Friday, December 22, 2017

Misdemeanor Outlaw: Jim McGarrah's Path and Some #Boomer Criticism from a Gen Xer #genx

Vincent Francone
Vincent Francone is a writer from Chicago whose memoir, Like a Dog, was published in the fall of 2015. He won first place in the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writers Competition (Gwendolyn Brooks Award) and is at work on a collection of poems and stories. Visit to read his work or say hi. 

#BHBW author Vincent Francone reviews Jim McGarrah's memoir, Midemeanor Outlaw


In his funny, self-lacerating look at Baby Boomers, Balsamic Dreams, Joe Queenan accuses his generation of navel-gazing and premature nostalgia.  He cites Carol King’s “So Far Away” as being the beginning of the Boomers’ descent into soppy, untimely ennui.  To be sure, 1971 was too soon for this generation to be so goddamn depressed about the loss of time, considering the average Boomer was around 20-30.  Yeah, Queenan’s making a bit of hasty generalization, but for the sake of argument let’s accept his point.  If we do, we can easily see how, though not unlike other self-absorbed generations, Boomers tend to mythologize their heyday, perhaps driven to do so after the utopian dreams of the late 60s gave way to the disillusionment of the 70s and the crass materialism of the 1980s. 

Most of the Boomers I know— hi, family!—tend to agree that the music and culture of their generation represents the pinnacle of human achievement, which always makes me want to smother those aging pricks in the bubbling tar of punk rock.  This boomer insistence that their version of rock and roll is the greatest thing ever, that Woodstock was the event, man, and the agonizing claim that they ended a war (sure took them long enough) via smoking weed and sitting in the dirt playing bongos has always made me roll my eyes.  Which is why I approached Jim McGarrah’s book Misdemeanor Outlaw with a bit of trepidation.  Do I really want to read 180-pages of Boomer self-aggrandizement? I asked myself.  Turns out I was wrong about the book, though not 100% wrong about Boomers.
Available here!

(Side note: All writers are self-aggrandizing.  I aspire to be part of the club; I wrote a memoir and asked people to read it; I write poems and get them published in corners of the internet and then ask people to peek into those corners.  I am as self-aggrandizing as the next damaged bastard.  Even those of my generation with the good sense to try their hand at pursuits other than writing are myopic and sentimental.  So yes, we Generation Xers, and certainly the much-maligned Millennials, are equally guilty of the above accusations leveled at Boomers.  And while we’re at it, so are the members of the so-called Greatest Generation.  We’re all human; we’re all flawed and beautiful.  We all suck.) 

But here’s the thing about Misdemeanor Outlaw: it’s a book by a Boomer, not a Boomer book.  Meaning it’s not overly sentimental; it’s not the equivalent of one of those goddamn Facebook memes with a photo of a 45 record adapter and the request to “Like and share if you ever used one of these!”  It’s a damn fine collection of loosely connected essays that jump through time in a mostly linear manner, forming a meditation on the author’s inability to find his place among rules and authority figures.  Along the way, he makes and loses friends, gets married and divorced, picks up a social disease, faces the horror of combat in Vietnam, swallows an apothecary worth of dope, and even tries his hand at the post office (which I, a former mail sorter, was delighted to read about).

The epilogue does, as expected, contain a sort of case for the 1980s—a decade I tend to romanticize—being the example of how corporate culture corrupts true art and beauty, evidenced by the rise of pop songs like “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” a nauseating tune, indeed, though the boomers would have us believe that their generations’ musicians never recorded anything as soulless and vile.  One need only recall the Ohio Express’s “Yummy Yummy Yummy” to debunk that claim. 

Aside from that one paragraph, I was far more engaged, amused, and compelled by Misdemeanor Outlaw than I expected to be.  I was familiar with McGarrah’s work.  (We share the same publisher, which, were we musicians, would make us label-mates; not sure what we are. . . Blue Herons of a feather? A Flock of Herons? Being close to “A Flock of Seagulls,” a 1980s band I assume McGarrah dislikes, I’ll go with that one.)  He is a writer who seeks to recollect things with less tranquility than honesty.  When McGarrah writes of his childhood, he eases up on the idolization of the all-American small town and presents not so much a Norman Rockwell Eden as a confining place of mores and customs that, even as a wee lad, he’s inclined to challenge.  Soon he’s dropping out of college to enlist in the Marines, a decision that sends him to Vietnam, then to a crisis of identity.  Rejecting the scare tactics and justifications of politicians, McGarrah actively opposes the war, grows his hair and embraces the hippie idealism that engulfed his generation the way Techno-solutionism is currently seducing Millennials.  When the limits of commune life are reached, McGarrah seems at his most unmoored.  Plagued by survivor guilt from Vietnam, unable to comfortably fit back into his hometown, and beset by uniformed men seeking to get over on him regardless of the length of his hair and manner of dress, our hero is the true representation of a man without a country, an outlaw, albeit of the misdemeanor variety. 

