Town for sale. Cal-Nev-Ari, Nevada.

The cropduster I wrote into the book

The cropduster I wrote into the book

I've never been there but I wrote about it in Ruined Days, a thriller that got good reviews and few sales. I was there in my mind. Felt the dust and grit whipped up by the wind, saw the lone biplane, a yellow cropduster, rocking on its wheels until the desert wind subsided. Tri-cornered colored flags fluttered and snapped at an abandoned fireworks stand, and a lone telephone booth stood in the cheatgrass fifty feet from the flagged lot in its own version of abandonment.

The doors squealed on rusty hinges when Travis, my protagonist, entered the booth, and wouldn't quite close but who could hear him anyway? He made a call in that wood and glass booth, read off some coordinates from the cell phone he took in with him. The glass on the phone booth windows was somewhat frosted from the constant barrage of wind-borne grit. A half hour later a Cessna landed on the makeshift runway, but that's another part of the story.

I noired the community down some--it's bustling compared to what I wrote about it, but I needed it to be a bit more desolate.

Town comes with casino, volunteer fire department

Town comes with casino, volunteer fire department

The town is real. In the book it was for sale for fifteen million dollars. It went to seventeen mil a few months after Ruined Days was published, and now it can be had for eight million. Its name (pronounced CalNevAir) derives from its location in Nevada close to the California and Arizona borders. A couple named Slim and Nancy Kidwell pioneered the place about fifty years ago, Slim passed on, and now Nancy is ready to sell. As a successful prospect you'd buy the town, airstrip, casino with slots, a diner and a bar. Listed is a motel and various other businesses including a convenience store.

Of the 350 residents, some are pilots who keep their planes in their driveways and taxi to the nearby airstrip.

When the Kidwells came not much existed but a dusty military airstrip. They had to haul water from the Colorado River. They planted barley, dug a well, got a land patent from the BLM and the town was born. None of that was easy. They were true pioneers, the last of the breed some say. If she sells Cal-Nev-Ari, she plans to stay. She's been there over fifty years, and likes the view, the vibe. And the town likes Nancy, from what I've read.

If you're interested, there are reasons to buy. It's a casino town with its own airstrip. There's a motel. The highway, US Route 95, connects to Las Vegas less than 70 miles away. It's on the market and the listing is here. If you buy it, tell 'em I get six percent for pointing you there. Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal, but don't think Cal-Nev-Ari is ripe for a bunny ranch, as it's in Clark County where they're strictly prohibited. As of 2018, there's no income tax collected in Nevada. No corporate tax, no franchise tax, and no inventory tax. If I had eight mil, I'd be there. Writing and sculpting. I bet Freddie would even consider it. Great place for her jewelry and perhaps she'd learn to do a little cropdusting.

And it's sixty-eight degrees on this March third, compared to 20 in southeast Kansas. Maybe some of you well-heeled readers would like to go in with me. If you have a plane we could buzz over there.

This is as good a place as any to pitch Ruined Days, a pretty decent thriller. It can be accessed here.



A book for 2019, and maybe two

This may be the cover…

This may be the cover…

A book of essays, Chickens One Day, Feathers The Next, has muscled its way into line ahead of the thriller L.A. Hardscape, and some of the pieces are pretty sober. Some aren't. "Publishers Never Call," for instance, is downright silly. The title piece is about death, though the quote itself comes from the subject, USMC Captain A. Rudolph Green, who was a close friend and one of those crazy buddies for whom no escalation of whimsy was ever too much.

I recall the time he stood on the mat outside a grocery store which kept the glass door from opening outward until a gaggle of angry customers and the store manager were all shouting at him. He handed me the keys to his Jaguar and said, "We may need a fast getaway from this one," studying the effect of his experiment on the faces pressed against the glass. As I drove up, he stepped aside, and the crowd at the door fell outside upon one another. He leaped into the Jag roadster with the steaks he'd bought, and it was off to another adventure. I loved him for these outrageous moments and for the whiskey-fueled talks that lasted into the morning hours and may have involved philosophy of a very high level.

He once visited me at the University of Arkansas and, at a Razorback football game, was beside himself, helpless with tear-causing laughter, when the fans erupted with the victory cry, "Whooooo PIG, Soooooeyyyyy," "Did they really yell that," he'd say every time. "And you chose this school."

