it could end in murder.

“Judy and I just came to get her little girl,” Pollard shouted. “You’re trying to keep her from her own child. That puts you in the wrong. Now give Lisa to us or I’ll call the police.”

Bill Campbell said, “I already have.”

Pollard’s face went dark with rage. He bunched his fists at his sides and he was all but trembling. His powerful chest was straining the fabric of his shirt. Neil stepped between Pollard and Bill Campbell just as Pollard threw a hard right. He didn’t have time to dodge.

Neil felt his jaw move violently sideways with a dull snap, and saw the darkness coming in from the corners of his eyes. Bill’s desk top caught him across the buttocks and he fell, flipping backward like a stunt man in a movie. He landed on his hands and knees on the far side of the desk, swayed, then staggered to his feet again. The world skidded sideways and he fell back to one knee.

He felt hands on his shirt. Pollard jerked him upright, then hurled him backwards to slam into the wall.

This was not the way it was supposed to happen

Neil threw up his hands to ward off another blow to his face, but Pollard shifted and hit him in the stomach. It doubled Neil over, and he hit the floor again, on his knees this time. Pollard’s legs were in front of him, so he threw his arms around them and tried to pull him down. Something hit him hard at the base of the skull and he slid the rest of the way to the floor.

Neil rolled over. The world was a gray blur. He could see a swirl of interacting figures, like a strobe-lit dance, but none of it would come into focus. Bile tickled the back of his throat, and he fought against the need to vomit.

He was leaving Bill to face a raging bull alone. And after him, Pollard would turn on Carmen and Lisa. 


Neil forced himself to his feet again. He could barely support himself. He tried to bring the room into focus and failed.

Failed! How he hated that word.

He concentrated on Pollard, picked his figure out of the swirling mass before him and launched himself toward it. His arms would barely respond, but Neil managed to throw them around Pollard’s chest. He wrapped him up in a death grip and let his weight pull them both down.

He felt consciousness fading and willed his arms to lock, to cling so grimly that death itself would not loosen them. Then he saw the great, gray spiral that led down into blackness, and fell into it. more tomorrow

Symphony 129

Mrs. Cobb blinked back tears and nodded.

Pollard went on, “Mr.  . . . I didn’t get your name?”


“Mr. Campbell, Lisa doesn’t like me. Ever since Mrs. Cobb and I got engaged, she has been doing everything she can to break us up. She told Judy the same story about me trying to seduce her, but there’s nothing to it. Hell, she’s just a baby! I’m real sorry you folks got all caught up in it, but it is a matter between Lisa, her mother, and me.”

“I’m afraid that’s not true any more,” Bill replied. “When she came to us for help, that involved us. We can’t just pretend that it never happened.”

By shifting his position slightly, Neil could see the entrance to the parking lot through Bill’s window. He kept one eye on Pollard and the other looking for the case worker or the sheriff.

“I want to see my daughter,” Mrs. Cobb said suddenly.

Bill shook his head. “Not until the case worker gets here.” He had chosen not to mention the sheriff.

“You can’t keep a woman from her own daughter, man!” Pollard snapped. “Who do you think you are?”

Bill tried to divert him, but Pollard bored on relentlessly. “I don’t know who you think you are, but if you don’t let Lisa’s mother see her right now you are going to have me to deal with.”

Neil snapped, “You mean like Mrs. Cobb has had you to deal with?”

“What does that mean?” 

“Mrs. Cobb,” Neil said, “Mr. Campbell and I both know that your friend has beaten you on more than one occasion, and I suspect that he has beaten Lisa as well. We will know for sure before the night is over. Don’t you think it’s time to admit it, and get help before it’s too late. If you don’t protect your daughter, they may take her away from you.”

Judith Cobb looked stricken. She glanced at Pollard, then looked away quickly. She said, “I’m all right. Nobody beat me and nobody beat Lisa. And nobody tried to rape her.”

Neil could not figure her out. She was afraid of Pollard, of course. But was it the simple fear of a hostage, brought on by his power and his nearness, or was it more complex and twisted? Did she love him? Were her feelings for her daughter tinged with jealousy and resentment?

And where was that damned sheriff?