It would be remiss not to remark on the quality of McGarrah’s humorous, unflinching prose.  I laughed often while reading these pages, though the most impacting moments are the honest appraisals of the injustice done to the young men of his generation and the “true cost of these foreign policy adventures urged on by corrupt politicians and controlled by corporate interest.”  Recalling his stint in Vietnam, McGarrah writes, “On quiet nights, when the dead visit, I greet them with respect and we talk.  They speak of the loneliness of their fate and I speak in awe of mine.”  Though I know the man is writing of a time and place I can never understand, he may as well be discussing what it means to write a book.  Or, for that matter, to read one—we are seeking to converse with the dead, to compare our fates to theirs, to measure our struggle against theirs, to see what insights we can glean.  The result, in Misdemeanor Outlaw, is a book for anyone interested in walking in the shoes of a man on an absurd road toward self-actualization, though not in the trendy way Boomers sought to do as they went from well-meaning young idiots to 1980s sell-outs looking to reclaim their idealistic past.  McGarrah is too raw for that sort of thing.  His self-examination is his own, but in offering it to us, we’re privy to insights and anecdotes that are surprisingly familiar to anyone who’s ever felt mystified at the conventions the rest of the world is all too happy to obey. 

LIKE A DOG by VINCENT FRANCONE available here!


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Read the 5* buzz for Man Has Premonition of Own Death #memoir #bookreview

A quirky walk through many graveyards, both literal and figurative,

...with delightful side trips through history, literature and popular culture. The series of essays offers the research and straight-forward prose of a veteran journalist, one with a fascination for the gently gothic and an near-childlike wonder at his own mortality. A bizarre accident that cuts an ancestor off in his prime inspires this collection, which explores every aspect of death while succeeding in being entertaining, amusing and pleasingly weird. The author is a fan of folk music and the spirit of a well-rendered folk tale makes this an enjoyable book to read and re-read. It will definitely make you want to pay an actual visit to the graveyard that houses some of his family members, as well as American icons including Alan Freed, Judy Garland, James Baldwin, Jim Henson and Malcolm X. The author's own brushes with death serve as a serious counterbalance to an often amusing journey where Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper'' shares a Final Supper dinner table with yellowing newspaper clippings, marble headstone epitaphs and an American past of union laborer, printing presses and the innocence of a boy forever changed by an empty seat in his grade school classroom, a family photograph of relatives who don't stop knocking even though they will never again show up at his Yonkers' front door.

Man Has Premonition of Own Death: An Ancestor's Strange Demise and Other Mortal Matters:

is Nicholas DiGiovanni’s contemplation of the un-ignorable reality of death is really a celebration of the relationships we form over time with the people around us, with our own histories, and with living itself. I can think of few authors able to write about death this honestly while maintaining the warmth, thoughtfulness and humor that make life worth living. “Man Has Premonition of His Own Death” is a welcome reminder for readers of all ages that we discover the meaning of life through living it deeply and fully. Michael N. McGregor, author of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Read our #TuesdayThoughts as a midweek #poetic outburst

Like a Dog: available here


Best of both worlds:
purveyor of packaged goods
just five steps from the bar,
Janus of the neighborhoods
pre-gentrification relic
bravely facing gritty renewal,
ideal place for odd occasions.

I miss your neon and smoke,
the old men ribbing me in Polish,
as the barkeep worked molasses
out of his legs to grudgingly pour
a shot while I wasted time between classes
pretended I understood the barfly’s joke,
nodded at midday mothers pushing strollers.

Vincent Francone is a writer from Chicago whose memoir, Like a Dog, was published in the fall of 2015. He won first place in the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writers Competition (Gwendolyn Brooks Award) and is at work on a collection of poems and stories. Visit to read his work or say hi.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

For your #Wednesday: #flashfiction The Port of Going @lauralibricz

The Port of Going

The air hung thick with humidity, strangely conductive after the last few days of cold. Caroline pulled the heavy wrap off her shoulders as she walked to work. She passed the neglected dance hall on the pier by the Port of Coming and ducked away from a group of women who’d just arrived in the village. Caroline wondered why each new wave of settlers heated the water vapor in the air. The transports must disrupt some fine balance there when they entered the port.

They called the village ‘Coming and Going’ after the two ports. The village had historically been a crossroads, a meeting point, a stop-off place where people came to be picked up, rescued or to find themselves a new fate. A haven, a port of souls if you want to call it that. There were airways and seaways and a lawlessness that came with this sort of to-ing and fro-ing. Caroline had come to the village six months ago, looking for passage away. Too scared to go on, she got stuck in a job at the Port of Going overseeing the main gate.

There was a time when noble buildings made this a desirable place to begin a show-off journey. Back then, the gaming attracted a better sort, nicely-dressed folk out to raise the stakes of an expensive evening. Now, the gaming brought nothing but fortune hunters, organized crime, and plenty willing to sell themselves for another go with lady luck. As Coming and Going went to seed, the well-dressed, better sorts moved on to build a new port, leaving the village to decay. Those desperate for passage, like Caroline, were sent here. 

