My new project: A true crime story

A year ago this month, I met a retired detective. I was speaking at a local rotary club for Veteran’s Day. It was in the middle of the pandemic, so the meeting was via zoom, which I had never used before. I have never been very good at public speaking. I am not sure if the technology helped or hurt.

John Hartman sent me an email a few days later and asked me to meet for coffee. He had a story to tell and asked if I would want to help. We met at Panera. I took notes. The story was compelling. I had plenty of questions. And as we talked, I caught myself already piecing together the narrative in my head. Fiction? Non-fiction? Creative non-fiction? First-person or third-person? I already had plenty of unfinished projects, so the last thing I needed was another one. Trying to be a writer while working full-time is no easy task. I have always considered myself a double agent in that regard, juggling ideas and images so fast that they start to blur together.

The story John told me ended on a summer night in Belle Vernon where some good police work stopped a monster. But the story began in Stilwell, Oklahoma, where the monster bashed in the head of an eight-year-old girl just a couple of days earlier and left her dead in a ditch. We don’t know what sparked that rage. We don’t know what happened in the days that followed.

So it has been a year of research in my spare time. John has collected every newspaper article he could find, and I have taken more notes. Last week we visited the scene where the significant events took place on a fateful evening in July over twenty years ago. As I walked around and snapped photos, John narrated what was the same and what had changed. We drove around the town; a river town decimated in the eighties after the steel industry evaporated. Many of the locations appeared in the HBO series American Rust. However, this isn’t the fictional city of Buell. This is a real town with a real past. Real cops and real bad guys.

Google kept sending me messages about exceeding my storage space on the drive back home, so I had to buy more. When I downloaded all the photos and videos, they totaled 7.43 gigs: seven videos, 65 pictures, and one massive audio file. Now the work begins. John will pull some strings and use his cop connections to get access to court documents and evidence. I will look at pictures that I need to see but am certain I will regret ever seeing. We have a list of open items that far exceed the completed actions. We might have to take a road trip to Oklahoma. We might have to interview some people that will likely not want to talk to us. I am nervous and excited about it all.

I want to figure out what events led to John encountering this man on that night many years ago. I can’t help but believe there was a touch of fate. I am also confident that had fate not intervened, there would be more young girls found in ditches, maybe even the very next morning. This is not a CSI story with forensics experts swarming the area wearing coveralls and snapping photos while developing theories. Small river towns do not have CSI units. They have a handful of dedicated cops. These cops do everything they can to protect their community and the surrounding communities. They have nothing but their instincts to help them in the field. The bad guys forever outnumber them. They may lose a lot of battles, but now and then, they win one. This is the story that I hope to tell. And that is why we chose the working title, “Good Cop: The police work that derailed a monster.”

Veterans deserve a whole month

My 7th annual Veterans’ Month charity promotion begins on November 1. As in the past, I will donate 100% of all book proceeds to organizations that support veterans and their families. This year I will make donations to the Gary Sinise Foundation and Operation Homefront. Learn more about Once in a Blue Year. Grab your copy at Amazon.

The next novel is almost real

I started writing this novel several years ago before Once in a Blue Year was even finished. I had a rough idea and a couple of scenes. I worked on it from time to time but got distracted by other projects (none of which I finished either). Over the years, the title changed, the characters changed, and the story evolved. At the beginning of the pandemic, I decided now was the time. I had always complained that if I had more time, I could finish it in a month. I had no more excuses. I dug out all the random files and started piecing them together. To my surprise, I had amassed over 500,000 words of material. The process from April until now has been chaotic, but I managed to create a viable draft. Now the hard part of revision begins. I still have a long way to go, but I am ready to give it a title: Summer of Bicycle Disasters.

Random Musings about Fountain Pens VII: New Year’s Edition

I hate new year’s resolutions. I refuse to make them. I may establish some writing or reading goals early in the year, but they are not declarations. One of my goals for 2020 is to resist the urge to buy pens that I won’t love or use. And that reminds me of the contrast between Sailor and LAMY fountains pens…

Sailor Professional Gear II v. Sailor 1911 Black Luster Full Size

I will cut right to the chase. These are two of my favorite pens. I ordered them both with custom nib grinds (left oblique for a left-handed underwriter), so it feels like cheating to compare them to other pens. I ink them with only Sailor Black. The writing experience is exquisite. They both offer distinct line variation with a slight flex to the nib. The feedback is perfect (at least for me). The only real drawback is the ink capacity. I have a few pens that rank higher with some style points, but these two are the standard to which I compare other pens. My OCD may require me to purchase new and exciting Sailor pens, but trust that I will love them and use them, and therefore, I will not fail to meet my stated 2020 goal.

