Near 500 Words: TW starts a novel

Episode 3 of The Writer.

TW (aka The Writer) was a short story man. Over the years, he had written short stories. And not of one genre. There were science fictions, romances, mysteries, literaries. He had written flash fiction. He had written long stories. He had written novellas. But nary a novel. Novels scared TW.

And not just scared. I’m talking white knuckle fear. It was the kind of fear some actors experience before they go on stage. And more.

TW had read all the books on stage fright. There were three. Almost as many as there were on writer’s block.

Recently he had decided that he was determined to take this psychosis head on. It was time to lay some happiness on himself. Since he was a kid knee high to a grasshopper, he had believed only a novel would fulfill him as a writer. Here he was fifty-three years old and still no novel.

To put him in the right mood, he re-read his two favorite novels by his two favorite writers: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

Now it was time to write that novel. Today was the the day. It was Saturday. His day off. At eight a.m. his eyes popped open. But it was from the anticipation of writing the novel. Cat was letting him know that it was feeding time.

He wiped any leftover sleep from of his eyes. He pulled himself out of bed. And fed Cat. Then he let her outside.

It was a beautiful day. The air was cool and the sun shined. Flowers were blooming. A bird or two scooped through through the water of the birdbath and refreshed themselves.

It seemed like a perfect day to enjoy the outside.

Start the novel. Start the novel. Start the novel.

TW swore, “Okay, okay.”

After an hour of running around in the yard, chasing lizards, rolling in the dirt, chewing on the grass, Cat came to the back door and patiently waited for it to be open. Either she was ready for her treat or she had to litter the litter box.

He opened the door. It was the litter box. Then the treat.

So now it was breakfast time, then his writing session. After an omelet, he looked at the dishes stacked in the sink. I should wash them.

He reached over for the sink faucet.

Hold on, you have a novel to write.

“But what about the dishes?”

The dishes can wait.

He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth and washed his face. Then he realized he didn’t have anything to wear for work on Monday.

Write the novel.

“But it’s only ten o’clock. I’ve got time.”

Write the novel.

From the kitchen came a meowing.

“I’d better let Cat out.”

She’s already been out. Write the novel.

TW took his seat at the desk and booted his computer up.

The doorbell rang.

Ignore it. Write the novel.


Write the novel.

He looked at the clock. How did it get to be eleven o’clock?


“Okay, okay.”

TW looked at his computer screen and opened his browser to check his email.

Write the novel.

He gave his conscience three okays, then opened a blank document on his word processor. He saved the document and named it “My Novel.”

He looked at the blank screen. He thought and thought and thought and nothing came. He’d always been a seat-of-the-pant when it came to short stories and poetry. And he always had ideas up the wazoo. But today, the first day of writing his novel, his mind went blank.

He finished his first cup of coffee, then a second, then a third. Then he started getting desperate. The document was still blank. Very blank.

About the time he was going to give up, he typed, “This is the first chapter. And there will be a lot more from where that came from. Monkey looked at Shark and fired his gun. The bullet hit its target, Shark’s heart.”

“There. Are you satisfied?”

The Hound of Culann

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, here is an Irish tale. It is based on “Táin Bó Cúalnge”. In English, that’s The Cattle Raid of Cooley.

The Blood of Cu Chulainn

In the long long ago days before Patrick came to the Emerald Isle, before the Holy Man chased the snakes away, before the Blessed Saint converted the Irish folk away from their pagan ways, there was a mighty mighty man. Mightier than Hercules of the Romans and the Greeks, Mightier than Thor of the Norsemen. Mightier than Paul Bunyan.

His name was Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann. Known by some as The Cuke. For one thing, it was easier to pronounce. For a t’other, the mighty mighty man had a tendency to run amucksky from time to time. His amucksky was enough to throw the Incredible Hulk into a corner, crying for his mommykins. That’s how badass The Cuke was.

