Writing coterie participants wanted

25 Feb


Writing coterie participants

I’ve been uploading to WordPress for going on four years by the fall of 2015.

In the beginning, I was a helicopter blogger/writer/uploader. I would upload something and then ping back and forth from my WordPress site and the rest of my life. My great hope was that I would be discovered in a matter of days and that would be it.

I know no one else does this. Just me.

So my stats, owing more to longevity than anything else, continue to grow. For the first-time blogger, they must appear somewhat intimidating. Believe me, it’s all appearance.

Another hope of mine was to receive helpful critique of my work. The wonder of most people who write, especially at the beginning, is whether or not their writing is at all good. I imagined my website would net a vast wealth of criticisms that would help me improve as a writer. A continued frustration of mine is that lack of written, critical commentary of my work.

I’ve wondered why that is. I’ve come to some conclusions over time, however right or wrong:

  1. Visitors to my site are also bloggers/writers/uploaders. Some or most are new at it, even if they are at an advanced age (sounds so much more intriguing and genteel than elderly, don’t you think?). As such, they are prone to gentleness and niceness. The fear of those may well be that you get what you give. Maybe a kind of “writer’s karma” which behooves them to take the edge off their analytic observances of the writing of others so that their writing is not battered by scathing remarks. Vocabulary that these visitors resort to mostly are words like nice!, like, really, incredible, great! The intent is that their writing receive the same type of commentary;
  2. That when a visitor clicks on the “Like” option in response to a work, it is a passive acknowledgment of the piece. Very much like when you were a kid and had to give a book report. “I like this book very much and think everyone should read it.” Not really a report that is worth much. An easy out. And for those serious writers, kind of disappointing when one puts so much effort and energy into whatever is their creation. After all, putting something online for the world to see is a vulnerability worth more than a mere clicking of the “like” option.
  3. Many are actually afraid to leave a comment because of their inability to put a finger on what it is that they like. “This is really good! I don’t know why, and can’t tell you why − but I do.” Again, it’s indicative that we don’t want to self-explore why something gets to us; why a poem or a story or a song resonates with us. Too much work, maybe? Or, I’m a smartphone, Facebook, iPad, whatever kind of person and getting too close to anyone − specially when that person is me, I am taken out of my comfort zone. And we all know our primary goal in life is to be comfortable.

As a result of this ongoing purturbation (look it up), I’ve decided to challenge five readers of this post to make a commitment. First, if you can’t identify with any of the above, move on to something else to read, and please don’t do anything to let me know you dropped by — please DON’T click on the “like” button. I already know that request is futile, and some of you will.

The challenge is this:

Join me in a group of five who are willing to enter into a reciprocal writing relationship, that being to read and critique work from the members, and to submit work for members to read and critique. As there are so many poet groups out there (and I have nothing against poets — I are one on occasion), I’d like to keep the writing within the framework of fiction, and of prose. So, no playwrights, no screenwriters, no biographers or memoir writers (unless it’s fiction, of course). Short stories, novellas, novels, epics are fair game. Genre is whatever you are comfortable writing (although I will stipulate no pornography).

The critical elements of plot, characters, dialogue, conflict, rising action, climax, resolution, exposition, setting, etc. are the pivotal parts of scrutiny.

I’ll set the time of your commitment to be at least six months, with the hope the time will continue as the group gels.

The written and understood agreement of each member is to respect the legal ownership of the works discussed.


How to participate

I will cap the group at five members, including myself. If your interest is piqued, then email me at skiipwrite at g mail dot com. When the coterie of five is complete, I’ll take this post down. I’ll leave the post up until that occurs.

I’m going to ignore replies and “likes” on this post, satisfied you will email me if you have any interest in participating.

The Misrememory

24 Feb

The Misrememory

By L. Stewart Marsden

Oh yes! Oh yes, it certainly was …
without a doubt! Or, once I pause and think some more
perhaps it was …
then again, because it happened long ago,
I might have misremembered so,
no – yes – that’s quite it –
there are one or two or three small bits
of vaguery there – in that hazy air –
not that it alters much overall … where
all-in-all it’s still pretty true …
and you and yours can bank on that!
Oh yes! You can! You surely, truly can depend on that!

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 24 February, 2015

Winter of the Best Snow

24 Feb


In tribute of days long-past; of a time long-remembered.

Originally posted on Writing Odds n Ends:


Winter of the Best Snow
by L. Stewart Marsden

Every Wednesday like clockwork for three weeks in a row
the weather forecasters forecasted deep snow.

Six to eight inches, they predicted each week.
The response of each child was a deep-hearted shriek
of delight, for that night in the dark the clouds would roll in
and silently, softly, the snow would begin
to fall to the earth.

School is closed. Locked up tighter than tight
and no worries o’er hist’ry nor mathmatics tonight —
For tonight all our noses are glued to the panes
of our windows and we know that the remains
of the storm — half a foot of white snow
awaits on the morrow for an army of kids.

Oh! Wax the red runners of Flexi-brand sleds,
Dig out toboggans and mittens and dredge
out old sweaters and stockings and stuff
and muff up our ears and…

View original 194 more words

when your child might die

23 Feb




when your child might die

By L. Stewart Marsden


there is no one knows
the empty stomach-pit fit
when your child might die;
there is no source for tears
that tear† through eyes –
but so soon dry and shrivel
like pitted prunes sapped sere by
the hot, ruthless sun;
who knows the throes
of heart and throat –
that ache beyond belief
at how your child might
cease to cry or laugh or wail in anger;
borne away by some horrid thief
that managed to break in
and take the thing –
the one thing –
you ever cared about or for;
there is no one knows,
when your child might die,
unless, of course,
they know.


