New look to my blog

True to my restless nature, I’ve changed the theme of my blog again. Didn’t like the previous one since it didn’t allow for tabs at the top. I like this one since it shows the full moon and one of my favorite themes, outer space.

No, I can’t promise never to change it again. I just like this design the best until the day comes when I can hire a web designer to customize a blog for me. (I’m a good writer, but web design is a whole different story).

What do you think, gracious reader? Drop me a line.

Richard Zowie, a professional writer, is an active blogger. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Waiting on one potential client, passed on two others

The one pays modestly, and that’s being polite. If the articles can indeed be written in 15 minutes and if enough are given on a regular basis, it could work.

I passed on the two others for different reasons: one pays glorified slave wages (such as about 50 cents for a 500-word article, which would only ). The other turned out to be for an adult site.

Longer version of my Writer’s Digest My Story #23 First Date Bizarreness submission

This is a longer version of the story I sent to Writer’s Digest for its Your Story #23 contest. As you can see below, I had to say goodbye to some background on the story. The trick to the 750-word contest is to keep the action to a few snapshots of storyline and then give your reader a vivid image of what’s happening. My creative writing teacher at Pensacola Christian College, Ms. Raymond, used to preach “Show, Don’t Tell.” Hopefully, I’ve picked up on that.

As is the case with the shorter version, Janet is based on a girl I knew at PCC.

The Russian Miracle

By Richard Zowie

I sat at the dinner table, nervously taking sips of water, oblivious of how horrible the tap water tasted. Across from me sat Janet. She wore a blue dress. I never pictured her as the makeup type, but now she wore bright red lipstick. She smiled, but seemed nervous, as if late for an urgent appointment. Her long, curly, dark-blond hair, normally pulled up, cascaded down well past her shoulders. Every so often, Janet would absently brush away the locks when they’d get too close to her face.

My attempts at conversation resulted in short answers:

“What does your Dad do for a living?” I asked.

“He’s a pastor.” Hearing her say this made me cringe. My Dad’s a mechanic whose last visit into a church was when my older sister, Kimberly, got married back in 1984. No pastor would ever consider me fit to marry his daughter.

Janet didn’t ask me what my Dad did.

“Where did you grow up?”

“Pennsylvania,” she replied, her bright sapphire blue eyes darting briefly at mine and then away, as though she’d rather be back in the Keystone State.

“I grew up in Los Patos,” I said. Los Patos, where South Texas University is located, was built around a large lake. They say the settlers who first came there called their new town “Los Patos” because of all the ducks swimming in the lake. Duck, in Spanish, is pato.

Even long before our food arrived (she ordered a Cobb salad while I ordered spaghetti and meatballs), I could see this was going to be a “mercy date.” A beautiful girl goes out with a geeky guy out of pity, hoping he’ll get the hint and not ask again. Most of the time it works but some friends of mine are as oblivious as they are intelligent, so it takes a friendly-but-terse “I just want to be friends” for the guy to get the message. And then the guy spends a month or so acting depressed unless one his friends talks him into guzzling a few Tequila Sunrises at a local bar.

As I asked her a few more casual questions, I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment. The problem was, I really thought Janet was The One. Janet was beautiful. Very beautiful. Janet also wasn’t too heavy or too thin. When she smiled, dimples appeared on her cheeks. She was about 5’3″ with those blue eyes that were so easy to get hypnotized by. I had to work hard not to stare into those caring eyes too long or I’d get real nervous and start acting goofy–something I often do when I’m around a pretty girl.

I first met Janet three years ago at the Baptist Student Union. She was a Christian and a Baptist, like me, which wasn’t very easy to find at STU. I’d often see her in the student union reading her Bible, praying and talking with others as she shared her faith. With her smile and with her godly ways it was easy to fall in love with her even without getting to know her very well.

A few months after meeting Janet, I asked her out. “I like somebody else,” she replied, putting me into a depression that lasted the rest of that month. I tried to avoid going to the BSU during that time. I let things go for a while, only to see her a year later wearing a large gold class ring on her right index finger. Its ruby stone seemed to mock me, as if saying, “HA ha! This girl’s mine! Get someone else.”

Finally, a few months ago, I noticed the ring gone from Janet’s finger. A quick glance on her left hand showed no engagement ring. A friend of mine, Monica, happened to be Janet’s acquaintance. Good news, Kevin! Monica told me. Janet broke up with her boyfriend from back home and isn’t dating anyone!

