Larry Kahaner

Archive for the category “plotting”

CDC Sending Magic 8-Balls to Schools to Help Decide When to Open

Agency Promises ‘Accurate and Real Time’ Knowledge Without Political Bias

By Larry Kahaner

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(This article first appeared in ExtraNewsfeed.)

As local officials struggle how to safely open schools, the Centers for Disease Control announced that it will distribute ‘Magic 8-Balls’ to school administrators to help them make decisions based on the most reliable health information available.

“Sadly, we realize that the issue of school safety has become politicized,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield. “Our initiative will allow school officials to have the most up-to-date, real-time guidance with accuracy and objectivity far beyond anything we could hope for from our laboratory work. Conjecture, politics and especially malarkey, have no place in scientific discourse.”

He noted that when the Magic 8-Ball offers responses like “As I see it, yes,” and “Don’t count on it,” the orb is exhibiting no-nonsense leadership with zero room for interpretation or second guessing. “Above all else, we want the nation’s children to be safe and putting them in the hands of doctors and other ‘so-called’ highly educated and trained professionals is ludicrous in this day and age,” said Redfield.

Redfield, who is a real, honest-to-goodness medical doctor himself, acknowledges the limits of his field. “As researchers continue to learn new aspects about this novel coronavirus, public health officials are being forced to alter treatments and protocols to reflect the latest findings, and that can be quite inconvenient. Not to mention irritating. The Magic 8-Ball will circumvent all this rigmarole so students can get to class and parents can get back to work — safely.” He added that CDC will offer shaking instructions on its website in English and Spanish.

Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has been critical of what he calls ‘a lack of accountability’ at the highest levels of government, said he was optimistic about this new approach. “The President has pushed decisions to the governors, the governors have put it on the shoulders of county executives, and they have passed it down to the city mayors. Finally, we have an apparatus that will take responsibility for our children’s lives.”

The plan is not without controversy, however. Several PTA groups in Texas, for example, called the idea of using a child’s toy to make life and death decisions ridiculous and proposed giving school officials and parents more rational and carefully thought-out tools based on tried-and-true scientific methods.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” said Sherry Dossman, President of the Texas Parent Teacher Association. “We’re asking parents, teachers and school officials to consider making their decisions using Tarot cards, I Ching sticks and Ouija boards. We’ve also heard from some concerned parents that they are seeking augurs to lead them in divination of sheep entrails. It’s important that we respect everyone’s opinion as we decide how best to open our schools,” she said.

Larry Kahaner has been a serious writer and journalist for decades. Now he’s not — serious, that is.

God Returns from Vacation… Boy, Are We in Trouble

By Larry Kahaner

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(This article first appeared in The Bigger Picture.)

“Good to have you back, boss. Where would you like your bags?”

“Just toss them in the corner. I’ll unpack later. The Lakers are on, and I wanna catch some of the basketball game. LeBron is some next level. Where is the remote, Keith?”

“Here, sir, but we need to talk.”

“Can’t it wait? I just got back from the most relaxing vacation in the universe and I’d like to keep my afterglow. The beaches were exquisite. The drinks were out of this world. I met someone, too. It was a fling, but you never know.”

Keith hands over the remote, and God watches the large screen come to life. He cleans his glasses on the bottom of his T-shirt and squints. “What the… why does it say ‘encore’ in the upper left-hand corner? What the hell?”

“Sir, that’s what we need to discuss.”

“Okay, okay.”

“Well, sir, while you were gone, earth was, er, is, experiencing a pandemic.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Again? It’s those wet markets in China. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?”

“We’re not yet sure, sir.”

“Me-dammit. I warned those guys not to eat my animals unless they were fully cooked. Didn’t I? No one listens to me anymore.” He throws the remote on the couch, walks to the frat boy fridge next to the TV and grabs a beer. “You know, when I set up this operation I didn’t specifically tell people not to eat animals — I wanted to give them some free will — but I made it difficult. Didn’t I?”

“You did, sir.”

“I had all these ridiculous rules about what you could eat, what you couldn’t eat. Shellfish was a no-no if I recall. Something about cloven hooves, I forget. No pigs. That was in there, right?”

Keith nods.

