Monday, October 05, 2015

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

When I took my first journalism class in college, the professor pointed out the key to every good news story. Each, he said, must answer six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how, and do so as concisely as possible. 

I always loved the story of the fledgling reporter who was assigned to cover the death of a local socialite who had committed suicide after attending a party. He submitted his story, which his editor rejected as too long, citing the six keys. He re-did it, cutting it considerably. The editor rejected it as too long. Three more attempts were also rejected. Finally, in frustration, the writer submitted the following. "Socialite John Smith, 48, attended a dinner party Thursday evening. He then took his hat, his coat, his leave, a taxi to his home, a gun from his drawer, and his life." I think he was fired.

I suspect that's why I never went into newspaper journalism, and why I don't even write short stories anymore: brevity may be the soul of wit, but when it comes to writing, I find it next to impossible to be brief.

A novel must answer the same key questions as a news story, but has the luxury of allowing the writer to take as much time as he ("No, no!" Political Correctness admonishes sternly, "He or she!" To which I reply, "Screw Political Correctness.") needs to do so. Also, whereas in a news story, the keys are most usually given in the set order of who/what/when/where/why/how, a novel can be much more flexible in the order of the questions/answers to suit the writer's whim.
As a general rule, of the six questions, the “who/what/why/how" are probably more important than the “when/where”—and this is especially true in mysteries. 

Probably because each of my fiction books is part of a series (two, actually) the "who/what/why" are the primary questions—the "when/where" are more or less constant from book to book. The “how" varies widely. And on closer analysis, it is really the "who" which is the most important. All my books are primarily character driven, and it is they who bind each of the series together.

I love writing series because by having the same characters return, book after book, set in the same surroundings, the readers can—and I sincerely hope, do—become more personally vested in them and their development. That many readers have said that they consider the characters as real people and friends is about the highest compliment a writer can receive. It's reached the point, for me, of considering each subsequent book in the series to be simply another chapter in the continuing story of the characters' lives.

But writing a series presents certain challenges as well. It's very important that someone who has never read any other book in the series not feel as though they have no idea of who these people are. So each book has to include a subtle reintroduction of the secondary characters and locations. However, each book can be read alone, in any order, without overly confusing the reader as to what's happened in previous books.

Many people understandably want to read a series in the order written, to get an idea of the development of the characters from book to book. The unfortunate death of the publisher of the first ten books of the Dick Hardesty series, and the dissolution of the company, meant that as the first ten books ran out stock, they became, in effect, out of print. Luckily Zumaya Publishing picked up and continued the series with the 11th book, and began reissuing the out of print titles. This created something of a logistical problem which could have been more serious were it important to read them all in the order published. Faced with what could be a considerable logistics problem trying to squeeze ten “unexpected” titles into the publishing backlog of its own original titles, Zumaya kindly turned the entire series over to Untreed Reads publishing, which is reissuing it in the order written, with the first four already available. (Book #5, The Good Cop, will be reissued on October 13.) We are on track to have the entire series, including a new one, back in publication by late 2016 with minimal inconvenience to you as the reader.

A writer's life, regardless of which form he specializes in, is not an easy one. Come to think of it, no one's is.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Friends and Lovers

When I was living in Los Angeles and very active in the gay "scene," many of my friendships stemmed from having met someone in a bar, gone home with them, and our then deciding—either before, during, or after our time in bed—that we would like to get to know each other better aside from the sex. Usually, the element of sex eventually dropped out of the equation completely. This was simply the way gay culture at the time worked and I suspect still does. It's not coincidental that in my Dick Hardesty mystery series, many of Dick's closest friendships began with sex.

As a minor digression, I find it fascinating that the gay lexicon has changed dramatically when it comes to the description of long-term relationships. The word "lover," which was used for most of my adult life, was almost totally replaced by "partner," which I personally prefer, and "lover" is now almost never used.

Of all the relationships I've had in my long and checkered career, only two "partners" stand out as having a major impact on my life: Norm, who was my first real relationship, lasting six years, and Ray, which lasted nine years, on and off—mostly off due to the alcoholism which inevitably destroyed him. After our breakup, Norm and I segued from partners to loving friends until his death in 2010. I realize that I have largely fantasized my relationship with Ray, who I did indeed  love deeply—seeing only the incredibly sweet, kind, loving young man he was when sober and ignoring the monster he became when drunk. For those of you who follow my books, Ray was the inspiration for Dick's partner, Jonathan—which is hardly surprising since I, in my fantasy world, am Dick.