LAMY 2000 v. LAMY Studio LX

I swore I would never buy another LAMY, but I broke that vow twice last year. (For the record, I have remained true to my vow to never purchase another TWSBI. Terrible pens.)

It’s been a few months since I’ve touched the LAMY 2000, but I decided to spare myself the agony of writing with that thing again. I remember the horror well-enough to describe it here; no sense re-living it. The gold, hooded nib of the 2000 inks a smooth line, but it is highly sensitive to angle and rotation. I am convinced the size and the grip were designed to irritate me. The pen will not stay still as I write. As a result, it skips. A. Lot. I tried a couple of different inks, all with the same result. The experience was closer to a dime-store felt-tip pen than it was to a gold-nib fountain pen. Save yourself a ton of money and buy a box of Paper Mates on Amazon.

The Studio LX Special Edition Black is a (slightly) better story. I inked it with LAMY Obsidian Black. The size and shape of the LX are similar to the 2000, but the medium steel nib is far superior to the gold on the 2000. It has more feedback and the pen remains stable as I write; it inks a consistent line. The LX is a better overall writing experience. The restart was a little slow after sitting a couple of days, but that is typical for pens in this price range.  I also liked the obsidian ink. LAMY earned back a couple of points after all the previous disappointments (Safari’s, I am talking about you).

All this said I am confident I will resist another LAMY purchase in 2020.

Pen Nib Filling System Capacity (ml) Weight (grams) Price (MSRP) Rating PQ
Sailor 1911 Black Luster 21kt Gold Converter 0.9 22 $392 26 $15.08
Sailor Pro Gear II 21kt Gold Converter 0.5 24 $328 25 $13.12
LAMY 2000 14kt Gold Piston 1.35 15 $219 16 $13.69
LAMY Studio LX Steel Converter 1.08 22 $149 19 $7.84

Random Musings about Fountain Pens VI

It’s been almost six months since I posted anything about pens. My collection has continued to grow over that time, so I thought I’d review a few of my recent additions. I developed a semi-scientific rating system over the last year (see table below). I rate each pen in 7 categories (nib, filling mechanism, capacity, comfort, style, cleaning, drying/startup). Some of the categories are empirical, while others are quite subjective. The highest possible score is 35. For reference, the Visconti Homo Sapiens Dark Age scored a 29 and the Monteverde Monza scored a 13. I have some pens that would score lower than the Monza, but it is not worth my time to catalog every TWSBI I have wasted money on. Speaking of money, I added a price-per-quality metric to keep everything in perspective. For reference, all the weights are unposted; I’m not a monster.

Aurora Ipsilon

This is my third Aurora fountain pen. It’s not the best of the three, but it’s the most economical. I went with the medium nib and I inked it with Noodler’s Dark Matter (my new favorite ink). After reading the descriptions, I expected more feedback on the nib. Perhaps I should have gone with the fine point to get the full experience. (side note: Italian nibs are a full step thicker than Japanese nibs; I wish there was an industry standard). The Ipsilon is small but comfortable to write with; it reminds me of the Pilot Heritage 92.

Platinum #3776

I have a few Platinum Preppies laying around. I use them in various colors for editing. This is my first upper-tier Platinum. Things started on the wrong foot. The packaging was bad, and the pen was rattling around (neither the cap nor the feed was firmly threaded). I was also irritated it did not come with a converter; I had to order one and wait a couple more days to give it a try. I eventually inked it with Mont Blanc Mystery Black. The gold nib inks a nice line, but I don’t get all the rave reviews I have read. It’s a decent pen, but it’s not a great pen.

Pineider La Grande Bellezza Stone Black

This is my first Pineider. The packaging was elegant though probably unnecessary. The pen is extravagant in design and lives up to the name. I was impressed with the magnetic locking system for the cap. I inked it with Monteverde Smoke Noir. The heft is nice, and the gold nib inks a smooth line with very little feedback. It’s almost too smooth. I tend to prefer a slight scratch to remind me I’m writing with a fountain pen. The taper of the nib is severe and makes it appear long, though it’s comparable to other pens. The narrowness of the nib makes the feed visible, not an issue, but I caught myself looking at it as I wrote, so it may prove to be a distraction for me. Time will tell. I liked the Smoke Noir ink. It was darker than I expected, a pleasant shade of gray.