 †pronounced “tare”
Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 23 February, 2015

In progress: The Typewriter

21 Feb








The following are the first  parts of what will either be a long short story, or a short novella. I haven’t yet decided which. The inspiration came after I went online and ordered an old Royal KMM typewriter for my granddaughter, who is quite a writer in her own right at age 9. The total words (not counting titles and subtitles) is 3,760. While not purely a rough draft (I’ve gone through and made many corrections), it is not in finished form. What I attempt to do in my writing is create chapters just long enough to be read in bed, just before the witching hour and the lights go out for the night. I also want to end each section with some kind of hook – or cliff hanger – that compels the reader to continue the story. I prefer to season my stories with elements of the familiar. With bits that readers might easily identify.

– Skip Marsden



The Typewriter

By L. Stewart Marsden




It was a WWII-era Royal Magic Margin Touch-Control KMM typewriter. Like new, the description read. Boxy, bulky, dark gray in color, the machine reminded Roland Dumphreys of a tank; then of George Patton; then George C. Scott and finally Beauty and the Beast.

He relied on this innate stream-of-consciousness to keep his writing flowing. His mother attributed the quirk to attention deficit disorder, had the diagnosis been popular when he was a kid.

“You can’t seem to stay with anything more than a few minutes,” she complained when he left his room and his studies after what was an unbearable eternity staring at his math homework. In actuality, maybe ten minutes.

Perhaps it was true. But his energy was indefatigable, and when he grew bored of something, his natural inclination was to move on. Like quicksilver.

He clicked through the images of the typewriter: a shot from slightly overhead at an angle; one directly in front of the keyboard; a close-up of some of the detail parts and labels.

It was exactly like the one he used to pound out term papers and essays the nights before they were due. Glass key covers – slightly tinged yellow. He imagined the heft of the typewriter, an indelible memory from often moving his mother’s Royal from her bedroom to the den, where he set it up on the chess table. From there he could turn on the television set and watch whatever as he worked his writing magic.

He later dubbed it multi-tasking. A-D-D, his mother countered.

“Gotta have it!” he salivated, and looked at the information about the current bid and the time left to make his offer.

Ninety-nine dollars. Three days, fourteen hours and eleven minutes until the bidding closed.

He moved his cursor over the make-an-offer field and typed in 1-0-0-.-0-0 and tapped ENTER. The screen flickered and opened up a new page.

            You’ve bid $100.00 on this item. Do you wish to confirm this amount?


            Please enter the necessary information below.

Autofill took care of the chore easily.

            How do you wish to pay for this item if your bid is successful?


            Congratulations! You are currently the high bidder for this item! Would you like to receive notifications when other bids are made?


Roland leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together, then stretched his arms over his head. He rolled his head in slow circles, feeling and hearing muscle and tendon and bones grind and pop.

Whoever said writing was not physically exhausting had never tried to make a living through wordsmithery.

Deep inside Roland knew searching for and bidding on the typewriter was a diversion from what he should be doing. He could hear his mother’s voice in his head.

Are you working on your math?

He had developed an Excel chart to categorize his excuses for not writing:

Valid excuses | Plausible excuses | Understandable excuses | Sympathetic excuses

And more. Notably he had no columns to decry his excuses in negative terms.

Valid excuse: I awoke with a headache.

Plausible excuse: My upstairs neighbor is moving out and made an incredible racket going back and forth from his apartment to the U-Haul truck parked outside.

Understandable excuse: I’ve been pounding the keyboard for three months straight, and need to take a break. He had never used that excuse, but held onto it − just in case.

Sympathetic excuse: It’s the third anniversary of my divorce, and I downed one-too-many Dewar’s neat at the sports bar last night. My head and heart are throbbing as a result. Plus, Valentine’s Day is approaching, and I hate VD!

Writer’s bl__k! Ach! To even say the word was a curse! Like mouthing VOLDIMORT! That which shall not be uttered!

Like the flu, he could feel whenever the bane of all writers was about to descend upon him. It was like a black shroud that scooped down around his brain pulled tight, cutting off all flow of blood, juices, ideas, plots, characters and descriptive words – any creative activity. It left him spent and unable to do much more than stare endlessly at ESPN and insert Pop Tarts into his toaster for sustenance. Or nuke a coffee mug of Ramen noodles mixed in water.

Roland used to take comfort in the fact all he needed to do was squeeze out one remarkable work – like Harper Lee did – then rest on his laurels.

There were two problems, though. He hadn’t completed a remarkable work in his three years of writing, and now Harper Lee had broken his trust by unveiling a second novel.

What was the world coming to when insurmountable obstacles occurred so randomly?

Then, like a break in the clouds was the available Royal KMM typewriter. A hallelujah from on high! A golden shaft of sunlight! A deus ex machina! An omen – no, not as dire as an omen – a sign of hope! The message Signs point to yes! – floating up to the glass window in his Magic Eight Ball.

