Several years ago, the Washington Post held a contest to select a new columnist. Since Wal-Mart wanted to build a new store right on top of a Civil War battlefield at the time, I chose that as my subject matter:
Opinion: The Wilderness battlefield Wal-Mart lawsuit was worthwhile
How many people were against building a Wal-Mart near the Civil War battlefield of the Wilderness in Orange County, Virginia? A roll call reveals the following: Ken Burns, David McCullough, and James M. McPherson; Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Duval; Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), and Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine and Virginia House Speaker William Howell; and finally, hundreds of concerned citizens such as this writer.
Such an impressive array of voices saying “no” could sway anyone. However, those voices did not sway the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Instead they turned a deaf ear to them and approved Wal-Mart’s application.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation joined with concerned citizens and the local preservation group Friends of The Wilderness Battlefield in filing suit against Orange County to stop the development. Their justification: The Board of Supervisors had failed to adequately gather and assess all information on the detrimental impact the Wal-Mart would have on the battlefield.
This was not a frivolous legal action, no matter what Wal-Mart or the Supervisors claimed before they ultimately gave in.
What was at stake here was the sanctity of irreplaceable sacred ground. Ground dyed with the blood of brave soldiers during Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant’s first battle against each other on May 5-7, 1864. The Wilderness is now a place where you can stand and contemplate the past. Reach out and touch it, appreciate it, and learn from it.
No battlefield visitor could have done that with a Wal-Mart next door. ‘Nuff said.
I didn’t win, but I am happy to report Wal-Mart moved their store to a far less sensitive location.
(Originally published on Bubblews.com January 8th, 2014.)
I received the following e-mail yesterday concerning Writer.ly, a job site where freelancers could bid on book editing and related projects posted by authors seeking freelance help:
A Writer.ly Farewell
Three years ago, two passionate writers got together based on a common idea: to help writers find the freelancers they needed to get their work polished and published. Their idea turned into a website called Writer.ly, a site that became a wonderful resource to many. In the process, these two passionate writers went on an incredible ride. They learned the ins-and-outs of running a start-up, met many wonderfully talented writers, editors, designers and other publishing professionals, found 15 minutes of fame with Guy Kawasaki, Shawn Welch, Peg Fitzpatrick, Hugh Howey, and many other indie publishing rockstars, convinced an incredible group of equally passionate investors to join our parade, and found others willing to work hard despite our ability to provide a paycheck.
Like many start-ups based on a passion, the reality of finding a sustainable business model proved elusive and the day has come for the Writer.ly marketplace to shut it’s doors. We are sad to disappoint you, the freelancers and writers who made Writer.ly possible and helped us fulfill the dream of being a wonderful resource, but the future of indie publishing is bright and there are now many resources to help you through the sometimes overwhelming process of self-publishing a book.
We will keep Writer.ly’s marketplace available for the completion of any ongoing projects until April 26th and will then go offline. You will continue to be able to access PubChat at it’s new home: indiepubchat.com and can still find us on Twitter @writerlytweets.
Thank you for all your support for the past three years. Wishing you all great success in your publishing endeavors and hope you “Publish Happy.”
The e-mail was signed by Writer.ly’s C.E.O., Abigail Carter. Today her message greets visitors to the site.
The loss of Writer.ly will affect only the handful of freelancers who were able to find consistent work via the site. I and many other freelancers found getting work via Writer.ly to be quite arduous. For one thing, the competition was stiff, as the following exchange I once had with a job poster eloquently illustrates:
I recently bid on your short story collection job. I normally do free sample edits for prospective clients so they can see how I work. Would you be interested in a free sample edit from me? If so, please send me a three page excerpt from your manuscript. Thank you.
Hello – Thanks a ton for your bid. I have received 11 bids on this job and I need some time to make my decision. Cheers, Archana
Eleven bids! This ensured mine was swamped by sheer numbers by default, no matter how carefully worded it was and how reasonable a price I offered.
