Readers in the Cave

In our early history, human beings banded together in groups in order to survive.  As a group, we were able to defeat large predators and became the top of the food chain on this planet.  Being part of a group has been essential to who we are, and how we live.

Within a group, it is, and has always been important to know who is our friend who will share food and protection, and who is our enemy who will steal from us and cause us harm.

In order to make these judgements, we have developed a high sensitivity to body language, emotional intention in others, and hidden meanings behind speech.  Most of these processes seem to be outside of our ordinary awareness and happen without conscious application.

I believe that the way we read other people is also the way we read books.

The reader scans the page and tries to interpret what is the true intent behind the external form of dialogue.  The same thing happens when they read action and description.  There is an expectation that everything on the page is more than what it appears.

This is why all dialogue must have a subtext, exposition needs to be delivered in sometimes subtle and dramatic ways, and the world needs to be shown not told on the page.

We navigate the world on the page the same way we navigate the world we live in.

This is also the way, if done well, the world on the page becomes almost as real as the world we live in.


Soap, in one form or another, has been a part of my family for three generations, and now, perhaps, four.

My great grandfather, Arthur Edelmuth, began a soap factory in Frankfurt, Germany.  The factory made white soap and brown soap.  The white soap was cosmetic soap, while the brown soap was for industrial purposes.  They marketed to the Jewish hospitals throughout Germany and did pretty well for themselves.

I never saw any of the white soap, but my grandmother had a little chunk of the brown soap, which she used to wash dishes.  It lasted over seventy years.  That’s some soap.

The nazis interrupted the prosperity of the Edelmuth soap company, and my family, or what was left of it, fled to America.  My grandfather decided to cater to drycleaners and instead of the incredibly long lasting brown soap, he and his little brother made carbon tetrachloride and other nasty cleaning fluids.

My father Walter went into the family business, somewhat against his will, but it all came to a crashing end when he caught a wildfire fever that burned him away at the age of twenty-nine.

Heartbroken, my grandfather sold the company to Dow Chemical and the family soap story came to an end.

But now, a hundred and thirty-five years later, I’m thinking about soap.  Maybe I’ll make some.  Maybe.

Perhaps, soap is in my blood.  That would explain the bubbles.

You Don’t Mess Around with Jim

It started when my darling wife wanted to watch “Wolf,” a movie from the nineties starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer.  Although it started with some promise, it was horrible, truly horrible, and I tried to figure out why it got made.  In my research, I found a remark from one of the writers, Jim Harrison, of how, after a falling out with the film’s director, he went to a wolf den and apologized while his dog hid under his truck.

I poked around and found out that he had recently died, but had left behind a huge trove of work.  I started with the book of novellas that had made him famous, “Legends of the Fall,” and my brain lit up like a christmas tree.  Now, wherever I go, I hear radio stories about him, or see reruns of food shows with cameos of him.

Jim Harrison’s writing is beautiful, and I’m still trying to figure out what makes it so good.  He is brilliant at narrative summary, and has written entire books of it.  His sentences are long and beautiful without fancy ticks and curly cues.

Also, there’s something about the way he lived his life.  He gave himself up to life and to writing with an almost spiritual passion.  He gave himself up to love and to hunting and fishing and to food and drink.  He looked like he lived hard, and his early death (Is 78 early?  To my grandmother, 90 was early.) may speak to that.

I feel like something  is trying to give me a hint, and even the ghost of Jim Harrison, at least his authorial voice and amusing video image, is tapping me on the shoulder about something that I’m just a little too slow on the uptake to get.

I hope I figure it out before too long.

The Hungry I

I know we have to eat to live, but I want to live to eat.  

At the same time, I don’t want to clog my arteries, blow up my sugar count, and make my heart explode.  It’s difficult.  You see, I’ve been programmed to want fat and sugar in some deep reptile part of my brain so much that I’m ready to fight off a saber tooth tiger for its kill to get a piece of that nice buttery mastodon belly.  

Unfortunately for me, these days I can pick up a decent mastodon belly in most supermarkets near my house and there are no more saber toothed tigers to make it even sporting.  My reptile brain couldn’t care less about the lack of competitive predators, so it’s way too easy to go to the Safeway and return to my cave with armloads of crap that will kill me, slowly, but thoroughly.

