Write Free or Die

"… fiction is open to whoever comes in the door, as long as you come in energetically…" – George Saunders

The Corner Booth Archive

[Editor’s Note: beginning with the 2/20/19 entry below, The Corner Booth column will be added to as blog posts on the main page. The archive below will remain, and perhaps be added to periodically by appending subsequent posts. We’ll see. – dq ]

After group meetings,  some members gather at a tavern across  West Broadway in downtown Derry. There’s a nice big booth in the front corner of the dining room there, easily expandable if our numbers demand it. Beer, burgers, tea, cheesy fries, and good craic ensue. This page is our virtual corner booth content.

February 20, 2019: Tonight, after a rousing evening of flash fictions reading, the assembled group at Halligan’s were: Dean, Adrian, Cathy, Jeff, Alex, and myself — Tomek. The conversation kicked off with meditations on beer and how the younger generations prefer sweet beers — which brought to mind Belgian fruit beers like cherry or banana. This led to a discussion about why Americans put corn syrup in everything — it’s insidious — which gave me an opportunity to plug Wedel, an excellent Polish chocolate. Music of course came up and (later) some play lists were shared; thanks A. We mulled the origins of police forces in the U.S., as well as Annie Get Your Gun, the weather, condo association boards, some local corrupt mayors, which meant of course we ended up wallowing again in politics for some time. I think at some point we made fun of the Welsh as well. The late hour saved us. As always, a good time was had by all.

February 13, 2019: After a rainy day, the temperature sank below freezing right about the time we were heading for Halligan’s, so some bailed but a persistent core persevered. Also, quite a few of us were down with various ailments. ‘Tis the season. Tonight we were: Dean, Cathy, Ferne, Don, John T., and myself — Tomek. We respectfully left Jeff’s usual seat empty. I mused a bit about my finally-resolving home situation, and then we discussed beer and booze in general, the northern Midwest accent, the Boston accent, the Downstate New York accent, the Coen brothers, women who date younger men, old time radio, Woody Allen, why Idaho farmers make good engineers, why idiots make it into management, Kodak, how to legally define a Seneca Indian, those irascible Irish, pet abuse, how nobody ever pretends to be Polish-American, and the married couple at the table revealed how not moving to Texas was the foundation of their relationship. As always, a good time was had by all.

February 6, 2019: I begin by apologising to Mr. Dean for suggesting he had fallen down in his Corner Booth duties last week after he sat, abandoned and alone, at Halligan’s. That said, on this icy night we were Alex, Dean, Jeff, Cathy, Don, Ferne, David and myself — Tomek. The evening started out with a discussion about beer hops, an odd military joke, dueling, notions of honor and patriarchal societies, at which point we collapsed into the quagmire of politics. Amazingly, we emerged from that cesspool to contemplate religion, and the nature of belief. (Both Blackadder and Father Ted were invoked!) Church-state relations were covered, the Protestant Reformation, and, well, things you’re not supposed to do with nuns. After some digressions about health foods, and teetering at one point on the verge of a bar room brawl, and a side discussion about one writer’s mother and her episode with a bear, we also covered poor engineering, microwave cooking (and the mechanics of microwaves), which deposited us squarely at Red Green. As always, fun was had by all, and hopefully everybody got home safely.

January 30, 2019: Given the sketchy weather, attendance at the “Fifth Wednesday” flash workshop was sparse enough, but imagine my chagrin when I ended up ditched by all & sundry. So rather than squander the whole Corner Booth, I snagged a high-top along the front of the dining room, and settled in to make some real progress re-reading Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World.” About a half-hour into the bliss, an age-old fantasy was fulfilled when I heard a female voice squeal “Look, it’s DEAN!!!” and in boiled Cathy, Jeff, and Alex, fresh from Nottingham and a Flash Fiction workshop session with Jim Kelly at the Public Library up there. They seem to have eluded the famous Sheriff of said town and decamped to our own Afters HQ. The chat ranged from Joseph Campbell to female occupation of “hero” slots in our cultural lore & literature, with some squeaky insertion of Boudicca and Lady Murasaki and probably Wonder Woman and Lois Lane for all I know. At any rate, except for the body count, and the fact that there was only one conversation going on, it was  every bit as much fun as a  regular Corner Booth session. I do however, hope to see some reportage on Jim’s workshops posted here on the blog.  [DeanQ]

January 23, 2019: LAST night we were Alex, Dean, John T., Don, Ferne, Lindsay, John L., Jeff, and myself — Tomek. The evening started out with some discourse on regional foods, which I think kicked off a Buffalo theme involving fish fries, as well as the obligatory Anchor Bar reference. After a hagfish slime reference, we then wandered through some movies, invoking Mel Brooks of course after some mythological discussion, and covered mental health again, marriage, the local beers on tap, religion, and bosses at work. We then made fun of Adrian, who was too sick to be present and defend himself. As always, a good time was had by all. It may be noted with interest that as the crowd broke up, a couple of us lingered outside (on a 3 degree night) and chewed over the Lewis & Clark Expedition for a good half hour or so, in what was a very satisfying end to the evening.

January 16, 2019: Tonight there were clearly no adults in sight. The juveniles at roll call tonight were: John T., Dean, Adrian, belatedly Alex, and myself — Tomek. Our silliness began with the Tufted Titmouse, and went downhill from there. Seriously. It involved pigs and…just don’t ask. But we also managed to touch on some films, by-products of one member’s new lay-about lifestyle. Double Indemnity came up, as well as a silent version of The Three Musketeers with Douglas Fairbanks. From there we marveled at Alex’s deep knowledge and insights into Dumas’ classic. We danced once again dangerously on the precipice of politics, swerving at the last moment into morality, honesty and social animals, which led to some of the practical realities of leadership, particularly in the military. At least one of us pondered murder as a hobby. We got a nice re-hash of JPK’s session in Nottingham from Alex. Jeff, we felt your spiritual presence. Blazing Saddles came up — doesn’t it always? — but we discussed the original too. As always a fun time was had by all.