With the diligence of a pit bull guarding a newborn baby, Roland hovered over the bidding on the Royal Magic Margin Touch Control KMM typewriter for the next three-and-a-half days. He slapped away random bids with his counter-bids and watched as his investment crept to a hundred fifty, one seventy-five, and finally land just shy of an even two hundred dollars for the “win.”

His ex-wife used the term “win” whenever she went online for stuff.

“Look what I won on eBay!” she would announce.

“You didn’t win it,” he snarked back. “It’s not competition when you know you will prevail, no matter what.”

Thus, he would keep the purchase of the Royal to himself. For now. Until the moment he could glory in an I-told-you-so moment of triumph over her cynical comments regarding him retiring to become a writer. Contract in hand from a major publisher, he would wave it in her shocked face. And this would be the result of the masterful manuscript produced from the elite typeface clapping on white paper as it rolled through and off the machine’s cylindrical platen.

It was only a matter of a few days till the magic began, and as with the bidding process, Roland determined to follow the UPS tracking number on a daily, if not hourly schedule. He daydreamed about the boxed Royal creeping from somewhere in the northeast down south, snaking toward his awaiting embrace. Like a mail-order bride. Like a spring thaw. Like the inevitable turn of the earth on its axis to another dawn and another day.

The thought excited him so much he added it to his excuses column under Understandable:

            I’m too excited to write today!




Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 February, 2015

Word count: 1,107



Begin the Beguine


It took six-and-a-half days for the typewriter to arrive. Six-and-a-half business days, counting the one Saturday. The package arrived at dinner on a Monday. It reminded Roland of the final few days of his ex-wife’s pregnancy.

“We’re a day-and-a-half past due!” he seethed through clenched teeth at his wife, as if she had anything to do with the process.

“Due dates are estimates, Rolly,” she said, reclining on the leather Barcalounger, her swollen feet inclined above her head. “Relax. I should never have told you the due date. I should have said June 15 instead of May 10, then you would have worried about me going into labor too early!”

A quick knock on his apartment door jolted him like being zapped with electricity. The UPS guy was already down the stairs and clambering into his truck when Roland swung open his front door. A brown box, comprised of several recycled boxes, sat to the side of the door. He bent over to pick the bulky package up, then thought better.

“Lift with your legs,” he told himself, and squatted down, grabbing the heavy box underneath either side.

He left the front door open and waddled with the load to his dining room table, where he carefully placed the package.

It was completely wrapped in clear packing tape. There was no exposed cardboard.

“That’s good,” he thought, and reminded himself to give the seller a thumbs up on eBay.

The words FRAGILE were printed in red magic marker on the cardboard surface underneath the protective tape. He thought of A Christmas Story and smiled.

“Fra-gee-lay!” he said aloud. Then groped in his jeans pocket for his pocket knife, opened a blade, and carefully began to cut along the flap edges.

He opened the box, only to find another box, slightly smaller, inside. Styrofoam peanuts filled the slight gaps between the outer and inner boxes.

“Jesus!” he thought, and cut away the outer box. He half thought he was going to find a series of boxes, getting smaller and small. Like the nested wooden Russian dolls his mother used to pull out at Christmas. They were all painted like the Nutcracker, and ended in one tiny Nutcracker piece.

“Just my luck this is a miniature typewriter,” he huffed.

Inside was wadded newsprint which he pulled away to finally reveal the full-sized typewriter. Bubble wrap protected the moving parts of the machine, and Roland carefully removed everything, then pulled the Royal typewriter from the box and set it on one of the placemats on the table.

There it was! It looked good, better than the photos on eBay. He quickly looked for a manual, but there was none. He could get it online, he thought.

He tapped one of the keys: “f.” The key arched up from under the hood of the typewriter and snapped down on the black and red ribbon against the black rubber platen with a loud click.

Ah! Such a sound!

“f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f,” he typed, then realized he should type on paper – not directly on the platen. He walked quickly to his computer desk and grabbed an unopened ream of paper he bought for this occasion.

“f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f”, he typed again with paper rolled under and around the platen. Oh, how he relished the array of senses: the familiar snap of the key, the feel of the keyboard, and the smell of the oiled machine and ink ribbon! So much more sensual than the dull, arcane feel of his computer keyboard and flat monitor, an amorphic, asexual world of digital ones and ohs – void of anything real or romantic. Stark. Sterile.

Before him, awaiting his touch, was an archaic animal – a behemoth compared to a tablet. Yet it was so much more connected to the fading past of the great writers: Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Crane and others. Well, he assumed Crane had a typewriter. Perhaps not. No matter.

For Roland, this carefully-engineered integration of metal was his gateway to other worlds he could never hope to find and explore in front of his PC. He sat down in a dining chair in front of the typewriter and shuffled the chair forward. Cracking his knuckles, he carefully position his hands over the keys.

“Now is the time for all good . . .” and stopped.

Do I say “men?” or “people?”

Then he continued on in defiance of political correctness, “MEN to come to the aid of their country –”

There was no exclamation mark on any of the keys. He searched and searched, and resorted to typing a period, backspacing, and typing a single quotation mark.

That’s gonna be a bitch, he thought to himself. He then remembered the quest, and realized unbridling his innate creativity through the use of this magnificent instrument far outweighed one or two inconveniences he might have to endure.

He pulled the sheet of paper from the typewriter, crumpled it, and threw it into the corner of his dining room.

Might as well prime the pump, he thought to himself, and inserted a fresh sheet of paper.

