Libraries

library meme

Yesterday, I saw an Internet meme that extolled all the virtues of public libraries. Unlike political memes spouting statistics and information with questionable origin, I found this meme useful.

Ahhhh, libraries.

Sometimes, I like to joke with people that I judge a potential town to dwell in based on its library. When I lived in Michigan, even the small towns had decent libraries. Bridgeport, Michigan, on the south side of Saginaw, had a good one. Locals used it a lot to look for jobs.

Vassar, Michigan, where I lived for about four years, had a small but quaint library. The town I live in now, Fredericksburg, Texas, has a historical library. Pioneer Memorial Library used to be the county courthouse. Even now, it’s fun to go in to relax and read. I often will check out books, knowing I won’t have the time to read them all. And sometimes, it’s fun to take a book off the shelf and browse through it.

The quietness upstairs, the long wooden tables with the comfortable wooden chairs suggest it’s a place where it’s not only easy to research, but easy to retain what you’ve learned. A library is my second-favorite place on earth to be, the first being a great, Bible-teaching church.

Do yourself a favor and spend some time in a library.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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Stories of mine you’ll NEVER read

I’ve been writing fiction since I was an adolescent. Along the way have been short stories that, though completed, are probably disintegrating in a landfill somewhere. They aren’t lost works of art, but works that are lost for a reason. They were terrible.

Think I’m being harsh? Think of it this way: as a young writer writes, they develop and craft stories where they learn how not to write.

I like to further think of it this way. Fans used to ask parody musician “Weird Al” Yankovic why he won’t release a director’s cut of his movie, UHF. The original cut was 2.5 hours long, while the theatrical cut was 90 minutes. Al said this: most of the deleted scenes were cut either because the pacing was wrong or, frankly, they sucked.

Still, here’s a short list of short stories I wrote in my younger years that probably will never see the night of day:

Scorpion Lake — I wrote this one-page story when I was eight. It was about a lake filled with scorpions. Someone died while swimming in it. Long ago, I abandoned hope of Steven Spielberg’s people negotiating with my people for the movie rights.

Tom Morder and His Nitwit Brother — Largely inspired by Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, I wrote four chapters of a book about a cool older brother and an annoying younger brother. I seem to remember the two brothers were originally from West Monroe, Louisiana, which is where I was born.

The Water Man — Based on my childhood fear of water towers. A man is angry about being bested in a swimming competition and gets revenge on the winner by having his henchmen strap him down with weights and throw him into a water tower to drown. The winning swimmer, dead, a few weeks later emerges through his opponent’s toilet and drags him to the water tower for revenge.

The House on Birch Street — What aspiring young writer doesn’t at some point tackle the “haunted house” story line? A man buys a house from an older man, only to learn the older man is a Satanist who, along with his ancestors who have lived in the house since the Colonial Days, has murdered/buried many people in the house’s basement. The young man ends up killing the older man, killing all the “undead” bodies in the basement, gets married to a pretty girl and then, using a rocket launcher he purchases from a local gun shop owner (don’t ask—I was 12 and incredibly naïve when I wrote this story), blows up the haunted house. He and his wife drive off into the sunset.

Post comments here or email them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Retooling when the focus is off

One short story I’m finalizing has the working title “Plenty of Catfish.” It is about my misadventures online dating and is intended as a comedy.

I showed it to a female friend, a teacher whom I know I can depend on for an honest assessment.

“Each date seems to revolve around the same topic,” she said to me.

As I read it, I realized the story was too one-dimensional and that the humor was lost in that aspect.

Off to retool…

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New Year’s resolutions

me writing

Since I will be turning 45 in February, I have decided to keep my New Year’s resolution simple this year.

Publish one short story.

I plan to start looking at the Writer’s Market 2018 to see if there are any potential markets for short Christian fiction or for a few unpublished, Twilight Zone-style stories I’ve completed.