January 9, 2019: Tonight we almost constituted a herd. We were: Dean, Jeff, John T., John L., Lindsay, Cathy, Ferne, Don, Adrian, Alex, and myself — Tomek. The evening started at our end of the table with some fun with the Philly and Buffalonian dialects, with exhortations by parties unnamed in favor of the Eagles — and from there we wandered into notions of class systems and aristocracy, which got us into land reform and the mass demolition of British country houses in the 1930s and 40s. This pushed us into some deep speculative psychological territory on human behavior, which naturally got us nowhere. There was some James Joyce tossed around, and we somehow managed to touch on fisheries. As always, a good time was had by all.

January 2, 2019: Happy new year! For  flash fiction session, we were actually a surprisingly large group. Tonight we were: John T., John L., Dean, Alex, Jeff, Cathy, Ferne, Don, and myself — Tomek. Maybe it’s the winter, but I note that of late we’re ordering a lot more chili. In any event, our meditations tonight began with Irish beauty, politics, ecosystems and the environment, and somehow we got on to translating, which went into overdrive at the other end of the table — I heard something about Japanese, etc. But that got us on to a Star Trek theme with one observation that the language is devoid of poetry, while another poured contempt upon the Prime Directive. However, circling back to the translation theme, Dean invoked the STNG episode  “Darmok,” which apparently won many awards. From there we at our end shared some experiences with having loaded guns pointed at us — I forgot to mention once being tackled by soldiers with weapons drawn while getting off a train — and after a briefing from John L. on his latest healthcare-related research we moved on to an old favorite, anecdotes from insane asylums. And a surprising number of us had stories. (I only mentioned the infamous Buffalo Psych Ward.) We totally ended up in Sweeney Todd territory. As always, a fun time was had by all.

December 26, 2018: Our last meeting of 2018. We entered Halligans, all sugared up, as: John L., Dean, Cindy, Cathy, Jeff, Ferne, Don, and myself — Tomek. Tonight’s topics began with the Radom region of Poland (prompted by a book John L brought), with a similar Eastern European ancestry discussion going on at the other end of the table — DNA test-inspired, I suspect — before we moved on to black powder cannons, coyotes and bears, the increasing reliance on certifications (versus experience) and idiot HR personnel nowadays, Peter Lang, Robert Johnson, the end of tenured university positions, Philadelphia, snow and relative cold weather levels in northern Vermont versus Buffalo NY versus southern NH. This allowed me to invoke Buffalo’s Blizzard of 77 — watch particularly at the 2.34 mark. As always, a good time was had by all.

December 19, 2018: Tonight’s coven were, assembled around the corner cauldron: Adrian, Don and Ferne, Alex, Dean, Jeff, John T., Cathy, and myself, Tomek. Things kicked off with a description of how the Tango Ocho apparently requires one to rip one’s rib cage apart, then we meditated for some time on life in “non-America,” which segued into pollution and the quality of the Nashua and Chicago rivers, with someone invoking memories of roasting marshmallows on the Cuyahoga, (Buffalo got honorable mention), which brought us to that first Earth Day commercial, eventually landing us at the quality of drinking water. We also touched on the Office and Dilbert, former employers, team-building exercises, which naturally led us to Good Omens. Throw in some comments on the general slimy nature of our politicians, a couple prostate jokes, some thoughts on Elizabethan English, peppered with some discussion around the upcoming NHWP Three Minute Flash Fiction competition, and you pretty much have our night wrapped up. As always, a good time was had by all. Happy holidays to all!

December 13, 2018: Tonight was a good night, a chatty night for the group. We were: John L., Dean, John T., Jeff, Cathy, Ferne, Don, Adrian, and myself — Tomek. I vaguely caught wind of conversation from the other end of the table about Argentinian tango, the Irish, and psychoanalysis. At our end of the table, we bubbled over Custer’s guns, I was allowed to wallow in some self-pity about my home situation, and then we got on to bootlegs and concerts — and that totally got us digging down a rabbit hole. John L. revealed a close encounter with Miles Davis (while I confessed to completely missing just such an encounter), John McLaughlin was contemplated, then Jerry Douglas and his dobro came up, my favorite (but ornery) John Fahey, David Mallett’s Fabled True, and an incident a few years back at Vanderbilt University where Billy Joel welcomed a student to come on stage and play “New York State of Mind” with him. I believe the other end of the table was also contemplating with increasing seriousness a spring trip to “Boston, East.” As always, a good time was had by all, in an evening shared with good company.

December 5, 2018: We were tonight: Dean, Alex, Denise, Jeff, Cathy, John T., and myself — Tomek. The evening started off with some writing chat at one end of the table, while the topic of beer — mostly bad ones — got us rolling at our end of the table. From there we wandered into condos and homes, pets (especially dogs) and how they train us, the failings of our healthcare system, ending with osteopaths and Reiki.  To everyone’s astonishment, we managed to avoid politics. It was a short evening, but as always, a fun time was had by all.