The Port of Going hummed with early-morning traveller-seekers. Caroline unlocked the gate, fearing the humidity would irritate them. A siren blared three short shots. Overhead, the lights flickered. It happened at least once an hour, sometimes more. The humidity also seemed to mess with the way the sun’s energy was stored in the batteries. Then the lights went out, complete darkness. It would last five seconds. Five seconds of darkness brought thieves out of the cracks like cockroaches. They had the gift of Dark Sight, they were born with it, an undesirable gift. They meandered in and out of the traveller-seekers, the goers. After five seconds, the lights would come back on. Those who were thrown to the ground would shake themselves and look around, searching for their belongings. 

“This is terrible,” the first traveller said. “Why is this port be so dangerous? The Port of Coming is heavily guarded, controlled to the hilt, not like this dump.”

The traveller was right, of course. All comers to the village were closely guarded, whereas goers could go. People escaping were happily transported away, someone else’s problem. Caroline watched the motley goers line up: a girl holding hands with a child; a man with a dream; three children chained together, to be transported and sold into slavery; a girl with a look on her face that said she was going to pay back every asshole who ‘dun her wrong.’ A teenage boy stood behind her, dressed as a soldier.

“This is the Port of Going,” the man with the dream said. “Nobody cares who goes. All are allowed to leave.”

Behind him, a young woman appeared in line. She was heavy with child, visibly unwell. She waddled up to Caroline and waved her papers in Caroline’s face.

“I don’t want your papers,” Caroline said. “I need to scan your chip.”

The young woman flapped the papers. The edge just missed Caroline’s eye. The woman pounded her fist on the papers. She wanted to go and she needed her papers stamped to pass to the Nether Region, at least that was what her application said. 

“Don’t you understand me?” Caroline said. “Your chip.” 

The young woman lifted her braids to show she had no visible ears. Caroline had never seen this new breed, those with no hearing organs. They were supposedly better beings because they were compliant and could be remotely commanded by some other sensory perception. If that was true, how did she manage to escape to this port?

The lights went off again. Caroline saw the young woman go down. The lights came back on after five seconds. Those who were thrown to the ground stood back up. They shook themselves and looked around. In five seconds, the thieves had moved soundlessly through the goers and collected the spoils. The young woman had trouble getting to her feet. The line bottlenecked and people were visibly angry. The young woman must now stand or be trampled. 

The lights flickered and went off again. Caroline saw the young woman go down again, swallowed in the angry crowd. Caroline was afraid of the violence the crowd could produce. The next angry traveller stepped over the young woman, saying nasty things and giving her a little shove with their foot. Caroline scanned him and let him pass. The next traveller was not as patient and shoved the young woman to the side. As the young woman came to her feet, the next traveller kneed her in the thigh and she went down again. 

Caroline shut her gate, stoppering the bottleneck. “I will turn out the lights forever!” 

The lights flickered and went out. Caroline also had the gift of Dark Sight. She watched the thieves hush like spirits between the traveller-seekers and strip them of their valuables. The travellers never saw them coming. Caroline grabbed the young woman, pulled her under the gate and towards the transport area. She would leave now on the next transport away from this horrible place. 

About the Author: Pennsylvania native Laura Libricz earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where she resides today. When she isn’t writing she can be found sifting through city archives, picking through castle ruins or aiding the steady flood of musical instruments into the world market. A fascination with the country’s history has led her to recreate the 17th century for English speaking readers in the historical novel series Heaven’s PondThe Master and the Maid is the first book in the series. The Soldier’s Return is the second.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Read the incredible buzz for #BHBW author @jmcgarra MISDEMEANOR OUTLAW #vietnamvet


An Impactful, Wise, and Lively Memoir

Jim McGarrah is a master storyteller, and his latest, "Misdemeanor Outlaw" is no exception. With a traveler's casual warmth, he invites the reader into his coming-of-age in the 50s with humor, illumination, and a good dose of self-deprecation. From Midwest small town America, that age of innocence takes a sharp turn as we are led to Vietnam, the young boy still so young and yet a Marine fighting an endless war. McGarrah is a savvy truthteller, but also a philosopher, and his steady reflection and interrogation of this time and its impact keep circling the larger questions whose answers we should never stop seeking. This book is full of life--it sings with it--the arc and folds that follow one's early entrance into manhood and all the ways one can be led forward, seeking, breaking, putting oneself back together again.

Misdemeanor Outlaw: A Confession of Life

Jim McGarrah was born into the halcyon bubble of post-World War Two small town America, a bubble burst by the trauma of the Vietnam War in which he fought as a marine. His recall of his youth in Princeton, Indiana will take you through the looking glass of a Norman Rockwell magazine cover. His recall of a nighttime patrol in the MeKong Delta rice paddies will make your hair stand on end and bring you to tears. Misdemeanor Outlaw is a split personality of a memoir: part anecdotal paean to a seeming Paradise Lost, part wised-up epiphany about how things really work. It is a read you will come away from questioning even what you are most fond of.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

The best way to brighten your week with love #poetry #MondayBlogs

Illustration: Émile Friant "Study for Les Amoureux / Soir d'automne" (Lovers / Autumn evening) 1888

Polemics by Jim McGarrah

Here’s a mistake I frequently make,
I say poems are made from words. 
But that is to say killing is an ordinary
task in war or all the tools for every job
come from Sears. Tonight, my poem
works as a bartender who, like an acrobat, 
leaps on a narrow shelf. Steadied
by one leg and a waitress 
with arms covered in pagan tattoos, 
he retrieves a bottle high
above the bar’s mirror breaking
neither neck nor sweat. Tonight
my poem is love as these two people
brush against each other and hesitate
till all that needs said is said in silence.
Leaves fall from trees constantly
without fearing death. The bartender
doesn’t know this. That’s why, 
drying glasses with a damp towel, he looks
away each time she returns for an order.