In our lives, if we are lucky, we have many friends of both genders and a variety of sexual orientations. If we're very lucky, some of them remain friends or a lifetime. 

The word "friend" covers a broad spectrum of, for want of a better word, "intensities." Simply put, some friends are closer than others. Friends tend to come and go. A mark of a true friend is one who may have drifted away for whatever reason but who, when re-meeting after many years, can pick up a conversation in mid-sentence as though the intervening years never existed. I've been blessed to have several of those, and the re-establishment of the friendship is a joy hard to describe.

But throughout life there are relatively few we consider true "best friends." I've had three in my life—and I hasten to add that the term does not apply to lovers/partners, who are in a special category of their own. 

When I was in high school, my best friend was Lief Ayen, who looked like a young Charles Laughton, if any of you are old enough to remember him. We were both outsiders who knew we did not belong, and this awareness and our shared sense of offbeat humor was the glue that bound us for many years. We eventually drifted apart and, when I tried a few years ago to find him in hopes of re-establishing our friendship, I learned he had died. And even though it had been well over 50 years since I last saw him, I felt a great sense of loss.

Russ Hogan was my best friend in college and for 40 years thereafter. We drifted apart for reasons I've never fully understood, but for which I always felt oddly guilty, and I only learned of his death through a mutual friend. I still miss him terribly.

My current best friend (of coming up on 20 years) is Gary Brown, who is also my webmaster, my designated listener-to-my-real-and-imagined woes, and my run-to-every-time-I-have-a-problem-with-my-computer (which is at least several times a week) guy. He is infinitely kind, generous, and patient with everyone, but I know I must tax his limits frequently. It is simply understood that should either of us ever need anything, the other will be there.

Why, then, you might ask, are we not lovers/partners? Because the key element necessary for lovers/partners—missing between best friends—is sexual attraction/romantic love. Gary is the brother I never had. I can’t imagine brothers being any closer. But again the element of romance is totally lacking. (On a trip to Paris, arriving at our hotel after having been awake for over 30 hours, we were mistakenly given a room with only one double bed. Though we were exhausted, we waited four hours for them to find us a room with two double beds. Sharing a room, fine. Sharing a bed...uh, no way in hell.)

I hope you are blessed with at least one "best friend" who brightens and eases your life and without whom you cannot imagine your life.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, September 28, 2015

Here Lies Common Sense

Let us gather here today to mourn the loss of one of humankind's greatest gifts, which has guided us through some of our darkest hours—simple common sense—whose loss has significant and increasing consequences on our society.

I think, being honest, that we are all complicit in its loss by increasingly ignoring its value and doing little or nothing to come to its aid when under attack. However, politicians are at the vanguard of the assault.

Though Michele Bachmann, that great humanitarian and scholar, has blessedly departed from the spotlight, who can possibly forget her single-handed war on the most elemental forms of logic or common sense? She tells us that a trip President Obama (a.k.a to Republicans as "the Antichrist") made to Japan cost taxpayers $200,000,000 a day; that he took along an entourage of 2,000 people, who stayed in 735 luxury 5-star hotel rooms (at least that comes out to nearly three people per room—a sure sign of frugality ignored by Ms. Bachmann). She also told us, with the deep sincerity and profundity for which she is known, that our founding fathers worked tirelessly (this is in 1776, mind) until slavery was eradicated from the land. And the protest against her utterly egregious nonsense was a deafening silence.

But her exit from the political stage merely opened the door for the likes of Donald Trump, who no longer feels it even necessary to even mention common sense. He boasts of huge plans…HUGE!…to “make America great again” without bothering to give a single example of how this would be accomplished, and we all “oooooh” and “aaaaaah” and cheer in response. 

Are Trump and the other embarrassingly self-serving candidates laughed off the stage and forbidden to play with sharp objects? No, they are running for the office of President of the United States, and their every vacuous word is greeted with applause and knowing nods of total agreement by their followers.

As our society becomes more and more ruled by technology—the workings of which are unintelligible to the average human—we feel, correctly, that we have less and less control over our own destinies. As even trying to figure out how and why things and institutions work the way they do becomes increasingly more difficult, more and more people are throwing up their hands in frustration and saying to self-proclaimed pundits, "Okay, you tell me what to think," and those pundits, whose motivations are based far more on greed for power than altruism, are more than happy to oblige. 

That old saying, “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost,…” is as true today as ever; maybe even more so. And with every patently false and misleading statement issued, another nail is pounded into the coffin of common sense.

