I have a copy of the 1948 second edition of Writers: Try Short Shorts! by Mildred I. Reid and Delmar E. Bordeaux, published by Bellevue Books, Rockford, Illinois. Mildred got her handsome photo on the back of the dustjacket. Delmar did not. We learn that Mildred conducted writing classes at her studio in the Chicago Loop and at her writing colony in the New Hampshire mountains. We learn nothing about Delmar. But a quick look on Amazon reveals that our man Delmar is the sole author of Cosmetic Electrolysis and the Removal of Superfluous Hair, which sounds like a delightful title for a very short story. Amazon will let you have the book for $299.99, not eligible for Prime. We also learn that Delmar’s middle name is Emil. Mildred and Delmar list the eight types of short shorts: the Complication Short-Short; the Character Short-Short; the Decision Short-Short; the Reconciliation-Alienation Short-Short; the Psychological Short-Short; the Dilemma Short-Short; the Parallel Action Short-Short; the Identity Short-Short. All of which are explained in Flash! All of which you get to write!





After winning the Academy Award, Matthew McConaughey thanked his parents, Jennifer Garner, and Jared Leto.


After winning the Academy Award, Matthew McConaughey thanked his parents, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto.

Without the comma we have a false appositive.


Mary was proud of her recipes for cupcakes: marzipan, almond and coconut and chocolate chip.

(Is it almond and coconut or is it coconut and chocolate chip or are all three combined?)

Book dedication: To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

The writer is a demigod with an inherited tin ear for language?

Since you have to use it in some cases to prevent confusion, be consistent, and use it always.


As I Lie: Plotting

A partial glossary of terms associated with plot. Found in the late Shuffles Marquis’ book As I Lie: Plotting, which is, alas, long out of print and almost impossible to locate. I was fortunate enough to find a signed first edition in my uncle Butch’s safe deposit box after he died (bathtub/hair dryer). Butch and Shuffles had been close.



aplothecary noun, one who provides literary assistance when a plot is ailing; book doctor


chamber-plot, noun, a bit of low comedy, a bedroom farce


coffee-plot, noun, a story set in the milieu of café society


crockplot, noun, a cock and bull story


implotent adjective, unable to rise to a plot


jackplot, noun, a story concerning gambling, often set in Monte Carlo


pleniplotentiary adjective, invested with the full power of plot


plotability noun, the ability to drink in the plot


plotable adjective, suitable for a plot


plotagerie noun, (rare) a collection of plots


plotamography noun, a graphic design of a plot


plotamologist noun, one who studies and analyzes plots


plotamology a branch of literary science that deals with plotss


plotamophilous adjective, plot-loving


plotarite, noun, the naturally occurring material used to fashion plots, as in “Your Uncle Ray’s drinking problem is all the plotarite you need.”


plotash , noun, that which is cut from the plot in revision and discarded or burned


plotashery noun, revision (see plotash)


plotass noun, someone stupid when it comes to plot


plotassium noun, anything that is poisonous to your plot


plotato head noun, (slang) a person obsessed with plot to the exclusion of character and theme


plotatory adjective, of or related to plot


plot-au-feu noun, a large traditional French plot


plotawatami noun, a plot specifically concerning a North American Indian people of the Great Lakes


plot-bellied adjective, a plot that is thick in the middle


plotboiler noun, any book heavy on plot


plot-bound adjective, a story in which there is no room for further character growth


plotch noun, a spot, a blotch, a blemish on your plot


plotcock noun, a devilish element in your divine plot


plot de chambre noun, where French writers dispose of their plotash


plot du jour noun, today’s featured plot


ploteau noun, an elevated but flat plot, one that does not rise to a climax


ploteen noun, a drink favored by Irish writers when fashioning stories


plotency noun, the ability to achieve climax in a plot


plot-et-fleur noun, a decorative plot set in a florist shop


plotform noun, a stage on which your characters act out their struggles


plothead noun, an habitual user of plot


plotinize verb, to wax philosophical in your plot


plotless adjective, characteristic of an immoral story


plotemkin village noun, the unpleasant result when you only concern yourself with the façade of your fictional setting


