Getting Your 200,000-mile Writer’s Tuneup

I wonder if the engine would like a CBD treatment rather than oil

My car just turned over its 200,000th mile. I do like milestones, so I should have prepared by putting a wet bar in the trunk a couple of months ago so I could have whipped up a roadside cocktail at the divine moment, but instead I just noted the passage with some bemusement, rather than amusement. 

Probably because it’s an old Toyota Corolla, and an insipid silver-grey at that. This most unprepossessing vehicle—which probably would be great for bank robberies, because of its blandness—is the most common car I’ve ever owned. Among the beauties I’ve piloted are a ’62 Caddy, ’63 Mercury Monterey, ’64 Dodge Dart, ’62 Pontiac Tempest, ’65 Ford Galaxie, ’64 Studebaker, ’71 Volvo p1800, ’81 Mercedes 380SL, ’81 Jag XJ6, and a bunch of old BMWs and old Volkswagens. I love old, interesting cars.

So, turning over 200,000 in a listless Corolla was kind of a letdown.

Writerly Roses Among Some Thorns

I bought the Toyota a bit back because the cash register hasn’t been ringing as often the past couple of years, despite my usual efforts in pitching both business writing and freelance pieces, as well as book editing and fiction writing. Those usually add up to something, but this year, nothing added up. Hello Corolla.

So, I’ve felt like it was me with the 200,000 miles under the hood, and needful of an oil change. Or more to the point, a writer’s tuneup.

But I did publish a novel in the spring that I feel came out well, and now I’ve just published another, so there’s some satisfaction in that. The latest is Swirled All the Way to the Shrub,  my first collaborative novel, written with my pal Rick Wilson. Here’s the logline for the book: 

Sozzled reporter and would-be author blunders in and out of love, lunacy and sorrow in post-Great Depression Boston.

Uplifting, eh?

You can download a PDF of the book’s first three chapters at the bottom of the Shrub site’s home page.

if you’re not the Amazonian type, the Where to Buy page on the site has a number of other online vendors for the ebook. There are also some elaborations of historical references from the book on the site and some other amusements about our collaboration. And for you worldly types, drink recipes from the 1930s.

The deal on this shrubbery (“It’s got to be a nice one,” as Monty Python would say) will only be until year’s end. We’ll be tuning the ebook and print prices up from there.

An odd year, in so many ways, for me and of course, for our country. I think we’re all in need of a writer’s tune-up. But I welcome a new year—and I have many new thoughts on changes to my work, forging new habits, perspectives and challenges. Maybe I’ll even paint flames on the side of the Corolla. 

Happy Holidays to all!

The Gruesome Ghosts of Labor Days Past and Future


Maybe I’d be better off pushing the pins into my skin than the calendar

Do you find yourself nodding in agreement when you hear one of those quotes that suggests that it’s pointless to wallow in regret for things long done, or to quake in terror over things that might yet come? We’ve known this for a long time: you can go back to an august gray fellow like Euripedes for, “Waste not fresh tears over old griefs,” and skip generations ahead to song lyrics from a Smashing Pumpkins song, “Today is the greatest/Day I’ve ever known/Can’t live for tomorrow/Tomorrow’s much too long…” for a flavor of both. (Though being a literary panderer, I salute Emily Dickinson’s, “Forever is composed of nows.”)

After you finish your agreeable nodding at these sage words, do you find yourself perhaps thirty minutes hence wringing your hands over some crumb of an atrocity you committed twenty years ago, or perhaps needful of seven crisp martinis because you’re sure that your main client is about to dump you, though the only signs of that are ones you’ve painted in your fervid imagination?

I do.

I’ve yet to establish that healthful corrective to the habit—and indeed, these errant turns of mind are habit—of mental tremors and quakes over things murkily back in the mirror and things phantasmally flung ahead at mirrors unseen. That came to mind late last week because I finished the final sentence of a novel I’ve been working on (and tediously, off) for several years. Instead of sounding Whitman’s barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world, I quickly went about worrying how the editing is going to go, how this book might not be as good as a novel I wrote longer years back, how my writing still isn’t what I want it to be.

Sheesh.

The Tyranny of the “Not Now”

Reflecting on the preposterousness of not being happy that I’d finished the damn thing in the first place, I hunted around for something I’d written when I was 30. I couldn’t find the exact text, but the upshot of it was that I declared that if I didn’t write a novel by 35, I would kill myself. My master-of-the-universe mind contended at age 17 that a novel completed would be the indissoluble means of establishing my existence. Heady stuff, but at 17, those kind of lofty declarations are what your head is filled with. Then, I had the excuse that my brain was still so much wax. Well, at 45 I was still every letter shy of beginning that novel’s first sentence. (Ringing vows, sweaty declarations and gnashing of mental teeth are all much easier than writing, of course.)

Here I have no better wisdom to impart about living in the forever of the now—so many wise guys and gals have expressed it with more flint than me. But for the rest of the weekend, I’m just going to dig that I finished this novel. Let’s all worry about labors past and labors to come after Labor Day.