There are essays, memoirs, about horses, Louisiana, motorcycles,Tulsa, KC, Van Gogh, Cormac McCarthy, rejections, rodeoing, birds, advertising, boxing. Oh, it's varied and faceted, as we say when neglecting themes altogether.

Ben Carmean is working on a cover, which means the book will look professional, inviting, of interest. I hope you'll find it all of those and more. All my books have marvelous covers because they're all done by Ben. I don't know what I'll do when he finally says, "I'm not doing any more covers for you. You never paid me for the first one."

It's good enough to have merited a contract from the publisher who did Ruined Days and Resume Speed, and it will join those books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other sites.

John Paul Drum, thinking about this…

John Paul Drum, thinking about this…

So, if all goes right, 2019 will feature two more G-books. I just need to finish the other one. And, first friday in May, The Hilliard Gallery opening is a G-solo show, with a title from the Chickens book, "A Love Letter To Tensas Parish." Some of the sculpture is inspired by some boyhood time spent in St. Joe, Louisiana, and there will be deep south blues harp and guitar and drum music by John Paul Drum and The Big Three. Louisiana finger food and Mudbug Beer, too.

Some men and women from the parish will be presented in pictures and short bios; the mayor, a poet, a young distiller, a lady entrepreneur. I'm working on sculpture now and it's more fun than it probably should be. I saw things down there, or believe I did, that direct me in the welding of these pieces, some of which are effigial, some metaphorical.  Bayou freedom informs them. I can't explain it. Perhaps the pieces will speak for themselves. John Paul Drum's music will surely help. It should be quite fun and I hope you can make it. Six to nine, and later, May 3rd, Hilliard Gallery, 1820 McGee, Crossroads. Just follow the strains of southern blues in off the sidewalk. (Click this for a youtube of him and Nine Below Zero)









The compensatory richness of writing.

Nominations don’t mean you’re in, just closer…

Nominations don’t mean you’re in, just closer…

Sculpture paid little better than a hobby this last year, and the writing bought me a lunch or two. Fifty bucks here, five bucks there. Not enough to keep it up if I didn't love it. The poetry paid off in other ways though. This year brought three nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and the year before paid off in one nomination.

I'll try to put that in perspective; once a poem or piece is accepted in a journal or review, that's a bit of an award all its own. It means I got through the slush piles to acceptance, which means I became one of the few to be published in that issue. Maybe I was in the one percent to three percent. Then, out of the hundreds of poems published in that journal during the year, that poem was chosen to represent the review as a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. Each publication sends six nominees. Six.

The nominations are their own reward; to actually be included in the prize book is further winnowing of many entries. Sort of a pipe dream, but it could happen.

This poem was one of the six that the editor of Shot Glass Journal/Muse Pie Press sent this year. It's an introspective little poem that just popped out the day after my sister's funeral, when I was winterizing, titled Time to Think


Turn the pots over so they don't freeze and break.
Cold season again, each year the big flower pots of
concrete and glazed clay get heavier. The season got
heavier yesterday when my sister was buried, frigid
day, it snowed a bit just a shot across the bow, a
warning from the slate gray frigate bearing down.
Time to put the stock tank heaters out. Time to
think about time. Not so much of it left I think.

The following day an email informed me that No Tokens had submitted "Grapette" as one of their six nominations. It, too, deals with age, and my sister, though from a lighter angle.

The best for a hot kid on a hot Louisiana day. RC is a close second. Then Nehi.

The best for a hot kid on a hot Louisiana day. RC is a close second. Then Nehi.


I pour grape juice into an old bottle

one I've cleaned and judged suitable

for pretending the contents are Grapette

and I'm a small boy in Louisiana

 I drink and see pecan trees and the

edge of the bayou where I ventured to

find a dead cow, legs up, vultures

busying about looking like old men in

 feathery overcoats the smell overpowering

and I ran home chased by swamp things

like The Heap, a comic book I allowed

into my fears and troubled dreams

 then, the sunshine again. Some safety by

the front stoop, a dog that would guard me,

my annoying sister who told me I was

in trouble, but she always told me that.

 The only thing missing is the fizz that

made me belch when I drank too fast and

and then I see the satellite dish in the

farmyard on a post and I'm old again.