I waited those two months to ask Janet out, worried she’d realize I’d had Monica act as my private detective and be turned off. Janet accepted my invitation for a date, and we went to the Los Patos Diner, a restaurant on the north side of town where the rich families lived. It has an upscale feel but serves many types of cuisine. You don’t have to wear a tie to get in, but other patrons there look down on you if you don’t. So, to be on the safe side, I wore one despite the hot, dry South Texas climate.

As I sipped more water and tried to think of another question to ask, a young girl at the table next to us started groaning and holding her stomach. She started to cry and grabbed onto the table cloth, yanking at it as some painful spasm shot through her body. Her father’s glass of red wine tipped over, spilling onto his steak and forming a scarlet island around it. It also sprayed onto the white table cloth. Everyone in the restaurant gasped and turned towards them. After all, public commotions couldn’t possibly happen at such a nice restaurant.

The girl, who blond hair and blue eyes, was around 12 while her parents looked to be in their forties. She spoke to them, and I recognized the language as Russian (having remembered Mikhail Baryshnikov in the movie White Nights) but didn’t understand anything. The girl kept crying, this time louder, as if someone had turned up the volume on the pain.

I looked at Janet, bewildered. That distant, vacant look was gone and was replaced by deep concern. “Do you know what’s going on?” she gasped, turning towards me.

“I don’t know, but it sounds like they’re speaking Russian,” I replied.

The father, mother and daughter all continued speaking frantic Russian. The daughter’s cries turned into thin, squeaky shrieks as she writhed in her chair and clutched her abdomen. The father looked around the restaurant and screamed something like, “Pa mosh nam! My-ya doch bolna!” over and over again.

Everybody stared, but nobody moved. Everyone looked concerned, but there was the language barrier. Even in the college town of Los Patos, you don’t find a lot of Russian speakers in South Texas. I wondered if these were tourists or visiting relatives of one of the Russian professors at STU.

Janet was about to get up, but before she could I was already over at the table, wondering if I could be of any help. “Can I help you, sir?” I asked, speaking slowly.

He looked at me, his eyes a pale blue, a smile of gratitude spreading across his round face. His sweaty bald head shined in the overhead lights. “Yes, yes, you can!” he said, speaking English in a Russian accent. “My daughter very sick. She said she have pain near her stomach but just to the right of it. She also say it hurt very badly.”

“It sounds like her appendix might be infected,” I said, remembering my nephew, when he was nine, had those exact same symptoms and needed an emergency appendectomy.

I pulled out my cell phone and dialled 911. “Would you like to call for an ambulance?”

“No, my friend,” he said. “Nobody else seem to understand me tonight.”

So I called and explained where I was and that a little girl needed to be rushed to the hospital. In five minutes an ambulance arrived, emergency medical technicians took the little girl (whom I learned was named Svetlana) to the hospital. The father and mother, named Vladimir and Zhanna, thanked me continuously, their Russian accents growing thicker. The mother hugged me and briefly cut off my air supply. As they left, she said to me, “Doe svee don ya!”

Which, I guessed meant “goodbye.”

I went back to the dinner table where Janet was, sat in the chair and exhaled a deep sigh of relief. “That was a close one!” I said, shuddering and trying to make a joke out of it.

Janet stared at me, her mouth locked into a wide, shiny red O of surprise. “That was amazing, Kevin!” she said, a smile growing on her face. Her eyes were locked on mine. The minute she spent staring and smiling at me equaled the amount of attention she’d given me in the past few years, it seemed.

“I know,” I replied. “The little girl apparently has appendicitis, and they got her to a hospital. What amazes me is that nobody else in the restaurant seemed to understand–”

“I didn’t know you spoke Russian!” Janet interrupted. “Where did you learn it?”

“Learn it? What are you talking about?”

“You spoke a few minutes with that couple and it sounded to me like you were speaking Russian.”

“You’re joking, right?” I asked. “I don’t speak Russian. I grew up in Los Patos, and about the only foreign language you hear here–outside the college’s foreign language departments– is Spanish.”

“You’ve never been to Russia?”

“Never.” The only time I’d ever been outside America was to Matamoros, Mexico, to the markets. And there, it’s easy to find people who speak English.

“But I just heard you speaking Russian to that couple,” she said, smiling and pulling out a handkerchief from her purse to wipe away a few tears that had formed.

I started at her as she finished with her her handkerchief, looking for signs that maybe she was teasing me. “You said you heard me speak Russian?”

“Yes,” Janet said.

“Janet, the only foreign language I’ve ever studied in my life is Spanish. I don’t speak Russian. In fact, I couldn’t understand why everybody else in the restaurant seemed to be ignoring the father as he kept saying ‘Help us! My daughter is sick!’ over and over again.”