The biggest stumbling block at Writer.ly was not the competition, however. They are people who posted what I call “dead wood” job postings — that is, authors who joined Writer.ly, posted a job listing, and then proceeded to suffer “sticker shock” once the bids came in. I was frustrated to no end by such people. I now believe that “dead wood” job posters doomed the site, for how could Writer.ly have earned consistent fees from job advertisements if the bulk of them had no bids accepted on them?
In the end, I won eight jobs via Writer.ly’s job listings plus a handful of others via their “Offers” section where freelancers could make their own offers to prospective clients.
One good thing I can say about Writer.ly is that, unlike Elance, which took a bite out of your bid, Writer.ly added their fee on top of yours. This meant I got paid in full.
And so the curtain has fallen across a unique website for authors and freelancers. I wish Writer.ly’s creators all the best in their future endeavors.
Why me? Richard Hellman thought as his mother Margot glared at him. The eyes of Richard’s younger brother Monty were on him too.
“You were doing really great in October and November,” Margot said, “and then December came along and you made no money.”
Margot sighed. “What?”
“That was because of the holidays,” he mumbled.
An annoyed looked creased Margot’s face. “What?”
“I said that was because of the holidays!” Richard shouted.
“Calm down! We are just trying to talk to you,” Monty said.
Margot sighed, closed her eyes. “Will you please stop acting like you are being picked on?”
Richard’s ears pricked at the sour tone in Margot’s voice, felt a feeling akin to a piece of lead float into his stomach.
“I know… I know I am not being picked on,” he replied. I rue the day I decided to become a freelancer, he silently added.
Richard Hellman, former Cub Foods store associate-turned freelance writer/editor, had had a splendid two months in October and November of 2013, starting when he made $1000 the first week in October alone, when he won three gigs that had paid him $333 each. He had wrapped up the month with a grand total of $2,100. He topped that figure by making $2,200 in November.
Then December came, and with it, a work drought. Now it was the last week of January, 2014, and Richard’s family had less than $100 in the bank. To make matters worse, Richard owed a client $200 and was making threats about filing a PayPal complaint against him.
Why me? he thought again.
“What?” Margot asked; her expression still stern.
Shit, this is like when we were arguing with my fucking father, whispered an inner voice in the back of Richard’s mind. He saw himself back at the dining room table they always gathered to argue with Paul Hellman, the abusive, neglectful husband and father that tormented his brood without pity. They would verbally joust, joust, and joust until Margot, Richard, and Monty gave in and Paul had his way yet again.
Shit, shit, shit… I’ve become Paul, Richard thought.
“What?” Margot asked again.
“I’ve… I’m…” Richard stammered.
“Spit it out!” Margot snapped.
Richard’s nascent words tumbled back down his throat.
I don’t like feeling this way, he thought, feeling a pang of bitterness.
He felt like a caged animal surrounded by people poking him with sticks.
“You know we can’t keep going through this,” Margot finally said. Her expression was stern, her eyes piercing through her eldest son like lasers.
“Wholesome Eats is always hiring,” Monty said. “I could use my influence to help you get a job there.”
Wholesome Eats?! Richard thought.
“I don’t… I don’t want to work where you do, bro,” Richard replied.
Monty slapped his palm on the table. “I don’t want you to either, but we have to have steady income coming in! My paycheck can’t cover all the bills.”
“I know, I know!” Richard shouted back.
His head swam, his stomach burned like he had eaten a lousy breakfast. He suddenly felt like he was a soldier engulfed by chaos in the midst of a catastrophic defeat worthy of Isandlwana, Little Big Horn, Dien Bien Phu, Chosin Reservoir, or Bull Run.
Richard put his face in his hands.
Everything I have tried to build is collapsing. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Speak up for yourself!
I can’t, they have me dead to rights.
“Are you going to get a job?” Margot asked.