The poem that Ramingo's Porch sent is dystopian, much longer, practically an epic poem titled The Undefeatist, and rather than reproduce it here, I'll just provide this link. You can access it if you wish. (It first appeared in Longshot Island as a set of poems titled Thunderbolt Poems—it’s the second poem down.)

  Other things happened on the writing front. I submitted some guest blogs that were accepted, and some articles. I made a foray into film with an article that Stage 32 liked enough to publish. Click here for that one.

  I'm happy to say I made it into Rattle twice in one year, no small accomplishment for me as I've been trying to crack that ceiling for a couple of years. The latest attempt won Editor's Choice in their monthly Ekphrastic Challenge where you pair up a poem with a supplied piece of art. Its title is Locked Brakes on Blacktop, and both the poem and the artwork can be found here.

  The downside? 314 rejections. That can get old, especially in an unbroken string week after week. But it's like mining, I guess. You just keep chipping away--the vein might be a few feet ahead in the dark tunnel. You can't stop now. And with each written word, hopefully, you're getting better at the game. Who knows, that next novel might be what I need to strike it middle class.







A Room with a Vision

The Sears Vallonia could be configured for five or eight rooms, one bath. The line forms here.

The Sears Vallonia could be configured for five or eight rooms, one bath. The line forms here.

When my folks moved to Tulsa in 1949, was our first house there a Sears kit home? Could be. It sure looked like this one described as "Offered for a mere $1,465 in 1921, the Sears Vallonia could be configured to include five or eight rooms, depending on whether the owner wanted a second floor. The exterior is characterized by its large porch and a broad dormer with a three-paned window." (Compliments of Bob Vila, in an article on vintage catalog kit houses.)

Vallonia or not, wherever we moved, I always got the topmost floor with leaning ceilings that would bump my head if I wasn't careful.

The folks went to the trouble of selling me on this particular upstairs attic-like room. (“Hell, boy, I wish I’d had a room like this when I was your age.” I’m betting he had a better one. This was my stepfather who called me “boy” because it was kind of John Wayne-ish back then. Or was he calling me Hellboy, which would have been way cooler.)

I was born too late. I could’ve had a Caddy with paper route savings .

I was born too late. I could’ve had a Caddy with paper route savings.

The Sell. That’s how I knew it was a raw deal. Hot as hell in summer, stuffy in winter. But there was no wiggle room, I knew I was stuck. My sister got a room with the adults downstairs. The Sell. They used it for broccoli, for “applying yourself” at school. For acting more like polite kids who are probably doing time in Leavenworth if they’re still alive.

But I learned to deep-read in this room thanks to stuff the previous owner left as not worth carting away. In this Vallonia-like house on Wheeling Ave. in Tulsa, a huge stack of old Saturday Evening Posts and Fortunes was my inheritance. Fascinating stuff. They'd been there since the 20's, and bore the owner's name on mailing labels on the covers.

The gateway drug to motorcycles…

The gateway drug to motorcycles…

I looked at every page of every magazine, marveling at the low costs of automobiles in the 1930s (Cadillacs for $800 up) and reading wonderful fiction stories about Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor Company. I probably read my first F. Scott Fitzgerald story in one of them. There were also some Ladies’ Home Journals in there, but the Fortunes and Posts captured my interest. The covers were thrilling and the stories and ads whirled me back in time. They were musty smelling but the inks were bright due to their time-capsule-like storage.

I read that "the war to end all wars" was WWI, and it puzzled me greatly because the year was 1949 and WWII had ended four years before. Why hadn't the first big war prevented the second? But I didn’t dwell on existential questions for long. By the dormer windows in a cabinet I found a neat pile of vintage Popular Mechanics with ads for Velocette motorcycles, Whizzers and King Midget automobiles. How to make your own Jet Pack. I could fly out that dormer window and buzz the neighbors, zoom over to Utica Square, strafe the mean dog on Peoria with my Red Ryder BB gun.

I was introduced to flying automobiles and a car that would become a boat as you drove into a lake or the ocean. Cooking with radar and microwaves—like that would ever happen.

1949 was the year, Truman was president, and a wildly inventive car had just come on the scene, one with an enveloped silhouette without bulbous fenders, the 1949 Ford. The Sears Roebuck catalogs listed televisions and it looked like we might get one. Tulsa was a boomtown, Oil Capital of the World, and I was infected for life with the optimism of the era.


