Reflecting on ‘Love, Solomon,’ my first published short story

One writer of a famous American classic once said he would love to rewrite parts of the book. Just as painters talk about never completing the “perfect” painting, writers often agonize over a published piece of work that isn’t “perfect.”

Parody singer “Weird Al” Yankovic echoed this thought on his website, saying, “I could work on an album forever, but like anything else of a creative nature, at a certain point you just have to ‘give up’ on it and let it live its own life.”

My first published short story was Love, Solomon, published in the November/December 2000 issue of the Austin-based True Believer magazine. Unfortunately, this magazine no longer exists (I’m certain, though, my short story had nothing to do with its demise). It’s a shame, since they were interested in publishing more fiction from me before deciding to go in a non-fiction direction.

I was 27 when this story was published, and I’d probably complete rewrite it today. The author’s note almost seems comical now, as if guiding the reader as they read a “great” work of fiction. Here it is, as it was…

Love, Solomon

By Richard Zowie

Author’s note: Although no archaeologist has ever discovered a letter written by Solomon to his son Rehoboam, there is also no proof that such a letter never actually existed. The following, therefore, is a work of fiction by the author.

The Song of Songs and The Preacher, the two books of Solomon referenced in the story, are the literal Hebrew translations of The Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. These are the titles Solomon would have known them as; the contemporary titles we known them by weren’t given to them until the Bible was translated into English.

To My Dear Son Rehoboam:

My son, as I write this to you, I am old and greatly stricken with years. I have ruled Israel as King for forty years, as did your grandfather David. In the time that I have lived and reigned I have seen many things. Many of the things I have seen and experienced have been very empty and heartbreaking, so I decided long ago that I should write a letter to you and share the things I have learned.

I recall a dream I had shortly after I began my reign as King of Israel. In the dream, the LORD God appeared to me. He told me I could have whatsoever I desired. Needless to say many things came into my mind. Wealth. Women. Power. Fame. A long life. Now, to a young man such as you who has never known poverty, it would amaze you that I chose none of those things. Instead, I asked the LORD God for wisdom. I desired wisdom to govern my people, wisdom in learning, and wisdom in understanding. There was nothing more in the world that I desired than to possess knowledge and wisdom.

God was gracious enough to give me wisdom and understanding. It’s been a long time, but I can still clearly remember in my dream that He gave me a bonus for my request. He told me, “Because you did not ask for wealth, power, or old age, I will give all these things to you.” And indeed he did! In my prime I was the wealthiest, famous, most learned man in the world. I even had a visit from the Queen of Sheba, which I’m sure you remember from your adolescent years. It still amuses me when she told me that my wisdom was even far greater than what she had heard.

What I am trying to tell you, my son, is that wisdom is of little use if not put to practice. Unfortunately, more often than not I was not true to the God of Israel. I worshiped false gods, I had wives who do not know the LORD God, and I gave into my selfishness much more often than I should have. I did all these things knowing that they were wrong to do. This was, without question, my greatest folly.

As I prepare to leave this world and go on to join your grandparents and ancestors in paradise, I hope and pray that you learn from my mistakes. In my lifetime I have written three books that I leave for you to study and learn: The Book of Proverbs, The Song of Songs and The Preacher.*

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of both my writings and other’s writings. It consists of observations and lessons about life, as well as sayings that reflect inherent truths. Read this book daily, even if it’s only a chapter a day.

The Song of Songs is, to put it bluntly, a book about love and sex. Although it may seem odd to some that the LORD God would inspire me to write a Song about intimacy, it seems fitting, though, since so many people live in relationships that are founded upon sex instead of love. This book, my son, represents romance as God intends it. I have been a hypocrite and a terrible example by having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; please do not make the same mistake I did. Limit yourself to one wife, as God gave Adam but Eve. Center all your love, both physical and emotional, on her and her only.