Now that we’ve met our hero, it’s time to meet the Villain. Notice I capitalize Villain. Her name was Medb, but we’ll call her Maeve. Take Catwoman, stir in a dose of Mystique, throw in a dollop of Bella Lestrrange, then toss in a dollop of Morgan Le Fay, and you’ve got Maeve.

Being bested in a contest could get her dander up. She did not take lightly to losing. Take the time she was runner-up for Miss Teenage Celt of Ireland. Miss Teenager Celt dropped dead the day after her coronation. Everybody said it was poison but they couldn’t prove it. There was no CSI in those days.

Before that, she was supposed to be Paris’ lady love. Maeve was none to happy that he ran off with Helen. Maybe that was why Troy ended up the way Troy ended up. And when Arthur came calling, then change his mind and went after Guinevere. Well, it was bye-bye-Miss-American-Pie for Camelot. As you can see, Maeve was used to getting her way. When it came to Maeve, it was like Nancy Sinatra sang. You didn’t want to go messing where you shouldn’t be messing. Just ask her four husbands. After all, she was the daughter of the High King of Ireland.

One night, after playing a game of frisky with her fourth husband, Ailill, King of Cannaucht, the two got into an argument of who had the bestest–and the mostest–stuff. Laughing, she said, “I’ll show you.” So they jumped out of bed and had their servants bring all their treasures to the Great Hall: silver buckets, golden pots, rings, jewelry, sheep, horses and pigs. People were really into livestock in those days.

When they got to cattle, Maeve turned up one bull short. That just wouldn’t do. There was no way that the daughter of the High King was going to be one bull short.

Now she figured that since she was one bull short, why not get the best bull. She decided she wanted Donn Cualinge, The Brown Bull of Cualinge. But he was up in Ulster. There was nothing to do but go and get him. Unfortunately, the bull was guarded by none other than The Cuke.

Maeve called in all the favors owed her and Ailill. She sent messengers to the Four Counties. “We’re going to war.”

To ready herself, she gave her fashion designer, and all-around good dress maker, a hoot and a holler. He was someone who had dressed queens from one end of the planet to the other. You name the princess and he’d done her get-up. Now Maeve needed some get-up and go for her ownself. And she was about to get it. He had saved his best work for Maeve. After all, his blood bled green. “I have just the thing for you, dahling,” he said.

And it was just the thing. A silver helmet that left her long red hair free to flow in the wind. Golden armor that reflected the sun, and yet revealed the physicality of her physicality. In it, her curves had curves.

And the piece de resistance was her makeup. Her makeup artist painted her face with such war paint that it could’ve scare the bejeesus out of Hades. She looked her best kick butt. And, of course, her chariot was the Ferari of Chariots from none other than Chariots Ellite. It was the latest CE-337.

She seated herself beside her driver, then the chariot pulled out in front o her army. With her green eyes ablaze with war, she commanded, “On to Ulster.” Away she went, leading her troop to war. As they made their way through the countryside, people lined the roads to watch the parade go by.

Since every war needs a theme song, her men marched onward, singing, “Faigh scuab agus nigh do chuid fiacia.” Translated, it meant “Get a brush and clean your teeth.” Maeve was way ahead of her time when it came to hygiene. She showered twice a day. She’s the one who came up with “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

Guiding the way to Ulster was Fergus mac Roich. Once upon a time he was King of Ulster, but no more. Though he was on the outs with the current king of Ulster, he was still buddy-buddy with The Cuke. He secretly did a Paul Revere and sent his friend a message, “The Irish are coming, the Irish are coming.” Then he led the queen here, there and everywhere, but not to Ulster. To give his friend time to prepare.

“Fergie, what are you trying to do, Big Boy?” Maeve asked with her best Mae West. “Why’s it taking so long?”

“Well,” Fergus answered, “it’s a long way to Tipperary.”

“We’re not going to Tipperary.”

“That’s not what your husband told me.”

Ailill defended himself. “I didn’t say Tipperary. I said temporary. We’re going to Ulster, you goof.”