To this very day, I think “It’s a Tulsa kind of Day,” when things are going right and I’m relatively free of aches and pains, and the dogs are playing as we walk. The 1949 Ford in the driveway somehow reifies and bridges the feeling first encountered in the maybe-Vallonia on Wheeling Avenue. A room with jetpacks, cheap Cadillacs and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and outside that room, an infectious boom town attitude and blue skies and the world on a string.

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”




"Where do you get your ideas?

I was heading out on the road from my driveway to walk.  A truck stopped, disgorged four or five people who were, it seems, there for the farm tour and the winery store down the road. A man stood looking at me, fists on his hips, rared back, said, gruffly, loudly. Even accusingly. "You do all this stuff?" He looked around, surveying an expanse of pasture, fence, house, vehicles, maybe two sculptures. I'd been asked that in the past, and learned the shortest answer suffices. "Yessir!" I answered matching volume and gruffness. He looked around more. Meanwhile a woman had sidled up. Her question was, "Where do you get your ideas?" 

Now, this is a benign though broad query impossible to answer. I have a story concocted about conjuring. "I build a fire of sage and hedge, read the smoke. I import pigeons from New Orleans, hexed birds from a priestess down there, and I roast one over the fire. Then I conjure over it. It tells me what to do and I do it."

Everything is connected. It’s in the book.

Everything is connected. It’s in the book.

Instead I said, "I don't know. It just sort of happens." That amused all of them, and they conferred over it as I walked away. I played with the thought that the lady was quite serious. Maybe she thought there was an idea store, where silly ideas cost maybe fifteen cents, good ones ten bucks and up. An idea box store.

Where did I get ideas anyway? When I started out in advertising, a notorious sucker-upper of ideas, in a small agricultural print agency in Omaha, I wondered if I would have enough ideas to make a career of it. Daily I scoured the ideascape of my mind for anything that might apply to the problem at hand. Usually how to present grain bins or pesticide or hoof-rot cures to farmers and ranchers. Boilerplate describes the accepted approach.  

Cows in galoshes and gun-toting ag sprays masqueraded as ideas for awhile, but I wanted more substantial stuff. I wanted Bill Bernbach Volkswagen ideas.

An unprepossessing little book…

An unprepossessing little book…

This was about 1961. I frequented old book stores and thrift shops back then, as now. A book printed in 1940 titled "A Technique for Producing Ideas" found me. It was by James Webb Young, an ad icon. A slim hardback of about forty pages with a ho-hum dust jacket. The designer hadn't read the book. I read some of it there, the rest sitting in my shitty old Valiant. I read it again at home. At work. In bars, waiting rooms, lunch counters.

It's a great book. Great. As with a lot of the really great books, people "update" it, improve it, write new forewords to it--my advice, get the original. A first edition can be found for around $25. Five bucks if you're thrift-shop lucky. If it's in hardback it'll always be an old one. One of them has a foreword by Bill Bernbach--you can't go too wrong on that one. The original's foreword is by Reinhold Niebuhr, and it needs no refurbishing, even by a giant like Bernbach. But many things ain't broke, and they get fixed anyhow (in the book you'll find the Pareto principle and some Paretoisms which deal with that a bit).

I'm not going to tell you what's in the book, but here's a rather too-long review of it, the later edition, by a 2012 Brain Picking. Worth a scan if not a read. Get the book.

It’s called “Everything is Connected.”

It’s called “Everything is Connected.”

On the day the lady asked me "Where do you get your ideas?" I had begun a sculpture. It's called "Everything is Connected," and, as you'll discover by reading Young's book, it's a bit of a coincidence. Or is it? I had started the piece desultorily, not knowing where it might be going. I had a couple of nicely closed pieces of square tubing from Machine Head, and thought I might use them as the base for the piece. They ended up sort of swinging around in the air instead.

So, where did I get that "idea?" From the past. Connections. Some applied physics. Some things that worked and knowing I could weld mild steel to cast iron if it penetrated well enough. Stuff like that. And a certain lack of fear of being wrong, or being derided. In sculpture as in writing there's their way, there's my way, and there is no "the" way. Get the idea? You will if you get the book. Guaranteed. It's not full of a lot of BS or convoluted exercises.