Richard wanted to drag himself into his room, slam the door shut, flop down on his bed, and die. He had gotten jobs once with a willing heart back when he, Monty, and Margot were stuck in a hotel after Paul had abandoned his now homeless tortured brood and fled the state. Richard had again flung himself into the gap by getting a job at Cub Foods when his first job as a warehouse associate for Office Max, had slashed his hours to the bone. But then Cub had frozen his wages, and webbed him about with all kinds of rules that Richard’s independent spirit chafed against. The result was a long list of disciplinary actions which had climaxed with Richard forced to either quit or be terminated. The day he typed up his resignation letter haunted him still.
Fortunately, Margot had won a small lottery drawing a month before Richard sank himself. She had given Richard permission to pursue his dream of making a living as a freelancer. But Richard had been easily discouraged by initial setbacks, including two scam attempts that had slammed into him when he’d applied for writing and editing-related gigs via Craigslist.
Why the fuck did I not get going sooner? he thought as he lowered his hands from his face.
He forced his eyes to focus on his mother. “I…”
Margot’s eyes bore into him like lasers. He froze.
“Yes?” Margot asked.
“I—I have a job.”
“But it isn’t bringing in consistent work!” Monty shouted.
Richard’s face became a blank mask as inner turmoil exploded and engulfed his mind, pulling him away from the table and into the darkest recesses of his soul. His inner agony sent him rebounding off feelings of angst, lack of self-worth, lack of self-esteem. All the while he just sat there, his brown eyes void of any emotion as Monty and Margot glared at him.
Stop! Stop! he finally shouted at himself as he sought to get centered within his soul. If I keep rolling with this shit, I’m no better than Paul.
He held up a hand in a call for silence, and closed his eyes. I rebuke this bad luck from continuing, I rebuke my bad luck streak from continuing any further, he chanted in a silent mantra over and over inside his head.
An intuition sparked inside his soul, one what whispered People want to hire you, Richard Hellman.
He opened his eyes, looked over at his brother. “Monty?”
“Check my e-mail.”
“Just do it, all right?”
Margot sighed. “What are you doing?”
“Dammit! I got an intuition telling me I just hit pay dirt thanks to some advertising I recently put out,” Richard replied.
Margot fell silent. Monty opened Richard’s e-mail. “Hey, you’ve got e-mails from three people here,” he said, his mood lightening.
“Really? Let me see,” Richard said, rising to his feet.
Three potential clients were indeed there; potential clients that had become Richard’s clientss by the end of the day. Clients that wound up paying Richard $300 each for editing/proofreading work. Richard’s earnings came to a grand total of $900—more than enough to help out with his share of the rent and bills.
“We’re sorry we doubted you,” Margot apologized to him at dinner that night. “Yes, we are very sorry,“ Monty added.
Richard smiled. “Many thanks for keeping the faith in me, gang,” he said, toasting them with his bottle of pop.
(Originally published on Bubblews.com as a serial short story experiment January-March, 2014.)
Do you want this,
Or do you want that?
What is amiss?
What fell and went “splat!”
Within that brain of yours?
You send me in one direction,
Then I get sent in another
Five seconds later.
Upon further reflection,
I can’t help but wonder
If you know what you want.
So do you want this
Or do you want that?
Make up your mind,
Because you are putting my gears
All in a grind
Over how you can never decide
What you want from me…
Why must this always be?
(Originally published on Bubblews.com July 7th, 2014.)
When will a miracle
Come and sever
The ties that bind me
To this cursed apartment?
The answer always seems to be for me
Every time I scream it towards the heavens.
I told myself
Living here would be
But a temporary fix,
That one day soon I would see
A house to call my own again.
But the pages of the calendar
Continue on turning,
And still I have yet to wave my hand
In farewell to this apartment building
As I drive a moving truck away
To a newfound place to stay,
One I can call my own,
Not share with other people
As if we were living
In an extended stay hotel.
Oh God, when will the day
Come that I can finally look at this apartment
(Originally published on Bubblews.com June 30th, 2014.)
She turned and saw him. I gritted my teeth as I watched him loom over her, his eyes roving up and down her body.
You son of a bitch! You think you can do that to a woman?