November 28, 2018: Tonight we were, assembled: Lindsay, Alex, Dean, Jeff, John L., Don, Ferne, John T., and myself — Tomek. Tonight’s discussion kicked off with some commentary about life in the military today, which quickly brought us to a comparative description of life in the military waaaaay back when. We managed to hit on author Frederick Forsyth and other dramatic stories, speculating on their plausibility, and then half the table wandered into music with the Klezmer Conservatory Band and the like, (though someone might want to give Tosca a listen) while the rest of us debated the role of the supernatural in stories. Lord of the Rings came up — and Khuzdul, the Tolkienesque language of the Dwarves — before we descended, Lovecraft-like, into the crypt of politics. Sensibly, we broke up. A good time was, as always, had by all.

[lest anyone get carried away, the “waaaaay back when” of the military condition of interest referred to above doesn’t refer to, like, the Revolution or the Civil War, or even WWII. Just – in some cases – the Viet Nam era. Like… only 50 or so years ago. Hmm. Yikes?] – dq

November 21, 2018: Exiled from our usual digs by usurpers, tonight’s session was unusual in a few different ways. This being Thanksgiving Eve, and thusly also exiled from MGCC, we orphans were: Dean, Don, Ferne, Alex, Jennifer, and myself, Tomek. Because of the shuddered MGCC doors, we were not just being social but actually conducting business tonight. We did not reach any conclusions, but seemingly did decide to continue on as before — this time, with feeling. We did discuss some marketing elements, but all of us confessed to being neophytes in that realm. We did kick around a lot of interesting writing themes, including ending up at one point at Qwerty keyboards, which somehow got us to accordions — which provoked a shocking Dean confession — before we graduated to Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, David Crosby, the Monkees at one point, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and some kindly-shared Ian & Sylvia. Jennifer let her heavy metal hair down, and there were some cheesy fries as well. As always, a good time was had by all.

November 14, 2018: Tonight, we were: John L., Dean, Alex, Jeff, Cathy, Don, John T., Adrian, and myself, Tomek. Things in general started out with nursing homes and how to arrange book readings or related presentations in them, Then, at our end of the table the discussion centered on guns, and our life long memories about guns, and the people who own them. It was a fun, sentimental discussion. At the other end, I heard Alex apologising for another political discussion — I did catch snippets about what patriotism means — but hey redeemed themselves by talking about Stan Rogers and Eva Cassidy. If we stick to music, we usually do OK. On the way out, there were quips about the recent turn of the New England autumn to a more winter-like cast. As always, fun was had by all.

November 7, 2018: This week’s gaggle of writers — or is it a murder?* — were: Alex, Dean, Cathy, Jeff, Ferne, Don, new guy Tom, John T., John L., and myself, Tomek. In order to give Dean’s sock drawer a rest we mostly skipped politics this week, starting out with some of the usual whining by Tomek about his home sale situation, then we launched into other publishing efforts and the nature of small publishers. I vaguely overheard Don at the other end of the table talking about the dead mouse on his desk. Then we somehow got on to the subject of guns, talking about the old M-16 issued in Vietnam and the subsequent AR-series rifles now popular, comparing them to Kalashnikovs, FN FALs, and I think Uzis got tossed into the mix as well. We also discussed unsafe gun ranges, and whether it was moral or legal to kill the teenage boys who tried to get into your daughter’s pants. Other topics covered included pedophilia, parenting, fatherhood, first jobs as teenagers, the 1970s, and we ended on the topic of schizophrenia and mental illness in general. As always, a fun time was had by all.

*[I suggest “a scribble of writers.” dq]

October 31, 2018Halloween! Oy — they put something in our drinks tonight, because we hit the philosophy stuff hard and heavy. We were a small group tonight, this being the 5th Wednesday, which was utilized as a flash fiction night. We were: Dean, Cathy, John, Jeff, Adrian and myself, Tomek. Things started out heavy, and just went downhill from there. But first, I’ll post a rendition of Goodnight Irene, just because it came up. So we kicked off innocently with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. (For the kids, this was what culture looked like way back when. Really.) But then recent news events drove us to explore hatred, alpha males, and then the plight of women sexually harassed and mistreated. That one set us spinning down multiple corridors of thought around social and power dynamics, depositing us ultimately on the broader nature of human relationships, and the real world usefulness of therapists, and while we were at it, psychologists as well. Next week, sports only, please. Yikes.

October 24, 2018: On the festive occasion of one member’s birthday — duly celebrated — the group assembled in our usual digs as: Cathy, Dean, John, Jennifer, Lindsay, Jeff, Alex, and myself — Tomek. As usually, strategically ill-positioned I only caught conversation at my end of the table, though the fist-pounding on the tabletop and occasional flying furniture indicated lively discussion at the other end. I think I caught something about speaking French going on down there — haute culture! At the more mundane end of the table, after politely listening to Tomek whine about his home sale situation we hit upon Saudi journalist life expectancies, the nature of dictators, Presbyterianism, Jack Kerouac, James Joyce, Robert Frost, Mary Shelley, Baphomet, Ulysses, Proust, John Knox (and irascible Scots in general), Samuel Beckett, Salem (MA), which naturally led to witches, how the historic Buffalo Central Terminal is funding its renovation through ghost tours, Pop Warner and American football (including Jim Thorpe’s stint), the Domesday Book, and why England hasn’t been invaded enough. In short, a good time was had by all.

October 17, 2018: The following mustered for roll call this evening: Jennifer, Jeff, Ferne, Don, John Lindbergh (!), Alex, Dean, and myself – Tomek. Discussions — at least at my end of the table — centered around twins and their psychic powers, the blog (a continuation from tonight’s topic), the nature of horror stories, music (the Great Folk Scare was invoked), history — specifically 16th century English religious and class strife, knitting, San Francisco (and we established that Jennifer most certainly did not leave her heart there), money-grubbing universities, education and the mental structures it nurtures, the underwhelming phenomenon that is Daniel Tosh, the Redsox-Astros game, and those fools who still have physical books and CDs (i.e., me). As always, a fine time was had by all. Oh — and we made fun of Adrian some more.