Roland was practiced at the art of emptying his thoughts in order to receive what he believed were the inspirations of his muse. In fact, he had become so adept at the skill, that now, hands poised above the Royal typewriter, his thought-room remained vacant. Nothing.

I need a prompt, he thought, and looked around his apartment from where he sat. Generic food prints on the wall. A hanging fern near the patio door, crinkling with brown dryness due to infrequent watering. The glass-covered coffee table, spotted with milky glass rings and residue from meals and snacks eaten in front of his flat screen TV.

He peered through the glass patio door to the outside court, dominated by a large water oak, now leafless in the last throes of winter. Its spindly branches reminded him of his father’s fingers, gnarled with arthritis.

He spent the next hour ruling out various subjects. NOT his mother or father, OR his siblings. Memoirs can never be true to the way life really is, he believed. Besides, other than his parents, everyone else he would include was still alive. His ex-wife would surely sue the pants off him if he published anything about their life together. His brothers and sister would disown him if he put down his real thoughts about them. Look at what happened to Christina Crawford, after all. Not that his parents were at all abusive, as Crawford claimed hers to be in Mommie Dearest. But it’s all relative, he thought, smiling at the pun. And though the estate had already been divided upon his father’s death, Roland knew it was not good to incur the wrath of his siblings.

What about a mystery? Too much work figuring out the interlaced plot line and characters, he surmised. Besides, so many victims over years of publishing – what unique death could he come up with? None, really.

Comedy? Nah. Life was definitely not funny at this particular juncture in his life.

Roland began to get nervous. Nothing was coming to mind except nothing.

Could it be? The unmentionable curse! How was it possible? With his new-old typewriter within inches of his reach? Sitting like a monolithic carving – begging for his fingers!

He lay his head down on the dining room table, his face nearly touching the typewriter. He could smell its metallic aroma. He breathed in slowly and closed his eyes. His breathing gradually deepened and grew sonorous. The gray side of the typewriter appeared blurred through his lashes. He envisioned pecking away on the typewriter, words imprinted to white paper rapid-fire. The click-click-clicking, the zip and ring of the carriage return as he ended a line. Anderson’s symphonic composition, The Typewriter, tapping brightly in the background of his reverie.

And he slept, only to awaken suddenly to the sound of a typewriter key striking the sterile face of the paper with a loud, mind-startling click!

On the paper, typed in a singular fashion – not by Roland – was the letter “T.”

Word count: 1,339




Roland examined the typed letter carefully, his mind racing – pinball bouncing on how the inked “T” ended up etched onto the sheet of paper in the typewriter. Did he do it? Possibly. Maybe sleep-typing, if there was such a condition. Made sense. He was a writer. He might have dozed off when trying to find something to write about – find some kind of prompt. In a sleep-daze, he might have then typed the letter.

Deep down he didn’t believe it was the answer. Something else.

He didn’t have a cat or a dog, so an accidental tap by animal couldn’t happen.

The door! He left the door to his apartment opened! He had been so intent on unwrapping his typewriter he was oblivious it was not shut! Someone – anyone – could have sneaked into the apartment while he slept and typed the letter!

But why? Wouldn’t they know it might awaken him and he would catch them? Besides, he had left his door unlocked – not necessarily open – dozens of times in the past. No one had ever broken in. In fact, no one had ever broken into any of the apartments in the complex. It was too upscale and well-lit. Maybe a couple of car break-ins, but nothing more.

            What time is it? he thought. Ten twenty-three. Late. About the time he habitually poured himself a couple of shots of Dewar’s to help him sleep through the night. Dewar’s was so much more effective than any other sleep concoction.

Then it dawned on him. The “T” was his prompt! Somehow his muse had come through! Just one little letter was enough to evoke a hundred possibilities in explanation to the mysterious “T!”

Brilliant! But what words begin with “T?” God, it could be anything! How many words begin with the letter “t?” And not just “t,” but capital “t?” Transylvania? Ticonderoga?

Roland resisted the temptation to go online and search how many words in the English language begin with the letter “t.” It would be crazy! Besides, who said the word was necessarily an English word? Which could compound the possible choices exponentially, he thought.

He sank in his chair, suddenly reduced to sullenness. If it was a prompt, it was lousy. He speculated his muse was not a muse at all, but maybe a muse-in-training, who lacked the experience and depth of, say, Shakespeare’s muse.

Probably like Clarence, who hadn’t yet received his wings and was assigned to George Bailey. In fact, the comparison was a little too close for comfort to Roland, Bailey being suicidal when Clarence finally intervened. This prompt – this one-letter “T” – far from fulfilled Roland’s thought of a wonderful life.

He shook himself and inhaled deeply through his nose, exhaling from his mouth. Out with the bad air.

Then Roland sat up straight in his chair, his back firmly against the chair back, and he raised his hands again over the typewriter keys. Perhaps the muse would respond to him coming half way. Ready to type. Ready to create – in spite of how he felt.

Something caught his eye. One of the operating keys glowed a soft orange. A momentary illumination, but just enough for Roland to notice it. It was the key down and to the right of the letter “T.”

It was the “H” operating key.

Roland shook himself. Eyes wide, he tapped the letter “H,” which resulted in the lower-case “h.” The key tapped onto the paper next to the first letter.

“Th” was now the prompt.

