Writers: Ditch Shakespeare

See ya Billy Shake

See ya Billy Shake


Enough Shakespeare.

Christ, how long has the guy been dead? I know he was an amazing timeless classic, but criminy how many more books, movies, poems, plays, tv shows, etc need to be based on all those tedious themes of his? It’s time for something else. There must be other more interesting platforms from which one can launch their art, or how about this: your own platform. If I see one more modernization of a Shakespeare theme, I may have to buy a thousand antique copies of his works and burn them on the town square.


I’m picking on Shakespeare because his is the most prominent name out there for thematic abuse by artists from the last four centuries. There are plenty of other examples out there with Dickens being one of them, but I chose Billy Shake to rant about because his stuff seems to scream be laborious with your words and situations and beat every scene into tedium as best you can at those who choose to base their art on his body of work. It was bad enough we had to suffer through it the first time let alone having to relive it again and again in the work of many millions of copycat stories throughout the ages.


So, what set me off on this tirade on surely the most famous author of all time? I was chatting with some stranger at my favorite watering hole in Woodstock, VT near where I live. The woman sitting next to me started up a conversation and we exchanged the usual “what do you do?” niceties and she said she was a writer. Now, I never tell anyone I’m a writer straight away because I like to study people and once you launch that missive I’ve found people tend to tighten up a bit and not be themselves. I usually use the stay at home dad thing, or go the retired private detective route.


The woman seemed pretty interesting so I asked what she was working on and found that she was just about done with her first novel, which was very Shakespearian in nature. Made me want to puke. The worst part being she mentioned a fear that the story may be too recognizable as having its genesis in Hamlet. “Bartender? Check please.” I don’t ever like to be rude and said nothing and instead listened briefly to her outline while waiting for the bill. She was worried for good reason and I really was dying to say something to her about coming up with her own thing, clearly she was smart enough and everyone has their own story in them and blah, blah, blah… But, I really didn’t have the energy.


I would rather have heard her say something like: oh, it’s a basic good vs. evil story, or it’s a Cinderella type love story, it’s a rags to riches thing (just don’t say Dikens-like), it’s a supernatural thriller, mystery, self help, calculator manual, Swahili translator – whatever, anything but, its Shakespearian. God, it makes my freakin’ teeth hurt. It’s time to ditch the Shakespeare. There is so much talent out there and so many great stories that surely we no longer need to rely on this dead fossil to be the foundation on which to build our own work.







One of the Keys to Writing – Location, Location, Location

Most recent incarnation of my work space

Most recent incarnation of my work space

I should never, ever bitch about my writing space; it’s off the hook. I have a private office in our house overlooking a beautiful lake that affords a decent (but not perfect) barrier between my terrorist children and my pain in the ass dogs. It’s warm, comfortable and should be very inspiring given the scenery and the fact quite a few literary greats have passed through this hamlet over the last century and a half. Sometimes when I look out my window I can see their spirits passing through and shaking their fingers at me “write, you lazy ass, write!” castigating my sorry butt as they fade off over the mountains.

Waking up to this every morning would be inspiring to most people.

Waking up to this every morning would be inspiring to most people. San Diego.

But, that ain’t the case and it hasn’t been in the last few houses we’ve been in where I have had the luxury of carving out a nice lair for myself in which to create prose for the ages. There was the rooftop apartment in San Diego that commanded an incredible view over Balboa Park, downtown San Diego and the big bay. After that it was the first place in Vermont tucked into the woods on a hill nestled in between a grove of mature oak trees so far from the road the silence was deafening. Then it was the home of a published and well-known author Joseph Olshan. Besides the remnants of a successful author’s aura wafting about in the air, that place had two awesome spots in which to wax and record my twisted thoughts. And, then it came around to this place, by far the best in the lot.

While these seemingly perfect spots provide a great place for the business of my writing: planning, editing, social media marketing, the writing of this blog, etc. The meat of my work gets done where it has always gotten done – the saloon. I’ve written in these here electronic pages before about the lubrication that gets my mind chugging along, but I haven’t mentioned where it all happens. Possibly, I haven’t brought it up because I don’t want to give off the wrong impression that I hang out in bars for days at a time on a literary bender. That’s not the case at all, in fact, I only need a couple of hours to produce about four thousand words – maybe not good ones every single time, but usually something that with a little work can prove to be the better fruits of my labor.

Where the magic actually happens.

Where the magic actually happens.

I find the din of a bar to be comforting. It’s just the right amount of noise, especially right around Happy Hour. And, as aforementioned, the comfort and effect of a martini or two helps relax the mind into that place where the cerebral jackhammers find the terrain more pliable and loose. The atmosphere strips away the thoughts that muddy up the creative process as well as the empirical distractions of home. There are no children interrupting the creation of the best sentence you’ve ever written with a shrill screech, or the begging for yet another treat. No dogs are barking at phantom burglars or to go out and sully the neighbor’s lawn. You just have strangers who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the geeky guy furiously tapping away at the keys of the Mac Air and occasionally tipping back the perennially present up glass at its loyal perch far enough away from the laptop so as to avert disaster. Of course, if you’re like me and have a regular watering hole, the staff learns your pattern and knows well enough when to interrupt and when to leave you the fuck alone. Not like home where as hard as one may strive to set up rules – they’re always broken. “Dad, I want milk.” “Dad, Mom yelled at me!” “Dad, when are you coming down!” “Jason, these fucking kids are driving me crazy!” Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Let me out or I’ll pee on your loafers!