 Jim McGarrah's poems, essays, and stories have appeared in many literary magazines over the past decade. His play, Split Second Timing, received a Kennedy Center ACTF Award in 2001. He is the author of four books of poetry, Running the Voodoo Down (2003), When the Stars Go Dark (2009), Breakfast at Denny's (2013), and The Truth About Mangoes (2016), a critically acclaimed memoir of the Vietnam War entitled A Temporary Sort of Peace that won the 2010 Legacy Nonfiction Award from the Eric Hoffer Foundation and the sequel entitled The End of an Era. His nonfiction books, Off Track and Misdemeanor Outlaw, were published by Blue Heron Book Works of Allentown, PA. Jim is also co-editor of Home Again: Essays and Memoirs from Indiana and a founding editor of RopeWalk Press, as well as the former managing editor of Southern Indiana Review. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Look behind the mind's eye #Poetry #ThursdayThoughts

Illustration: Wem Town Hall Ghost, public domain

Butter and Bread

Capping a night of long conversation
I said: It’s a certainty that you’ll live 
well after I’m dead.

In an effort at levity, you replied 
that if I died you’d immediately 
join a nunnery 

as if I were Hamlet imploring 
and making reference to 
imaginary whoring.

But why would you want to sacrifice your life
because I had the bad taste to die?
You smiled, said you’d be well taken care of— 

God would be your butter and bread
more than I gave you living or dead.

Vincent Francone was born in 1971.  A veteran of the legendary Aspidistra Bookshop, he spent years as an autodidact before earning a BA from Roosevelt University, where he now teaches first year composition and the occasional literature class, and an MA from Northwestern University.  His work has been published in Rhino, New City, Akashic, and The Oklahoma Review among other journals, and he won first place in the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writers Competition.  He lives in Chicago with his wife and his Chihuahua, Haruki.  
Connect with Vince online:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What #value does #music have in the Outlaw Life? @jmcgarra


The music of the sixties, especially protest music, has ruined all other rock music for me. The era was a time of innovation unlike any other in rock & roll history and I was an impressionable teenager then, overwhelmed by the unique and powerful sounds. It was as if gods tied lightning bolts together and wrestled them apart through thunderous clouds. It was the magic of coming alive once and for always. So much so that everything I hear now seems derivative, either language-wise, thematically, or melody-wise. The only other time in music that I can compare it to as a touchstone is the bebop jazz era that preceded it by a decade or so. Interestingly, both groups of musicians working in both genres rose to fame considered as outlaws in the music world by their contemporaries. It was almost impossible to hear the music on or in conventional venues during their perspective eras.

Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, John Mayhall, Roger McGuin, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakefield, Leslie West, Keith Richards, Duane Allman, Johnny and Edgar Winters, not to mention the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, were doing things with guitars and keyboards and the new synthisizers that the great jazz innovators of the fifties had attempted with horns and pianos (i.e. Coltrane, Monk, Davis, Parker, Mingus, etc.). I still listen to the unprecedented and iconic riffs, finding something I missed every time. It’s almost like reading great poetry over and over again. The same thing is true of Dylan’s imagistic lyrics and the vocal harmonies of the Beatles and Crosby, Still, & Nash.

Along with that is the emotional resonance created by some of the great songs. I can hear the opening notes of Street Fighting Man, Master of War, Eight Miles High, Fortunate Son, or a dozen other songs and be transported instantaneously to a march or a sit in where I was making some anti-war speech and the crowd was roaring. At a time when sex was as casual as shaking hands—just a way to say hello—I can hear Guinevere or Suite Judy Blue Eyes, Girl from the North Country, Spanish Harlem Incident, A Case of You, and be making love to Mary O'Donnell on a blanket at Bear Creek in upstate New York, or Black Magic Woman and be slipping off Roceria’s black lace panties in Mazalan, Mexico. I can hear Strawberry Fields Forever and suddenly be coming down off my first acid trip at 3am over a plate of half-cooked scrambled eggs in a booth at the Big O all-night diner in Owensboro, Kentucky. I can’t listen to Reflections by the Supremes or Paint It Black by the Stones or Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf without finding my way through a maze of jungle somewhere near the DMZ in Vietnam. I can’t hear Whipping Post without remembering Cathy leaving me over for a mediocre musician who had an unlimited supply of good dope and forgiving her because I might have done the same thing.