I can’t outwit my reptile brain.  It’s older and more primitive than the rest of my head parts.  I just need to plan, plan, plan what I want, and hope that I can stick to my plan, despite the howling in my head that happens every time I pass the cake-cookie-candy, deep fried chicken/steak/what-have-you, salty snacks now with extra salt aisles.

Maybe my plan will work.  On the other hand, there’s that Mike Tyson quote:  “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”

If I can just avoid Mike Tyson, maybe I’ll be okay.


Names have been changed to protect the slightly guilty (me).

So I get this call from Angela, a manager from another department, asking for my help to finalize a document on the computer.  I agree and wait for the document to show up in my “to do” list.  An hour later there’s no sign of the document and I’ve got to run to a meeting, so I call to tell Angela that I couldn’t help her.

Hello, you’ve reached such-and-such.  May I help you?

Hi, this is Art from what-do-ya-call-it.  Can I speak with Angela, please?

Who is this?

Art from what-do-ya-call-it.


Art.  May I please speak with Angela?

What do you want to talk to Angela about?

I couldn’t help her with a document.

What is it that you want to talk to Angela about?

I couldn’t help her.

What was that you wanted to talk to Angela about?

I couldn’t…(losing it) Just get her on the (fucking) phone! (The fucking was silent).

Angela is not here.  She stepped out half an hour ago.

Can I please leave a message?

Who is this again?



Art from what-do-ya-call-it.



I felt this rage well up and I could have chosen not to get mad, but decided to go for it anyway.  It felt good momentarily and I felt guilty just after (though not all that guilty).

My spouse later wondered what the hell else was going on with me, and I admitted that I’m frustrated that my writing isn’t as good as I want it to be (lame but true).

Instead of getting angry with myself and feeling hopeless and depressed (about the writing), I displaced my anger onto this other poor schnook (who was pretty unhelpful, when you get down to it).

Sounds crappy, I know, but this is a step up for me.

The Real

I’ve been writing for a long time–years and years, actually.  During all of that, I’ve looked at writing as an escape from my real life.  Writing was a place in which no boss could deny my vacation days, no customer could become angry with me, no loved one was unhappy with something that I had done or said, and no parent could display contempt for me.

I’d work from project to project and hang onto the belief that I had written something perfect or perfectible, so I could stop thinking about it, and whistle through my day, transcending the petit suffering of my middle class white life.  

And at the end of each project, I would send its imperfect slouching self out onto the sea of the larger world where it sank without a trace.

I would always get what I secretly wanted–to remain in my perfect fantasy of escape from life.  If I ever got what I imagined, I’d lose the fantasy and become stuck in the existential “now what?” of the real world.

Only recently, I’ve come to a very different way of looking at things.  Writing is about being more engaged in the real world.  When I struggle with theme, character, and plot, I struggle with my own life.  I try to see if my struggle reflects the struggle of others.  Could anything I write be of use to anybody else?

Today we are surrounded by fear.  Tyrants threaten to save us through brutal hatred.  Powerlessness, hopelessness, and the death of innocence is the order of the day.

The writing now haunts every day of my waking life.  It is in the background of everything I do.  And the struggle is always about making it work better, speak louder, and be more true and relevant for other people.

I might succeed at speaking this truth, or I might not, but at long last, I am engaged in the attempt to write something real.

Back to the Blog

Here I am again, and again, I’m tempted to whine about my writing.  Frankly, I’m bored of complaining, so I’m not going to do it.  The writing is what it is.  I should spend more time doing it.  I also need to finish things.  And I need to get better.  Much better.  But enough about that.

The spouse and I just finished a popular thirty day diet in which we cut out most things people like to eat.  It was difficult.  I missed soy products.  I missed cooking with wine.  I missed cheese, glorious cheese.  Was it worth it?    Who knows?  In the end, I did feel better, not that I felt that bad before.  The best thing, I admit, was doing all that cooking.  I’m not at a point of combining flavors and proteins and inventing recipes, but I’m a lot better than I was before.  And I actually like to cook.  Who knew?

