My first time getting published

Sometime around the third grade at RL Stevenson Primary School in Alvin, Texas, in the 1981-1982 school year, an additional teacher worked with us in class on poetry. This was around the time I discovered my love for writing, so it was a fun, easy assignment. 

Two of my poems were published in the newsletter she printed.

I have forgotten the second one (I remember the lines “I like to sing, I like to dance”), but I do remember my first effort. It was macabre, stemming from an interest that would blossom into a lifelong love of horror films and cause my mother much consternation as I’d go to the video store and almost always head to the horror section first.

Titled “The Head Cut Off,” it had to do with a boy dreaming of a decapitation he saw in a horror movie. When his father woke him up, he smiled and assured him, “Relax, son. It was just a dream.” No worries.

I still like to write poetry but have never killed anyone. Yet. Having no basement makes me especially reluctant. Besides, if I went to Walmart and bought a shovel, mop, several gallons of bleach and a few bags of quick lime, I’m certain they’d make note and tell the authorities.

Richard Zowie does not take requests for contract killing. Prison isn’t worth it. Post comments here or email them to: richardzowie@gmail.com

A look at ‘The Road to Moonlight Feels Right’

The Road to Moonlight Feels Right

If you’re a huge fan of 1970s music, chances are that Starbuck’s signature hit Moonlight Feels Right is on your playlist. Great sound with great, romantic lyrics and vocals, and while it’s from the style of the 1970s, the marimba and synthesizers also seemed to hint at the future of music, when New Wave and its synthesizers would usher in the 1980s. 

A few years ago on Facebook, I remarked that I’d heard Bruce Blackman had written the song for his then-girlfriend, who would later become his wife, and how wonderful it is that they’re still married. I added that I thought of the song as one of the quintessential hits of the Seventies.

Then I received a response telling me that they were already married when he wrote it, but thank you for the compliment. The person who posted the comment: Bruce Blackman. THE Bruce Blackman?! I thought. 

After following Blackman on Facebook, I soon learned about his book The Road to Moonlight Feels Right and purchased a copy. I finished reading it on May 9. Some biographies are tough to read, because the author needlessly uses 1,000 words when 275 or even 500 would have sufficed. Think of a lawyer in an opening argument spending an hour to convey two minutes worth of information. Blackman, however, writes using vibrant word pictures, but also understands the literary art of pacing. He shows, doesn’t tell, and keeps the story moving. 

I often cackled at Blackman’s stories, and his style reminds me of the late Mississippi humorist Jerry Clower. Granted, Blackman sometimes uses profanity but in moderation and not gratuitously. 

Blackman’s book is nonfiction, but perhaps it could be called an autobiography as it discusses Blackman’s childhood growing up on the Mississippi Delta in Greenville. He details lessons learned across the spectrum, developing as a writer and athlete and having a teacher who pushed him to be his best. He also discusses difficult times, such as learning that a close friend had been killed on his second tour in Vietnam. And for those who love MFR, Blackman describes how he met and eventually won Miss Peggy’s heart. 

Musicians have to pay their dues, and Blackman details what it’s like learning as you go, losing money on a gig because the amount you pay in taxes and travel expenses outweighs what you took home. Then there are the struggles related to getting recording contracts and then realizing the company takes a lion’s share of the money. Blackman’s battles were a common tale (the late Buddy Holly was trying to get out of his recording contract when he died at 22 in 1959), and for musicians reading the book, he gives recommendations of how they can avoid the pitfalls, such as reading The Business of Music. What makes it bearable is having a wife who believes in you.

Some autobiographies are also tough to read because the author has an ego that, if mounted in the East Texas pine forests, could still easily be seen from the moon. You get the impression that Blackman’s parents instilled a strong sense of humility in him, but with a strong southern dash of “DON’T mess with me” thrown in. He’s also classy: this isn’t a “tell all,” as he declines to tell you of who he knew back in the day at parties who did drugs or engaged in hedonism.