The very fact that this music was interwoven with the social and cultural revolution that was my history, the time in my life when I worked hardest at finding my own identity, makes it iconic to me. Unlike classical music, or jazz, when I hear this music I remember who I am and why I am and how I got to be this person I am, a Misdemeanor Oulaw. And as I approach my seventh decade of life I’m finally getting to the point that I like who I am…consequently, I will continue to despise Clear Channel radio and the banal imitators that pollute the airwaves pretending the noise they make is somehow original. I’ll climb into my time machine constructed from vinyl and fueled with Rye whiskey (my doctor lets me have one drink every now and then). Once settled behind the wheel, Van Morrison and I may travel Into the Mystic or maybe I’ll Take the Highway with the Marshall Tucker Band. Regardless, my journey will be as free and joyful as it was forty years ago. I guess that’s why they call this music “classic.” And, why I write so often about that time with respect.

Jim McGarrah's poems, essays, and stories have appeared in many literary magazines over the past decade. His play, Split Second Timing, received a Kennedy Center ACTF Award in 2001. He is the author of four books of poetry, Running the Voodoo Down (2003), When the Stars Go Dark (2009), Breakfast at Denny's (2013), and The Truth About Mangoes (2016), a critically acclaimed memoir of the Vietnam War entitled A Temporary Sort of Peace that won the 2010 Legacy Nonfiction Award from the Eric Hoffer Foundation and the sequel entitled The End of an Era. His nonfiction books, Off Track and Misdemeanor Outlaw, were published by Blue Heron Book Works of Allentown, PA. Jim is also co-editor of Home Again: Essays and Memoirs from Indiana and a founding editor of RopeWalk Press, as well as the former managing editor of Southern Indiana Review.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The best response to the request for a #love #poem #MondayBlogs

Response to a Request for a Love Poem

by Vincent Francone 

My wife wears her gold earrings in the summer nights
going to dance wearing black looking like the small hours 
her skin the cinnamon of angry skies.
Her eyes match her clothing 
which she wears like fog combing over the skyline.
Her fingers are peninsulas 
her back is a map with rivers from my fingers
her feet hold her to the earth 
her toes are painted like beach-washed stones
her hair falls like empires 
or is coiled like the center of a sunflower.
She wears her hair off her shoulders
and I never fail to lock onto what little memory remains 
of our first careless ardor
while she meanders through our conflict 
taking her time to make up her mind
as assiduously as she works on her make up.

Vincent Francone is a writer from Chicago whose memoir, Like a Dog, was published in the fall of 2015. He won first place in the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writers Competition (Gwendolyn Brooks Award) and is at work on a collection of poems and stories. Visit to read his work or say hi.

Read a review for Like a Dog: 

A Chicago critic once asked Nelson Algren," Why can't we ever read about happy marriages?" Algren replied, "Because there are none."
Like a Dog shows us the same can be said of the average job. Francone leads us from a purgatorial mail sorting job on the South Side to a rat-infested North Side bookstore (where a budding writer can find a kind of happiness), and finally into academia, where so many writers are forced to labor. Well-told stories, original characters, lots of laughs.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

VINCENT FRANCONE: a voice to reckon with #review #memoir


Review for LIKE A DOG:

Vincent’s colorful escapades in Chicago’s workplace offer the reader witty, dark humor that provides the perfect balance of genuine suspense and Gen-X satire. The book starts out in the Southwest Suburbs with Vincent toiling in dead-end mail sorting job that provides several memorable moments and characters that keep the pages turning. The middle part of the book finds Vincent moving to the North Side and encountering a serious of hilarious encounters with eccentric roommates and questionable residences. Vincent’s time at the storied Aspidstra Book store is where the book really takes off. The various employees and patrons of the book store felt both familiar and timeless. The final portion of the book finds Vincent traversing the world of academia. Rich storytelling combined with razor sharp dialogue painted against the backdrop of 1990's Chicago make this an excellent read, and more importantly, Vincent, a voice to reckon with.



Vincent Francone’s “Like a Dog,” as in “Work like a dog,” is a great read. A working class guy who comes up on the South Side of Chicago and moves north in a quest a better life, Francone takes us on a dazzling tour of minimum wage America over the last couple of decades. He’s has done it all; “I’ve tried telemarketing, copy writing, editing; I managed a courier center, I conducted background checks on potential healthcare employees, and worked in a stock room. . . .” And that’s before he goes to university and winds up, like so many other academics today, as a part-time instructor in a string of economically stressed public colleges. Francone’s descriptions of boring and soul-destroying work, the places where it’s done, and the people who do it are beautifully written, wildl entertaining, deeply poignant, and mysteriously inspiring. This is what it’s like to be alive in these times, “Like a Dog” insists, this is the battlefield of everyday life. These are your adversaries: mindless repetitive work, bored and boring co-workers, feckless bosses, plus your own inclination to work as little as possible, spend every penny you earn right away, and escape from bad job to bad job, without ever climbing any ladder that might lead to better paid if equally meaningless work. Best of all, this post-industrial odyssey down mean streets and corridors to mean offices and classrooms, dingy apartments, and dead end bars is full of gritty life. Francone is a gifted story- teller with a great, street smart voice. His protagonists and characters are brilliantly drawn.. And in their bafflement and self-destructive resistance to the work regieme that claims them they press back in an utterly realistic way against our recession-bred equation of employment, almost any employment, with salvation. Studs Terkel would have loved this book--John McClure, Phd

Vincent Francone is a writer from Chicago whose memoir, Like a Dog, was published in the fall of 2015. He won first place in the 2009 Illinois Emerging Writers Competition (Gwendolyn Brooks Award) and is at work on a collection of poems and stories. Visit to read his work or say hi.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tales from The Hot Dog Grill #review #cabaret


Five Star Review for Tales from the Hot Dog Grill by Billy Ehrlacher!