The Preacher is perhaps the most complex of the three. It represents perhaps some of my most intimate and intricate thoughts on life. This book is my account of my attempts to find happiness apart from God. You see, son, I lived my life largely for myself. I did things that made me happy. I never denied myself in any of my pursuits of pleasure, and I strived continually to make myself completely happy. I tried, son, to give myself a happiness that only God Himself can provide. In short, my son, despite having all of my material desires fulfilled, I was completely miserable. For us to try to fill that void in our lives that only God is capable of filling is the ultimate vanity of life. Please remember this; failure to do so can and will be fatal.

Read this letter diligently, my son. Please do your best to heed it. My heart grieves to know that I have been a terrible example to you and others as a father, a friend, a husband, and as a follower of the Lord God. Do better than I have and the Lord will reward you limitlessly.

I love you.

Your Loving Father,

Solomon

The titles Song of Songs and The Preacher are both literal translations of the Hebrew titles Shir HaShirim and Qoheleth. In most Bibles they are known as Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, respectively.

Writer’s circle

A few weeks ago, I met with fellow writers from Fredericksburg Writer’s Conference. We read from our works. Some read poetry, others novel excerpts and others short stories.

I read from an unpublished short story, titled, “What Nearly Was.” The group liked it overall, although a few tweaks may still be needed. I’d rather not yet say what exactly it is about, but I will say this: if there’s a home for it, it’s in Christian fiction. The controversial nature it focuses on probably makes it untouchable in the secular fiction market.

 

Your Story #77, what I submitted

Here’s what I submitted today to Writer’s Digest.

Cobb Salad: Cheddar or Bleu Cheese?

By Richard Zowie

Fridays are often a half day for me at work. I’m a journalist and usually work five extra hours combined on Monday and Tuesday as we rush to meet deadlines and lay out the weekly newspaper. And because Fridays are often a slow day anyway, I normally take off most of that day to keep my weekly hours near 40.

My week ended at 11 a.m. on Friday, so I thought, why not take lunch to Jesse?

Jesse is what I prefer to call my wife, Jessica. She’s tall, her pale blue eyes stand out against her olive complexion, and she has corkscrew curly black hair. When she wants to make me melt, she smiles and dimples appear on her cheeks. Her maiden name was Antonian: her family fled Armenia shortly the Soviet Union collapsed. She doesn’t like to talk about that.

I went to the grocery store and picked up a Cobb salad. They make it exactly as she loves it — with shredded cheddar cheese instead of bleu cheese crumbles. When we first met, we learned of our mutual dislike for bleu cheese, that sharp taste of decay. It’s since become an inside joke during our 10-year marriage, a playful, but intimate secret between two lovers.

Maybe the salad will cheer her up, I thought. Jesse has seemed talkative lately, odd since she normally doesn’t say much even when it’s just the two of us at home. She teaches Algebra and geometry at the local public high school. She insists nothing is wrong but, deep down, I know she’s lying.

I went up to the high school and brought her a Cobb salad, along with a wheat roll and her favorite drink, Evian spring water. The school smelled of a fresh repaint, its walls Kelly green and white (the school colors). Class was in session, so the halls were empty and silent. One teacher, a female coach wearing wind pants and tennis shoes, hurried past me with a clipboard in her left hand. Her eyes were elsewhere, as if she had 20 projects she was managing simultaneously.

I walked to Room 229, the teacher’s lounge, and knocked on the door. Since I’m not an employee, knocking seems more appropriate.

The door opened, and a towering teacher with dark brown eyes, dark brown hair and graying temples peeked out. He was a coach, but I couldn’t remember his name. Henry or Hendricks. “Yes, can I help you?” he asked, his strong breath that of someone whose coffee maker only took breaks when he slept.

“Hello,” I smiled, offering my hand. “I’m Steve Wolverton, and I brought lunch for my wife, Jessica. May I come in?”

He shook my hand, a loose, distant grip. His eyes stayed on mine, and I could tell immediately he knew something I didn’t. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if they were having an affair.

“Jessica Wolverton?”