“I thought they would take the hint to cut down on animal consumption, eat more veggies and grains, but they didn’t. You can only do so much, you know.” He slumps into the couch cushions. “That Dr. Fauci fellow, is he in charge? I gave him so much freaking experience and wisdom.”

Keith cleared his throat. “Well, sir, at first people listened to him like a… a… god. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“But then people were all worried about money and wanted to get back to work before they should… People started to discredit him, he got death threats, they waved guns around… it was a whole thing.”

“But at least everyone’s wearing masks and keeping their distance, right?”

“Not exactly. Most of your children are working hard at staying safe but, as usual, the Americans… they’re the problem.”

“Let me guess. They claim that I will protect them, so they don’t need to wear masks. And they won’t wear masks because of being made in My image, and they don’t want to hide My creation… yadda, yadda. Same old bullshit.”

“Uh, something like that,” Keith says, as he opens the drapes.

“Did you talk to my Son or any of the prophets? What’s their take?”

“They were waiting for you to return. We called you several times.”

“I turned off the ringer. I’m entitled to some ‘Me’ time. What’s the prayer count?”

“Off the charts. We brought in some temp angels.”

God stares out the window. “OK, here’s what we’re gonna do. All the first responders, doctors, nurses, truckers, teachers, all of them, they win the lottery, their kids get college scholarships, they live to be old and healthy. You know the drill. The assholes doing bad shit in my name…”

“Say no more, sir. I will take care of it.”

Keith turns towards the door when the boss asks, “When are the Lakers going to play again?”

Larry Kahaner has been a serious writer and journalist for decades. Now he’s not — serious, that is.

‘Quality,’ not ‘Quantity’ of Infections is How I Judge my Work, Says Kevin the Coronavirus

By Larry Kahaner

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This article first appeared in The Haven.

Me: I am honored that you chose me among all other journalists to be your first interview. Why me?

Virus: You’re not wearing a mask. I find them offensive. Can we move a little closer?

Me: Umm, okay. Mr. or is it Ms. Coronavirus, tell me a bit about yourself.

Virus: Please, call me Kevin. We are asexual, by the way, and Kevin is a nickname that I prefer instead of Coronavirus which sounds pompous to me. I’m not anything special. I work hard, I evolve. I like to think that I’m giving a 110% when I’m out there in the field.

Me: But you’re a novel virus. That means you’re new and never seen before.

Virus: I’m not out there alone. It’s a team effort. All of us viruses — and a shout-out to my bacteria colleagues — we’re all out there just doing the best that we can. Working together to infect mankind. Wait, is that offensive? Do you say humankind now?

Me: Either is fine. Did you always want to be a virus?

Virus: Yes, ever since I began replicating. It’s in my RNA, so to speak. My great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather, was responsible for the 1918 Spanish Flu. As a youngster, I would sit and listen to his stories about how he spread chaos and death. It inspired me to be the best parasite that I can.

Me: He was responsible for 25 million deaths. Is that your goal?

Virus: If only. (Laughs) I sit on the shoulders of giants. If it weren’t for those who came before, none of us viruses would be here. Lookit, my second cousin, once removed, H1N1, my half-sister Ebola, and HIV — I think he’s like a distant relative through my mother’s side but I haven’t done the genealogy — they’re all winners in their own right. They paved the way for microbes like me. You asked me about infection rates, so I’ll be honest with you. I don’t look at the numbers. Sure, they’re a measure of success. I know that humans are obsessed with the count. I get that. Hell, CNN has a daily tally, but I’m more interested in the quality of my work.

Me: Quality?

Virus: Sure. You want to display some verve, some joie de vivre, you know, something special. I’m proud of how my viral spike peplomers enter the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor. I’m also particularly delighted at how I can spread even when my host is asymptomatic. Truth be told, it’s my best feature, and I don’t mind saying so.

Me: Can you give our audience an example of viruses that don’t quite meet your obviously high standards?