May your ideas be many and bright.



I'm going back someday, come what may, to Blue Bayou

Looks like sculpture to me…

Looks like sculpture to me…

If only in my mind and sculpture and MacBook. Back before the beginning of time, or so it seems, I roamed St. Joseph, Louisiana, the parish seat of Tensas Parish. (Pronounced ten-saw, by the way, like Arkansas) As we get older, I'm told, we become more in touch with our youth and more aware of the distance between now and then. That particular season of my existence began to surface after a spring storm this year which downed some fair-sized trees at Wise Acres. Too large and too heavy to drag off to the brush pile, I resigned myself to sawing them up into manageable chunks.

But the more I looked at them, the more they reminded me of something. Something I had seen many years ago. Tupelo and cypress trees in the bayou, reaching barkless dead fingers out of backwaters and sloughs. And something else. Art made of these expressive pieces of nature. Primitive art, all the more powerful for its lack of, or even avoidance of, artistic sophistication.

I was also experiencing writing blockage on a novel I'm trying to finish for publication in 2019. A switch to sculpture often frees up creative inertia in writing so I began making pieces influenced by childhood memories of Tensas Parish. I became so immersed in it that I didn't much care about the writing; it has become an idée fixe, and the show even has a name this early in the game. "A love letter to Tensas Parish."

A fascinating man, Mayor Fields… (Washington Post Photo)

A fascinating man, Mayor Fields…(Washington Post Photo)

Four pieces in, I decided to contact some people from there. A talented poet/librarian named Garland Strother surfaced online. He agreed to send me a picture and a short bio. I will be posting his Tensas-oriented poems and materials at the show. I found a young entrepreneur from Tensas Parish, an LSU grad, Joel Brannan, who is building a distillery for his Magnolia brand vodka. I talked to the Mayor, Elvadus Fields, for a delightful hour. The list of honorees is growing.

If you come to the show (Hilliard Gallery, KC crossroads, May, 2019, First Friday May-June) expect to see representatives of Tensas Parish and St. Joe, the parish seat, on the walls. These are interesting people. All the more so, because they belong to an exclusive club: the least populated parish in Louisiana, and they're all making marks.

A little about that neck of the bayou: there are three towns in the parish, St.Joseph, Newellton and Waterproof. The parish butts up to the Mississippi River, and has a couple of big oxbow lakes. Lake Bruin is about 3,000 acres of extremely clear water.

Among the celebrated from Tensas Parish is a bodyguard for Huey P. Long who was present at the "assassination." That's in quotes because it's looking less and less like a murder and more like a ricochet accident. The assailant may not even have been armed, but the gun (they say) he had was a .32 revolver. Long died from a .38 caliber wound. Check it out here for some fascinating history.

Part of what makes Louisiana, Louisiana…

Part of what makes Louisiana, Louisiana…

I shot my first duck in the parish bayou, a merganser. We were in a johnboat among the cypress trees, my stepfather, me, and a sweet water spaniel named Suzy who lived with us later in Tulsa. The shotgun was nearly as tall as I was, an Ithaca 16 guage pump that still hangs on the wall all these years later. The duck hit the water but was alive enough to slip in among the cypress roots and evade us. Suzy jumped into the water and caught it, swam back to the boat. It was the only duck we got that day.

So, a rite of passage occurred down there. But I quit hunting altogether about forty years ago. Blasting unarmed creatures when you don't need to do that to survive was counter to my idea of myself. Many things are. But the good people of St. Joe and nearby towns own qualities I would do well to aspire to, even at this late date.

Tensas Parish keeps declining in numbers, in income, in solutions. But I'm thinking with notables like those I've mentioned and those I'll meet, that may start to reverse itself. The mayor mentioned a lady named Vivian who left St. Joe to get a top nursing degree in Maryland. She came back and is investing in the town. She runs a restaurant and is rehabbing a derelict mansion as a home for women who need a sanctuary. I want to get her bio and a photo for the show. And others. I hope to have a nice wall of fame for the show in May. Y'all come, hear?

And I hope that book is on Amazon by then, and you've got a copy and recommended it to your book club and Oprah, and my royalties are better than the $12.74 I got last quarter.