The late film critic Roger Ebert once said, “No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is too short.” Reading Bruce Blackman’s The Road to Moonlight Feels Right will leave you hoping he has two books in the can, and is typing away at another with several more floating around in his mind.

(The Road to Moonlight Feels Right is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other Websites).

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Chess, anyone?

I am currently playing chess with a friend who is known as an astute businessman. My instinct tells me he’s good. I think my process of becoming a good player will be this: get my ass handed to me regularly as I read about the game. 

Another friend, Howard, is a great player. Twenty-five times, he defeated me before I finally managed a win. Another time I almost defeated him, only to make the wrong move and accidentally end the game in a stalemate. Howard is the kind who likes to make a game interesting: he’ll sacrifice his queen after taking out your queen. It’s like two fighters throwing down their weapons and deciding on bare knuckle. 

Another friend I played against told me I’m too predictable. All three of my sons can play, and one of them said I have a huge penchant for castling as soon as possible.

Tigran Petrosian and Vladimir Kramnik were/are known for their impenetrable defenses. Garry Kasparov is known for his aggressive offense. Bobby Fischer was so brilliant that sometimes he’d deliberately make a terrible move (in chess analysis, it’s known as ?! or ??!) as if to say, “I can make what would be a fatal move for a mortal player and STILL win the match!”

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What am I currently reading?

Three books.

Fiction: Lonesome Dove. It’s funny how some towns in the Old West became founded simply because the settlers got lost. That was one town described early in this book. A friend, LIndy Segall, once told me this is a book I must read. Reading it so far reminds me of my father, who loved reading westerns and read everything Louis L’Amour ever wrote. 

The Hunter. It was later adapted into a movie called Payback starring Mel Gibson. It’s a fun read so far, and this book gives you a lot of back story on Mal Resnick, who became Val in the movie. You’ve heard the term “hard-boiled” often used to describe police, detective, and crime novels. This one is certainly no different.

Non-Fiction: The Road to Moonlight Feels Right by Bruce Blackman. You’ve heard of the 1970s band Starbuck and their hit song “Moonlight Feels Right.” It’s up there with “Hello, It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren and “Lead Me On” by Maxine Nightingale as my favorite songs from my first decade on earth (I was born in 1973). Bruce wrote and sang it. The book details his Mississippi childhood, his tough-as-nails parents, along with the realities of the music business. If you want to become a professional musician, read this book. On another note, I grew watery-eyed when Bruce wrote about his friend who joined the Marines, went to Vietnam twice but returned only once.

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Didn’t make the cut

Received the results from the writing contest. 

I didn’t make the cut.

However, I did receive feedback from the judges. One judge really liked the story. The others liked the flow but felt I had mechanics to work on. The good thing is, none considered it “preachy.”

From here, I use the feedback to work out what I hope to be the story’s remaining bugs and get it to where it’s publishable. 

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Hurry up and wait

Still waiting on the results of a writing contest I entered.

What if I didn’t at least become a finalist? Keep working hard, reading, attending workshops, etc.

What if I made the cut? Cry tears of joy. And continue doing the above.

I often remind myself Robert Pirsig’s novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was rejected by more than 130 publishers before being accepted. It then became a best-seller.

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Characters we create

I’m often asked if there are any characters or places that I’ve created in my mind.

Yes.

In my mind, there’s an institution of higher learning called the University of South Texas. It’s located near my hometown, Beeville, in the fictional town of Los Patos. Spanish for “The Ducks”, Los Patos is built around a large lake, called Los Patos Lake by early settlers. I’m not sure if the lake is a manmade reservoir or just happens to be a lake created by a river that runs through it. UST’s school colors are royal blue and kelly green, and its mascot, of course, is the Duck.

One student is a 30-year-old man who’s attended school there for years. He’s changed his major several times (English, philosophy, business, psychology, sociology) before finally settling on humanities. Why? He can’t make up his mind what to do for a career. He has dark, thick hair, perpetual five o’clock shadow due to his thick beard. He often wears polo shirts, Bermuda shorts, and sandals. His legs are hairy but muscular, suggesting he ran cross country in high school. He wears glasses, is well-read, and has excellent diction.