“THANK YOU!” Roland shouted, then realized it was late at night, and he had neighbors above, below and to the side of his apartment. He jumped up from the table and rushed to the front door, closing and locking it. Then returned to his seat in front of the typewriter, the hairs on the back of his neck standing in his exhilarated state of mind. He resumed his pose, hands above the keyboard, and anticipated what might happen next.


“Just how the hell many words begin with ‘Th?” he asked with in an irked tone of voice.

Still nothing.

Roland was resolute. He could be as stubborn as his muse. He would wait Clarence out – if it was Clarence. What’s the equivalent of a wingless personal angel? he wondered.

Hands hovering for three minutes, his arms and shoulders began to ache. He remembered the embarrassment of not being able to do even one pull-up in gym class in junior high school, and all of the other guys laughing at and mocking him.

Not this time! he vowed.

Finally, another glow. This time to the left of “T” by two keys.


“Ha HA!” he exploded! And he typed the “E” in lower-case.

“The!” he said in triumph. Nearly forty minutes had elapsed since he discovered the first letter. The muse would be forced to obey, he thought. Then he wondered if it was a muse at all. Maybe this was like when he play on the Ouija board with the girl who lived in the house next door when he was a kid. He liked her. She appeared to like him, but even then, Roland was not the most self-confident person. They both placed their fingertips on the magic planchette – the triangular piece of wood with a hole cut through. The piece was supposed to be guided by the spirit in the room, which would move across the board to answer any question.

“Does Roland like me?” the neighbor girl asked.

Slowly, barely perceptively, the planchette began to mysteriously migrate towards the word NO imprinted in one corner of the Ouija board. Then, just as mysteriously, the planchette changed direction – like a sailboat catching a different wind – and headed toward the word YES.

“You’re making it move!” the girl accused Roland, who grinned sheepishly and shook his head.

“No, honest! I’m not doing it! It’s the spirit!”

The thought crossed Roland’s mind, that like his Ouija board experience, he might actually be the one – and not his muse – directing the typing. What he didn’t understand is how the keys came to glow orange, but then it might just be the strain on his eyes this late at night. Or an off-chance reflection of the dining room lamp, which hung down from the ceiling, off the glass keys.

Whatever the truth, Roland spent the next five hours and more repeating the cycle of hands hovered over the key board, a slight glowing of the key to be typed, and depressing and typing the next letter onto paper.

The final part of the sentence was punctuation – which was a three-part process: A single quote mark, “’” followed by the backspace followed by a period, “.”

At four-thirty in the morning, Roland was exhausted – both sleep-wise and emotionally. His neck and shoulders, arms and back ached. While he had poured his two fingers of scotch hours earlier, the amber drink had remained untouched.

He sat back and stretched, confident the session was over. The sentence inked onto paper through the long ordeal was complete. A subject and a predicate. An intransitive verb. An enigmatic message. The beginning of his Great American Novel? Or none of the above?

Roland pushed back from the table in his chair and reached for the glass of scotch, which he tried to swig in one manly gulp – much like he imaged Hemingway would have done. The liquid burned at it went down, and Roland coughed a bit, glad no one was there to witness his drinking incompetency.

He stood, and looked at the sentence one last time, too tired to make the effort either of understanding the words, or to try to write down a second sentence. Roland shuffled into his bedroom and collapsed onto his bed, not bothering to strip off his clothing.

“The boy is not dead!” the sentence read.

Word count: 1,314


To See or Not To See


Roland heard the steady tick-tick-tick of the wall clock above his head and opened one eye. Early morning light flooded his room, and there was no way to turn the plastic blinds to darken the room any more. Besides, his head was still swimming from his swill of scotch.
He grabbed his Route 66 coffee mug – his favorite large-mouth cup – and poured the fresh coffee, then doctored his drink with half and half from the refrigerator.            Slowly rolling out of bed, he plodded into the bathroom, and splashed his face with cold water. Then he turned resolutely and shuffled into the kitchen where he zombie-like poured water, filter and coffee grounds into his Mr. Coffee. As the coffeemaker began to hiss and steam to life, he peered over the kitchen bar into the dining room at the typewriter. While he couldn’t read it from the kitchen, he saw the gray-black blur of type against the white paper.

He stepped into the dining room and stood over the typewriter, staring at the line of type as he sipped his morning medicine.

“The boy is not dead!”

There was no way around it. The words hadn’t changed during the night. And Clarence hadn’t added anything while he slept.

“The boy is not dead!”

He emptied his thoughts and walked into the living room, flicking on the TV with his remote, and sat on the couch facing the large rectangular screen as it gradually came to life.  It was still on the morning local news, and the weatherman – meteorologist as he declared himself – rattled off the various components of a cold February day to come.

The guy always sounded like he had a cold, Roland thought, and it was irritating.

“The jet stream is going to continue its deep dip south, and combine with the warm Gulf moisture in the late afternoon . . .” he droned.

More snow. More cold. More wind. It’s nice we’re having weather, Roland grimaced, holding his cup more like hand warmer, and grateful he didn’t have to bear the cold today. Such was the luxury of being a writer.

As the stuffy-nosed meteorologist continued, a thin red band crept across the bottom of the screen.

BREAKING NEWS . . . Police officials have no further leads or information about the two-year-old boy allegedly kidnapped from a major shopping mall three days ago . . .

Then the news cut away back to one of the morning anchors – a bleached blonde who was dressed in a bright red turtleneck top.