“Don’r call me a goof. Apologize or I’ll have you for lunch.”

Not wanting to distract from the current campaign, Ailill apologized.

“Just watch it,” Fergus said.

Queen Maeve was tired of the tit for tat. “We’re going to Ulster, and you are a goof.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Fergus asked. “Ulster’s that way. At least, I think it is. Without the gps, I’m not for certain.”

“You’re just trying to put things off,” Maeve said. “Now let’s get to it before I turn you into a frog.”

“You can do that?” Fergus wanted to know.

“You bet your sweet booties. Now on to Ulster.”

“Would you like to go  the secret way? That way we’ll get the Bull without anybody knowing. And we’ll avoid The Cuke.”

“Cuke, smuke. We have an army. We have two armies Ulster will be no match for us. Besides they have the Curse.”

The Curse? you ask. Years earlier, a witch, one of Macbeth’s three-bies, placed a Curse on the Ulstermen. When an army approached, they would go off into a little snooze. Because The Cuke was a superhero, the Curse never affected him.

Maeve’s army came to a river. The heads of four of her warriors were facing her, sticking out their tongues.

“Who did this?” Maeve demanded.

“Only The Cuke could do such a thing,” Fergus answered the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

“We’re just going to have to whop up on this Cuke,” the queen said, and she meant it.

The great warrior Froech of the mac Fidaigs stepped forward. “Your majesty, I’d be pleased as punch if you would let me do the pleasure.” And off he went, taking nine buddies with him. The Cuke took them out like Captain America took out Red Skull.

Next up was another group of warriors with muscles up the ying-yang. The Cuke did a Muhammad Ali on them, KO-ing them like there was no tomorrow.

Over the next few days, The Cuke stacked up the bodies and begged Maeve to keep ’em coming. There was no way she was going to get past him if The Cuke had anything to say about it. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything to say about it. All the rough housing and beating the crap out of guys who wanted to be the next champion of the world had worn him out.

Maeve managed to sneak past him without her army. She picked up the Bull and slipped him past The Cuke. And then she took off, heading back home.

The Cuke gave chase. But it wasn’t much of a chase. His energy had sapped out and he dropped. That was when daddy showed up. Lugh was a god and he had come to get his boy back in shape. Fro three days and three nights, Lugh put his healing magic to work.

The Cuke recovered and chased Maeve and her army. Then he wreaked his vengeance on her men. Maeve begged for more folks to go out and take on The Cuke. “Are you crazy?” the asked, knowing that she was half cuckoo. She promised them gold and sex, and silver and sex, and sex and sex. She was very persuasive. So they went after The Cuke. They met him in the swamp known as Blood Iron. They did not make it back.

Finally she called for The Cuke’s foster brother, Ferdia. She promised and she promised and she promised. But he kept saying, “Ain’t no way, lady. He’s my bro.” Then she lied, “He said that slaying you would be so easy peasy.”

Ferdia had his pride. There was no way he was going to take that from anybody. Even a brother. So he armored up and headed down to the river.

“Bro, I am not going to fight you,” The Cuke said.

“You got no choice,” Ferdia said, no realizing he’d been tricked by the Wicked Witch of the West.

First it was short spears they fought with. The it was long spears. Then it was large stabbing spears. Each time The Cuke protected himself with a shield that would take three large men to lift. Ferdia was elegant with his shield maneuvers as well.The next morning it was stabbing spears. The day after that, swords were the weapons. After each fight, the two spent the night, reminiscing and toasting each other and feasting till their bodies were filled. Then they slept like logs.

Finally, on a bright summer’s morning, the two met for one last battle. They put on their best armor. Then, like Hector and Achilles, they charged each other. Ferdia swung hard, each swing barely missing. The Cuke’s temper got the best of him. He leaped in the air, brought the spear down, drove through Ferdia. Ferdia dropped to the ground.

The Cuke’s temper left him. All he was left with was sorrow. Uncontrollable sorrow. Holding his brother in his arms, tears ran down his face. Then Ferdia died. The Cuke lowered the limp body to the grass. Then he sang a lament.