October 10, 2018: This night we were, assembled: Dean, Lindsay, Jennifer, Alex, Don, Cathy, Jeff, John, and myself, Tomek. I actually managed to sit in the middle of the table this time — and it did me no good. I was split between conversations and couldn’t quite keep up with them. To my left were discussions about writing and characters, mythology, this blog, sex scenes, with some obscure movie references tossed in for good measure. To my right Don and Cathy were quite animated discussing something, while we hit upon optimism, popular patriotism, and some teaching opportunities. I had meant to ask Jeff about his recent business trip, but didn’t get a chance. Regardless, a fun time was had by all, as always.

October 3, 2018: Tonight we were Dean, Alex, Don, Ferne, David and myself, Tomek. We started with performing music and veered dangerously into politics, but were saved at the last minute as we danced on the precipice by Dean bringing us back to music and performing music (including guitar neck widths). Chris Smither and Earl Scruggs were invoked, among others, as well as Maybelle Carter and bluegrass in general. This latter reference brought up the notion of authenticity, which reminded me of this Kids in the Hall sketch. We paused and tried to understand the attraction of golf, re-fleshed out the role of the Shire in Lord of the Rings, discussed Ferne’s dancing, and marveled at Alex’s literature knowledge. As always, a good time was had by all.

September 26, 2018: Tonight the following mustered for roll call at Halligan’s: Jennifer, Dean, Cathy, John, Jeff, Lindsay, Don, Alex, new guy Tom, and myself, Tomek. Jennifer correctly observed that I somehow often manage to end up in the end seat, completely cut off from conversation on one end of the table. Such was the case tonight. Still, we managed at our end to sift through genres, discuss some horror, the supernatural, Flash Fiction (a topic we returned to repeatedly), we covered some ground around publishing, mythology, King Arthur and Merlin, Lord of the Rings, why the Silmarillion was published, I, Claudius (the film), the uncensored version of Moby Dick was invoked at one point, this very blog was mentioned, nerddom, the nature of reactions and feedback with WFOD, Tomek’s first meeting with WFOD (when they played “Cards Against Humanity”) was brought up and the SNHU office, the painting classes at Margaritas, and there were some ruminations about writing before we broke up. As always, fun was had by all. However, oddly enough, though there were multiple people in the group with Anglo-Saxon ancestry, somehow none of them managed during an impressive thunderstorm to bring up the weather.

September 19, 2018: A small turnout  for the FreeForAll led to our occupancy of a high-top at The Halligan, the Corner Booth being occupied upon the arrival of Alex, Jennifer, Don & Ferne and me.  The talk sort of rummaged through the “edit/rewrite/revise” topic of the earlier session, bounced off some genre thoughts, then settled into a serious consideration of the various film renderings of The Three Musketeers, focusing on who played which in which of the films. I think it may be time for a serious critical work on Dumas from Alex. [DQ]

September 12, 2018: Tonight we were Franz, Don, Ferne, Jeff, Cathy, Dean, Lindsay, Stephen (!), Jennifer, and myself, Tomek. At our end of the table, Franz revealed his inner most feelings about our waiter, and we — Franz, Don, Jennifer and myself, with occasional input from Ferne — continued to hash out Franz’s submission, which led to some discussions on gender differences. That in turn drifted towards discussions about sex and violence, and their acceptability in our society (including Europe versus America), and some generational peculiarities were also brought up. A few old relationships (and marriage) were brought up, more gender differences, and somehow we ended up as a plot device back at Don’s blowing up a car to get his main character’s birth control pills (stuffed in the glove compartment) out of the picture. We finished — or rather, I did, as I left — talking about NaNoWriMo, with a couple WFODers seriously considering giving it a try this year.  As always, it seems a good time was had by all.

September 5, 2018: Is it September already? After a particularly boisterous flash fiction session, we were: Cathy, Jeff, Dean, Alex, John, Adrian, (Adrian’s) Deb, Ferne, Don and myself, Tomek. Being a bunch of fogies, we kicked off (at least at our end of the table) with medical issues, which graduated us to Reiki and its widespread acceptance in hospitals. Our chi thus irreparably bent out of shape, we succumbed to politics, though with some notes of hope. I was allowed some whining about the home-buying and selling business, before the group decided that Ferne should be strapped to the ceiling for her PT sessions, permitting dancing. At the other end of the table, I only caught something about literature, the Three Musketeers, and the Man in the Iron Mask, and some meditation on scandals. I saw John at least once with a seriously furrowed brow.

One interesting observation is that like a bunch of drunks wandering home after final call, when the group vacates Halligans, we still tend to clump up on the street and continue conversations until we reach our cars.  As always, a good time was had by all.

August 29, 2018: Tonight, we were a surprisingly large crowd of sweltering New Englanders, given that this was one of those 5th-Wednesdays-of-the-month things. Despite ourselves, we somehow managed to have a productive and to some, helpful evening prior to adjourning to Halligans. At Halligans, we were Alex, Franz, Jennifer, Jeff, Don, Dean and myself, Tomek. We must have sounded bleak to other customers because we began the night struggling with nihilism, and our purpose in life.  We wandered from there into languages, linguistics, and particularly writing and language. (This article on hyper-polyglots was mentioned.) That moved us into culture, and the discussion tripped up a bit on European versus American reactions to certain kinds of scenes in stories, particularly male versus female reactions. This brought poor Jennifer to the realization — to her horror — that she was in a group of older men. We apologised. We also covered discovering unknown siblings, Alex’s wreckage-strewn love life, and we rehashed a bit of Don’s recent story. There was a lot of laughing tonight, and a good time was had by all.