Biting wit....hold the mustard

This is a wonderfully imagined and executed book! A comic, satirical novel disguised as a memoir, it follows the adventures of Jon and Kikki through the underbelly of fast food America paying particular attention to the pomposity of people with power over other people. The author is a seasoned (no pun intended) cabaret performer who uses his biting wit on those whose specialty is making other people's lives miserable, but the reader still emerges with their faith in humankind.

Tales from the Hot Dog Grill: 

"The setting of our tale is Doomsdale" and Jon and Kiki's story goes downhill from there! College students, Jon and Kiki work for the OTHER hot dog stand in Doomsdale and their boss, Wicked Wilma, hires them to go underground and work for the popular competition to discover their secret ingredient....hint: it's not the sauce! A modern day Candide, Jon romps through the absurd world of fast food and concludes it's the WORST of all possible worlds.

About Billy Ehrlacher:

Billy Ehrlacher obtained a bachelor's degree in theatre from DeSales University.  SInce graduating Billy has performed all over the Lehigh Valley as well as in New York City.  Some of his past theatre roles include:  Robert in Ceiling Art, Forrest in Warped Speed Dating, Lab Tech in Women are From Venus Men are From Uranus, Ahmed in Getting Complete, Barry in Lois's Wedding, Mickey Black in Tony & Tina's Wedding, Sal in Tony & Tina's Wedding, Grumio in Babes in Toyland, Al in The Philadelphia, Snout in a Midsummer Night's Dream, Mike in Dinner With Marney, and Etienne in The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. and Mohameed in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife among many others. He has performed his well received cabaret act at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre, Don't Tell Mama, and The Laurie Beechman Theatre all in New York City.  A civic minded individual Billy is a longtime advocate and a staunch supporterof Downtown Allentown.  In 2012 his efforts were awarded with the 2012 Downtown Ambassador Award.  Billy also  previously hosted his own radio show called, The Billy Show.  He is  presently working on developing not one but two  web soap operas.  One has a working title of The Neighborhood, and the other Dumpster City.  Billy Ehrlacher resides in Allentown, PA.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Since you asked." Behind the Scenes with #BHBW Mastermind @bathshebamonk

Every fiction writer has a moment... 

...when she realizes she wants to spend her life telling stories, and mine is this: I was seven years old, walking to the library on Saturday morning with my older brother.  I had been reading since I was four and was addicted to reading for escape, and by Saturday morning, I usually had five books, the library’s limit, ready to exchange.  But that week there was one I hadn’t gotten to.  I don’t remember its name; only that the cover was illustrated with sepia drawings of owls and woodland creatures.  On the top of the pile in my arms, it caught my brother’s attention. 

“What’s that one about?” he asked.

My brother never talked to me.  He was two years older, involved in his boy’s life and found my world unworthy of his attention.  When he asked me a question that required more than yes or no, I was determined to impress him.  So I made up a story.  For five minutes, as I spun a yarn about a not-so-wise owl raising a skunk, my brother listened attentively and, unbelievably, laughed.  I suppose if there had been a dancing bear on the cover, I might be wearing tap shoes right now, but a story was what was wanted, and that was that.

My parents had moved from a coal patch near Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and we were living in Bethlehem, the steel Mecca two hours to the south.  My father worked days in the steel mill’s blast furnace and nights in a silk mill.  My mother worked in a sewing factory.  Because they hadn’t the time to make friends in Bethlehem, our entire social life took place on weekends when we drove back to Hazelton to visit our huge extended family. 

It was the early 1970s.  

Many of the underground coal mines in that part of Pennsylvania were closing down, and most of the damage that mining could do to my family had already been done—uncles who died before I knew them, a grandfather who lost an eye in a cave-in, a handsome cousin who dragged an oxygen tank behind him because of black lung.  My family seemed to me to be a stable of beasts of burden, discarded when no longer needed and left to wonder what the hell happened to them; a painful exercise, because pack mules are not trained for introspection. 

But life went on.  A few of the men got jobs in strip mining, running huge steam shovels that scooped the skin off the ground to access the coal near its surface.  It was easier on the men than tunnel mining, but more brutal on the earth, and the landscape of my youth was covered in slate.  

I have sixty-four cousins, all older, so I attended lots of weddings where we children were allowed to drink whiskey sours and eat maraschino cherries till we turned red, then green, and a reception could last for days, the polka band playing on until the last dancer dropped a last dollar bill into the accordion player’s case.  Everyone in my family danced.  It was our way of making recreational conversation.  Talk that didn’t impart practical information was suspect.