The next morning he was joined by the men of Ulster. The Curse had been lifted. Then they went to battle. When Ulstermen went to battle, they really went to battle, slashing and bopping and cutting and thrusting and do all sorts of un-choreographed maneuvers that looked really cool. They fought the men of Connaught and they fought till the men of Connaught had no more fight in them.

Realizing the foolishness of it all, Ulster and Cannaught smoked the peace pipe. Fergus was the one who summed it up best. “What was it all about? A cow. Can you believe that?”

The Cuke joined in with the sentiment. “Let her have her stupid cow. Let’s go home.”

And for seven years there was peace in the land. And when men gathered around a fire, they sang of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. And remembered fondly the deeds of Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann.



Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Song: Shake Me

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Song is “Shake Me” by The Blue Bell:

All I can say is that these guys rock. It’s amazing who you’ll come across late at night when you’re not looking for anything in particular. I stumbled on these guys on Amazon Prime music. So listen on and see if they don’t get your feet dancing.

Near 500 words: TW in the library

Episode 2 of The Writer.

When you visit a library, you have the secrets of the universe at your disposal. When you’re a librarian, you are a guardian of those secrets, making sure they are available to everyone. Perhaps that is why TW (aka The Writer) believed there were no librarians in Stalinist Russia. The Great Executioner had murdered them all.

If ever there was a perfect job for a perfect character, reference librarian was the one for TW. Each weekday, at exactly noon o’clock, TW took his place at one of the reference desks in the Great Hall of the Alphonso Wigglesworth Everspacher Academic Library. The Library was better known as AWE Central to the students and faculty of The University.

TW had worked this routine of noon to nine in the p.m. Monday through Friday since the way way back when in the 1980s he’d joined the library staff. He could remember the very first assignment given him that September day. Mrs. Bosworth, director and overlord of the kingdom known as AWE Central, asked him to come to her office after he found his bearings.

“You will convertig our beloved card catalog to a computer database.” Then she assigned him to Mr. Newcombe. Mr. Newcombe was so old that it was suggested he knew Abraham Lincoln personally. That and his whoppers about the beloved President.

TW knocked on Mr. Newcombe’s office. “The director sent me to you. I am here to help convert the card catalog to a computer database.”

“Would you please return to Mrs. Bosworth and ask her this. Do we categorize the cards as title, author or subject?”

Mrs. Bosworth’s answer, “I would think that it would be all three.”

Mr. Newcombe threw another monkey wrench in the assignment. “Won’t work. We already confuse our students and faculty with having three choices. They’ll never figure this one out.”

Mrs. Bosworth was a very patient woman. It was how she had risen far in the campus bureaucracy. “Pick one of the three to come up when a patron does a keyword search.”

Now Mr. Newcombe was having none of that. “What’s a keyword?” he asked his young ward.

Though she had patience galore, there were limits. “My dear young man, you do know what a keyword is, don’t you?”

TW had been enjoying the whole process. It was almost as much fun as it had been watching Luke Skywalker defeat Darth Vader. “Yes, ma’am,” he answered enthusiastically.

“Then you can relay that information to my good friend, Mr. Charles Everett Newcombe.”

Back in the ancient alchemist’s office, TW said, “I am supposed to explain what a keyword is.”

After TW completed his explanation, Mr. Newcombe looked up at him and smiled. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course, I am absolutely sure.”

“Well, I will need references. Perhaps you should write the definition up for me. Yes, I think that would be best. And make it a five-hundred word essay.”

Mr. Newcombe went to leave the library for the day. On his way out of his office, he reminded TW, “I’ll need that first thing in the morning.”

After several weeks of this back and forth, Mrs. Bosworth had had it with Mr. Newcombe.

She stood up from her desk and walked down the long long hall to the other end of the building. She walked into Mr. Newcombe’s office and dropped a memo on his desk. “Mr. Newcombe, it’s time to get started with the card catalog conversion. I’ve put it in writing. Now do it.”

Mr. Newcombe had not been at the university as long as he had without knowing a thing or two about surviving the bureaucracy. He knew where the power lay. He had tenure, and he was not about to be treated like some servile employee.

He reached down and picked up the memo and passed it back to the director. “I’ll need that in triplicate.”

Celebrating Women’s History Month, Two Histories

Americas women:. by Gail Collins. 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2010.

Pocahantas and Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madam C. J. Walker and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama

These are a few of the well-known women in Gail Collins’ America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines and its sequel, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, Featuring the famous and the ordinary, the books span the centuries from the Vikings to the sixteenth century Eleanor Dare of the lost Roanoke colony to Betty Friedan’s march down Fifth Avenue in 1970 to the Hillary Clinton campaign for President in 2008.

In these extraordinary narratives, Collins has written both a political and a social history of America’s women. She traces the epic journey of women through America’s history as they sought that “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” promised by the Declaration of Independence but so often denied them.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. Back Boy Books. Little, Brown and Co. 2010

This story of women in America is a fight for freedom from an intrusive society that tried to tell them what they could and could not do or be. Society was so resistant to women’s pursuit of happiness that, as late as 1947, Modern Women: The Lost Sex was a bestseller. Its authors advocated that women were psychologically disordered. It argued “that higher education got in the way of women adjusting to their natural role as wives and mothers.”

Collins begins with the Viking women, Gudrid and Freydis. They were two of the first Europeans to step foot on the North American continent over a thousand years ago. These two women illustrate one of the themes in her book: How society’s portrayal of women has always been false. The image that women are either “virtuous wives on the one hand, or on the other, the women who stepped outside their appointed roles, causing disaster.” In many cases, a woman was both virtuous wife and one who stepped outside their appointed roles, yet not causing disaster as illustrated by the life of Annie Oakley.

Throughout the book, women managed businesses, ran farms, and became preachers, civic leaders, merchants, artists and store managers. And they did it despite all the legal restrictions society threw at them. In the seventeenth century, one, Margaret Brent, even ran the state of Maryland during a crisis.

Again and again, Collins calls attention to the resourcefulness of American woman. Crossing the prairies in wagon trains, women often did their domestic chores while on the move, such as rolling piecrust from a wagon seat while driving a team of oxen. Just one example of this resourcefulness was Luenza Wilson. She followed her miner husband to the gold mining camps and made a fortune. It seems her talent as a cook was “much more valuable than her husbands was as a gold miner.”

And when the country went to war, women took on roles that often belonged to men, so the men could go off and fight. In World War II, 1,000 women pilots flew 60 million miles–mostly in experimental jets and planes grounded for safety reasons. They often towed targets past lines of inexperienced gunners. One anecdote of these female pilots: Several were arrested for leaving base wearing slacks after dark.

Collins includes the women’s battles with the corset. Even when everybody talked about fashion reform in the early half of the nineteenth century, there was way too much resistance to loosen it, much less dump it. Due to health standards previous to the twentieth century, pregnancy could be a death sentence for a woman or cripple them for life. As far as food and diets are concerned, Collins points out that the Gilded Age was “perhaps the only era in the nation’s history that favored large women.”

In the sequel, Collins continues on one of the greatest epic stories in human history. It takes us through the late twentieth and into the twenty-first century as women overcame the restrictions of the past and triumphed beyond their wildest dreams. The twenty years between 1960 to 1980 saw women able to pursue careers and be accepted in a variety of occupations they were never allowed in the past. It seemed that the sky was the limit. But this led to new challenges never faced before, such as the balance between work and home. And this history is told through the lives of hundreds of individual women’s stories.

Gail Collins has used letters, diaries, historical documents and numerous secondary sources as well as interviews to provide a history of American women that is both enjoyable and informative. These are books that will make women, and men, proud of the heritage from their mother’s side of history. These gems shine a light on history that has been ignored for a very long time.