I nodded.

“Mr. Wolverton, your wife, um, hasn’t taught at this high school in a month,” he said. “She resigned.”

Resigned?” I asked, surprised, but realizing that probably explained her strange behavior. “Why, Coach Hen—I’m sorry, what is your name?”

“Coach Henderson,” he said. “She left, and after doing a little research, school officials learned she faked her résumé. Her education never went past junior college, and she does not have a teaching certificate. She was a friend of mine, so I was shocked.”

I didn’t know what to say. When she did talk, Jesse would tell me all about her students, lessons, papers to grade, stories of attending the University of Houston and its math professors.     Henderson looked at the salad, the green lettuce, red tomatoes and yellow cheese mixed together on a black plastic tray, the contents visible from the clear plastic dome. Half a boiled egg nested in the middle. His eyes locked onto the cheese, as if he’d never seen cheddar cheese before. “Cobb salad with cheddar cheese?” he finally asked.

“Yes,” I said. My throat was dry sand.

“That’s odd. She loves Cobb salad, but she prefers it with bleu cheese.”

Richard Zowie is an “oil brat” who grew up in Kansas and Texas and now lives in the Texas Hill Country. One of his passions is fiction writing. Post comments here or email them to richardzowie@gmail.com. 

700-word writing challenge draft

The writing challenge is this: When a man takes lunch to his wife’s office, he’s told that she hasn’t worked there in weeks. 700 word limit.

Please read and post your thoughts either on Facebook or here in the feedback section

Cobb Salad, Cheddar or Bleu Cheese?

By Richard Zowie

Fridays are often a half day for me at work. I’m a journalist and usually work five extra hours combined on Monday and Tuesday as we rush to meet deadlines and lay out the weekly newspaper. Because Fridays are often a slow day, I normally take off most of that day to keep my weekly hours near 40.

My week ended at 11 a.m. on Friday, so I thought, why not take lunch to Jesse?

Jesse is what I prefer to call my wife, Jessica. She’s tall, her pale blue eyes stand out against her olive complexion, and she has corkscrew curly black hair. When she wants to make me melt, she smiles and dimples appear on her cheeks. Her maiden name was Antonian: her family fled Armenia shortly the Soviet Union collapsed.

I went to the grocery store and picked up a Cobb salad. They make it exactly as she loves it — with shredded cheddar cheese instead of bleu cheese. When we first met, we learned of our mutual dislike for bleu cheese, that sharp taste of decay. It’s since become an inside joke during our 15-year marriage. A playful, but intimate secret between two lovers.

Maybe the salad will cheer her up, I thought. Jesse has seemed talkative lately, odd since she normally doesn’t say much even when it’s just the two of us at home. She teaches Algebra and geometry at the local public high school. She insists nothing is wrong but, deep down, I know she’s lying.

I went up to the high school and brought her a Cobb salad, along with a wheat roll and her favorite drink, Evian spring water. The school smelled of a fresh repaint, its walls Kelly green and white (the school colors), and the halls empty as class was in session. One teacher, a female coach wearing wind pants and tennis shoes, walked past me with a clipboard in her left hand. I looked at her but she was elsewhere, as if managing 20 projects simultaneously.

I walked to Room 229, the teacher’s lounge, and knocked on the door. Since I don’t work at the school, I prefer to knock instead of walking in.

The door opened, and a towering teacher with dark brown hair and graying temples peeked out. His eyes were dark brown. He was a coach, but I couldn’t remember his name. Henry or Hendricks. “Yes, can I help you?” he asked, his strong breath that of someone whose coffee maker only took breaks when he slept.

“Hello,” I smiled, offering my hand. “I’m Steve Wolverton, and I brought lunch for my wife, Jessica. May I come in?”

He shook my hand, a loose, distant grip. His eyes stayed on mine, and I could tell immediately he knew something I didn’t. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if they were having an affair.

“Jessica Wolverton?”

I nodded.