August 22, 2018: Tonight was a full house with a star-studded cast: John, Dean, Cindy (!), Ferne (!!), Don, Lindsay, Jeff, Cathy, Adrian, Alex and myself, Tomek. I sat comfortably at the bench end of the table, mostly moving between conversations with John, Dean, Alex and Cindy. I saw Adrian getting quite animated in discussions with Lindsay, Cathy and Jeff, but no clue what they were hashing out. At our end, we started with John’s book, then strayed dangerously close to another political discussion when John brought up an incident at his gym but we mercifully were diverted just in time. We got Biblical and even wandered into Noah’s Ark territory, which led to an impromptu analysis of faith. From there we somehow got on to Area 51, which provoked a lot of nostalgia about 1950s aircraft. Joseph Campbell arose topically, with Dean adding that for him Campbell was foundational in helping him understand the mechanics and psychology in story telling. Several of us agreed. A few waxed nostalgic for their younger years, while a couple of us observed that we were complete idiots in our younger years (and may very possibly still be). A few older relationships were rehashed. Dean’s performing days were brought up — which I think led us to the younger days discussion, and certain motives were impugned. At one point the history of Londonderry was breached. And it was noted that my voice cracked, due either to a second, delayed puberty or possibly a mild cold. As always, fun was had by all, but it was especially encouraging to see Ferne laughing it up and enjoying herself.

August 15, 2018: Smaller group tonight: John, Adrian, Jeff, Cathy, Alex, Dean and myself, Tomek. Tonight’s working session on feedback was very helpful and spawned lots of discussion. We retired to Halligan’s, where as usual, the table broke into two basic groups, with John, Adrian and myself at one end and everyone else at the other. At our end, the conversation started with John being confronted by a critic, then discussed growing up Catholic, then we succumbed to politics, where we wallowed for some time. On the other end I caught snippets about the Roman Empire, Shakespeare, English language evolution (a favorite group topic), baseball worship, and possibly Elvis. Not sure about that last one. But, as always, a good time was had by all.

August 8, 2018: Tonight’s assemblage was Don, Jim, Jennifer, Lindsay, Cathy, Dean, Debbee, Cindy, Jeff and myself, Tomek. We also took advantage of Adrian’s absence to make fun of him. There were multiple conversations raging the length of our elongated table this evening — we were not in our usual corner, as some rude family usurped us — and I was only privy to a handful of them. I wove a tale of woe about my imminent moving, Cindy rehashed her experiences at the writers group in Italy, Don shared that Ferne had insisted on being taken to a supermarket that day as she forcibly reassumed control over household meals, Debbee and I reminisced about Buffalo (and told some Lackawanna jokes), memoirs were discussed, and a fun bear anecdote was shared. As always, a good time was had by all.

August 1, 2018: We were tonight Alex, Dean, John, Jeff, Jim, Cathy and myself, Tomek. Also, while not present in the Corner Booth, Don and Ferne get honorable mention for showing up to tonight’s flash fiction session. The festivities began with lingering debate and discussion about Alex’s flash piece tonight, which led to some speculation about the nature of faith. Things drifted towards the issue of “show, don’t tell” in writing, then Shakespeare as a cliche machine versus the more straight-forward Shakespeare contemporary Ben Jonson. We veered into politics but managed to steer clear at the last moment. Cathy waxed romantic about the story-telling magic of Gaels (after Dylan Moran and Dave Allen were invoked), at which point Dean compared Billy Connolly to his Glaswegian Grandma, sans the profanity.  As always, a good — if humid — time was had by all.

July 25, 2018: Tonight’s group was large enough to constitute a horde: Jeff, Lindsay, Cathy, Don, Kathryn, Kathryn’s friend (Sarah?), Kathryn’s hubby, Franz, Alex, Jim, Dean, and Tomek. Again, I was tactically challenged in choosing an end-seat, thusly cutting myself off from the ribald discussions raging at the other end of the table. Before breaking into satellite discussions, debate continued about Lindsay’s submission and the art of writing from the perspective of animals. Then Jim and Jeff uncovered a mutual theme (if with very different emphases), Kronos Quartet. Dean mentioned Grapelli & Grisman & Co., at which point I think I heard Kathryn talking about ABBA and Mama Mia. (As we descended into 1970s rock-jazz fusion, I thought of Jan Hammer but couldn’t remember his collaborator, Jeremy Steig, who together produced a couple good albums.) About the time the alcohol kicked in we wallowed in politics some, before moving on to the nature of poetry. I also squeezed in an obscure Bloom County reference, and Jeff discovered Netflix’s new series, Disenchantment, from the creators of The Simpsons. We then were informed that one of our number had bolted, abandoning us as he fled to Massachusetts. But at least we also learned that Ferne will soon be home. As always, a good time was had by all.