Pen Nib Filling System Capacity (ml) Weight (grams) Price (MSRP) Rating PQ
Aurora Ipsilon Steel Converter 1 14 $150 20 $7.50
Platinum #3776 14kt Gold Converter 0.82 10 $240 18 $13.33
Pineider La Grande Bellezza 14kt Gold Converter 1.03 23 $498 21 $23.71

Book Review: Minimize Considered by Nina Murray

I devoured this poetry debut the morning after meeting the astute poet. Nina Murray has a gift of seeing beauty and metaphor in the mundane, the things we walk past every day and fail to notice; a chestnut, a cat, a bridge, a sparrow with a flake of bread. Murray’s words and images linger long after they are read. My favorite: the snow on the tall chestnuts in the park / appeared blue, as if already more in touch with water / than with itself. There are so many great lines that I won’t dare repeat them all here. Buy the collection and enjoy them in their natural state.

Follow Nina on Instagram, visit her website, and buy her books on Amazon.


Random Musings about Fountain Pens V

Conklin All American Raven Black

I went with the medium nib and inked it with Kyo No Oto Nurebairo. I liked the feel of the pen, and the bock #6 nib did not disappoint. I had some problems with this pen being slow to restart. And then it seemed to dry completely. I bled off some air and advanced the convertor to get some ink in the nib. It wrote fine, but it was dry again the next day. I thought it was the ink, but I had the same ink in the Conklin Herringbone and that started right up after sitting for a couple days. I was sad, because I was otherwise liking the pen. I decided to clean it out with distilled water and run some Goulet pen flush through it. I re-inked with Monteverde Raven Noir. I’ve been wanting to try this ink and it seems fitting for the pen. I liked the ink. I also liked that it seemed to be flowing nicely. Perhaps that’s all that was needed to get it running well. I put it away for a couple days and it restarted immediately. I used this pen as my primary for several days and I grew fonder of it with each line I wrote. I’ve been working on a rating system for my pens and this one ranks up there with some gold nib pens that cost four or five times more. I highly recommend giving the All American a try. The features betray the price. For under $100, you can’t go wrong.


Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler

I am not sure why I needed this pen. I had resisted the urge to purchase it several times before, but I somehow convinced myself it was a necessary addition to my collection. I think alcohol was involved. I went with a medium nib and I inked it with Monteverde midnight black ink. I didn’t really care for the way it inked. Seemed simple enough, but I don’t have a clue how much ink actually made it into the pen. I like the overall look and feel for the pen, but the crescent is bothersome. It doesn’t inhibit writing in anyway, but it’s a visual distraction. The weight is just ok.

I was not impressed with this pen at first, but it grew on me. I used it as my primary for a couple days. It starts quick and is comfortable enough for long writing sessions. In many regards, it has the feel of the Auroras (but much less expensive). I think I still prefer Conklin’s All American, but overall, I’m glad I added this one to my collection.


Conklin Herringbone – Gun Metal

I went with the medium nib and inked it with Kyo No Oto Nurebairo. The Herringbone is noticeably heavier than the All American, but with a thinner barrel. The pen has a vintage feel and it is comfortable to write with. After writing a bit, I noticed some ink on my fingertip. At first I was worried I had a leak, but I realized that with the narrow barrel there is not much margin to the nib and I must have accidentally inked my finger. I guess that’s a draw-back, but not a major one (at least for now). I’ll have to give it some run-time to determine if it’s tolerable or not. Update: I do not like this pen at all. It might be that I have a tight grip, but my hand seems to slide toward the nib after a few minutes of writing. I get ink everywhere and it is a pain the ass. If you are on the market for a reasonably priced pen, buy anything but this one.


Pen Nib Filling System Capacity – ml Weight – grams Price (MSRP)
Conklin All American steel bock #6 Converter 1.04 18 $95
Conklin Herringbone steel bock #6 Converter 1.12 21 $70
Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler stainless steel Bladder/vacuum sac 2.24 18 $195

Random Musings about Fountain Pens IV

I managed to suppress my urge to purchase fountain pens for almost two whole months. I broke down the other day and bought three. Here are my initial reactions.

Sailor Pro Gear

I purchased the graphite lighthouse model. The color was lighter than I expected, but very sleek. I went with the medium 21kt gold nib. I inked it with Sailor black ink. Unposted it is a little short (and light) for my tastes. The style of the pen is simple and classic. After writing a few lines, this pen reminded me of the Pilot Heritage 92 (see review). That said, I prefer the Heritage for style, size, weight, ink capacity, and price. I will keep the Sailor in rotation to run out the ink, but overall, I am a little disappointed.