He looked down at the salad, the green lettuce, red tomatoes and yellow cheese mixed together on a black plastic tray, the contents visible from the clear plastic dome. Half a boiled egg nested in the middle.

“Mr. Wolverton, your wife, um, hasn’t taught at this high school in a month,” he said. “She resigned.”

Resigned?” I asked, surprised, but realizing that probably explained her strange behavior. “Why, Coach Hen—I’m sorry, what is your name?”

“Coach Henderson,” he said. “She left, and after doing a little research, school officials learned she faked her résumé. Her education never went past junior college, and she does not have a teaching certificate.”

I didn’t know what to say. When she did talk, Jesse tell me all about her students, lessons, papers to grade, stories of attending the University of Houston and its math professors. I even saw her writing a few tests. As my mind wondered there, I slowly lost my grip on the salad. It fell to the linoleum floor, the plastic cracking open and spilling green salad and shredded cheddar cheese onto the ground.

Henderson looked down, the bewildered look returning to his face. “Cobb salad with cheddar cheese?”

“Yes,” I said. My throat was dry sand.

“That’s odd. She loves Cobb salad, but she prefers it with bleu cheese.”

The 2015 Reading Challenge

I saw this posted by a friend on Facebook and decided I would participate.

50 books to be read in 2015.

Well, to be exact, 52 (one of the assignments is for a trilogy).

2015 book challenge

I see this as a way to stretch out my literary abilities, push myself out of my comfort zone and read more than I have in a long time. Some of the books I’ll be reading I already own (such as Eight Men Out, The Day of the Jackal and Gorky Park). Others will be tougher to find, such as a book set in my hometown of Beeville, Texas (The Republic by Jeff Essary). Essary’s book I may have to buy online if I can’t find it in a library. If I can’t find any set in Beeville, I’ll have to see if my other two hometowns (Alvin, Texas and Colby, Kansas) have any books set there. Otherwise, there’s a book set in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where my family lived for a while in 1974.

Among the books to read are a book with more than 500 pages (I’ve chosen Dune), a book with a one-word title (Candide by Voltaire) and a book that scares me (The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh).

And for a banned book, I have chosen Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. I thought about getting a book from “Banned Books Week,” but I decided instead to focus on a book that has been banned rather than challenged or had a parent express concern over their child reading it. I know from my Russian teachers that Pasternak’s masterpiece was indeed banned in the former Soviet Union.

For a book that made me cry, no book really has, but one has made me very sad, even angry. It’s a book about a group of men who get punished for taking drastic measures, due in part to being grossly underpaid in their job.

The book? (See below)

8 men out

As I work through the books, I’ll blog about them and write what it was like. Some will read quickly, including the assignment of the book that can be finished in one day, and others will take time. Some may even be tough to find. I see this as an adventure, since I’ll encounter new authors and books I wouldn’t normally read.

Should be quite an adventure.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Travel writing, something I’d LOVE to do someday

Something I’d love to do someday is travel around the world for a year or two and chronicle my experiences. Among the many places I’d love to go: Germany, England, Scotland, Russia, Israel, Greece, China, Mexico, Argentina. Among the places here in America: the Grand Canyon, the Devil’s Tower, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles (even though I’ve already been there a few times), New England and The Four Corners.

I imagine one way to do it is to go out, observe, talk, write and then put your adventures into 300-500 word blog postings.

That does pose one question: travel writing also is an easy way of saying, “I’m not home.” Does one travel write when one is done traveling…?

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

A funny story from the newsroom…when a visitor won’t quit talking

At one newspaper several years ago, I had a visitor show up to discuss with me a story idea. When they summarized, I figured it would be a two-minute conversation.

I was horribly wrong.

They spent 15 minutes talking about their story, basically repeating the same information over and over.

I’d taken some notes and began to smile while thinking of an escape hatch. I didn’t have to use the restroom, and it was nowhere near time for a lunch break.

A few moments later the publisher told me, “Richard, you have a call on Line 2.”