She shook her head. “Kevin, all I could hear is you speaking Russian. When you first spoke, I heard you say something like ‘Pa-moch’ and ‘doch’ and ‘bolna’.”

I later learned those words meant help, daughter and sick.

I shook my head. “Janet, I spoke English to them. As God as my witness, I don’t speak Russian.”

She stared me for a long time, a smile on her face. Monica told me once that Janet had this uncanny ability to read people and tell when they’re lying. But instead of getting nervous from her smile, I just stared back at her.

Finally, Janet said, “Well, it sounds like I just witnessed something out of the second chapter of Acts.”

“When Peter speaks in one language and people from many other countries hear him in their own language?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “I can’t wait to tell my atheist roommate about this. She probably won’t believe me, but this could help to plant a seed.”

It turned into a nice date that night. I’m thinking of asking her out again.

© Copyright 2010 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.

Some potential clients require strange formats

One was a King James Bible website (I prefer the King James but know of wonderful people who use other versions) and another is a site where you use keywords and write detailed articles. The Bible site wanted trivia questions written in an Excel document while the other client wants files written in an .rtf document. Others insist on .pdf.

Perhaps I’m stuck in the 1990s, but what on earth is wrong with a Microsoft Word format? Or how about just copying and pasting the text into an e-mail and sending?

If anyone can, please feel free to enlighten me.

Richard Zowie has been a professional writer since 2000. He’s been a journalist, columnist, blogger, copy writer and even fiction writer. Post comments below or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

My Writer’s Digest subscription has been renewed!

Jane Friedman

A very special, grateful, humble “Thank you” goes to Jane Friedman, the publisher of Writer’s Digest. After reading my earlier blog post about how I wasn’t able at this time to renew my subscription to her magazine, she then e-mailed me and offered me a complimentary, one-year subscription renewal!

This generosity was very unexpected (I’d actually made my posting more to chronicle what’s going on in my writing life) but is very appreciated.

Again, thank you for your nice gift, Ms. Friedman! I think of it as a birthday present (I’ll turn 37 in February). What I will probably do is take the tax return money I’d planned to use to renew my subscription to instead upgrade to the VIP program.

Richard Zowie has been a professional writer since 2000. He’s been a journalist, columnist, blogger, copy writer and even fiction writer. Post comments below or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

Why writers like me require ‘day jobs’

Currently, I have two part-time jobs (totaling about 54 hours a week) and I do freelance on the side. With one PT job I work at a newspaper run by some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. Professional, classy are great words to describe them. The other job is at a gasoline station. You learn to further develop your sense of humor and acquire a thick skin. With the freelance, I currently am waiting for some new assignments from a recreation magazine. This client’s been very good to me. Satisfying work and I get paid very well for it. On more than one occasion those assignments have helped to pay past-due bills or buy my wife, kids or myself much-needed items.

I tell my wife that I could ever get two or three more regular clients like the rec magazine, things would look up for us financially. Yes, I’d be very busy and would probably have to take naps more often (something I rarely do), but we could get done a lot of things that we need.

With that, I visit freelance websites frequently in hopes of picking up a few more clients. Out of every 25 or so lines I toss out, I catch a fish. Most of the time, the fish turns out to be far too small and must be cast back into the water.

And then there’s this one I received.

The company requires well-researched, well-written articles without any filler words. Rates are:

Tier 1 Flat Rates: 200 words for $1.40, going up to $5.60 for 800 words.

Tier 2 Flat Rates: 200 words for $2.00, going up to 900 words at $9.00.

Tier 3 Flat Rates: 200 words for $ 3.00, going up to 1,000 words for $15.00.

It’s something I may try out: the e-mail says these are the types of articles that can be written in 20 minutes. If indeed they can, then these pay rates could work. But if it actually takes about three hours to write a Tier 3 article at 1,000 words, then you’re looking at $5 per hour, which is even less than minimum wage.

We’ll see how it goes…

Richard Zowie runs several blogs. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

I need to renew my subscriptions to ‘Writer’s Digest’ and ‘The Writer’!

…But I can’t.

Yet.

Both subscriptions are due for renewal, and to renew both for a year would cost me a combined $70. It’s just not in the budget right now, and I can’t justify taking money away from rent, internet or phone (all of which are sorely needed) to pay them. So, I have two choices:

1. Let them go indefinitely. This would be great if any of the local libraries carried Writer’s Digest or The Writer. Alas, they don’t. In our area, maybe two libraries carry The Writer. But the libraries all do seem to offer periodicals like People, Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated and other publications. If I chose to drop any hope of renewal, I’d have to go to the websites and gleen what I could.