plotentate noun, a prince of plot


plotential noun, having the capacity to develop into a plot


ploteresque adjective, relating to or being a 16th century Spanish style of plot, distinguished by a wealth and richness of ornamentation


plotform noun, a stage on which theatrical performers, or other persons show themselves to an reader


plotful adjective, thick with plot


plothanger noun, a bit of gossip on which one hangs a plot


plothead noun, a reader who inhales plots


plothole noun, a hollow spot in your story; a defect


plotitude noun, 1. a plot that is flat, dull, trite, or weak; commonplace; 2. a cool, cocky, defiant, or arrogant plot


plotling, noun, a minor character


plot liquor noun, see plottie and ploteen


plotluck noun, the luck or chance of succeeding events in a story


plotmeal adverb, a plot constructed piece by piece


plotment noun, a portion of your plot


plotomania noun, a morbid craving for plot


plotometer noun, a bit of quackery: a device once sold to novice writers which promised to measure the effectiveness of plots


plotoon noun, a story featuring a small body of foot soldiers


plotorious, adjective, of or relating to plot


plot roast noun, a story that simmers for a long time before it’s done


plotsticker, noun, moments in the writing when the action stalls


plot-shotten adjective, intoxicated by plot (see plotzed)


plottable noun, a story capable of being plotted


plottage noun, (pejorative) excessive plotting, as in a mess of plottage, not to be confused with a mess of pottage from the excessively cooked stew of that name and meaning something valueless


plottee noun, the central character, he or she who is the subject of the plot


plottery noun, the business of writing a plot


plottie noun, a bracing beverage favored by fiction writers and other plotters


plottocrat noun, a member of the plottocracy, most often a creative writing professor who derives power from publication


plotty adjective, pertaining to a story with lots of plot (see plottage)


plot-valiance noun, boldness in the construction of plot induced by ploteen (q.v.)


plotwise adjective, smart when it comes to plot


plotz intransitive verb, an explosion of joy at the success of your plot, as in “When I finish my novel, I’ll plotz.”


plotzed adjective, drunk with story

                 Butch and Shuffles 

                 Butch and Shuffles 

execrable prose

When I realize that the grotesque and toxic ideology of Ayn Rand is about to be elevated by the installation of an unprincipled government, I take some comfort in the words of Flannery O'Connor:  I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.

Doris Dufresne 1926-2016

The oblivion we come from ends, and our lives begin, with our earliest memory. My life began when I was two years, two months, and two weeks old on the day that my newborn sister was carried home to our apartment—the apartment with the leaky roof, the ice box, the console radio, and the walk-through closet to the Vanderhoofs’ living room, at 16 Security Road, in the Lincolnwood public housing project—began when I had my first nightmare, and in the morning, my first conversation.

            I woke up crying because in the night, and despite my vigilance, a band of shadowmen crossed the kitchen along the green walls, past the table and behind the stove and slipped through the crack in the closed door to the baby’s room. I screamed, but none of the inattentive adults in the living room heard me, and then the worst thing that could happen did happen. I told Mom that Paula had been stolen by the shadowmen. She assured me that she would never let anything bad happen to her babies. She told me I’d had a dream, that’s all, and explained what a dream was, but I found her explanation preposterous: how can we see things that aren’t really there? She showed me a comic book on the coffee table—Lefty borrowed them from Uncle Richard—and pointed out the source of my evil two-dimensional shadowmen there on the illustrated page. I kept crying; she lifted me onto her lap, rocked me, and rubbed my back. She offered to take me to see the living, sleeping baby, but I didn’t want the backrub to end.

            We all wanted to be alone with Mommy. She was most herself in solitude or when she was with one of her children. Cyndi remembers a long ride to Old Orchard Beach sitting in Mom’s lap, her head on Mom’s chest, feeling the vibration of Mom’s voice as she spoke with Dad and being comforted as she might once have been in the womb. She remembers mornings when she was four, drinking coffee with Mom at the kitchen table, the two of them chatting about the long day in front of them, Mom would iron and watch her stories, Cyndi would color outside the lines, chatting, sipping, and waiting for the Cushman Bread man to arrive with his treasure of coffee cake. Paula remembers Mom showing up at school and walking into the classroom with Paula’s forgotten lunch, and at that moment and for the first time, Paula realized how beautiful her mother was. Mark loved lounging with Mom on the couch in the den watching Boston Movietime. State Line potato chips and Polar cola were involved.