Virus: Let’s be clear. I don’t set the standards. It’s you humans. If it weren’t for you, we’d be stuck inside bats or pangolins. But since you asked… I know that I’m not going to make any friends here… but take Norovirus. Her husband and I have been pals since we were kids. I was best man at their wedding. She has since cheated on him, but that’s another story. What do you have with Norovirus, some diarrhea, vomiting, and that’s all well and good but how many deaths? A few hundred, and it’s cruise ship people for heaven’s sake. I don’t like to brag but I’ve infected heads of state. That Boris Johnson fellow, for instance. I turned that guy around. Nobody with Noro was singing from their balconies in Italy.

Me: Sounds like you don’t like Norovirus.

Virus: Look, she should live and be well. We all have our jobs to do but she gives a bad name to the rest of us with high R-naughts who are causing worldwide chaos. That’s all I want to say on that. I’d like to keep personalities out of it. Do you think you can move a little closer?

Me: What’s next for you?

Virus: I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing. I show up every day and do what’s expected of me. Things may slow down a bit for me during the summer but I’ll be back in the autumn. I got a call the other day from seasonal Influenza and we’re working on a… I don’t know exactly what you call it, kind of a partnership you might say. We’ve got some routines to work out but I think it’s gonna be a real showstopper. Team work make the dream work.

Me: Our time is up. Thanks for coming into the studio.

Virus: My pleasure. I hope we’ll talk again. Let’s shake on it.

Larry Kahaner has been a serious writer and journalist for decades. Now, he’s not — serious, that is.

Writing Humor is a Fool’s Errand

By Larry Kahaner

Some time ago, I told all 6 of my followers that I was moving from writing non-fiction to fiction. I kinda sorta lied. I still write non-fiction because people pay me money to do so. Truth be told, I still like doing journalism and in some teeny, tiny way maybe it does some societal good.

However, scores of articles and two thriller novels later, I’ve turned much of my attention to writing humor. For the most part, I’ve taken my skills in writing short-form journalism to writing short-form humor that looks like real, honest-to-goodness journalism or, at the very least, sober non-fiction. It’s not fake news; it’s fake-fake-fake news. There’s a big difference.

After all these years of being serious, I can now be not-serious, and it’s quite liberating. Plus, it makes me laugh, and these days I need all the yuks I can get.

Humor writing is difficult. As the saying goes: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” This quote has been attributed to a ton of people from actor Edmund Gwenn (He played Kris Kringle in the Miracle on 34th Street) to Jack Lemmon to Groucho Marx to Stan Laurel. I’m not taking sides on this. The other thing I know is that ‘comedy comes from pain.’ Again, lots of humorists, a fancy name for comedians, have said this including, most recently, Jerry Seinfeld in an interview with Howard Stern. (Look it up yourself.)

Obviously, I am not an emotionally well-formed person, because I make jokes out of just about everything, especially what I find particularly painful like how the US is coping with the Coronavirus, (God Returns from Vacation… Boy, Are We in Trouble);  science bashing, (CDC Sending Magic 8-Balls to Schools to Help Decide When to Open) and racial discrimination, (I Had to Tell the Hula Dancer on my Dashboard that it Just Wasn’t Working Anymore).

You’ll be happy to know that I am annoyed or angry at a lot more than these subjects so there’s plenty of water in the comedy well for me.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that humor is profoundly personal and depends upon where you are in life, your upbringing and sometimes what you had for breakfast. What one person finds funny, another finds in poor taste. Indeed, they may find it highly offensive, and how dare I make light of horrible things like the Coronavirus?

Hello, haven’t you been listening? I make fun of everything. It’s how I cope.

There’s another aspect to humor that I’ve discovered – along with everybody else who thinks about it for even a minute. You can open more minds with humor than you can by being serious. Witness Alec Baldwin playing President Trump on Saturday Night Live or almost anything that George Carlin (RIP) has said.  

(Pro Tip: Satire is powerful. Snark is less effective.)

Anyhow, check me out at  

It’s where I hang out these days and write stuff you may or may not think is funny. Nah, you’ll be laughing – either at me or with me. Don’t actually care which.

Larry Kahaner has been a serious writer and journalist for decades. Now, he’s not — serious, that is.

5G Nose Wire Transmitters in Face Masks Misreporting COVID-19 Numbers, says WH Insider

By Larry Kahaner

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Photo: Flavio Gasperini at Unsplash

(This article first appeared in ExtraNewsfeed.)