Can this trend be reversed? Possibly, but I fear it would require more time and effort than most people are willing to devote to it—there’s a football game on tonight, after all, and priorities are priorities.

But just because we've tossed common sense into the back of a sock drawer doesn't mean we can't take it out and start using it again. First, we must all realize that just because something is said on TV or read in a forwarded email or seen on Facebook does not make it true. As someone once said, if ten million people believe a lie, it is still a lie. Before passing something on a gospel is to ask the simplest of simple questions: "Does this really make any sense?" President Obama plans to give every illegal immigrant $400,000 a month, free health care, a new house, and a new car? Forget that even if he wanted to he could not get it passed through a congress which, if he said the sun was shining, would run for their umbrellas. Hey, a friend sent me an email of an article he saw in some magazine, so it must be true.  Muslims use a melon scoop to remove the brains of Christian babies? They said so on Fox News, so it has to be true.

Politics, of course, is not the only thing lacking the nail of common sense. Internet spam is obviously unaware of its existence. After railing against Spam endlessly, I still cannot comprehend it, let alone how any rational human being could ever, under any circumstances, believe a word of it.

Television commercials—and especially infomercials and those ads aired late at night—depend on the lack of the nail of the viewer's common sense.

Instances of the effects of the loss of these nails are endless, and to point to them all is like standing in the back yard at night pointing up at the stars.

But the nail's not lost; we can find it and use it. All we have to do is try.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting It

Let's face it: when it comes to "getting it" understanding something that everyone else apparently so easily understands and takes for granted...I generally don't.

"...for well-qualified buyers"? What in the hell does that mean? I don't get it.

Starlets and (female) celebrities posing with one hand on a sideways-thrust hip is, I gather, the height of  seductiveness? I don't get it. I guess you have to be straight to understand.

"Reality" shows devoted to vacuous, rude, self-centered boors with absolutely no discernible talent who contribute nothing to society and who are famous for being famous? I don't get it. And that they have an avid viewing audience of millions who hang on their every monosyllabic word? Even harder to comprehend.

Presidential candidates who deny the most basic tenets of science yet are firmly convinced they are eminently qualified to lead the country in an increasingly technological ("Technology, noun: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry") world? I don't get it. And those who would vote for them? Totally incomprehensible.

Internet spam messages from Nigerian barristers, from people dying of (usually) cancer wanting you to help them dispose of their millions, and, recently, shameful posts from United States servicemen and women asking for help...and those astoundingly naive/gullible/stupid people who would consider responding? I simply do not get it.

Anyone with the intelligence of a radish watching, let alone buying into, infomercials and commercials offering "not sold in stores" (gee, I wonder why?) schlock which then say they will double, triple, or quadruple the order for the same price? Sorry, I don't get it.

Organized sports? Organized religion? Cults? Bigotry? The Tea Party? I don't get any of them.

Donald Trump (or any one of the Republican presidential wanna-bes)? John Boehner? Sarah Palin? Michele Bachmann? Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck? Mitch McConnell?  Can someone explain what positive contribution any one of these people has made to society or to the furthering of compassion, tolerance, compromise, or to the betterment of the human race?

Those who presume to speak for God who totally ignore all that bothersome "Love one another," "Do unto others," and "Judge not lest ye be judged" nonsense while preaching intolerance and hatred? I don't get them, nor do I want to.

Employees in government offices who act as though they are the government? People who accept the bad service and the most egregious behavior without a peep of protest? I don't get it.

Instruction manuals...for anything...written by technophiles in language only technophiles and those who speak gibberish can possibly understand? Sorry, again. I don't get it.

Restaurant menu and prepared-food-package photographs that bear absolutely no resemblance to what you are served/is in the package?

Perhaps some day a light will go on in my head, and everything will be made clear to me, as it seems to be to everyone else on the planet. But I doubt it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, September 21, 2015

"How 'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm,...?"

The American Civil War began a fundamental, basic change in the fabric of not only American society but of interpersonal relationships. Until that time, the vast majority of people never traveled more than 20 miles from their homes in their entire lives. The average person's total social existence was built upon the rock of family, friends, and neighbors. The Civil war created widening cracks in this foundation when it uprooted young men from the soil of the past. Taken from their farms and villages and transported to places within their own country they'd never been or even knew existed. This trend was vastly accelerated with America’s entry into WWI, and was perfectly summed up in the popular song, "How 'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?" 

Following WWI, ages-long close-knit bonds between family, friends, and life-long neighbors crumbled rapidly as entire populations moved and shifted and blended.