            Doris had simple needs: enough money to pay the bills, to buy us back-to-school clothes at the Mart and groceries at the Big D, and maybe a little extra for a long weekend at the beach. She wanted to be happy, but she had a complicated relationship with happiness. She yearned for it, but she didn’t trust it. Too much well-being tempted fate and summoned trouble. She was a realist, not a romantic; a pessimist at times, but never a cynic. And she did know how to have fun despite her caution and those intimations of her mortality.

She liked bingo, candlepin bowling, and shopping, especially pock-a-book shopping. She led the hora dance at every wedding, often with her son-in-law Denis, the guy she once told Paula to dump—he’s too much like your father. She threw legendary Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve parties. Everyone she and Lefty knew was invited and all of them showed up. Some Christmas mornings we had to step around senseless and snoring survivors to get to the gifts. She could get silly as on a recent girls’ night out in Wilmington with Cyndi, when, after shopping and a doctor’s visit, the two of them had a pillow fight in the hotel room, and Doris laughed till she peed her pants. Or at her coronation as Miss America in the living room with the terrifying orange and brown Spanish furniture at 177 Warner Ave, she in her two-piece brown bathing suit, golden sash, and plastic tiara, a makeshift scepter, posing for photos as Mark sang, “Here she comes . .  .”

            In her salad days, Dot could drink like a Jesuit. When she did, she saved her drink stirrers at the bar so she’d know when she’d had enough. Are nine gin and tonics enough? Are they ever enough? She relied on routines like the drink stirrers to give her a sense of control, I think. She was determined to face life on her own terms. When she finally quit smoking, she kept a carton of Pall Malls in the freezer. Now she had the choice. To smoke or not to smoke. No one was going to tell her to quit. She would decide.

Some of her decisions in this regard seemed perverse and baffling. She had a long secretarial career at Lawrence McCoy Lumber Merchants but refused full-time employment with benefits and paid vacations. I guess you could say she was stubborn. She chose to work there all those years as a temp for Manpower. She said in that way she could call in sick any day she wanted to. She might need to get some tanning in before the weekend, for instance. It was her habit to lie in the sun on a chaise longue in our blighted backyard from early April till Labor Day, and by late May, she was nut brown. She slathered her body in baby oil laced with iodine. She never got skin cancer. She lived till 90 without a wrinkle.

I would call her parenting style laissez-faire. Hands off. Summers at 84 Warner Ave, she’d lock the door after lunch and say I’ll see you at five. What if I have to pee? Use your imagination. Use the woods. You were on your own, but you didn’t want to betray her trust. She had her limits. There was nothing so scary as trying to sneak in the house at three in the morning, tiptoeing across the kitchen, thinking you’d made it, and then look to the living room and see the cherry of her cigarette glowing in the dark and hear her say, “Sit down.” We ate the same meals on the same days for years. We ate early—4:30 or 5. Our table talk ran to imperatives and complaints: You’re not leaving the table until you’ve eaten every last bite of your supper; Stop playing with your food; My jaw hurts from chewing; I can’t let the vegetables touch the meat, and This spinach is making me sick. All the while Shep was under the table devouring our refuse. Dot may have left us largely to our own devises, but she did raise four kids who love one another and cherish the families we come from and are a part of.

Like her father before her, Dot did not trust doctors, not as far as her own physical or emotional health was concerned. She refused to answer questions or volunteer information.  Her fears and her regrets were her own and were nobody’s business. She defied the world with what I think of as an insecurity blanket held close to her chest. You could see it, but she wouldn’t let you take it away. She may have been in need, may have felt weak, but to admit to vulnerability was intolerable. She told me that she had secrets that she never shared with anyone, not friends, not family. And she wasn’t starting with me. She loved a crisis, just not one of her own. She sprang into action when someone else was hurting. When a sibling needed a place to stay, Dot invited them into her home. Aunt Bea lived with us for a time, so did Uncle George, and Aunt Lou and her kids. The Dufresne family always got more interesting and lively and unpredictable when the Berards moved in, especially the Berards named Holland.