July 18, 2018: Given that this evening’s session was the delayed flash fiction group — the first Wednesday fell on July 4, and being the patriotic writers we are, we were too drunk to do anything coherent that night — it was a big crowd. The group as assembled at Halligans was: Alex, Dean, John, Don, Jeff, Cathy, newcomers Jennifer and Jim (whom we hope to see again!), Adrian and myself, Tomek. I made a tactical error in sitting at the end of the table, completely cutting myself off from conversations at the opposite end. All I can observe is that John, Jeff, Don, Cathy and Jennifer were quite animated about whatever they were discussing. On our end we covered military service during the draft years, veterans and the Vietnam experience, early childhood impressions (including my favorite, a gory book on shark attacks), verbosity in writing pre-20th century (and its enemy, Ernest Hemingway), Thomas Pynchon, Moby Dick (invoked multiple times, alongside War and Peace), some Irish and other folk music, Adrian’s penchant for Tamias striatus-icide, formulaic lit (e.g., Harlequin Romances), and Dean plugged Dashiell Hammett again. (At least he didn’t bring up Emma Thompson.) All in all, a good time was had by all. Why weren’t you there?

July 11, 2018: Tonight the writing rabble was stunned but overjoyed by the triumphant return of Don! He updated the group about Ferne’s recovery, and a few of us were even able to speak with her by phone. She sounded strong and in good spirits. Don joined Jeff, Kathryn, Lindsay, John, Dean, Alex and Tomek in the Corner Booth. The conversation tonight veered from childhood favorites to Tomek’s odd new glasses to horror stories for 9 year olds to writing techniques (e.g., to outline or not to outline), to why does Microsoft make it so darned hard to find anything anymore to housing inspections. At some point John and Dean were mumbling something vaguely conspiratorial. And John was gearing up for his radio debut tomorrow. Fun was, as usual, had by all.

June 27, 2018: Tonight’s festivities were attended by Dean, Jeff, Dave, Cathy, Alex, Lindsay, John and Tomek. The evening was kicked off with some observations about music and technology, including an unsuccessful but interesting deep dive into ethnomusicological territory, with a side feint into 1950s British Skiffle and Lonnie Donegan. (And we got there from Guns n’ Roses.) We talked some about John’s upcoming big event. We also discussed the Central European Krampus phenomenon, and I (Tomek) invoked the particularly brutal Czech example for St. Nicholas Day (December 6). Then things got kind of personal as folks confessed their hallucinogenic experiences, mostly through brushes with pain killers. Hallucinogens naturally led to politics, and from there we wandered onto the topic of sex in writing and our threshold level(s) for sexual content and the importance of the quality of writing (over the topic). (This, of course, led to snickering about Church Lady Erotica.) And we ended on some memories of former WFOD members, before expressing our hope that Don (and Ferne) can return to the fold soon. Fun was had by all.

June 20, 2018: Tonight’s proceedings followed a particularly helpful and insightful presentation by Ms. LaPierre about query letters at Marion Gerrish. Bravo, and thank you Ms. LaPierre. The crowd assembled at Halligans were Alex, Kathryn, Adrian, Dean, Tomek, Jeff and Lindsay. There was some spillover in the discussion from MGC about characters and story development, writing block, and how to create effective series-oriented story arcs that work as stand-alone books but also work well within the series context. Kathryn shared some extremely trend-driven, jargon-laden book pitches, and we also delved into age readability tests which could be helpful for younger audiences such as Kathryn and Lindsay are focusing on in their writing. Otherwise, we established that none of us knows wines well, Dean claimed that James Cagney used to dance (Yeah, I didn’t believe him either), and Jeff took the opportunity to iron out two characters for a story he is working on. Yes, he writes too. And Alex recounted a story involving the kings of Spain and Portugal that I did not completely hear.  Also, I proudly was able to invoke a classic scene in the 1980s horror flick “House II.”  As usual, a good time was had by all.

June 13, 2018: This evening we were, in congress, Lindsay, Stephen, Don, Jeff, Adrian, Dean, Cathy, Alex and myself, Tomek. The group began with ABBA and the film Mamma Mia, and from there we discovered (courtesy of Alex) that Björn Ulvaeus co-wrote the musical Chess, and apparently hated pop music. At our end of the table, astonishment at Stephen drinking Guinness led to a prolonged discussion about lagers and ales, while I vaguely overheard a musical discussion fomenting at the other end of the table, venturing from folk to mention of Stevie Ray Vaughan.  That conversation somehow graduated to the nature of stories and characters — though with a sidebar quote from Dean attributed to Dick Butkus (“When I played pro football, I never set out to hurt anyone deliberately – unless it was, you know, important, like a league game or something”). At my end of the table, however, after some Mel Brooks banter and requisite adulation for Young Frankenstein, the Millennials firmly took the helm and sat us older farts down to school us in post-nihilistic Millennial pop culture, most notably Rick and Morty. As always, a fine time was had by all. And my planned night of productivity has been shot to Hell as I am now watching Rick and Morty shorts on YouTube.

June 6, 2018: Tonight’s attendees were Alex, Jeff, John, Dean, Cathy and Tomek. The evening began with some huzzahs for John’s recently published book, and some discussion about his upcoming book events. We then touched on music, politics (of course), and then moved into the nature of reading and fashions (how much description is too much?). That brought us to the nature of story-telling in general, including in films and games, which naturally brought us to Yiddishkeit (ייִדישקייט‎). After meditating on that for some time, we covered super heroes and Marvel Comics, provoking Jeff at one point to embrace his inner Valley Girl and exclaim in all seriousness “Gag me with a spoon!” More politics, and we broke up and wandered our separate ways. A pleasant evening, as always.

May 30, 2018: Tonight was a special session, a 5th Wednesday meeting. We groped around a bit but finally came up with a session on memoirs as our excuse for work before Halligans. Actually, tonight’s working session was spirited and vigorous, and a very worthwhile effort. Thanks to Mr. Quarrell for arranging and MC-ing.