Nettuno 1911 Black Sands Ruthenium

For starters, the Nettuno packaging was cool. I went with the medium nib and inked it with Pelikan Edelstein black ink. I was almost as excited about trying the ink as I was the pen. They are both divine. The pen is on the heavy side but is nicely balanced and comfortable to write with. The ruthenium-plated #6 Bock steel nib inks a smooth line that is comparable to many gold nibs I’ve tried. The pen lives up to the package in coolness; the details are impressive. Overall, I really like this pen and will keep it in heavy rotation.

Aurora Talentum Black Ops

I went with the medium nib and inked it with Aurora black ink. If you purchase Aurora ink, be warned that the bottle contains a plastic insert that is intended to get ink all over the place; I can think of no other rational purpose for the damned thing. The Talentum is a sharp/stealthy looking pen and I love the weight. In fact, writing with this pen convinced me that 20 grams is perfect for my writing preferences. The 14kt gold nib did not disappoint. This is my second Aurora fountain pen. My first was the 88 Nera Unica (see review). The Talentum is superior in most regards. This realization surprised me when you consider the Talentum retails for about $150 less than the 88; maybe that ink window on the 88 isn’t so great in hindsight.


  Sailor Pro Gear Nettuno 1911 Aurora Talentum
Filling system Converter Converter Converter
Capacity 1 ml 1.09 ml .98 ml
Weight (body) 16.4 grams 25 grams 20 grams
Price (MSRP) $390 $395 $495

Review: This One Will Hurt You by Paul Crenshaw

I recently decided to expand my reading list to include non-fiction and essays and poetry, and, generally things other than fiction. Not long after this decision, I came upon an essay by Paul Crenshaw. I clicked the link on my Twitter feed, I read the essay, and then a few minutes later I ordered his collection, “This One Will Hurt You.” I dove right in when it arrived, but I decided I would only read one essay every day or so. For some reason I thought that was the way to digest a collection of essays. Fiction is meant to be binged; I’ve been known to read an entire novel in a single sitting. But essays and poetry should be savored. My approach was flawed, and it failed after the first couple days. I could not stop turning the pages. I read the remainder of the collection in a single sitting.

Reading “This One Will Hurt You” has taught me some things. First, I didn’t think I knew how to read or review a collection of personal essays. I’m comfortable with fiction. I know how to analyze characters and plot. I understand the structure. I suspected the general connection between the two, fiction and non-fiction, would be the prose, the sensory elements, the words and sentences themselves. I was wrong. Stories are stories. Some are attempts at truth based on real events we have experienced, and some are complete lies based on real events we have experienced. As evidence of this truth, you can open directly to page 91 and read one of the best stories/personal essays/poems I have ever read, but I implore you to travel the way Crenshaw intended. To quote Ondaatje, “Meander if you want to get to town.”

The second thing I learned is that I should expand my own writing. As I read Crenshaw’s essays, they evoked memories of my own, things I have experienced that I never considered writing down. Perhaps it was because I grew up around the same time, or that I’ve chosen a similar path for my life. Either way, I connected with these essays more than I expected at the outset. When I came upon this sentence, it made sense: “If the girl is real, then we share the same past in the same place, with a similar hope for leaving it, and I can indulge the notion that we are all trapped by place and circumstance and random forces beyond our control, forever looking back with the sad silly sense that if we could just understand the tragic world we survived as children, we could somehow be better adults, and our lives would fall into the neat categories we have created for them.”

Bottom Line: When I first opened Crenshaw’s collection, I expected to read some good prose. I expected to experience a unique perspective on the world. And I expected to walk away with new insight to my own writing. “This One Will Hurt You” far exceeded those expectations.

Follow Paul on Twitter and order “This One Will Hurt You” on Amazon. While you’re there, you can pre-order his next collection, “This We’ll Defend: A Noncombat Veteran on War and Its Aftermath.”

Flash Review: The Rejected Writers’ Book Club by Suzanne Kelman

In the first book of the Southlea Bay series, a writer’s group that celebrates their failures is thrown into turmoil when their leader receives an acceptance letter. The quirky cast of characters takes a road trip to recover the manuscript from the publisher. Along the way, a mystery surrounding the manuscript is revealed. The stakes are raised, and the misadventures escalate.

Kelman does a fine job assembling an eclectic cast of characters. But more than that, Kelman subtly articulates the fear of rejection and the fear of being judged, two fears that are very real to many artists. Kelman also claims she can sing the first verse of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” backward; that alone should make you want to check out her books.

The Rejected Writers’ Book Club is full of intriguing characters and places, a portion of whimsy, some mystery, and a hint of romance. After reading the first book, there are two others waiting to be devoured.

Follow Suzanne on twitter, check out her website and podcasts, and buy her books on Amazon.

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