Family remains the rock upon most people's lives are built, but as distance separated many family members, nearby friends became substitutes for far-off family. But the more mobile our society became, friends, too, like family, began to move away. Face-to-face meetings with friends were slowly replaced, as technology welled up to swallow us all, by the internet, which opened the door to the entire world. In cyberspace, there is no concept of distance. People who normally would never have even become acquaintances—probably never even known of each other's existence—became a new kind of friend: cyber friends who still probably would never meet face to face.

And as technology continues to rob us of our traditional connections to other people, as families and close-knit circles of friends break up into small pieces and scatter around the country and the globe, we tend to rely more on cyber friends. And as age and distance begin to take away our traditional friends and family, cyber friends become a larger part of our social structure.

I've found this particularly true for myself, and on all levels. Much of it has to do with the simple fact of my growing older. Family members and friends die; our face-to-face social contacts tend to dwindle. It's part of being a young adult to cultivate many close face-to-face friends, resulting in an active social life surrounded by people you can—and often do—reach out and touch. I am blessed that I still have a number of friends who date from my childhood, college, and young adult years. But most of them are scattered, now, and we use cyberspace to substitute for face-to-face meetings.

One of the most important and most overlooked casualties of the loss face-to-face contact with family and friends is the loss of physical contact. The emotional/psychological power of simple physical contact—a handshake, a hug, a casual pat on the back or arm around the shoulder—is a too-often-overlooked yet major casualty of our societal diaspora.

For me, right now, in Chicago, my face-to-face social network consists of my best friend, Gary, who I see almost every day, my friend Diane from my earliest days in Chicago, and Sandra, a woman with whom I worked after my return. I have a few people I think of more as friendly acquaintances than true, soul-deep friends, but it is a far different world, on a personal social level, from my 20s and 30s.

I find myself more and more reliant on my cyber friends for a sense of being connected with the world, and for the validation that face-to-face friends normally supply. I quite probably, in fact, have a much wider circle of cyber-friends than I ever had of face-to-face friends. I sincerely enjoy our exchanges (and their encouragement and support). I have been lucky enough to actually meet several of them, either on their visits to Chicago or mine to New York, and now count them as both cyber and face-to-face friends. And I am quite sure that, had we the chance to meet face to face, any number of my current cyber-friends could/would easily become friends in the traditional sense. 

So, as in all things in life, it is a matter of trade-offs. The world continues to change, and there is nothing we can do to bring the past back, other than in our memories. Would I give anything to be 28 again and to spend an evening with my mom and dad and aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck and my cousins, or with friends Norm and Tom and Franklin and Ray and Ace and the other wonderful people who were such an important part of my life at the time? Of course. But I am also truly grateful for the cyber friendship of so many wonderful people I've met on line through my books and blogs.

Face-to-face is great: mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart can be just as good. So let this blog be a form of thank you to all my friends, face-to-face and cyber. And there is always room for more. A cyber-hug to you all.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Writers, Books, and Life

Every now and again, I pull myself up short and realize just how amazingly lucky I am to be a writer, especially considering how generally uncomfortable I am living in the real world. And when that world closes in too tightly, I can...and do...simply step into the worlds of my mind. I am fully aware of how difficult...and probably is to explain how real this "other" world—this alternate universe, as it were—is to me.  

As Dorien Grey and Roger Margason, I am two people in one, Roger living in the corporeal world we all share, Dorien in the world of thought and dreams and hopes. Dorien’s world is, to me, almost as solid and real as Roger’s, and I am, truthfully, often more comfortable in it than in Roger’s.

Please let me make it clear, however, that I am always fully aware of whichever world I am spending my time at the moment, and never confuse them. I'm sure there are those who would consider me delusional, but it is a controlled and harmless delusion, and I take quiet pleasure in it.

I've often stated my belief that life and time are in fact an endless loop in which every instant of time, including our lives, exists somewhere, and is repeated time and time again, endlessly. 

Or think, if you will, of life as a book. When you pick it up, every word has been written and cannot be changed. Yet each is new to you as you move through the book. Just as every life has a beginning and an end, so does a book. And just as a book, read from first sentence to last, can, upon reaching "The End," be reread over and over again, so are our lives endlessly repeated. The movement of the reader's eyes over each word in a book is the equivalent of the movement of time around that cosmic loop. Every word of a book is the equivalent of an instant of time on the loop of time: fixed, unchangeable, and yet always new and unknown. 