            Unlike her husband and her siblings, Doris was not a storyteller. But on a road trip from Worcester to Tampa a couple of years ago, Doris, who was geographically challenged, and who said as we crossed the George Washington Bridge, “Is this Virginia or are we still in New York?” surprised me with some family revelations. She confessed that she regularly lied to her parents when her sister Bea, the wild one, snuck out the window to meet a date. She was here all night in bed with me, she told them. An aunt, I learned, was left at the altar, but later married the man with cold feet. Andy and Hector Berard, who married the sisters Bea and Agnes Lucier, claimed to be brothers, were thought to be cousins, but were not, in fact, related at all. Her sister Paulette died at birth. She and her friends got so rowdy in a New York hotel that the security guard was called to warn them about the noise. He stayed and partied with them for two hours. Three days of revelations on that trip, not the great revelation, to quote Virginia Woolf, that never came, but little illuminations, like matches struck unexpectedly in the dark. In Savannah, as Mom and I were walking back to the hotel from supper in the rain, she with her cane and slippery boots, me holding onto her arm with one hand and the umbrella with the other, a man passing us said, “Hello Teenagers!” and then a woman offered to sell me a palm rose for “your lady.”

            Doris died with an unbeaten record in the Last Person Standing football pool, but not before selecting her remaining picks for the season. She did not go gentle into that good night. She raged against the dying of the light. But she was weary at the end and said so. She was ready. She was tired. When she lost the use of her legs in the final weeks, she told me if she were 60 she’d be angry, but she was not.

Memories are our waking dreams. They’re how we see the people who aren’t really  here. We remember them and we tell their stories. That’s how we keep them with us, how we keep them alive, how we save them from oblivion, how we make meaning, make sense of the world and of our own lives. Stories and memories offer our only happy ending. My last memory of Mom is of her asleep in her hospice room. I looked at those arms that held me, those hands that rubbed my back and wiped away my tears, and in her hands she held a laminated prayer card of Lefty from Mercadante’s Funeral Home. Those hands. That marriage. Good night, Memere Dot. So long, Doris. Goodbye, Mom.

Salinger's Jackets

In the 1950s Salinger had a clause put in his publisher’s contracts that insisted only the text of the title of the book and his name were to appear on any future editions of his work, and absolutely no images. This hard line was particularly prompted by an early fatal experience with a publisher who covered a collection of short stories, then titled for Esmé – with Love and Squalour (after one of them) with a dramatic illustrated portrait of a seductive blonde. Salinger’s outrage is understandable: his Esmé is a precocious young girl of seven, and the story depicts a chance encounter and redemptive conversation with a solider on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see how various publishers and nationalities have dealt with Salinger’s legal one-liner over the past half-decade of reprints and new editions.

I have a 1961 paperback edition bought long agi=o at a used book store. The copy was bought in December 1961 by Phyllis Kirshenbaum. Phyllis, if you're out there. I'm finished with your book and will gladly return

Andy and Agnes

I bought a bag full of photos this morning at the flea market as is my custom. I was delighted to find this gem among the pictures. Think of it as today's short story waiting to be written. Whose idea was it to come to the house of anti-gravity anyway? Sure, it's just an illusion, but it still makes the head spin. Why did Andy, or was it Agnes, think this was just the excursion to put some zip back into the marriage? Where are they headed when they leave? Lunch? Agnes wonders how she'll keep anything down. Back to the El Ranchero Motel? 

A Civilized Person


Donald Trump has failed at every one of Chekhov’s criteria for civilized people:


1) They respect human beings as individuals and are therefore always tolerant, gentle, courteous and amenable ... They do not create scenes over a hammer or a mislaid eraser; they do not make you feel they are conferring a great benefit on you when they live with you, and they don't make a scandal when they leave. (...)

2) They have compassion for other people besides beggars and cats. Their hearts suffer the pain of what is hidden to the naked eye. (...)

3) They respect other people's property, and therefore pay their debts.

4) They are not devious, and they fear lies as they fear fire. They don't tell lies even in the most trivial matters. To lie to someone is to insult them, and the liar is diminished in the eyes of the person he lies to. Civilized people don't put on airs; they behave in the street as they would at home, they don't show off to impress their juniors. (...)

