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?

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

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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?

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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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.

 

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…?

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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.

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.