2. Renew them when money comes in. We’re hoping to file our tax returns in a few weeks, so conceivably, getting my subscriptions renewed could become a belated birthday present to myself (I’ll turn 37 on February 6).

Number 2 sounds better.

Richard Zowie is an active blogger with several blogs. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Your Story #23: First Date Bizarreness

This is my submission to Writer’s Digest‘s Your Story #23. I completed it in about an hour or so. Normally I like to take my time but the past few weeks have left me with little time for fiction writing.

The prompt is: a couple’s on their first date when something very unusual happens at a table near them.

“Janet” is based on a girl I knew at college.

The Russian Miracle
 
By Richard Zowie

I sat at the dinner table, nervously sipping water, oblivious of how horrible the tap water tasted. Janet wore a blue dress, her long, curly dark-blond hair cascading down past her shoulders. She smiled, nervous, as if late for an urgent appointment. My attempts at conversation resulted in short answers.
 
“What does your Dad do for a living?” I asked.
 
“He’s a pastor.”
 
“Where did you grow up?”
 
“Pennsylvania.”
 
Even long before our food arrived (she ordered a Cobb salad while I ordered spaghetti and meatballs), I recognized this as a “mercy date.” A beautiful girl goes out with a geeky guy out of pity, hoping he’ll ask her out only once, get the hint during the date and not ask again.
 
I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment. Janet was very beautiful. When she smiled, dimples appeared on her cheeks. She was about 5’3″ and had bright sapphire-blue eyes. She wasn’t too heavy or too thin.
 
I first met Janet three years ago at South Texas University’s Baptist Student Union. I’d often see her in the BSU reading her Bible and praying. Finally, I managed the nerve to ask her out. Janet accepted, and we went to the Los Patos Diner, an upscale restaurant in Los Patos, Texas.
 
As I swallowed yet another glass of water and tried to think of another question to ask, a young girl at the table next to us started groaning and clutching her stomach. She cried and spoke to her father and mother in some foreign language that sounded like Russian. The girl’s cries turned into piercing screams.
 
I looked at Janet, bewildered. That distant, vacant look was gone and was replaced by deep concern. “Do you know what’s going on?” she asked me.
 
“I don’t know, but it sounds a little like Russian,” I replied, getting up and going over to their table.
 
“Can I help you, sir?” I asked, speaking slowly.
 
He looked at me, his eyes a pale blue, a smile spreading across his round face. His sweaty bald head shined in the overhead lights. “Yes, yes, you can!” he said, speaking English in a Russian accent. “My daughter very sick. She said she has pain near her stomach but to the right of it. She also say it hurt very badly.”
 
“It sounds like her appendix might be infected,” I said, remembering my nephew, when he was nine, had those exact same symptoms and needed an emergency appendectomy.
 
I pulled out my cell phone, dialed 911 and called for an ambulance, explaining that a little girl needed to be rushed to the hospital. In five minutes an ambulance arrived and emergency medical technicians took the little girl to the hospital. The father and mother, named Vladimir and Svetlana, thanked me for helping out their daughter Zhanna, their Russian accents growing thicker. The mother hugged me and as they left, she said to me, “Doe svee don ya!”
 
Presumably, “goodbye.”
 
I returned to the dinner table where Janet was. She stared at me, her mouth locked into a wide red O of surprise. “That was amazing, Kevin!” she said, smiling.
 
“I know,” I replied. “The little girl apparently has appendicitis, and they’re taking her to a hospital. Everybody in the restaurant just stood there while the father asked for help–”
 
“I didn’t know you spoke Russian!” Janet interrupted. “Where did you learn it?”
 
“Learn it? What are you talking about?”
 
“You spoke a few minutes with that couple and it sounded to me like you were speaking Russian.”
 
“You’re joking, right?” I asked. “I don’t speak Russian.”
 
She shook her head. “Kevin, all I could hear was you and the dad speaking Russian. When you first spoke, I heard you say something like ‘Pa-moch’ and ‘goss-puh-deen’.”
 
I later learned those words meant help and sir.
 
I shook my head. “Janet, I spoke English to them. As God as my witness, I don’t speak Russian.”
 
She stared me for a long time. Finally, another smile. “Well, it sounds like I just witnessed something out of the second chapter of Acts.”
 
“When Peter speaks in one language and people from many other countries hear him in their own language?”
 
“Yes,” she laughed.
 
It turned into a nice date that night. I’d needed a miracle to make the date succeed, and that’s just what I’d received.

© Copyright 2010 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.