I had not meant to leave Skye alone by our hotel’s outdoor pool. I had forgotten my towel, however, much to Skye’s amusement. “I distract you that much, huh?” she’d said to me with a giggle.
“Always,” I replied with a grin. “I’ll be right back.”
I was back in a jiffy, only now my girlfriend had company. Very ugly company: the pale skinned, balding, potbellied man wearing a black Speedo-type swimsuit all but had a neon sign on that said “lecherous pervert” hanging around his neck.
As I got closer, I heard him say “You better have a bikini on under there.” He then let out a laugh, followed by a disgusting belch.
“Get lost, pervert,” Skye replied, glaring up at him.
He just grinned, gave her another once over.
He took a step towards her.
Skye began to look around the pool, saw me, and smiled with relief.
“That’s right babe, you can smile,” the lecher replied, completely oblivious to my presence. “I won’t hurt…”
My shadow fell over him.
He turned to face me. I crossed my arms crossed in front of my chest, gave him a hard stare. “Can I help you?”
He looked me up and down, and laughed. “Yeah, you can help me by getting lost.”
Damn, this guy must have a death wish. Can’t he see how tall and brawny I am?
He looked at Skye. “This guy is your boyfriend? What a loser. You’d have a lot more fun in the Bahamas with a stud like me.” He looked at me again. I caught a whiff of booze on his breath.
Aha, Dutch courage is the reason for his bravado.
The lecher gave me a smarmy grin.
I scowled, took a step closer to him.
His grin began to waver, finally evaporated. “Hey, do you know I could kick your ass?” he grumbled.
“What did you say?” I asked, cupping my ear with one hand and acting like I couldn’t hear him.
He glowered at me. “You heard me. I said I could kick your ass.”
“You have a lot of nerve to leer at my girlfriend and then threaten me,” I replied. “Why don’t you leave us alone and get lost?”
He snorted. “I thought I told you to get lost?”
I chuckled. “Why don’t you have a few more drinks and then try and make me?”
The lecher’s face flushed red.
He started to raise his fists
I grabbed both his wrists, squeezing them with a death grip as I kicked him in the nuts.
He gasped for breath, but I wasn’t through with him. I let go of his wrists, got behind him, and gave him a kick in the ass.
He stumbled over to the edge of the pool and teetered on the brink for a millisecond before tumbling into the water.
I walked to the edge, stared down at him while he coughed and sputtered, struggling to keep his head above water. “What’s your name?”
“Gill…” He coughed and gagged on a mouthful of water. “Gillman.”
“Well Gill…Gillman, I think it’s time you were leaving.”
Gillman’s eyes widened. He swam over to the shallow end, slipped and staggered up the steps, and beat it.
“Rick, turn around.”
I turned. Skye’s cover up now lay discarded on her lounger. She stood before me resplendent in the
pink bikini she had chosen to adorn her petite, tanned body with on our first day poolside in the Bahamas. I smiled. “What’s this?”
She just grinned.
Aha, it looks like it’s the hero’s reward time…don’t mind if I do.
I swept her into my arms. She kissed me first. I kissed her back.
“Who taught you to fight like that?” she asked during a pause for breath.
I chuckled. “That was my first try. I’ll impress you even more next time.”
(Originally published on Bubblews.com December 10 th, 2014.)
I looked up from my novel and yawned. It was almost ten on a Saturday night and I was at home alone.
My girl was out on a “girl’s night out” with her friends. It was no problem, though. I trusted her not to fool around on me, and she trusted me to do likewise.
I returned to my book, a Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt adventure. Ol’ Dirk was about to kill the bad guy and get the girl, which was as it should be.
The doorbell rang just as I got to the part where Dirk was about to take on the big bad guy.
I went to see who it was. I hoped it wasn’t somebody bearing bad news.
When I looked out the window, a warm, fuzzy feeling came over me.
My face lit up into a smile of pure joy as I opened the door and there stood Ally before me. All 5’8 inches of her dressed to the nines in a stunning emerald green strapless green dress.
She smiled back; her blue eyes glowing with playful joy as she tossed back her blonde curls.