Perhaps “completed” is too optimistic a word. Any writer will tell you no story is ever perfectly written. I’m sure Stephen King sometimes looks at his early stories and wishes he could change this or that about them. He once wrote about the pleasant surprise he got when his short story, Sometimes They Come Back (which I’ve read, it’s in his Night Shift collection of short stories), was published. He was paid $500 for a story he admitted that he didn’t think would sell anywhere.

Perhaps I should try to get an agent.

Among my short stories that are either completed or need a little more tinkering:

Garth, Texas: A fugitive and scam artist’s car breaks down in rural West Texas during a heat wave. He walks to a town to get help–and wishes he’d kept on walking.

No Experience Necessary: A former Army soldier with a dwindling bank account accepts a job that pays well and says “no experience necessary.” You know what they say: “If it’s too good to be true…”

Dear Billy: Sincerely, Billy: If you love to write science fiction or Twilight Zone or Outer Limits-inspired tales, you’re bound to try your hand at time travel. In this, set in 1983, a teenaged boy visits a library and is told there’s a letter for him. It’s written by a man who claims to be him, and it’s dated 1859. The boy learns one decision done differently can change everything.

David’s Decision: What went on during the mental tug of war that led to King David deciding to sleep with the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers?

What If…?: I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened had Adam and Eve not sinned and had resisted the serpent.

My ‘new’ car, a 2013 VW Beetle

VW BeetleToday I picked up my new car, a light-blue 2013 Volkswagen Beetle. It replaces my previous car, a 2010 Ford Focus.

Well, it’s not technically “my” car. I’m buying it through a bank loan. Even if I owned it free and clear, it still wouldn’t be mine: it would be God’s car, as I’m just the caretaker.

This is the first time I’ve ever owned a German car, perhaps fitting since the Zowie family is from Germany. This is not the first time my family has owned a Volkswagen, though. In the late 1970s, we had a light-blue Volkswagen Beetle. It was an early 1970s model, I believe, and I do remember it had a standard transmission with the engine in back.

As I drove this car and got used to it, I remembered two things I’ve heard in the past about German-made cars:

…German-made cars rarely break down, because Germans tend to over-engineer cars.

…German-made cars can be a pain in the neck to do maintenance on, since Germans tend to over-engineer cars.

So far, it drives well. As I drive, I keep wondering, how can I speed up my payments and have it paid off faster?

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Pics in blogs

Working as a journalist has cultivated within me a strong desire to adopt photography as a hobby. I figure the initial investment will be around $600-$1,000, but it’s worth if if you want good pictures. Portrait pictures. Photo essays. Action shots (baseball, football), hummingbirds, water splashing and other shots that require high shutter speeds.

It makes me wonder: how often should blogs have pictures with them?

I suppose it should be a regular occurrence. Even if photo doesn’t work, perhaps a graphic would. Besides, a blog consistently consisting only of text gets monotonous.

Thankfully, today’s iPhones take great pictures, so I can hold off for now purchasing cameras and assorted equipment for my private collection.

Doing voice over work

A lifetime ago, I worked in radio. It was a blast. When I tell people, they hear my voice and aren’t surprised. After joking that I have a face for radio, many will say I definitely have a voice for it.

I wonder now: what about voice over work? I’d love to do that. Commercials, promos, you name it.

Anyone have an idea of how to get into that?

‘All Spiders Must Die’ by Tighe Cottle

Sometimes, I like to post things here friends have said or written. Tighe Cottle is a friend I went to school with from fifth grade to high school. I remember in high school he used to write poetry. His was an interesting style: while many of us (myself included) prefer ballpoint pen on paper, Tighe (pronounced “Ty”) often wrote with felt-tip pen on paper. He works in the oil industry now and does well for himself, but often I think if he had the time and wanted to, he could probably have a decent second career as a poet.

As a young boy, Tighe was bit by a black widow. This has instilled in him a lifelong fear, hatred, abhorrence for all things arachnid. I suspect the scariest movie ever for him would be Arachnophobia or Eight Legged Freaks.

When I mentioned seeing a spider today and letting it loose outside after seeing it wasn’t a black widow and probably not a brown recluse (spiders control the annoying insect population, so I prefer not to kill them them unless they’re highly venomous), Tighe had this to say:

All Spiders Must Die

By Tighe Cottle

All spiders must die.              

And by die, i mean in a fiery pit of hellfire and brimstone

Or ejected into the vast vacuum of space

And/or thru a thousand black holes.

Also, they should be drowned in the deepest depths of the ocean

Or squashed under the feet of giant dinosaurs

That have been genetically re-engineered

For the sole purpose of squashing spiders.


© Tighe Cottle. All rights reserved. Post comments here or email richardzowie@gmail.com. 

Books, books…

I remember a conversation I had with a friend almost 15 years ago. “Ray, what’s your favorite TV show?” I asked him.

“I don’t watch much TV, Richard,” he said. “I prefer to read books. Non-fiction and biographies are favorites.”

Ray’s words gave me a lot to think about lately as I perused the channels. Golden Girls. Conan O’Brien. Goodfellas. NBA Basketball. Seinfeld. An episode of Big Bang Theory I’ve seen several times already.

In other words, nothing was on.

I have somewhere around 750-1,000 books in my apartment. I’ve read maybe a third of them. I also have a nasty habit of adding to my collection each time I visit a thrift store. Sometimes it’s a book I want to read, have another copy of, or one I want for sentimental purposes.

So, here I am, currently reading Michael Crichton’s Timeline. I also am trying to listen to Stephen King’s Dr. Sleep on CD when I’m not too tired. And next on my list are books I’ll probably have to return to the library and then check out again: Volume 1 of Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People, along with a biography of Ray Bradbury.

If only I had the ability some have–reading several books a week.

Post comments here or email them to richardzowie@gmail.com. 

‘The Wrong Victim’ by Richard Zowie

This is a short story in two installments I wrote while producing a weekly column for the Genesee County Herald newspaper in Michigan. Because the story is a suspense thriller, I wrote it for the Halloween season. It was an effort at writing something different. I also wanted to delve into fiction writing.

When it came out, a few readers thought the events had really happened, despite the disclaimer that it was a work of fiction. With that in mind, let me reiterate: this is a work of fiction. Nobody was harmed in the writing of this short story. All of the characters exist solely within my mind.

Here is it now for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

The Wrong Victim

By Richard Zowie

Joseph Davidson sat on a beige couch, easily the cleanest one he’d ever sat on. In fact, the entire house looked so clean and tidy he wondered if this homeowner was the inspiration for his parents’ favorite show, Monk. The house looked immaculate, smelled of Pine Sol and bleach and made Joseph’s olfactory nerves think of a freshly-cleaned hotel room. Roaches, flies and other insects would die of boredom.

If the owner were there, perhaps Joseph could ask him. But if the owner showed up, that wouldn’t be good.

That was Joseph’s job: sitting on the couch and listening for sounds of the owner suddenly pulling up in his car.

Neither Joseph nor his friends Todd and Jeremy (they were walking around the house looking for money or anything of value could be stolen) knew this owner, but looking at the outside of the house and the fact that the owner drove a Cadillac Escallade, they figured he must have something of value. And it was just outside Thetford Township on Charco Road, which meant it was unlikely police would be patrolling.

And if the owner showed up, they had a backup plan.

Joseph shifted in his seat and hoped nobody would call him on his cell phone. Right now, the only sound he wanted was that of his two friends talking as they walked around the house and looked around (his phone had a tendency to slide out on his pocket, and he hated leaving it on vibrate). He took a quick peak out the window, holding the curtain open with a gloved left hand. All three of them wore rubber gloves so as to not leave fingerprints. Todd and Jeremy were also careful not to toss things around, as all the criminals on TV seemed to do when committing a burglary. They wanted to use this visit to case the inside of the house and save the full-blown burglary for a future visit.