Washington, DC — Malfunctioning 5G nose wire transmitters in face masks are causing erroneous reporting of the number of COVID-19 cases in the US, according to a Trump administration official who spoke on a condition of anonymity.

“Many in the media have challenged why the president’s numbers of cases don’t jive with those of state public health officials. This is easily explained by these devices that are giving false readings,” the official said. “The fix may be somewhat hampered by the lack of Indian engineers no longer entering the US since President Trump’s H1B visa crackdown.” He added: “That’s not racist, is it?”

When asked about this matter at a news conference, White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said the President has no knowledge of what some are calling ‘nosegate,’ but added that any such transmitters — if they even existed and definitely not deployed by the newly-merged Sprint and T-Mobile — would be the best in the world. “One of the reasons why the administration okayed this merger is that the company promised to build the most extensive 5G network which would never be used to track anyone or anything especially in so-called blue states.”

CDC director Dr. Robert R. Redfield, called the whole notion of 5G wires in face masks ‘preposterous’ noting that the US doesn’t have that level of technical expertise. “It’s been rumored that the Chinese have such capabilities, but we won’t know for sure until we open those crates that have been sitting in my office for several weeks. I have a ton of work on my desk and haven’t gotten to it. Plus, the White House hasn’t told us what to think about it yet.”

When asked about the face mask transmitters, the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, said: “I could never understand why the administration’s numbers were always in conflict with the real count. Now, it all makes sense,” Fauci said, breathing a sigh of relief. “It’s all good.”

Larry Kahaner has been a serious journalist and writer for decades. Now, he’s not— serious that is.

Why the Pandemic Isn’t Panning out for Writers Like Me

By Larry Kahaner

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Edwin Hooper (Unsplash)

(This article first appeared in Pandemic Diaries.)

When my state of Maryland went into full lockdown in mid-March, I did not see the carnage ahead. All I thought was: “Okay, I have to stay inside for a while except for trips to the grocery store, and I will have plenty of time to work on my novel-in-progress.”

I saw my foreseeable life as if I were living the proverbial writers’ dream retreat. No distractions, no calls, no one wanting anything from me. All I had to do was take care of my basic needs, and those of my wife, and I would be free to be creative.

Three-plus months later, my dream hasn’t happened, and I know why. (Please set aside the looming spectre of deaths for just a minute — if you can.)

Contrary to popular belief, not all writers, painters, poets, sculptors, and artists are introverts. An introvert isn’t someone who sits at home by themselves and shuts others out. An introvert is a person who gets much, if not all, of their creative energy from inside their head. In a way, they are self-propelling. Moreover, an introvert has a limit on being with others especially at loud parties or large events. At some point, they must retreat to maintain their stability. Introverts aren’t anti-social; there’s just so much they can take of others.

An extrovert, on the other hand, is someone who gets their creative juices flowing by being with other people.

I am an extrovert.

I get my inspiration and ideas from sitting in a café, watching and eavesdropping on other people (not in a creepy way). I receive creative power and narrative imagination from yakking in my condo parking lot with my eccentric and sometimes annoying neighbors, chatting with retail clerks, and most of all, having lunch or cocktails with friends and family. After a few beers at a pub and loud chatter, I am not drained but energized.

It’s not that I abhor being alone with my own thoughts. Hell, I’ve been a writer for decades and riding solo is part of the gig, but I fill up my creative tank when I spend time with others.

The pandemic has erased that.

Sure, I am still writing my novel, but my output has been poor, not my usual progress. On the plus side, I had my first humor piece published. After all, humor comes from pain, and I am in a lot of it. See: ‘Quality,’ not ‘Quantity’ of Infections is How I Judge my Work, Says Kevin the Coronavirus .

There’s another factor at play. Perhaps the biggest one. Sorrow. I find myself surfing the web too much, watching TV news too much and worrying too much about what’s going on right now. I need to keep tabs on the horribleness, and it saps my energy.

Lest you think I’m being a whiny-baby, I count my blessings. I have food, shelter and I’ve been working from home for many years, so I have an income from non-fiction writing. Most of all, I have not gotten sick from the virus.

I dream that when this is over — and it will be — we will see a surge of all kinds of creative works worldwide: Street art, concerts, public sculptures, plays, and people like me sitting in bars getting energized and creative.