I drew her inside, crushed her in my arms as our lips met again and again.
They kept meeting as I swept her off her feet and carried her upstairs.
“I forgot to say hello to you last night,” I said to her while we had some breakfast next morning.
Ally giggled. “I thought you said it pretty well, Rich.”
Ana’s New Bikini
I paced about near the entrance to the pool. She will be out any second, I thought with anticipation.
She appeared behind the sliding glass door, opened it, and she stepped out as if she were a model on a poolside runway. Her tan, fit, 5’6 figure clad in the stunning white Victoria Secret bikini I had recently bought her. She wears it well, I thought with admiration.
“Hey Tony,” Ana said.
“Hey Ana. How does it fit?” I asked.
“Good,” she replied, giving me a warm smile. “Thanks for getting it for me.”
I tried to say “You’re welcome,” but the desire surging through my soul had muted my voice box. All I could muster was a happy smile as I stepped forward, swept her into my arms, and gave her a long, deep, soulful kiss.
(Originally published on Bubblews.com November 17th, 2013—revised version created on April 5th 2015.)
I am digging a hole,
So I can go
And hide myself deep within it,
Because of how badly I got hurt long ago
By many a nasty thing.
And so eternal safety is now my goal.
I am digging in deep
Lest I get caught again
By something ugly that creeps
Into my life without my knowing.
Is this all a waste?
We can never fully anticipate
What is going to come at us in our life,
So why am I digging this hole in anticipation
Of having to fling myself into its shelter?
I think I will rise up and see
The peace that exists beyond the rim
Of this hole that…
I have been hit!
By some damned sucker punches that just got thrown at me
All because I let my guard down
And poked my head out of shelter…
And now I slide back into this hole with a frown
As I wonder if I will every truly be safe
Beyond this hole I have dug deep down
Within my soul.
(Poem originally published on Bubblews.com May 28, 2014.)
Is the dreaded hour finally here?
The one I have dreaded for many a year?
Or is this just a phantasm
Born of my overwrought imagination?
Do not let the dreaded hour be here!
The one I have sweated and feared
For many a past year.
I could not bear to live
If this dreaded hour
Has at last come to scour
All happiness from my soul
And burn it hotter than a million coals.
If it is indeed
The dreaded hour I see
Looming before me
Deliver me from its insanity
Lest it scour
All joy from my life
And plunge me into pointless misery and strife.
(Originally published on Bubblews.com April 11, 2014.)
What a hard day
Came my way
From the moment my eyelids
First fluttered open
While snug in bed I lay.
It was so hard, it was surreal,
And I could not help but feel
As if all the universe
Was dumping its filth upon me!
Now here I sit
Feeling drained and ragged,
Looking out my window
At the lamp lit darkness outside
As I sit here and try
To drag myself out of the pit
I was tumbled in…
Dear God above, how I beseech You
That tomorrow will be far different.
(Originally published on Bubblews.com July 8th, 2014.)
Why was I the only one
To be shattered
By the madness that man put us through
While everyone else escaped being so battered?
Why was I the only one
Who started acting strange at family gatherings
While the rest of my father’s tortured brood
Effortlessly slipped into polite chattering
With everyone else in attendance?
Why was I the only one
To get repulsed by certain things
Thousands of others embrace
With plastic smiles on their face?
Why am I the only one
Who still bleeds inside my soul
Over past trials and tribulations
That burnt me like so many hot coals?
Why me, oh God
(Originally published on Bubblews.com February 15th, 2014.)
He slumped down
By the side of the road,
His face twisted in a grimace
That quickly became a frown.
Lifting his eyes
Towards the dark cloudy skies
Approaching from the southwest,
He raised his arms and said:
Send a tornado,
Send a barrage
Of deadly hail,
Or if all else should fail,
Drown me in a deluge.
I wish to die today.”
The ringing phone
Back in his apartment
Had nothing but creditors
On the other end of the line;
And a visit from the Sheriff’s department
Was in his future
Because his rent neared
Its third month in arrears,
And the envelopes with “Final Notice”
Stamped on them in red ink
Kept piling up on his desk,
Reminding him every minute
Of how deep in debt
He had begun to sink.
Growls of thunder reached his ears,
And he looked upward again and said”
“Lord, I cannot kill myself
With my own hand,
Because everyone says it’s a sin.
Even if you are rich and famous,
They will still come and say ‘Shame on you’
If suicide is something you decide to do.
So I beseech you, oh Jehovah, kill me today.
I cannot live anymore.”
Thunderclaps assaulted his senses,
And a heavy deluge began to fall.
He thought of all his unpaid expenses,
And the looming threat of the sheriff,
And opened his mouth wide,
Willing the rain to pour on in
And fill his lungs…
But the deluge ceased
As suddenly as it began.
The man looked up,
And an incredulous look
Sparked within his eyes
As he looked towards the southwestern skies
That now had nothing but blue behind them.
Instead of taking it as a good sign
That everything would be all right,
He glared up at the heavens,
Oblivious to the parting drops of rain
That stung his eyes,
“Damn you, God!
Why didn’t you kill me today?
I have nothing left to live for
So why do I still breathe?
You are slowly killing me
With all those damned bills
And that double damned unpaid rent,
So again I say:
Why did you not finish
What you have started?”
Then the clouds parted
And the man was bathed within a circle of light
So intense it was blinding
He fell silent at the sight…
And felt a spark of belief in a benevolent God.
(Poem originally published on Bubblews.com August 25th, 2014.)
Colonel Mitchell’s Heart of Oak
Colonel Mitchell wanted all the airplanes
Of the Army, Navy, and Marines,
Under the command of just he.
He did songs and dances before the U.S. Congress
To press his cause
And wrote so much
About the power of air
He finally got entangled in his superior’s hair.
He kept on opening his mouth,
And putting his pen to paper,
In a manner akin
To a stubborn as a wagon driver
Lashing at his team
While fording a creek
Even as his hubs sank even more deeply into the mud.
He used fragile flying machines
To sink a mighty dreadnought
And then led mock air raids
All over the place;
Like a prophet, forecast an attack by a foreign power
On the harbor which has waters of pearl;
And had a glimmer of an idea of the mass slaughters
That would one day be inflicted by flying machines.
But finally ol’ Colonel Mitchell opened his mouth one too many times,
And got hammered flat
Right to the mat
By the 96th Article of War
During a court-martial the secretary of war said
Was not a “vaudeville show”
But at which humorists and politicians appeared
To spread mirth and hot air
Whilst they sat in the witness chair
(Sure sounds like vaude-ville to me buddy).
Many a military man, politician, and air power advocate
Thought Colonel Mitchell was a jerk,
And that nothing but self-serving ego lurked
Beneath all he would do or say.
General Jimmy once served under the man
And thought whilst looking back
That ol’ Colonel Mitchell
Was man who needed more bamboo
And less oak in his emotional makeup.
But the colonel went to his grave
With his heart of oak intact…
I cannot help but wonder
How many of us have such a heart.
(Poem originally published on Bubblews.com November 14th, 2014.)
In my recent post “Book Versus Book” I wrote: “A far cry from the literary kerfuffle [emp. added] of the mid-1990s which saw journalist Paul Hendrickson go after Robert S. McNamara over his alleged lies about the Vietnam War in the latter’s 1995 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy And Lessons of Vietnam with a book of his own which claimed to tell the truth about McNamara and Vietnam.”
What does the word “kerfuffle” mean? According to the Urban Dictionary‘s definition, it means “A social imbroglio or brouhaha. An organizational misunderstanding leading to accusations and defensiveness.” According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, it simply means “disturbance, fuss,” and is chiefly used in British (aka UK) English.
I chose to use this word in the passage quoted above because I felt it aptly summed up a situation where one author rebutted another’s book with their own in an emotional manner, which the Hendrickson versus McNamara contest most certainly was thanks to how emotionally charged the former’s book was. Therefore, it was a kerfuffle to the max.