As Todd and Jeremy argued about something, Joseph heard an engine approaching in the distance, about a quarter of a mile down the road. The headlights were on and he could see immediately it was the white Escallade.

“GUYS! He’s back! Let’s get out of here!” Joseph yelled.

His two friends ran into the living room. Todd was six feet tall, very burly with brown, moppy, seventies-style hair and brown eyes. He’d played football at Clio High School his freshman year before his lukewarm grades made that impossible. Jeremy, a freckled redhead, was shorter and skinnier. Joseph was Jeremy’s height but also had dark-brown hair that he kept very short, military style. He seldom smiled and was serious by nature, his blue eyes often lost in thought as he constantly pondered worst-case scenarios.

The three immediately ran out the back door that Jeremy, the brains, had spent five minutes successfully picking its lock. They ran to the thick wooded area behind the house, knowing if they could make it back there before the owner got out of his vehicle, they would probably be out of his earshot. Then, they’d walk through the woods to the next street over, Birch Street, and drive away in their black, eighties Chevy truck that they had parked behind an abandoned old house.

They ran through the woods, Joseph noting absently his jeans didn’t have that annoying bulge normally felt when he had his cell phone. And in five minutes they had gotten in the truck and were driving back to Clio.

 

“Did you guys see anything worth stealing?” Joseph asked. Their plan had been to use some of the funds to buy marijuana and see if someone would buy them a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Todd shook his head. “I think he keeps it in a safe somewhere. Or maybe it’s in his basement, but Jeremy wasn’t able to pick that lock.”

Jeremy laughed. “I’m not that good yet. It would take me about half an hour. If we weren’t concerned about noise, we could just break it down.”

Joseph thought of asking his girlfriend, Lisa, if she knew of a man who drove a Cadillac Escalade but worried about letting others know of their plans. Still, he should call her and tell her he wanted to go to the movies with her later. He reached into his pocket–

–and felt only a few coins and a cigarette lighter.

His eyes widened as he cursed out loud.

“What’s wrong?” Jeremy asked.

“Guys, I think I left my cell phone at the guys house!” Joseph said, his face growing pale. “It must’ve popped out of my pocket on the sofa!”

Todd said nothing for a while as he drove. Finally, he spoke. “Well, we can’t exactly just go back right now.”

“What else can we do?” Joseph asked.

Todd pulled the truck over, pulled out his cell phone and called Joseph’s number.

 

Stanley Rike, having returned from a trip from the Premium Outlets to look for some new cookware for his kitchen, parked his Escalade in the driveway but knew immediately something wasn’t right. People had always thought of him as the intuitive type. Even when he had no evidence of something wrong, he’d still get a strong hunch, and that hunch almost always was right.

He did notice that the curtain in the front window looked slightly crooked and wasn’t nice and straight like he always preferred to leave it.

He sighed as he approached his front door, noting there were no unusual footprints.

A professional blogger, Rike didn’t like to leave his home unless he had somewhere to go. He had lived in Clio for 20 years but always felt like someday returning back home to the Upper Peninsula. He was originally from Newberry and was the grandson of Finnish immigrants (the original family surname had been Räikkönen). Clio was a nice little town, but the Lower Peninsula had never quite felt like home.

The problem was, Rike had far too much invested in his home.

Especially in the basement.

When Rike wasn’t blogging (a job he made a great living doing), he liked to bring people to his home. They were people he’d seen on TV in Michigan who had simply, well, seemed unworthy of their own lives. If asked, Rike could not explain why he chose them, except that it was just a hunch. All he knew is that since each person was completely unconnected (they were of different genders, races, ideals), police probably would have a very difficult time tracing them to him. He would then take them to his house in his secluded neighborhood.

Rike entered his house, closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, opened his eyes.