5) They don't run themselves down in order to provoke the sympathy of others. They don't play on other people's heartstrings to be sighed over and cosseted ... that sort of thing is just cheap striving for effects, it's vulgar, old hat and false. (...)

6) They are not vain. They don't waste time with the fake jewelry of hobnobbing with celebrities, being permitted to shake the hand of a drunken [judicial orator], the exaggerated bonhomie of the first person they meet at the Salon, being the life and soul of the bar ... They regard praises like 'I am a representative of the Press!!' -- the sort of thing one only hears from [very minor journalists] -- as absurd. If they have done a brass farthing's work they don't pass it off as if it were 100 rubles  by swanking about with their portfolios, and they don't boast of being able to gain admission to places other people aren't allowed in (...) True talent always sits in the shade, mingles with the crowd, avoids the limelight ... As Krylov said, the empty barrel makes more noise than the full one. (...)

7) If they do possess talent, they value it ... They take pride in it ... they know they have a responsibility to exert a civilizing influence on [others] rather than aimlessly hanging out with them. And they are fastidious in their habits. (...)

8) They work at developing their aesthetic sensibility ... Civilized people don't simply obey their baser instincts ... they require mens sana in corpore sano.





Some people don’t like semicolons:


Kurt Vonnegut: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.”


Gertrude Stein: “[Semicolons] are more powerful more imposing more pretentious than a comma but they are a comma all the same. They really have within them deeply within them fundamentally within them the comma nature.”



Some do:


Abraham Lincoln: “With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semi-colon; it's a useful little chap.”


Lewis Thomas: “I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.”


Why Vonnegut gets so exercised about semicolons is puzzling. First of all he uses them. Here in the last sentence of his story “2 B R 0 2 B”: "Thank you, sir," said the hostess. "Your city thanks you; your country thanks you; your planet thanks you. But the deepest thanks of all is from future generations." And here in the first sentence of his story “Miss Temptation”: “Puritanism had fallen into such disrepair that not even the oldest spinster thought of putting Susanna in a ducking stool; not even the oldest farmer suspected that Susanna’s diabolical beauty had made his cow run dry.” And what’s he got against cross-dressers? And is the hermaphrodite remark meant to convey the mixed characteristics of the male comma and the female period? I’ll leave that to you.


The reputable mark of punctuation has three jobs to do and does them well:

1.   To separate (or join) two independent clauses used without a conjunction, the use of the semicolon rather than a period indicating a close relationship between the clauses: I kissed the girl; I ascended into heaven.

2.   To join two main clauses also separated by a conjunctive adverb, such as however or therefore, followed by a comma.

3.   To separate items in a series or list when the items themselves contain commas or are long and complex. Try making sense of this series without them (I have here replaced the semicolons with Stein’s preferred commas): “Well there's egg and bacon egg, sausage and bacon, egg and spam, egg, bacon and spam, egg, bacon, sausage and spam, spam, bacon, sausage and spam, spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam, spam, spam, spam, egg and spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam, or lobster thermidor aux crevettes, with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and a fried egg on top and spam.”



Stein claims to admire the “comma nature,” but refuses to use conventional commas in her explanation, making us wonder if all she really wants it to call attention to her “daring” and “risky” prose style.







“We don’t need no stinkin’ semicolons!”

--some bandito from a Cormac McCarthy novel


The purpose of punctuation is to group words by means of conventional marks so that the meaning and the relationship of the words are clear; the absence of those marks would obscure the meaning. The Chicago Manual of Style says the function of punctuation is “to promote ease of reading by clarifying relationships within and between sentences. This function, although it allows for a degree of subjectivity, should in turn be governed by the consistent application of some basic principles lest the subjective element obscure the meaning.”












what I meant to say

A Guardian contributor mistakenly cited Sir Patrick Stewart as being gay, resulting in this correction:

This article was amended on 17 February 2014. The third paragraph originally said ‘Some gay people, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, think Page’s coming out speech is newsworthy’. This should have read ‘Some people, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, think Page’s coming out speech is newsworthy’.