Another student is a 24-year-old living in the year 1984. He’s hefty, short dark brown hair, blue eyes, has done theater all through high school and college. Has a BA in speech and a master’s in interpretative speech. His father wanted him to take business classes, but the student refused, believing his destiny is acting. He’s about to head out to Los Angeles to start his acting career. He’s a brilliant actor, well spoken, and he’s absolutely convinced he’ll win an Oscar after two years in the City of Angels. He’s about to learn the hard way just how cutthroat the profession can be.

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A Tale of two Ma Jian men


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Ma Jian, basketball player and writer

I read once that Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng’s proper name, Jingsheng, means “capital birth” and isn’t uncommon as a name for boys born in Beijing.

I’m guessing that China has its equivalent of names so common that several people have them.

Years ago, there was a basketball player named Ma Jian, one of the first Chinese nationals to play college basketball in America (mid 1990s, University of Utah. I was curious as to what he’s doing now, so I googled him.

The first hit was for a Ma Jian who is a dissident writer now living in London. Highly critical of China, Jian has been denied entry into the People’s Republic of China since 2011.

Both have the same pictographs for their names: 马建.

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Books

I’ve made two lists: non-fiction books I need to read and fiction books of the same. If I had to guess, I’d say I have around 250-500 unread books in my apartment. Hoping to dig into those. Unread book is undiscovered knowledge.

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500 words: The Fountain Pen Plays Hide-and-Seek

The Fountain Pen Plays Hide-and-Seek

By Richard Zowie

A few years ago, out of curiosity, I tried writing with a fountain pen. It belonged to a friend, but they let me try writing a few lines. My first efforts were messy, scratchy and barely visible on some lines, far too much ink bleeding onto the next line. But as I tried a few more lines, it seemed more natural, less awkward. This must’ve been why handwriting was so meticulous in the colonial days. You had to write slowly, so as to not waste paper and ink. Writing slow and giving time for your thoughts to flow, made for beautiful handwriting.

Today, I went to the local grocery store. I remembered they sold disposable fountain pens, so I figured I’d buy two or three. Buying just one pen doesn’t work for me: I have to buy two “backup pens” also.

As I looked, I imagined all the hand cramps Thomas Jefferson must’ve gotten as he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Despite the centuries of pen evolution, I suddenly had an obsession for a fountain pen. I imagined myself wearing black trousers, shoes, black vest with gold watch chain dangling from the button to the pocket, long-sleeved white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. A regular steam punk. The illusion was ruined, of course, by the store’s air conditioning. Outside, it was in the low 90s. Inside, it was around 68. If you came in sweating, you were shivering from the perspiration in your shirt.

Gel pens, ballpoint pens, pencils. Papermate. Zebra. Pilot. Pentel. Ticonderoga.

As I stared at the third shelf, I noticed the fountain pens were all gone. Had some student fascinated in calligraphy discovered them and bought them all? Perhaps some lawyer who preferred only ornate pens when signing legal documents?

I guess I’ll have to try Ebay and wait a few weeks, I thought as I left the aisle. Before leaving the store, I remembered that Halloween had just ended and that I could get some good deals for next year’s Halloween. Plastic pumpkins for holding candy, perhaps even a horror film. I still loved the cheesy ones from the 1970s, the kind that were so bad they’d put five to 10 of them onto a single DVD.

When I went to the discount section to look for those items, I noticed they sold pens. The logo and contour looked familiar.

As I looked closer, I saw the triangular logo and realized this is what happened to the fountain pens. They were simply moved to the discount section. Five of them for one dollar. Before, it had been five for $3.50 each. Instead of paying almost $19, now it was all five for a dollar and change.

What a relief, I thought as I walked to my car carrying my bag. What would I write? I thought. Perhaps I should try writing a short story, or a to-do list. Or perhaps start with basics and write the phrase: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs.

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