Take heart extroverts. Our time will return.

Larry Kahaner has been a serious journalist and writer for decades. Now, not so much — serious that is. Except for this article.

Get Your Fiction-Facts Right – or Not

Get Your Fiction-Facts Right – or Not

By Larry Kahaner


A friend of mine emailed me the other day about what kind of firearm one of his characters should be firing. He asked me because I know about weapons having once authored a non-fiction book about the AK-47 rifle. He described in detail how far the gun had to shoot, the shooter’s prowess (of lack of it) whether the round it fired would kill the intended victim or simply maim him. He went on to tell me about the weather conditions under which the shooting would occur. He mentioned nothing about the ironic comment the sniper undoubtedly would say once he pulled the trigger.

Maybe this chart is enough.

He needed this gun information quickly because it was holding up his progress. His writing momentum was locked but not loaded.

“TK,” I wrote back, “and move on.”

TK comes from my newspaper background. (My friend was a newsie, too, and knows the term.) It stands in for a word or phrase when you don’t know a certain fact, like the correct spelling or occupation of a person, and you will check it later. It means ‘to come’ and how the ‘c’ became a ‘k’ is a matter of some lore and conjecture, but it doesn’t really matter. See, I’m taking my own advice and moving on, too.

My buddy also cc’ed one of our other author pals and asked him, too. He, being nicer than me, actually offered some possible weapons and why each would be the one to use.

Although I am a stickler for presenting readers with the most accurate and realistic material, we’re writing fiction. Not an army manual. Unless you’re writing a military thriller where weapons are the star of the show (think some early works by Tom Clancy), the type of firearm, bomb, mace or other killing device isn’t that important. What’s more important is the feeling and emotion that the action proffers along with its contribution to the forward movement of the story. (Caveat: If you do specify a make and model of a gun make sure you get it right. There’s an entire world of gun enthusiasts who read novels just to find these kinds of errors.)

I know that many mystery authors in particular will gasp at this pronouncement. And I don’t blame them. Sometimes the exact type of poison is crucial to the story. (Seriously, are we still writing these kind of books?) Did the cops rule out a certain gun model because it didn’t fit the perp’s MO? (Please. We’re better than that.)

I also know that mystery writers attend lectures and webinars on the proper way to handcuff a suspect so they can add this detail to their novel. I have even seen half-day seminars for authors about electrocution. (I hope it’s for authors.) I’m okay with all that – and it can make a story more realistic – but sometimes a quick read on Wikipedia or a viewing of a YouTube titled “How to use a Taser” is enough. It certainly isn’t worth holding up your writing until you get the perfect answer.

What if you don’t get it exactly right? One of the biggest bestsellers of the 20th century, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, got a DC subway station name wrong. The author called it Metro Central instead of Metro Center. I live there so the error stood out, but you know something? No biggie. We’ve all seen something like this or worse. It bugs us for a few minutes, and we lament how ‘they’ could’ve looked it up. If the book is engaging enough, we’re okay with looking the other way. (Pro tip: Don’t place the Kremlin in China and you’ll be fine.) Ever watch a movie that takes place in a city that you know well? How many times have you shouted at the screen ‘they could never get between those places so fast?’

And don’t get me started on the scientific mistakes in The Martian by Andy Weir. There are scores of websites devoted to events in the book that could never happen because they break the rules of physics and/or the universe… but do most people care? That’s a nope.

One last piece of advice: It’s just as easy to get something right as it is to get it wrong. It’s far easier, though, to write around a detail and get on with the story than either of these choices.

Getting back to my friend who asked the original weapon question… I think he just wanted a respite. Writing is hard work, and distractions that seem like you’re really working on your book provide excellent cover.



Writers Suffer from Zeigarnik Effect; Don’t Worry; It’s Normal

Writers Suffer from Zeigarnik Effect. Don’t Worry; It’s Normal

By Larry Kahaner

Many writers, including me, suffer from the Zeigarnik Effect, but I never knew it until yesterday.

Will Smith;Tommy Lee Jones

You don’t need Men in Black to erase your memory. You’ll do it on your own.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts Stuff to Blow Your Mind and the hosts were  discussing lists, how they help you finish tasks, why we love them (think listicles) and, as an aside, can be considered a form of literature, according to author Umberto Eco.