“Local Police Chief Darren Blount told WSPQ-TV 42 the result of almost four days of investigation has resulted in no new leads regarding the disappearance of 2-year-old Jayqhuon Jones from the Centerlink Shopping Mall last Friday. Mall video tapes still have not been released to the media, but Chief Blount says there is no footage of the young boy in the company of any suspicious person.

“Miranda Jones, mother of the missing boy, is pleading with the community to help in any way possible . . .”

The screen cut to a close-up of a very young woman with tear streaks running down her cheeks.

“Little Jayqhuon would not run away – somebody got to have some information, please! If you know anything, pleeeese call the police!” she cried.

A photo of Jayqhuon flashed onto the screen. He was opening presents in front of a Christmas tree, his eyes bright and wide and grinning broadly.

Back to the news anchor.

“Chief Blount asks if you have any information as to the whereabouts of Jayqhuon Jones to call the police department and ask for the Investigations Department. In sports, the number four ranked Duke Blue Devils barely survived . . .”

Roland clicked the TV off, and quickly walked back to the dining room table to sit in front of the typewriter. He set his coffee down and unrolled the sheet of paper with the typed sentence. The paper curled in his hands from being in the typewriter so long.

“The boy is not dead!”

This is not a story, he thought. Clarence is not trying to help me write a story. He’s trying to tell me something. About this boy? The missing boy? Jayqhuon?

“Is that what you are trying to tell me? Huh! You KNOW something about this boy and you’re trying to tell me he’s not dead?”

Nearly imperceptibly the return bell tinged.

Roland jumped up from his chair, the hair on his neck and arms standing.

“What the hell?!” he said aloud again. “This is NUTS!”

He scrolled the piece of paper back onto the platen and sat down, raising his hands over the keys.

“Okay! If this is what I think is going on, I don’t have time to mess around for another four hours. Are you trying to tell me the missing kid is the boy who is still alive? The boy is not dead boy?”

This time, in a matter of moments, an orange aura highlighted the “Y” key – and Roland didn’t have to wait for the next two.

“YES! You’re saying yes it’s the boy, right? I know I’m right! Just give me a sign, for god’s sake. A ding or something –“

Ding, went the return bell. Not soft. Not loud.


Roland ran around his apartment grabbing things: his keys, his wallet, his iPhone. He hadn’t showered or shaved in three days, and wore the same green flannel pajama bottoms and black hoodie sweatshirt as well.

It didn’t matter, he thought. Time was of the essence. Stuffing the typed-on paper in his sweatshirt hand warmer, he grabbed a ball cap from the coatrack in the hall, and rushed outside, nearly forgetting to lock his door.

As he drove, peering through a hastily scraped peep hole on his icy windshield, he played and replayed the scenario in his mind as he raced down the streets to the police department.

Typewriter. Mysterious message. Missing boy. “The boy is not dead!”

He arrived at the station after ten minutes of reckless driving – hoping he wouldn’t be stopped. But, hey – if they stopped him, even better. This was an emergency!

It wasn’t until he actually walked to the front door of the police station and saw his reflection in the glass Roland began to consider what his appearance might conjure in the minds of an investigator.

“Can I help you?” said a prim woman through a speaker. She was not unfriendly, but clearly had seen the better part of her career pass from behind the thick, bullet-proof glass.

“I’d like to see one of the detectives working on the missing boy case. You know, the Jayqhuon boy?”

“Have a seat, please. Someone will come out to talk to you in a moment,” she said, again matter-of-factly.  [Approximtely 5,000 words to this point.]

Roland wondered at the lack of interest or excitement on her part as he sought out where to sit in the waiting area. He chose one remote from where two other people sat, huddled together and looking overly worried. They were a young couple. White female, late twenties, no distinguishing features. Black male, mid-thirties, heavy-set, about 240 pounds, scar along the left side of his jaw, he thought to himself. Both were engaged with their smart phones, barely looking anywhere else. He wondered if they took any notice of his scrungy get up. He slid his bedroom slippered feet under his chair to hide that particular oddity.

Pulling out his iPhone, Roland began a diary of sorts in his notebook app: Police Station, he tapped into his device. Two – what? Visitors? And thought of Monopoly, glad he was Just Visiting. He remembered the incident where he was not just visiting, and had to call his wife to come bail him out at two in the morning. That was then.

“Someone here about the Jayqhuon Jones case?” a voice pierced the waiting room silence. The other two Just Visitors looked up from their smart phones, and stared at Roland curiously when he raised his hand in response and stood.

“See, I saw the report on the television this morning – ”

“Save it for the interrogation room,” the uniformed officer cut in bluntly.

The large man led Roland to a door where he swiped a card, and opened it after a loud click sounded. They walked quickly down a hallway, and past a large open room, where dozens of cubicles were occupied by other police men and women, all uniformed. Some were on phones, but most were casually chatting with each other, coffee cups in hand.

The officer again swiped at a door at the end of the hallway, which opened into a fairly small room. Squeezed into the space was a small table, and two metal chairs on either side.

“Have a seat, sir,” the officer directed Roland. “Someone will be in soon to talk to you. You want a cup of coffee?”

“Please,” said Roland, taking a seat and looking around the room.

The door shut behind the officer and Roland was left to his thoughts.