Pollard shot to his feet, knocking his chair back against the wall. It was a move of calculated violence. No one could say afterwards that he had lost his temper, yet the move had been supremely threatening. Here was a man who had not only sculpted his body, but had also taught himself how to use it skillfully as a tool for intimidation.

Pollard said, “Take us to Lisa now.” There was quiet menace in his voice. Mrs. Cobb had winced when he rose; now she lowered her head. He touched her shoulder and she flinched, then looked up again as steadily as she could.

“Mrs. Cobb,” Bill said, “you don’t have to be afraid. There are agencies which will help you.” He shifted his gaze to Pollard and added, “Starting with the sheriff’s department.”

Neil was so proud of Bill Campbell that he felt like applauding.

Pollard just looked at Bill. Nothing shook him. Before he built himself up, he must have had to learn when to speak and when to keep quiet. It seemed that he had never forgotten that lesson, and it made him doubly dangerous.

Neil had a sudden, sinking feeling. Suppose Jim Pollard stuck to his story.  Suppose Judith Cobb backed him up. Suppose the sheriff and the case worker believed them.

Pollard leaned over Bill Campbell’s desk and said, “I want to see her now. If you don’t take me to her, I’ll just go find her myself.”

He wanted a chance to intimidate Lisa! more tomorrow

482. Where’d Ya Get That Name?

I was writing a short story yesterday, called The Gods of Wind and Air. I knew the main character well enough, had an idea of who he was and what motivated him, and had a fair idea of what he was about to do. I had written the first paragraph and the last paragraph, so I knew where he and I were going together, but I didn’t know his name.

It needed to be reasonably short — five or six letter would be ideal. He was a peasant, with only one name and it didn’t need to be fancy, but it also didn’t need to look like he was an American. No Bill nor Tom nor even Andre need apply.

Usually by this stage in something I’m writing, I know all the main characters’ names, and minor characters are forgettable enough that their names don’t count. I didn’t want to stop the flow of things, so I went postal on the keyboard, firing off a hundred finger strokes at random while moving my hands in twin circles around the keyboard. Three seconds, four at the outside, and I had produced:

;dknclm,v mqrt09gyoweuhb sd; vkjqroifgowduh jnsdp;ogui48o uyecxvKsmvkrpifgvdwslhj merpiogiyfvcoldsjkjvm qp9fgvweujk mpf9gewqsiojksvbpo9irhgbcv anop;s’dkv90q8reudvbq][giu193reuojvbn fe][guy38ewyiush sjnf][5206yu08tr peldgjshdkv[w40efuy 2ieuochn we[]pgf0uhisdujvnmaw]p-0uyhgfovl;d klfop3yion[pqofgijeqhj

Somewhere in that mess would be letter clusters that would fire a spark in the old brain. Sure enough, there was a pel and an an which gave me Pellan, and my troubled peasant had a name.

If you plan to write a normal novel, you will need from dozens to hundreds of names. Sometimes that is easy. When I wrote Jandrax, the stranded colonists were French, three colonies removed from Earth, but still with French names. I went to Homo Hierarchicus, by Louis Dumont. It is a study of Indian caste by a French anthropologist which I had from my college days. Half of the scientists in the bibliography are French. I copied a long list of first names, a long list of last names, and chose at random from each. Then I cross-checked to see that I had not accidentally recreated some famous name — say, Marcel Proust. I did have a Marcel, but I made sure he had a different last name.

When I wrote Symphony in a Minor Key I needed a lot of Anglo and Mexican names. Where I live, that is no problem. I just went to the phone book to get twin, paired lists of first and last names.

Sometimes a reader has no trouble guessing where a writer got a name. In the western novel Flint, the villain is Porter Baldwin. Since Porter and Baldwin were two of the major locomotive manufacturers in that era, and the action revolves around frontier railroads, we have no problem figuring out where Louis L’Amour got PB’s name.

It’s not that easy when you are writing fantasy. I’ve never met anyone named Pellan, for instance. When I wrote my first fantasy novel, I needed names for five sub-lords (as I called them then). I happened to be listening to an early record (stereo, LP, 12 inch vinyl — it was a long time ago) by Ravi Shankar. In the liner notes, he explained the five parts of a raga, giving the Indian names for the movements.