Religion permeated every aspect of our life, as it does for all people whose survival is a lottery.  Because my father was Roman Catholic and my mother was a Byzantine Catholic whose church followed the Gregorian calendar, we celebrated every holiday twice: two Christmases, two Easters, two New Years.  Services at my mother’s church, St. Peter’s and Paul’s Ukrainian Church, went on for hours; the priest, resplendent in gold lamé, intoned the service in English first, then in Church Slavonic, then in Latin.  At Sunday supper at my grandfather’s house after church, before we were allowed to start eating, my mother and her sisters would chant an a cappalle prayer that lasted ten minutes.  My mother had sung in the church choir and they all had beautiful voices.  But it shocks me now to remember what we prayed for: that the tunnel mines, which paid better wages, would reopen, and our men, by God’s intercession, could go back to being beasts of burden.

My parents were always exhausted: with three full-time jobs between them, children to support, a house to maintain, and the weekly pilgrimage to the coal region.  

Plus we had taken in a magical, slightly unhinged creature, Babba, my father’s mother, who nicked, scorched, or broke just about every valuable object in our house during manic bouts of housekeeping.  My mother spent hours trying to repair the damage, especially Babba’s biggest offence: filling my head with bizarre ideas about life and fantastical gossip about the other neighborhood Babbas: Mrs. Marzak, Mrs. Horwath, and Mrs. Szilborski.  To me they looked like Humpty-Dumptys in aprons, but Babba spun stories that made them the most remarkable people in our neighborhood.  The clash between Babba’s fanciful visions and my mother’s pragmatic version of life kept our house on constant edge.  To escape, I retreated further into books, reading under the sheets until three in the morning by flashlight, and, when allowed, sleeping over in the homes of friends from school. 

Bethlehem was a company town and Steel poured money into the local school system.  The kids whose parents managed the steel (among the highest paid executives in the country at that time) attended the local public schools alongside the kids whose dads manned the mills.  Reading and writing were top priority, and I seized on the opportunity to write.  I wrote for the school weekly.  I had a column in the “student” section of the local daily and co-edited an alternative newspaper put out by kids from all the local high schools.  By the time I graduated from high school, it was clear I was going to be a writer.  Wasn’t I one already?

So I was outraged when my parents told me that not only would I not be going to college (“Why would a girl go to college, except to find a husband?”) 

...but that my mother had arranged for the sewing mill where she worked to hire me.  They had earmarked me all along to fit into their blue collar niche where, if I got lucky, I’d eventually marry a neighborhood stoker.  When I protested that I was a writer, my father said that there was plenty to write about in my spare time “right here, unless you’re blind,” and I answered “maybe, if you’re a brute.”  Who wanted to read about the black and blue collar life?  John O’Hara and John Updike, my Pennsylvanian writing heroes, never mentioned mines or mills, babbas or their grandfathers’ homemade hootch.  Their characters had martini glasses welded to their fists and dressed for work in suits and silk ties.

You don’t have be in a cave-in to be buried alive.  On my eighteenth birthday, I moved into a boarding house.  To everyone who said: once you’ve left, you can’t go home again.  I answered: who cares?

I was rescued by my mother’s brother, Uncle Mike, who had broken with the family tradition of mining and gone into another business—crime.  He invited me to lunch at a swank private club in Allentown, ostensibly to give me some avuncular advice.  Like him, I was different, he said, and as he didn’t have any children of his own, he’d decided to help me out.  He handed me an envelope full of hundred dollar bills to get me started on my own.

I was adrift but afloat, and by the time Uncle Mike’s money began to run low, I had concluded that moving out wasn’t enough of a break with my past.  I needed an official annulment, so I enlisted in the Army and got myself stationed in Germany. 

Once in Europe, away from coal patches and steel mills,...

...I would find out what “real life” was like and would reinvent myself to fit in.  I spent my leave in museums and galleries.  I traveled to every country I could get to by train, and I ingratiated myself into the European milieu by telling people I wanted to be a painter.  I knew enough German and French, which I’d taken in high school, to tell new acquaintances in their own language that I didn’t speak it at all, which they found charming.  I was well-read enough to alight comfortably on the surface of most subjects without being asked to bore down.  I was an exotic to the Europeans I met: an American who wasn’t an American.  I don’t know why I found that flattering, because it meant I was nothing at all.  What was I?

After my enlistment was up, I stayed in Europe, getting my undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland’s European Division, working in the university textbook office, and studying painting with a teacher there.  If I occasionally met someone from Pennsylvania and they asked where I was from, I said I was an army brat who’d never stayed in one place long enough to call it home.  Or I claimed that my entire family had died in a plane crash, which people found too grisly to pursue or too preposterous to believe.  I wasn’t alone in this.  Expatriate communities are full of people who have discarded former selves and no one asks for details.