The point of this sprawling diatribe is that where you write is important and if you can choose the location you are way ahead of the game and on your way to creating your best work. I knew a guy once who wrote on a seesaw with loose-leaf paper and a Bic pen. Nora Roberts wrote at an abysmally small desk in her kitchen as she watched her small children (couldn’t imagine that). Wherever it is, your space is important. If I had started this career earlier in life when I could be out and away from home with wild abandon, I know I would have legions of books out there already. Doesn’t mean they would be good – but, they would be out there.

Inspiration – You Fickle Thing You

Headline: "Pretty Bridge Inspires Gruesome Story"

Headline: “Pretty Bridge Inspires Gruesome Story”

The audio for this post appears below. To listen, just click on “play”.



It’s a pretty picture isn’t it? That’s the day of the re-opening ceremony of the Taftsville covered bridge in Taftsville, VT this past September. The bridge got totaled in tropical storm Irene and in true Vermont style the community came together and made sure the structure was perfectly restored to its original 1836 condition. It took two years and a serious amount of work, but it was well worth it. The finished product is beautiful and the celebration of its reopening was a picture perfect apropos New England morning fete. There were politicians, dignitaries, American Flags flying, horses and carriages, an antique car parade, ice cream and kettle corn. Perfect. A little too perfect.

While sitting on the riverbank trying to keep my two and four year olds from getting burnt into human jerky by the unseasonably hot sun and suffering through the blathering of the local pols, a story started to percolate in my overheated brain. What if just as the ribbon were cut this perfect scene turned to chaos? What if something happened to the bridge – like, it collapsed as the first horse driven buggy full of period dressed dignitaries were to fall into the river underneath? Not too many deaths, but of course someone would have to go. And, what if it tore the little town apart – a split between the newcomers to Vermont and the old timers, a divide that resonates all over the state. For instance, what if after all the accusations and blame were thrown around there were a battle as to whether to keep the historic structure or build something modern to avoid this tragedy from ever happening again.

Maybe not the best story, but it was a germ of something I could work with and it fit into my genre. After a few weeks I began working on it, playing around with the characters and such, and although it isn’t finished, I kind of like where the story is going and will probably include it in the follow up book to 5 Tales.

It’s seems overly obvious to say that inspiration can come from anywhere. But, that’s what I like about inspiration – it’s so different for everyone. Mine usually comes from a location, or as I mentioned in my very first blog post, cemeteries. With two young rambunctious children I find cemeteries a great place to let them run free without breaking anything, running out into the road, or falling into the lake we live on. So while they’re getting enough energy out to sleep, I roam around thinking about the people lying underneath my L.L. Bean moccasins. I think it’s the energy in the bone yards that sparks my imagination. I create stories behind the names on the stones and if one hits, I take notes and go back to it later. (By the way, Absinthe helps a lot too. No, really it does.)

My good friend the author R.A. Diane, whose blog you should check out, wrote her book Coffee with my Brother as a way to try and help her Sister-In-Law through the pain of her husband’s death. She had been thinking about it for a while, wanting very badly to alleviate her Sister-In-Law’s grief and then one morning while pouring water into her French press to make coffee, she heard her dead brother say to her: “tell her my story”. There’s some inspiration for ya! The book came out of her at light speed.

To me location is so important for inspiration. Most of my stuff thus far has been born in either Southern California or Vermont, and I have a list of other places I would like to live and write in. I could wreak serious havoc in Charleston, Savannah, or Atlanta. My native state of Connecticut isn’t one of them, and the reason is how ubiquitous it is. The state itself is beautiful, in my opinion one of the most beautiful in the country. But, the pulse of Connecticut is just white noise to me. It’s like this level of static I can’t break through. It’s as if New York City bleeds over into Connecticut, only not enough so to be interesting – just a cauldron of ambition and upward mobility. In SoCal, there is a slowing down of the pace providing time to reflect and the people are much more relaxed – the funny part being most of them are New England transplants. In Vermont, well, Vermont is like it’s own universe with its unspoiled beauty and commitment to self-reliance. Vermonters are simple in their way of life but by no means are they simple and extremely interesting conversationalists when you break though their granite facades. And, man do they make for great character development.

Come on - this doesn't look like a guy who didn't try.

Come on – this doesn’t look like a guy who didn’t try.

Chasing inspiration can be very gratifying as long as you don’t force it. I’ve given up sitting around trying to think up story ideas in a vacuum; it just doesn’t work. If I’m not struck by something I don’t try and wrangle up a plot. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Bukowski, it actually appears on his tombstone – when asked what the key to life and art is, he replied, “Don’t try.”