They made the point that lists work because we remember unfinished items on our list but once we complete the to-dos, we often can’t recall the tasks.

This is a variation of the Zeigarnik Effect.

For example, after someone reads one of my books and starts mentioning parts they found especially interesting, or would like to know more about, I often find myself having no idea what they’re talking about. I’ve simply forgotten what I wrote. Usually, I engage in vague small talk until I can reach back into my noggin and retrieve some nugget that makes it sound like I really wrote the book. Other times, I come up with a delaying strand like “what exactly would you like to know more about,” or “what made you key in on that?”

Before I do a radio or TV interview, I find myself skimming my book and taking notes.

idiotI’ve talked to other authors and they have the same issue. Once they write something, it flies out of their brains like a flea from a skillet.

I have a close writer buddy who also reviews books for Publishers Weekly. When I told him about the Zeigarnik Effect, he said: “Never knew it had a name. When I finish [reviewing] a PW book it’s gone out of my head. Completely.”

According to Wikipedia, the Zeigarnik Effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. In my case, once I finish writing a book the details have left my brain.

As the story goes, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik first studied the phenomenon after her professor, psychologist Kurt Lewin, noticed that a waiter had better recollections of meals that had not yet been paid as opposed to those for which he received payment. After the server had completed the task –the meal was eaten and the check was paid – he was unable to remember any details of the orders. Zeigarnik then designed a series of experiments to uncover the processes underlying this phenomenon. Her research report, published in 1927, showed that participants who were solving a puzzle or constructing a box – and were interrupted – were able to recall the details of their actions (which side went with another side, for example) around 90 percent better than those who had completed the tasks undisturbed.

Why does this happen? Nobody knows for sure, but shrinks believe that we don’t like to leave tasks uncompleted so our brains keep it fresher than if we had finished the job. Actually, this may explain why, when you’re fretting about a tricky plot point, you wake up in the middle of the night with a solution. You subconscious was working on it all the time. Another possibility is that we tend to recall negative experiences more than positive ones. Not finishing a task is negative, and we hold on to it longer. Other theories have been put forth, but I like to think that when you’re done, you’re done. You don’t have to think about “it” any longer, and your mind is happy to comply.

There you have it. You can rest easy knowing that the Zeigarnik Effect is normal. There is no cure, but knowing that your malady has a name can be palliative and reassuring.

The end.

What was I saying again?

Book Publishing, Like Life, is Often A Matter of Luck

Book Publishing, Like Life, is Often A Matter of Luck

By Larry Kahaner

All of us want to believe that if we work hard, are honest in our dealings, are smart and have some talent, that we can succeed in anything we do whether it’s in business, sports, or publishing a novel.luck 3

I hate to tell you that if you believe this, you’re fooling yourself. Although many super successful people downplay luck as the reason for their success – hard work and high IQs are often cited – if they’re being honest, they know that luck played a large, sometimes gigantic reason for getting where they are.

The most recent forthright person to note this is billionaire Eric Schmidt who noted in a recent interview, “I would say I’m defined by luck, and I think almost anyone who’s successful has to start by saying they were lucky…  Lucky of birth, lucky of having intellectual and intelligent family home life, upbringing, global upbringing, etc.”

Schmidt, who made his fortune by being an early investor in Google, added: “I had the benefit of being early in the computer industry, so that’s like super luck.”luck 4

This is not to take anything away from Schmidt. Certainly, if he sat on his butt and did nothing, he wouldn’t be worth over $12 billion.


Here’s a personal example: My colleague and friend Bill Adler wrote in the late 1990’s a book titled Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. It’s what you think it is. It turns out that Rosie O’Donnell, who had a network show at the time, hated squirrels. One of her producers showed her the book, O’Donnell bought a copy for every audience member and had Bill on the show. The next month, it sold 30,000 copies. Luck, right?

A slew of similar stories abound.

I hear phrases like “luck favors the prepared,” and that’s true. We need to appreciate and act on a lucky break when we encounter it. We must be opened-minded to opportunities.