Part of my metamorphosis included marrying someone as far away from me on the social meter as possible: a WASP I met in Paris.  We came back to the States briefly to make it official.  We got married by a JP on the wrong side of Bethlehem, with a junkie banging on the door during the ceremony, trying to “borrow” ten bucks.  I wore a black motorcycle jacket and our wedding pictures were taken in a photo booth in a mall.

That my family couldn’t understand what he did for a living (banking) was part of his appeal. 

“What does he do? What does he make?” 

“Money.  He makes money, Mother.” 

My appeal to him was that I had never seen the inside of a country club.  I was refreshing.  He wanted to disown his background too and marrying me was a coup because his family had never encountered anyone from my social class before, at least not at the dinner table.  One of the few times I saw any of them, we visited two of his cousins in London, where one taught acting and the other worked as the financial advisor to an Arab sheik.  When they tired of tearing each other apart after too many glasses of Cutty Sark, they turned on me and told Polish jokes.  I felt like I was in a Tennessee Williams play, but at least I was now part of a people who didn’t carry their lunch in a pail when they went to work. 

Somewhere along the way, my husband and I decided to stop being the heavy artillery for the each other’s wars.  And after we parted, I began to write in earnest.  I had tasted enough life beyond the “dark satanic mills” to allow me to invent sophisticated worlds that starred me as a really cool person. 

My divorce made me think I could write about divorce, specifically a hip divorce lawyer with a Scottish terrier (I’d always wanted a dog, an unthinkable luxury in a family that had enough work taking care of its humans) who solves a murder!  The pages dripped with characters saying what I thought were cool, witty things to one another, in a cool, hip environment.  The murder was incidental.  Nobody liked the guy or missed him when he was gone.  And the divorce part was weak: I was friends with my ex, so what could I know about the real pain and loneliness caused by a less-than-friendly separation?  The feedback I got on that novel was, “Are you making fun of divorce, divorce lawyers, or the entire mystery genre?”

But like a train unable to brake, I kept going, manuscripts piling up behind me like squashed box cars.  If I was unsure of myself because of my unsophisticated upbringing and patchwork education, my literary alter-ego could be brazen, confident.  I would write about things that were shiny and smart and “full of money”.

I wrote another novel, about a woman from a bourgeois family, who brings a cell of terrorists to their knees; a screenplay about a painter who becomes the toast of the New York City art world; a novel about twin child actresses who……It doesn’t matter.  A friend who read everything I’d written at the time asked me if it was just a coincidence that the father character in every story was killed off. 

By this time, I had stayed away from home for almost twenty years.  I’d returned to the States, and was living in Boston, selling paintings out of my studio.  It was the first time in my adult life that I owned a television.  I can testify to its addictive quality because I know more about Boston sports teams than I think is normal.  But there was one interview that struck me, an old re-run (Boston loves to replay its glory days) of a local sportscaster talking to a then-young Larry Bird.  How, the interviewer asked, could he anticipate where he was supposed to be on the court?  Bird said that when he was playing, it was as if suddenly everything was in slow motion, and a split second before it actually happened he saw the play unfold in front of him—saw where the ball would end up—and he would go there to catch it, shoot it, or hit the open man. 

That seemed like good advice for writing.  Slow life down, see the ball arcing through the air, landing in the hands of the open man.  But to anticipate what happens next, you have to have practiced on the terrain.  You can’t write about what you don’t know.

And what did I know?  I knew myself, of course.  I knew my own struggle to deny where I had come from, thinking a change of scene would change who I was.  The human heart in conflict with itself, as William Faulkner said, is the only thing worth writing about.  And I knew all about that.  

The settings for my next stories chose themselves--slate piles and slag heaps, breakers and blast furnaces.  The characters were varied: Babbas bargaining with God, men defining themselves by their jobs and despairing when they lost them, runaways trying to succeed in Hollywood, working class women selling their souls to step into the middle class.  I’m always startled when people ask which character I identify with, because it’s obvious: they’re all me.

My brother phoned me two years ago to tell me that my father was ill and that I should go home to make peace with him.  I had sent him my writing over the years, still fishing for fraternal approval, and he admonished me: don’t show Dad your new writing.  It will upset him to see how you see him.

My father and I had kept up a barely civil connection—Christmas cards signed with his full legal name as if I might not remember who “Dad” was.  At our first meeting, because we were both nervous and because we’d never really talked, I handed him a couple of my latest stories to break the ice.  He read them right then, and, amazingly, he laughed.  He didn’t, he said, think I’d been paying attention.   

In my writing I had already come home, so I decided to stay.  

Occasionally now, I take my Dad for drives.  We inspect the ruins of the steel mill where he worked, which, in a cosmic joke, is being converted into gambling casinos.  We drive up to the coal region to see who--a few relatives--and what--a little strip mining--is left.  When the coal miners in West Virginia were asphyxiated in a tunnel explosion this winter, he took it with a matter-of-factness I’d always found brutish but which I now saw was the stoicism of our kind.  He’s from a breed of people that do dangerous work, live hard lives, let God decide their fate, and don’t talk about it much. 

Because what, he asks me, is there to say? 

Well, as it turns out, I answer, quit a bit.     

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