It smelled like one or two heavy smokers had recently been in his house. Not smoking, but exhaling breath reminiscent of a recent cigarette. He could also smell someone who needed to take a bath.

And on the floor, he saw imprints on his carpet that were not his feet.

Rike saw nothing noticeably out of place but ran to check the door to his basement. Locked, but the knob had smudges on it suggesting someone had been grabbing on it.

He checked his backdoor and found it was unlocked. He always locked it before he left the house. Opening it, he saw three sets of footprints. They must’ve ran towards the woods.

Stanley Rike said nothing but sighed. What did they know? He had to find out.

DOOOOO YOU HAVE THE TIME, TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?” someone abruptly sang as they played guitar, the sound coming from the sofa.

Rike went to the sofa, lifted up a cushion and studied the black Verizon phone. The screen was lit with the picture of a young man with a seventies-style hair cut. Superimposed over his face was “Todd W”.

Rike pressed the green button and said, “Hello?”

“Can I have my phone back?” an annoyed young man asked. He tried to sound tough but instead amused Rike.

“W-w-why were you in my house?” Rike asked, deliberately sounding weak and passive.

“Don’t worry about it, just meet me in an hour–”

“I must insist you come to my house and ask for it,” Rike replied, hoping his voice sounded as though he’d soiled his pants. “I won’t call the p-p-police.” Of course he wouldn’t. If he spoke to the police they’d probably visit and ask questions and develop a case of sticky fingers like that annoying Vincent D’Onofrio cop on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

The young man sighed. “If you give us a hard time, we might just have to have fun with your pretty wifey.”

Rike said nothing at first as he realized this man and his friends were amateurs. An observant glance at the home would’ve easily revealed that Rike lived by myself. No wife. No girlfriends. No sisters. His parents were long gone, and he hadn’t seen or spoke to his younger brother Phil, a salesman, in about 10 years.

“I’ll be w-w-waiting for you,” Rike said.

“O-o-o-ok!” the man mocked as he hung up.

 

“We’re gonna WHAT?!” Jeremy asked.

“Exactly as I said,” Todd replied. “We’re going to go back and get the cell phone. If we leave it there, he may call the cops, and they could get us for breaking and entering, which means we could all go to jail. We get it, we threaten him and tell him if he keeps his mouth shut, he’ll never hear from us again. Problem solved.”

Joseph listened and frowned. “You REALLY think it’s going to be that easy, Todd?”

“Sure it will. You shoulda listened to that guy on the phone. It sounded like he was scared to death. He’s probably having to change his underwear right now. He reminded me of those kids we used to bully all the time. Piece of cake, guys.”

 

Rike made a quick trip to his basement and then sat down on the couch and waited. Hidden on his person was a cattle prod, and they would never see it coming. He’d done it many times against far more dangerous people. Thank God I’m far stronger than I look, he thought.

As Stanley Rike sat on the couch and kept glancing out the window to see if a vehicle with three young men had pulled up, he wondered. What did they know and had they told anyone? How would he dispose of the bodies?

He might even have to question them in that special soundproof room in the basement and start by removing body parts they’d miss.

 

Two weeks later, this article appeared in the Genesee County Herald:

Three Clio friends missing

By Kevin Reagan

Police say they still have no fresh leads in the disappearance of three young Clio adults.

Joseph Davidson, 21, Todd Williams, 22, and Jeremy Lundquist, 22 were reported missing two weeks ago.

According to police, the three were close friends who did everything together. Each had cell phones and on the day they were reported missing, October 13, Williams texted his girlfriend that he was driving with Davidson and Lundquist up to Mio to look for a hunting spot. The three planned to head up that direction in November during Deer Widows Weekend.

A Clio Police Department spokesman acknowledged that Davidson, Williams and Lundquist all had criminal records consisting of several misdemeanors but declined comment on whether or not foul play is suspected. Several anonymous teachers at Clio Schools acknowledged that the trio had a lengthy history of disciplinary problems, beginning in elementary school…

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