At our usual Halligans corner booth — a new member asked if we always sit in the same seats tonight — we were, in congress: Dave, Debbee, Katharine, Don, Dean, Jeff, Tomek, and Magda. Some of our memoirs discussions spilled over into Halligans, but we quickly veered into cults, the environs of Buffalo NY, the difficult-to-pronounce Seneca names around Buffalo (e.g., Scajaquada Creek and Highway), and Debbee regaled us about her father’s exploits. To be honest, I sat at the end of the table and, for a change, had dinner, and so it was difficult to keep track of what topics were raging at the far end of our table — but conversation did rage there. As we departed, several of us formed a horde to safely deliver group members back to the MGC parking lot.

May 23, 2018: We were (sadly) without Tomek (but congrats Magda!!) so the Corner Booth post this week is limited to what I could catch, being situated at the end of the table rather than the middle where foresight would have put me. But we learned about sibling rivalries, and when they turn to sible wars, and we rehashed the good ole days when kids like me could be shooed out of the house to “go play ’til supper time” (or when the streetlights came on). Kathryn shared great stories of young Calvin and his brothers (that’s a title if I ever heard one) and yours truly rhapsodized yet again about Kelly Johnson’s stupendous contributions to aviation. And they sang a hymn and went out. [dq]

May 16, 2018: Tonight’s discussion at MGC spilled over to Halligan’s — by design, actually — and the group (Jeff, Alex, John, Don, Dean and Tomek) continued to hash out the merits of genres for writers (as opposed to publishers and marketing people). Dean had created a helpful print out, which you should ask him about if you’re interested. Maybe it was the darkened light or maybe the booze, but we were in a philosophical mood this eve and discussed how one’s foibles and less pleasant personality traits really don’t disappear and aren’t cured, but rather they are more fully integrated into our personalities and we learn to deal with them differently. They remain, however, as much a part of who we are as any positive traits, no matter how much we try to bury them or leave them in our past. On a lighter level, we managed to bring up the Hot Shots Part Deux film, Dean managed to invoke Emma Thompson again — which he does on an oddly regular basis — and after tonight, I can never watch Mary Poppins again. Also, at some point Tomek may or may not have confessed to hitting on a Pakistani nurse once in his younger years when in the ER for a car accident, though redemptively this laid the grounds for John telling us a more romantic medical story.

May 9, 2018: Tonight, some brazen usurpers occupied the actual corner booth and so the WFOD group — Adrian, Dean, Lindsay, Don, Cathy, Jeff and Tomek — were exiled to a regular table. At least our lovely and talented regular waitress still managed to find us and tend to us. Don revealed that he just barely missed out on a Carter Family fate, coming from a musical family with ambitions. I vaguely caught scraps of a conversation raging at the other end of the table focused on the depth and breadth of hamster intelligence. Stephen’s “Hamster of Delphi” comment from two weeks previous was invoked. Lindsay confessed she doesn’t have any pets now, to general shock. Earlier, she shared some of her career ambitions. Gardens, food shopping preferences and Trader Joe’s were also discussed. (There’s one in Nashua, really?) Cahy also mentioned a childhood incident when she splattered herself with fresh tomato.

Dean had to settle for Bushmills whisky tonight though he was surprisingly animated. Dean brought up a 1975 album, “Trio” by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton which opened a flood of musical discussion, including one member’s confessed secret crush on Linda Ronstadt — leading to another present member stifling memories of his childhood crush on Crystal Gayle. Towards the end of the evening, perhaps inspired by the long string of Old Fart stories oft spouted at our end of the table, Dean suggested another WFOD subgroup dedicated to memoirs. This is worthy of further consideration; we’ve already had two members working on memoirs, one of whom is getting published soon. We enjoy sharing stories with each other — why not write ’em down? You know, like a writers’ group might do?

May 2, 2018: In attendance tonight were Jeff, Cathy, Dean, Don, John — John! — myself (Tomek), and a newcomer, Dave. The evening began with Don and Tomek completely unable to name two New York hockey teams. Topics covered included the diabetic diet, spiritus, how old cars (and apparently farm machinery) are disposed of in New England, old relationships, how Dean translated a job at a manufacturer in Massachusetts into his programming career, and Tomek mentioned how he told a couple nosy neighbors last week that the large contractor garbage bags he was loading into the community dumpster were filled with body parts. Don also revealed that he convinces his wife to join him on writing research missions to exotic locales by disguising them as romantic get-aways. Dave discussed past jobs and his writing ambitions. And to my surprise, I caught Dean enjoying Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again,” playing on Halligans’ sound system.

April 25, 2018: It should be mentioned that the scene began with seven of us (Dean, Alex, Stephen, Lindsay, Don, Cathy, Tomek) filing into our usual corner — the Corner Booth, after all — and our beloved waitress showing up, pointing at each of us and reciting from rote memory what each of us would likely be ordering. Writers are creatures of habit, apparently.

So the company was slightly constrained and I placed myself strategically between a conversation that wandered into the diverse and divergent (and lethal) variations in religions, and another conversation that (happily) veered into film noir bouncing off Roger Rabbit and Blade Runner on the way. Saddened that I didn’t get an opening to mention how much I admired Bob Hoskins as an actor, I held up my end in that angle of the conversation, while turreting around to fire a “no such thing as ‘protestant’ or even ‘catholic’ let alone ‘christian’ since there are so bloody (really!) many variations…” blahblahblahsameoldshit.