The one thing I learned is forget all of those Whole30, super paleo etc. recipes.  Just take the dishes that you like to eat and replace the forbidden gluten filled dairy frothing evil nastiness class of ingredients with something equivalent (or maybe nothing at all).  Who needs all that sugar?

So long, and I hope it’ll be less than a year before I blog again.

Your pal,


Lost in the Jungle of Story

I haven’t been online in quite a while.  Most of my time has been taken up with avoiding being online.  It feels oddly like keeping a private diary and then putting it in a store window for everyone to read.  For me, it’s sort of like wearing underwear on the outside of your clothes.

At this point, my spouse would say, “Get over your precious self!”

“I will try, honey.”

I am currently between draft one of a novel and draft two.  This is usually my cue to dump the whole mother and start again.  I’m really trying not to do that.  The tough part is distinguishing what doesn’t work from what almost works, and not recoiling in disgust and hurling the manuscript out the window.

I’m peering beneath the skin and tissue down to the very bones of the story and hoping I can figure out how to fix it.

To calm myself down about this process, I do what everyone else does.  I search for some writing gospel that I can believe in.  Some answers to my eternal questions of how to make my writing into something enjoyable for others to read (or at least coherent).

There’s a ton of stuff out there about the mechanics of story.  I find a lot of it very useful, particularly during the rewrite process, when I’ve actually got my mound of clay to work with.

On the other hand, I think what I really long for is someone to show me the path that my story can cut through the jungle of material.  If only I could read the correct how to book, or blog, or fortune cookie, I will know what to do.

The horrible truth is that no one can show me that.  The other paths that have been cut are familiar and successful, but they are their paths.  Only I can find my own path.

There’s a moment in the movie “Stargate” just before James Spader is about to step through into the unknown.  It seems as if he is about to touch the face of God.  This is what it’s like when I happen upon a reasonable approach to understanding story.  My heart swells, I fall to my knees, and I cry like the true penitent believer that I want to be.

When Mr. Spader actually passes through the stargate, of course, it’s just more plot stuff.  And that’s what it feels like when, again, I come to the realization that no one can save my story but me.

Fire Storm Scientist

I’ve got a new story named “The Fire Wish” in the Japanese Mythology issue of Penumbra Emag  It takes place in the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant just after the 2011 tsunami struck and involves a worker struggling to bring a reactor under control.  It is the darkest story I’ve had published so far.

I have always felt a kind of mad glee when one of my stories goes out in the world, and though I do have some of that feeling right now, the subject matter of this story is so serious that it has tempered my usual effervescence.

The rest of the issue of Penumbra is absolutely great.  I strongly recommend getting a copy.

 Penumbra eMag Vol 2 Issue 10


On another note, I’ve just returned from San Diego where I visited my sister Alison, her husband Craig, and his extended family.  They don’t actually live in San Diego but in a small town named Ashby, Minnesota.  Their nearest big city is Fargo.

They were so nice I thought maybe I should leave northern California and move there.  My wife caught me thinking this, I suspect by that far away “I could be a Viking” look in my eyes, and pointed out that they have something in Minnesota called winter.  I knew she was right, but still, it sounded nice.  At least it did until everyone started talking about the storms.  Apparently at least twice a summer they have to rush into a storm cellar before some tornado rips a freight train off of its tracks and hurls it at them.  How do they know when it’s time to get underground?  They feel a change in pressure.  My brother-in-law does this in his sleep.  He’ll just sit up in the middle of the night open his eyes and tell my sister to grab the kids.


Okay.  I’m not moving to Minnesota any time soon.

I’ve got a six-year-old nephew named Aksel who has decided that when he grows up he wants to be a scuba diving scientist.  His dad explained to him that they call these people marine biologists.  Aksel understands this, but he prefers the title scuba diving scientist.


I think he has a point.  After thinking about this, I realize that I want to be a scuba diving scientist too.


Photographs are difficult.  Most of the time, for whatever reason, in photographs I look like someone just ran over my puppy.  I don’t even have a puppy.

Lucky for me, I have a friend in Los Angeles named Christopher Popp that I knew from the bad old Hollywood days.  He is a brilliant cinematographer and although he hasn’t shot stills in some time, he took pity on me.

Art 1

Not bad. Maybe a little puppy concern, but not much.