The interrogation room, he thought. A small video camera was tucked into an upper corner where the walls met the ceiling. He looked at it. There was no red light on. That’s good, he thought, although he wasn’t sure why it was good. He pulled his iPhone out and began adding notes he could go back to.

The door clicked loudly, and two officers entered the small space. A black uniformed woman stepped in first, and sat down in the chair opposite Roland. She was attractive, and relatively young, with short hair and very little make-up. She smiled broadly and reached her hand across the table.

“I’m detective Miriam Swift, and this is detective Marcus Hargrove.”

Hargrove was a huge white officer, with short cut reddish hair. He looked like an NFL tackle.

Swift and Roland shook hands. Hargrove held two coffee cups, and handed one instead.

“You want cream or sugar?” he asked.

“Black is fine.” Hargrove backed up to the corner behind Swift and leaned against the wall, holding his cup in one hand, and slipping the other into his front pocket.

“You have some information about the Jayqhuon Jones disappearance, Mr. . . .”

“Dumphreys. Roland Dumphreys.”

Swift took down Roland’s name, plus asked his address and phone number, age – all the usual questions.

“Ever been arrested?”

He answered with embarrassment, explaining quickly.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with this,” he added.

“Right,” Swift said. “So, Mr. Dumphreys – what is the information you have?”

It was at this moment Roland began to realize just how ridiculous – perhaps insane, even – what he was going to tell this woman would sound.

“Mr. Dumphreys?” Swift leaned in over the table, and Roland leaned away. He happened to glance at the video camera, and noticed a red light was on. He was being recorded.

“The boy is still alive,” he said, and pulled the rolled typewriter paper from his hoodie hand warmer and spread it out on the table between him and the detective.

She turned the paper so she could read the type herself. When she looked back at Roland, he was pretty sure he should have thought about everything before coming down to the police station in such haste. She glanced back at Hargrove, who stepped forward and looked at the paper.

“So tell me, Mr. Dumphreys . . . how do you know Jayqhuon Jones is still alive? And how did you come by this information?”

Both detectives leaned in toward Roland, awaiting his answers.

Word count: 1,927





My SNL 40th Anniversary Celebration Review

15 Feb

SNL 40 Year Anniversary:
You Can’t Go Home Again

By L. Stewart Marsden

One of the first sketches I remember of Saturday Night Live was a filmed bit Eddie Murphy did of an inmate who had been “discovered” by the art community. “Cil My Landlord,” I believe was the title of the sketch.

It was that perfect mix of satire and contemporary news – of the art community gravitating to the expressions of an incarcerated criminal – celebrating the creative genius of the riff-raff, and patting themselves on the back for their (the art community) sensitivity.

Cil, my landlord.

There’s something about new and breaking-the-mold events that are nearly impossible to recreate.

Star Wars. Jaws. Jurassic Park. Apple MacIntosh. A Chorus Line.

It’s difficult to repeat the same kind of response. The impact. So new. So different. So much beyond and outside the lines.

So, too, SNL.

If you could capture the moment and bottle it – the first “Live, it’s Saturday Night!” – and bottle it, it would have been like the Fountain of Youth; the elixir that would change the world.

The timing, the risk, the veritable uniqueness of the show was a one-time event.

And try as he might, the great Lorne Michaels could not duplicate the atom-smashing moment, and has not throughout the years.

Like so many other attempts: That Was the Week That Was; Hee-Haw; Laugh-In.

The 40th anniversary of SNL simply reminded me of how much time has elapsed. Forty damn years! Most of the stalwarts of the show have either died or gone to Hollywood to star in SNL-type movies – none of which I spent good money to see on the big screen, but waited to see on television. Netflix fare.

There are those I miss: Gilda Radner; the creative Eddie Murphy; the thinner, prat-falling Chevy Chase. Of course, John Belushi.

Now, SNL seems to be the bush league training ground for those who aim for bigger and better, even though bigger and better is relative. Their time at SNL seemingly unappreciated.

Today the humor is strained, at best. Actually, it’s unfair of me to assess it, because I no longer stay up for the show. Most of the times it’s reruns anyway.

The celebration of forty years on television was more of a statement of refusal to die than successful living. Somewhat pathetic. What once was unique and fresh is strained and filled with undo effort, like trying to pass a kidney stone, or correct an impacted bowel.

Tonight the celebratory three-hour telecast was more like a wake without the whiskey. There were laughs, of course, but they tended to be – at least for me – at the first few years. When SNL was new. When no one knew if it would extend beyond its first contract year. When Loren Michaels had something to prove and nothing to lose.

Tonight was almost like a Mad Magazine parody of SNL. All of the famous faces. Some of the funny snippets of sketches. And why the hell put Miley Cyrus as the featured artist, for god’s sake?

It was NBC’s vain attempt to mask the Brian Williams fiasco – even though several people – thank you Jim Carey – asked where Brian was. It was also the night when most sports fans were watching the NBA All-Star game (except me). It was the weekend when winter weather was the prevailing news.

Did you hear the thud?

Alas and alack, the 40th Anniversary of SNL did not live up to the 2-hour hype. Some moments, of course. But mostly, blah.

I wonder what the audience for the broadcast was?

After all, we’ve got the three-hour Oscars coming up. Oh, joy.


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 15 February, 2015

The Best! Valentine EVER!

13 Feb

The Best! Valentine EVER!

By L. Stewart Marsden


In the many years I have given and received valentines, there remains one gift that will forever come to mind on this auspicious occasion.