Yes, you guessed it. I later modified them so that it was not so obvious. Just a piece of advice; if you are writing a fantasy about a pair of twins, and you happen to be listening to classical music — don’t name your twins Allegro and Adagio. Someone will notice.

Eventually, I needed so many odd ball names that I had a brainstorm. I bought a Find-a-word. They aren’t so popular anymore, so I will describe — a Find-a-word is a book of full page puzzles where each page is filled with letters in a grid. Your job is to find the words that are listed at the bottom of the page.

I used the Find-a-word to look for letter groupings that weren’t words, but could be in my fantasy world. Brilliant, I thought. In reality, I never found anything useful. Maybe you will have more luck. I offer the notion to you free of charge.

It’s no secret that most of the people who read A Writing Life are, or want to be, writers. If you will please look up and to the left, you will find a button that says Leave a reply.

I know you guys (and gals — and whatever) are out there. I can hear your breathing in the dark. Take five minutes and tell me what you do to find character names. I’m honestly curious.

Symphony 128

They sat quietly discussing options. The clock ticked and the phone remained silent. Bill decided to call the sheriff, but as he was reaching for the phone, they heard the sound of tires on asphalt, and the squeal of brakes. Neil cursed, and Bill snapped, “Listen, you damned hothead, let me do the talking. Don’t screw this up for us.”

Bill sat back at his desk. His face seemed placid, even serene. For the first time in months, Neil really looked at Bill Campbell, and realized that he was an old man. This was not his first crisis; it was not his fiftieth crisis. That experience gave him confidence.

It did not give Neil confidence. A man can get too used to doing only what seems possible, and letting the rest go. He can forget that sometimes it is necessary to reach beyond yourself, to put yourself at risk.

There was a knock at the door and a man put his head around the corner, calling, “Hello. Is anybody here?”

“Come on in,” Bill invited.

Neil got his first look at the boyfriend, and let out a slow breath. The man had once been small; possibly spindly. You could still tell it. He wasn’t more than five feet eight, but every inch of him had been made over by countless hours at the weight machine. His short blond hair was in deliberate boyish disarray and he had a ready grin. Likeable and domineering at the same time. He made you want to stay out of his way, or make friends fast. Neil was only an inch short of six feet himself and of athletic build, but he felt the daunted by such a powerful body.

Bill said, “May I help you?”

“I’ve come to pick up Lisa Cobb.”

“I’m afraid I can’t just let her go off with someone I don’t know. You are . . . ?”

“Of course. I’m Jim Pollard, Lisa’s mother’s fiancee.”

“I see. Well Mr. Pollard, I’m afraid that doesn’t help much, because I don’t know you personally. Please don’t misunderstand. I am only trying to take care of the children I’m responsible for, but I can’t let her go with you on just your say so.”

Pollard’s face grew dark, but he controlled himself and said, “Lisa’s mother is in the car. You know her don’t you?”

He slammed the door behind him without waiting for a reply.

Neil looked at Bill and asked with bitter humor, “Do you have a baseball bat?” Bill waved him to silence. He was dialing the sheriff.

There was a coil of barbed wire in Neil’s stomach as he waited for their return.

The door did not exactly slam open. It was under complete control, and Pollard never let it hit the wall, but he shoved it open with such force that the effect was the same.

Judith Cobb was as tall as Pollard, yet she looked dwarfed beside him. She smiled at Bill and Neil; then the smile became a twitch and disappeared. She could not hold it for more than a few seconds. Pollard had her by the arm. He looked as if he were giving her support; she looked as if she would fall if he let go.

Judith Cobb said, “Jim said that you wouldn’t let Lisa go with him because you didn’t know him. Where is she?”

Bill had made his decision. He motioned them to seats, then said, “She is with one of our other teachers, and I don’t intend to let her go until someone gets here from Child Protective Services. She tells us that Pollard tried to rape her.”

For a moment, Jim Pollard looked as if he would leap to his feet and strike Bill Campbell. Then he did something even more dangerous. He held his temper. He turned to Judith Cobb and said, “See, Judy. Now she is lying to these people. I told you she needed counseling.” more tomorrow