Why am I telling you all this? I receive emails from writers – new and experienced – who wonder why their manuscript isn’t selling or why they can’t get an agent. Sometimes it’s because your work is not, shall we say, your best. Often, however, it’s because a publisher or agent has their year filled or one morning an editor wakes up and says “If I see another serial killer proposal, I’ll scream,” but another editor thinks, “I would love to see another serial killer manuscript.” If your homicidal maniac book shows up to the second person’s desk, you’re golden. On the first editor’s desk… not so much.

But there’s no way of knowing who wants what at exactly at that moment. Editors may not know it either until they hear something on the radio during breakfast.

I read a fascinating take on luck from Daniella Levy who writes a blog called The Rejection Survival Guide and the post was called Is Success in the Writing Industry All a Matter of Luck? Levy notes that success in publishing hinges on four items:

1 – You happen to write what sells;

2 – You happen to get discovered by the right agent and/or editor;

3 – You happen to land a publisher that wants to invest in your book;

4 – Your audience happens to respond well.

Levy goes on the say: “There is something kind of depressing about the idea that so little of this is under your control… but there is something kind of freeing about it, too. If it’s not your responsibility, it’s also not necessarily your fault. If you’re not succeeding in a traditional sense, it’s not necessarily because you’re doing something wrong.”

Levy contends that we should “create because creation is an act of love.” That’s an encouraging and positive way to look at it. I don’t necessarily see it that way, but it’s valid nonetheless for some and certainly can ease the pain of rejection.

You should decide for yourself why you write and what keeps you writing despite setbacks.

Good luck.

Are the Jack Reachers a Dying Breed?

By Larry Kahaner

Is Jack Reacher dead?

This was the last question in a recent panel discussion sponsored by Mystery Writers of America’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter and probably designed to be the most provocative. I didn’t ask moderator Ed Aymar (The Unrepentant) if he meant it figuratively or literally as fans have often wondered if Lee Child’s character is dead or alive considering the hell this guy endures on a regular basis.


The Magnificent Seven: Toxic Masculinity?


The panelists – John Copenhaver (Dodging and Burning), LynDee Walker (Front Page Fatality), Alan Orloff, (Pray for the Innocent) and Aimee Hix (Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs) – weighed in. One indicated that the old-style male protagonists – the Sam Spade and Mike Hammer types – who drank hard, didn’t take prisoners, didn’t suffer fools, led with their fists, accomplished their goals in a heavy-handed manner, that this type of hero was indeed over and done. (The term ‘toxic masculinity’ came up. Ouch!) Others said that the tough guy is still a viable character but perhaps may be changing, more introspective, more willing to admit that they’re damaged goods. And let’s face it, these characters have some heavy interpersonal baggage albeit it’s usually blamed on other people, the rigged system or whatever else you got. Some self-analysis would certainly be welcome.

My hand went up and I proffered that the tough guy protagonist is alive and thriving – and needed more than ever. Where our country is today, a hero who keeps his promises, acts in the name of justice, believes that bad actors should be punished and has what I’ll just call ‘old-fashioned values’ is a tonic. Sadly, our institutions are often led by liars,  those who’ve stepped on others to achieve their positions, people (mostly men, I admit with some sadness) who can’t distinguish between lies and facts, and downright cheaters. They move whichever way the wind blows thinking nothing of the greater good but only their own gain. I’m not just talking about politicians but business and social leaders, too.

I wince at how old-school fictional characters solve problems with violence, but they are at least consistent, honest and think beyond themselves. How many times have we heard one of these tough guys say: “The world will be a better place without…” before pulling the trigger? As readers, we want heroes with a solid moral compass even if it doesn’t point to everyone’s true north. That’s Jack Reacher to a ‘T.’

(For those of you who really want to feel like waffling, watch the Magnificent Seven – the first one, damn it, not the remake – and then let’s talk moral compass.)

In a world full of compromises – usually ones that chip away at our best intentions – guys like Reacher suggest a simple, uncomplicated and value-rich way of life. He and his brethren give us hope that such an existence can be achieved even though it isn’t an easy path.

Whew, I was glad to get that off my chest not only about literature but about social issues, which was, oh, yeah, the topic of the event titled Crime Fiction as Social Commentary. It was held at George Mason University’s Fall for the Book annual event.



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