It was my freshman year at college. I’m not going to tell you how many years ago, but suffice to say it was a few years ago.

A girl I was dating at the time and I planned to spend Valentines Day by going to the fraternity I was pledging. That in itself is a story. I firmly believe that the classic film, Animal House, was modeled after Delta Pi Zeta, but I understand a west coast location was the honored frat.

My date, let’s call her Linda, and I went out to the local hamburger joint where the absolute best hamburgers ever were made. Two slices of Texas toast nicely browned, spread with Miracle Whip on one side, saturated with butter, with a slice of tomato, melted cheese, and a flap of lettuce all hugged a large square of beef (this was before Wendy’s). Um! Topped off with a thick vanilla milk shake! Um, um! I’m salivating as I write.

Then we exchanged valentines. I can’t remember what mine was. More than likely it was a stuffed bear. For me, stuffed animals were the magic elixir to a girl’s heart. And when you were on a budget, a $5.99 stuffed bear or rabbit was purrrr-fecto! So, I gave her whatever stuffed thing I was able to find at the five-and-dime (a clue as to how many years ago this story happened).

She gave me a box, nicely wrapped in heart-shaped wrapping paper. When I opened it, I nearly fell out of our booth where we sat eating.

A cake! Homemade, no less!

Heart-shaped! With red icing spread over the top and down along the edges. Little red roses adorning the bottom edge.

And on the top surface of the heart, the inscription: HAPPY VD!

It was written so large, Linda wasn’t able to spell out the words Valentines Day.


I guffawed and — had I sipped some Coke before I unwrapped it — would have spewed cola everywhere!


Of course I asked her if there was something I should know . . . though we had an innocent relationship.

We didn’t eat the cake. I wouldn’t allow it. Instead, I took it back to my dorm room at the end of the evening and hung it on the wall. It dried out over time, and one night crashed to the floor and broke into a hundred little pieces.




Happy Valentines Day, all!

Brutal, gut-wrenching critiques wanted: The Transplant rewrite

6 Feb

Leave me a comment below that you are willing to read and critique “The Transplant,” a rewrite I intend to include in the 2nd edition of “Through the Glass Darkly.” I’ll comment on your About page with the password to the story.

Protected: The Transplant — rewrite

6 Feb

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Honor, phishing and identity theft

5 Feb

Honor, phishing and identity theft

By L. Stewart Marsden


I’m not a member of the NRA, nor do I own a gun, but I’m really close to changing that.

About a month ago I received an email from someone I knew. In the email was the statement “open these attachments immediately!”

Because of the situation with this person, I clicked on a link that took me to Google, and several of my own pieces of writing appeared.

What the – ? How the heck did he get my documents?

I know all of you savvy techies are shaking your heads and clucking, tch! tch!

I’d been phished. Had. Horn-swaggled! Put over a barrel! Scammed!

That was about six weeks ago, and I ran my filter and other fix-ums software and figured the worst is over.

Oh, no. Not that simple.

So I coincidentally listened to an NPR report on phishing, identity theft – and something new to me: file hostage-taking. As I listened and learned about the evil and nasty thing hackers and others – the Chinese and the North Koreans and the Russians and all the other BAD GUYS in the world – are doing, it hardened my heart another layer. Even the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement cannot do anything about it!

I’m a self-proclaimed curmudgeon anyway, but those roots have now traveled down the backside of my buttocks, as Forrest Gump would say, down the sides of my thighs and calves (no, this is not an X-rated description), through my heels and along my plantar faciitus to finally split my toes and dig into the ground beneath me!

I’m pissed!

Maybe a thousand years ago there used to be something called “honor among men.” Even “honor among thieves!” But guess what? There is NO honor in Mudville! Civility and common decency have STRUCK OUT!

Obviously my little problem pales in comparison to the other ills in the world that hit the headlines almost hourly.

But, I’m still pissed!

Some jackass – who for whatever reason has it in for Bill Gates and Microsoft, or who got dumped by his girlfriend for uploading to Facebook a nude selfie she sent him, OR lost his job dipping the fries basket at MacDaddies when he picked up a couple of undone fries off the floor and tossed them into the hot oil, has really – REALLY – PISSED ME OFF!!

Obviously this worm, this virus, this evil incarnation of ones and zeros that is wreaking havoc on my computerized life, has dug itself deeply into the cranial cracks and crevices of my PC. Which PCees me off again!

But, I’ll survive this.

Change my debit card for the 4th time in three months. Scrap my PC and buy – ugh! – a cheap Dell. Reboot my vital information.

You, whoever you are − don’t have the capability to survive; to change. You are cast in a mold that relegates you to common hoodlisms, pecking about and doing damage where you will just for spite. You are raca (Matthew 5:22)! Go ahead, look it up. It’s in what is called a dictionary. 

But remember, whoever you are – wherever you are and operate . . . be fair warned!

I’m like Batman! The elderly version, to be sure. Or Liam Neeson – just a tad uglier, maybe. Or Clint the Squint Eastwood – only not so lean.

One day, sometime, somewhere, when you least expect it, someone will come up to you and say,

“Smile! You’re on Candid-we’re-locking-you-up-for-the-rest-of-your-life-you-low-life-scumbag-hacker-Camera!”

May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your and your family’s crotches for eternity!

Yeah, I’m pissed.



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