I excused myself, and the visitor left. Once I sat at my desk I picked up the phone and said, “This is Richard.”

My publisher answered. “Nobody. I just figured you needed an escape route.”

Richard Zowie lives in the Texas Hill Country and is a reporter for the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post. The views expressed in this blog posting do not necessarily reflect those of the Standard newspaper staff, editor or publisher. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Reading the Sunny Randall series

So far, I have read three books in Robert B. Parker’s Sunny Randall series: Family Honor, Perish Twice and Shrink Wrap. Prior to this, I finished the Jesse Stone series.

I liked the Jesse Stone character because, despite his flaws that glare more than sunshine on Mercury, he was an intuitive man who knew how to get things done and knew how to deal with people. Sunny Randall is more talkative and doesn’t struggle with alcohol the way Jesse does, but she knows how to piece things together. Perhaps it’s Woman’s Intuition, or perhaps it’s just great writing.

When reading the Randall series, you know three things will happen: she will have a deep conversation with her ex-husband, Richie, her friend Spike will insult a customer at his restaurant and he will also manhandle someone who tries to harm Sunny. Spike is a bear of a man, flamboyantly gay and very unpredictable. It makes for very fun reading.

I am currently taking a break from the SR series while I return to science fiction. I’m re-reading Mercury by Ben Bova (which might explain my above analogy) and I also would like to read a sci-fi novel titled Sunborn, which deals with the exploration of Pluto.

Happy reading!

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

What is the future of journalism?

A certain newspaper closed down a few months ago. Besides a major lack of local reporting (the lifeblood of just about every newspaper, since residents want to know what’s going on in their area), one fatal blow to this paper was its publisher’s refusal to get a website.

Not only did they not web-publish, but they also had NO website.

I found it flabbergasting, especially since when I began in journalism in 2000, even then the newspaper (the Kelly Observer) was already publishing online. These days, you have to at least have a website. Otherwise, people think you are as ancient as a vinyl album. Once you have a website, figure out if and how online publishing can work.

One newspaper I’ve seen back home in Texas has a three-part subscription plan: 1) Print newspaper only; 2) Print and online newspaper and 3) Online newspaper only. #1 is for the old-school types who prefer a printed newspaper and don’t like online news. The second is for those who like both and the third is for either those who prefer online news only or for those who live far away and can only access fresh editions online.

Furthermore, the newspaper has this policy: if you don’t have an online subscription, you can read only the first paragraph. Once you buy an online subscription, you are issued a user name and password and can then read whatever part of the newspaper you want.

Other newspapers, such as the Flint Journal and the San Antonio Express-News, make their news available to anyone who accesses their sites without a subscription. I don’t know how well or if this works. I do know the Journal has in recent years past been doing a lot of layoffs; maybe there’s a connection, and maybe not.

I read a lot of online news and also access news through my cell phone. But, I must admit, I really like sitting, relaxing and reading the print edition. Besides news, sports, entertainment and comics (my current favorite is Luann), I also like to do the puzzles in the comics section.

I’m 40. In 50 years I will be 90. I don’t know if I will still be alive, but I do feel print newspapers will definitely be dead. Fortunately, for all the old-school types who prefer print news, they will probably be deceased also.

Richard Zowie is a journalist, columnist, blogger and fiction writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

A trio of haiku about my favorite planet

Yes, I live on earth, but I have long been fascinated with Pluto. It’s in frigid darkness, far from the sun in the solar system’s outer reaches. Here’s a set of three haiku I wrote recently about Pluto. (The bold line is the first line of each haiku)…

Small, white moving blip

Against endless field of stars

Found 1930.

Then, blip was bigger

1978 bump

Was found on the blip.

No longer “planet”

We shall learn of its secrets

Three summers from now.

pluto latest

What astronomers believe Pluto looks like, from three looks at its surface…

Richard Zowie is a writer who thinks the decision to demote Pluto to planetoid was subjective and stupid. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.