But the consideration of film noir (which I italicize only because that’s what at least one or two of the BigShot manuals of style – PMLA and Chicago maybe? –  say you’re supposed to do with foreign words) was fun because it gave me an excuse to dredge up my admiration for Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity), but things took a different turn so I came up dry on The Third Man, not to mention Big Sleep and Maltese Falcon. Speaking of The Big Sleep, I recently read a letter in the TLS concerning the death of the Sternwood’s chauffeur. The lore has it that no one knows why this guy was killed (there’s a scene fairly early in the movie where Marlow and some cop or other walk by a shot of the Sternwood’s car being hauled out of the bay). The lore says nobody on the movie shoot including Hawks knew why the chauffeur had been whacked, and they asked Chandler, and he claimed he didn’t know either. Well the letter-writer to the TLS pointed to chapter and verse of the text, explaining the whole thing. And that’s why I love the TLS. (No, I am not going to tell you why the chauffeur went to sleep with the fishes.) And if you don’t know who Marlow or Chandler or Hawks were… well shame on you. But you can go to the TLS website and find the letters from a week or two or three ago, and find out. While you’re there poke around – TLS is great stuff. – DLQ

[Tomek addendum] Conversation also managed to veer into Godzilla versus King Kong territory, and at one point a political affiliation was compared to sexual orientation — or rather, being mistaken about either. (That was brought about by one seated member, unnamed for privacy purposes, vehemently denying he was a Republican, though he was disgusted by both parties.) The discussion at the Don-Cathy-Tomek end of the table somehow meandered into serial writers who make a living at the craft, with their strength being in sheer volume rather than quality. I confessed that the self-published novel Cathy had somehow dredged up from Amazon last summer which I had vowed to review for the group — I will not name it publicly here — I simply couldn’t stomach. I slogged through several pages, but could go no further. However, I did note that this author had managed to publish a gazillion similarly-themed books, and had a loyal following. Indeed, she’d made $2.99 off me as well.

Conversation was occasionally interrupted by the Bruins trouncing the Maple Leafs, invoking annoyed, if respectful silence on our part as the whole bar jumped to its feet. In the midst of the film noir discussion, we dwelled for some time on older films, and I was able to reminisce about an odd James Cagney memory. Dean also expressed his astonishment that his father apparently loved Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (forever Stacy Keach in my mind) — though he forgave him since he introduced a young(er) Dean to Dashiell Hammett. Dean also observed that he was mesmerized by Fred Astaire’s dancing. Near the end, conversation strayed towards my imminent move, a I whined a bit about living in a transition phase now, with all my beloved books packed away in boxes.

And somewhere in the mix, we descended into our favorite Leslie Nielsen quotes and moments. On the whole, a very satisfying night. — TEJ

Follow up: The ride home from Halligan’s this night was miserable with a downpour that cut visibility to nil. I was stopped on my winding, twisting home road by about a dozen local police, and had to take a wandering alternative route home. Upon reaching home I mentioned to my wife that there had been an accident blocking the road, when the scene suddenly popped up on the local TV news not as an accident but some dramatic capture of an unnamed suspect, about which the local police have been mysteriously silent since. Whatever he (or she) had done to warrant all the attention, I do know he/she was thoroughly drenched when apprehended. — TEJ

April 18, 2018: During our formal proceedings Cindy had given an excellent and thought-provoking overview of her recent experience at a writers’ workshop in Italy. Towards the end of this discussion, Dean had asked before we departed for Halligans whether we thought such workshops could really teach creative writing. There was some debate around the quality of some of the feedback Cindy had received, though on the whole she was pleased, or at least had found some feedback helpful. After some of our usual banter at Halligans, we returned to this topic. Dean and I concluded that while such functions can indeed teach and help students improve the technical mechanics of writing (e.g., grammar, syntax, style, etc.), writing is ultimately one of those innate skills that one is simply born with. Discussion on this point was fairly intense, though.  — TEJ

April 4, 2018: Tonight’s corner booth discussion was a bit hard on the buns, since they took away the seat cushions. But we persevered. In attendance were Dean, Jeff, Don, Fern, Cathy and Tomek. The conversation took a little while to warm up, but swerved from cults and mind control to romantic era writers and why Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, to whether modern sci fi and horror derive from the same literary roots (i.e., potentially Frankenstein), through modern notions of social organization, with a few sidebars on pyramids, dictators and religion; finishing with story and narrative. The latter part of the conversation was nicely complemented by some very nice but out-of-character jazz, indicating some rebels had seized control of Hallagan’s sound system. The religion portion included a fun bit about Lily Dale, NY the current surviving HQ for the Christian spiritualist movement. Fun was had by all.


April 2, 2018: While the Write Free or Die (WFoD) group was strictly speaking not involved with tonight’s incident (April 2, 2018), being the usual meeting time for the New Hampshire Writers Project (NHWP), nevertheless, authorities have not ruled out further charges involving the group.

Police arrived on the scene at T-Bones Restaurant on Crystal Avenue in Derry, NH at about 8.00 p.m. ET and promptly arrested one C. Don Huntemann of Londonderry for inter-planetary indecency. Bail was set at $100,000. A bystander interviewed at the restaurant, identified only as Fern, was observed exclaiming she would not post bail this time.

When reached for comment, Deputy Director of Engineering at NASA’s Jet propulsion laboratory Scott Colloredo remarked, “You know, we’re trying to be on the cutting edge of scientific exploration in space, and this Huntemann guy goes and ruins it for everybody. There’s no excuse for this kind of astral smut. I hope my Grandma doesn’t see this.”

Similarly, Senior Research Scientist at SETI Dale Andersen reacted with revulsion, declaring Huntemann’s story cosmically obscene. “The magazine put out by the Carl Sagan Center certainly doesn’t have a centerfold,” he added.

Mr. Huntemann was remanded into custody pending further investigation.



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