Even though the entire book has been written and is being held in the reader's hand as it is being read, the book’s characters, unaware that they are not real, are propelled through the book’s “time” by the reader's eyes. The characters are aware of what has happened in previous sentences and paragraphs and chapters, but what comes next is totally unknown. It's all there, in the book, the reader's eyes just haven't taken the characters there yet. 

Each new page is a new segment of the character's lives. But the characters are totally unaware of what the next page has in store for them, though the entire book has been written. And the reader can pick up the book at page one and set the characters off on the same adventure, though again they are only aware of what has come before, not of what the next sentence or paragraph holds.

We move along the loop of time in the same way the reader's eyes move through a book. It is time—and specifically that portion of time we know as “now”—which propels us through our lives, unaware that it has done so before and will do so again throughout eternity.

I've always loved optical illusions...those pictures in which you see one thing, but suddenly, by the slightest shift in focus, become something totally different. Roger's world is the immediately obvious picture, Dorien's the alternate. The optical illusion analogy pretty much sums up and combines my two lives, my two alternate universes and unites my book/endless-loop analogies.

Because I am able to...and truly vicariously through my characters and the stories I create for them, I can have in the Dorien’s world what I do not have in Roger's. One of my most profound regrets is that in the Roger’s corporeal "real" world, I do not have someone with whom I am deeply and romantically in love and who loves me in the same way. I miss it more than I can possibly say. I know that the world abounds with people who are in the same position as I. And yet, in my alternate, Dorien world, I am Dick Hardesty, and I have Jonathan and Joshua and all the marvelous things not available to me in Roger's world. Hard as it may be to understand, their love and commitment to one another are very real to me, and they provide me with an inexpressible joy and comfort.

I am, truly, blessed.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, September 14, 2015

E Unim Pluribus

I've always been fascinated by historical trivia, and one of my favorites is that, in ancient Rome, as conquering heroes marched in triumph through the cheering crowds, a slave would ride on the hero's chariot, standing directly behind him, holding a laurel wreath over his head while whispering “Remember, thou art but a man.” Wise people, those Romans.

Every human being―I’m sure this was true even of Roman generals―is a mixture of ego and insecurities: they are part of what makes us human. It is the varying percentages of each which helps make each of us who we are and sets us apart from everyone else. I’m not sure what the ideal percentage of each might be, but suspect that most of us fall somewhere around 10 points to either side of the 50 percent center line, with some natural degree of fluctuation between them. Ego and insecurity are a little like oil and vinegar in a cruet, each clearly defined.

I truly admire people with healthy egos, and have noticed that those who have them seldom seem aware of it. But then, that’s the point of a healthy ego: there is no need to question it. And while people who project too strong an ego can be insufferable—presidential candidate Donald Trump leaps to mind—,  it’s been my experience that obnoxious egos are often chimeras, and those who display them often are doing so to hide their insecurities.

But in some people, writers among them, it’s as though someone were shaking the bejeezus out of the cruet to the point where the ego and insecurity are so jumbled as to be indistinguishable. I know whereof I speak, because my ego and insecurity have been in the process of emulsification  in the cruet of my mind for as long as I can remember. My ego tells me I’m great, and that anyone who reads my words will automatically become devoted and adoring fans. My insecurity tells my ego it’s full of crap, and I’m no damned good (on a bad day) or mediocre at best (on a good day) and that anyone who tells me I do have some worth is being either extraordinarily kind or condescending.

Writers’ egos are large enough to assume people will want to read what they have written, while often unjustifiably insecure in fearing they won’t. I am frequently awed by the extremes of both my ego and my insecurities, and frustrated by the fact that they invariable negate one another. It is my ego which writes these blogs, and my insecurities that constantly scoff at how I can have the temerity to think that anyone could actually care what I have to say.

For whatever reason, many writers―and you don’t need a caliper and slide rule to figure out I’m including myself here―have a desperate need for approval, which is a form of validation of their worth. Every human needs validation, but writers…I…seem for whatever reason to be particularly needy. There is never enough love; never enough approval, and a perverse willingness to seek out and magnify faults and flaws. I fully realize I’m an emotional sponge, eager to soak up every drop of approval I can get. And when I don’t get enough―which of course I never possibly can―I chalk it up to my unworthiness and figuratively beat myself severely about the head and shoulders for it.

But underneath it all, or perhaps because of it, I am truly convinced (ego) that I am not alone in the way I feel; that you, writer or not, may sometimes feel the same way, and that through my throwing myself out in front of you, you might find some small comfort in seeing that you are not as alone as you may otherwise think. It is pure ego for me to assume so, but would be nice if it were true. I think they call it “validation.”

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (