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For ten years, let’s say roughly from the day I turned 27 until I turned 37, I danced in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar six nights a week, five hours a night. Roughly. It varied a bit but not as much as you would expect.

Dancing was life, there for a while, but problems arose because the bands played forty-five minutes then took a break for fifteen and I didn’t have anything to do for the fifteen other than drink. Every night, for years and years, I mixed four or five hours of extremely aerobic exercise with at least five drinks. Jim Beam with a splash mostly. I daresay I was one of the healthier drunks in Wyoming.

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What kicked off the dancing and drinking chapter of my biography was this: The nice girl I married left me. We’d more or less raised each other from childhood and she was ready to grow up. Here is self-evident truth 2.) “The only thing worse than breaking up with your first love is not breaking up with your first love.”

I hate to think of all I would have missed if she hadn’t had the courage to go.

But, a couple months after she left I realized I was suffering from Failure to Flourish. This is a real syndrome, by the way, only it rarely afflicts people over two. It means if you don’t touch a human for months at a time, you’ll get really weird. It’s even worse for writers. My friends were imaginary to start with. I knew I was in trouble when I found myself trying to cop a fingertip-to-fingertip feel off the cashier at the Wort coffee shop.

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Then, one fateful night I wandered into the Cowboy Bar and there they were — women, waiting to be touched. All you had to do was learn how to dance Western Swing. Thank God this was in the days before the ten-step or I would have had to make friends with sheep. Western Swing involves holding hands and rocking back and forth. You spin, your partner spins, every now and then the couple stands side-by-side in a near cuddle.

I couldn’t believe it! Touch… Lots of touch and all I had to do to earn it was drink like a college freshman. Katy (the wife I mentioned; nice woman) and I were one of those couples who spend 24 hours a day together, day after day, year after year, until you realize you haven’t spoken to anyone including the wife in six days, so I wasn’t too adept at talking up the girls between dances, which is why I drank during the break.

I lived one block from the bar. Driving dunk wasn’t an issue. I do recall drawing a map to my apartment on a bar napkin one night before I passed out and waking up at home. Lord knows who took me there.

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Mostly I was a dance object and my partners were Platonics who were beautiful but wouldn’t have taken me home with them if I’d been the last cow poke on the range. Real cowboys watching didn’t know this so I developed an undeserved reputation as a chowhound. After a couple of years, I started developing R.I.s (Romantic Interests). The Platonics and I spent most of our time together and communicated through dance or even conversation. The R.I.s filled the other gaps. The R.I.s hated the Platonics and I was too vague to understand why.

“I’m monogamous,” I would say, in my defense.

“You’re sick,” the Romantic Interests would shout as they headed out the door.

I thought this was normal.

Anyone who has read my first novel, “Sex and Sunsets,” has read all this guff before. While the plot of that book is a figment of the imagination, the spirit is true. It’s a lot more factual than what passes as memoir on Oprah. Except, of course, in the book I get the girl in the end. Novels tend to turn into daydreams for the last fifteen pages.

An aside: The American cowboy is the only profession I know of with its own art forms. You’ve got your cowboy dance, cowboy poetry, cowboy music, and cowboy art. Lawyers don’t have genres of poetry named after them. Carpenters don’t have carpenter dances. All they have are the ants.

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Let’s talk language. Pudenda is a word meaning “the external sexual organs of a human being, especially those of a woman.” It comes from the Greek word pudendum, which means “something to be ashamed of.” Consider the implications of that. It will give you meaningful insights into civilization.

I’ve taken a number of writing workshops, and taught even more, and I’ve never seen or heard an intelligent discussion on the proper way to write a sex scene. Maybe the teachers were afraid of being fired. The thing is, many, if not most, novels these days contain sex scenes and most authors are botching them up, probably because no one ever wrote the literary sex manual.

I’m at the stage in my career where public shunning might do me good, and I can’t be fired, so here is my take on literary copulation:

Beginners and Pulitzer Prize winners alike fall into two primary traps: 1) too many technical terms. One is enough. Or 2) Vague euphemisms. I had a student who kept writing about his “manhood.” It took me two stories to figure out where his manhood was. If that organ defines you’re manhood, you are basically a useless man. I thought he meant trigger finger until it started throbbing.

Romance writers tend to talk in terms of flowers. Or maidenheads. If I was a maiden and someone called that thing my head, I would be offended. Romance novels have a lot more sex scenes than my books, but my books are considered racy. No less than some crankcase in the New York Times Book Review claimed my last novel had too much sex between senior citizens. It made him feel icky to picture old people doing it. With luck, he won’t grow old or won’t be doing it when he does.

There’s only one real sex scene in the book. People think my novels are racy because my characters are true to life: They think about sex and talk about sex, more or less continuously, but when it comes to the real thing, they only pull it off every 200 pages or so.

I use sex in my books for the same reason I use it in life itsownself — for comic relief. Making love without laughing is like eating without tasting. You might not starve, but you’ll miss the fun. Might as well watch cooking on TV, if all you want is to kill some time.

The way to write fictional sex is through dialogue.

“Higher, dammit.”

“You’re on my hair.”

“When was the last time you cut your toenails?”

“Wrong hole!”

I know biting body parts sounds hilarious, but it’s been done before. Gross out humor belongs in the movies. Us novelists need to be more subtle.

The sexual ambiance needs to be unique in some way, or you might as well skip to breakfast, now that it’s no longer cool to skip to the cigarette. In nine fairly racy novels, I’ve only written one graphic scene between two regular adults who like each other, and I put that one in the catacombs of Paris, witnessed by six million dead people.

If you must write serious literature, I would advise skipping the thrusting manhood or angry urethras and going with emotions. Make the sentences read as poetry — man on top, iambic, woman on top, trochaic or even serpentine free verse. (You poets can work this out with other positions and forms). Typing “bitch” fifty times is boring and has been done. So has having a woman repeat “fuck me” over and over for two chapters. Don’t do it. I liked the Woody Allen movie where he said, “Slide,” because thinking about baseball made him last longer.

I don’t feel like talking about funny sex. I don’t feel funny. My dog died today. Nothing funny about that. And I saw “No Country for Old Men” last night, my first grown-up movie in months. It’s quite good from an artistic standpoint, but if you’re the type whose insanity level can be affected by movies, books, or music, I would avoid the whole thing. There will be people hospitalized from seeing that movie, and if you’re suicidal because your dog is dying, it might throw you off the roof.

Thirdly, (is that a word?) I’m having a colonoscopy Wednesday and I can’t eat all day tomorrow. I get dizzy and make poor choices if I don’t eat every three hours. I don’t know if I can handle thirty hours, or however long it is between right now and Wednesday morning when I come back from gassy-world.

It’s just a routine test, like you’re supposed to get at my age. My wife keeps bringing up people who died from routine anesthesia they didn’t really need since they weren’t sick. Our novelist friend Olivia went in for vanity facial manipulation and never came back. Then there’s that rapper fella’s mother.

I’ve got enough anxiety without friends forwarding horror stories from the internet. Please don’t. The medical profession has transformed healthy people into plants for years. Only now, it turns up on YouTube.

Shit. She was a nice dog.

Ralph Nader, of course. Here’s why: There’s a lot of people running this country or wanting to run this country who don’t agree with me. Some, such as the water wads in charge now have done terrible damage to nature, the people, and out status as the world’s good guys. I don’t see how you can defend the Constitution by destroying it. But those folks were more or less honest when they took over.

George Bush never pretended he was anything but a nightmare when it came to plants, animals, air, and the temperature of the planet. You elect two oil company executives to run the show, you can very well whine when they rig the game for the benefit of themselves. Those old, rich, white, male Republicans have been sitting around their cigar bars and boardrooms for decades, grousing about the federal government and how much money they could make if it got off their backs. We put them in charge of the federal government, and — Surprise! — they did what they said they would do. They changed the rules for their peer group and let all the other peer groups go to pot.

Hell, if you elected two comic novelists President and Vice President — say, me and Chris Moore. I would be Vice and he could be Pres — we’d rig the laws so comic novelists didn’t have to pay taxes, do their own laundry, or answer for adulterous behavior. (There is a precedence, by the way. In Ireland, most people pay 50% of their income in taxes. Poets don’t pay a cent.)

So, while the current Boss Men are scalawags, thieves, and responsible for a whole mess of unnecessary deaths, they aren’t traitors to the Republican Party. They said they were going to eviscerate the American Way and we elected them and they did. No surprises there.

Then comes Ralph Nader — the one, single individual who could have stopped the last eight years from going down the way it did. No one person had the power, except Ralph. For forty-whatever years, Ralph fought on behalf of the American consumer. He built a massive reputation as a good person. He was idolized by young people (girls, especially) who wanted to grow up to make a difference. But, somehow, along the way his ego outgrew his brain. He claims he is running for President because the two political parties are exactly the same.

Here’s a self-evident truth I don’t think even Rush Limbaugh would disagree with: When it comes to the environment, Al Gore and George Bush are not the same. Only an idiot would make that claim.

Ralph hated Al on a personal basis. He was willing to let all those years of doing good go down the tubes out of personal animosity. Every new oilfield in Alaska should be named Nader Field. Every safety rollback of products and services should be called the Nader Rule. Let’s go all the way and let historians call the war in Iraq the Nader War.

If Ralph fixed the 200 election because he hated Al Gore and was willing to cut off his face to spite his nose, as the saying almost goes, why is he out to do it again?
 Got me. Delusions of grandeur, maybe. Or the religious right is blackmailing him. Brain tumor? My career has been spent trying to figure out why people do things that go against their self-interest, and I’m fairly good at it, but Ralph is beyond me.

I know this much to be true: Betrayal is worse than opposition.

I’m certain the candidates have been on pins and needles waiting for the Sandlin endorsement, so here it is. Vote for Obama. Reasons: 1) Hillary has no chance in hell of beating McCain. The Republicans have warehouses full of mud, waiting to be thrown at her. I’ve been told by people who know the top folks in the party — we have a bunch of them here in Teton County — that the Republicans are literally praying for Hillary to get the nomination.

2)  Obama may or may not beat McCain, but he won’t take every Democrat in the West down with him. The Clinton name is so hated in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone that all the progress Democrats have made out here the last few years will go the way of the dodo.

3)  While we’re on the subject of hatred, the last twenty years have seen an explosion of hatred in America. Hatred has become the dominant emotion of public discourse. Our side hates their side and their side hates our side. While roughly 20% of Americans hate whoever is President, just from granfaloonery — the way Oklahoma hates Texas and Duke hates North Carolina — the last twenty years the percentage of hatred has gotten way the hell out of hand. I’m sick and tired of hatred. It’s exhausting the country. It has to stop. And it won’t stop if anyone named Bush or Clinton is ruling the roost.

On a lighter note (I always try to snap my fingers on the upbeat) has anyone noticed that the buffalo on the new nickel has a dick? It’s the only dick I’ve ever seen on money. Check out the nickel with Jefferson all smooshed up on the heads side and a buffalo on the tails. The reason we say nickels have a head side and a tail sideis because the old buffalo nickels had a tail, and the head side is obvious. Now, when people flip for drinks or to decide who kicks off in a football game, we should say, “Heads or dicks?”

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The Tinkerbell Diet

A couple years ago Randolph Proust, his lovely wife Chelsey, and their children Lester and Brittania camped at Lava Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park. One hot afternoon, after lunch, a young cinnamon-colored black bear wandered into the campground and commenced to pop open various bear-proof trash receptacles. Randolph decided he would get a cute photo by smearing Sioux Bear honey across Lester’s lips and chin.

“Think cuddly thoughts,” Lester’s mother said before sending the boy off to bond with nature’s wonder.

The next day, when interviewed by the Jackson Hole News and Guide at the Lake Hotel Hospital, Mr. Proust said, “I didn’t dream the Park Service would allow bears to roam freely if they weren’t tame. My kids were raised on Berenstein Bears, Brother Bear, Bear in the Big Blue House. We came to Yellowstone to watch Yogi and Boo Boo steal picnic baskets.”

Randolph’s daughter clutched a Teddy Bear to her chest and cooed, “Winnie the Pooh bit off Lester’s nose.”

I thought of this story the other day when I ran into Roger Ramsey at Hard Drive Café where we was skimming back and forth across the internet, searching for happy-go-lucky dairy products.

“I know I’ve heard of Mr. Cheddar Curd.” Roger’s teeth gnashed in determination. “I just can’t find him. Look at this. There’s a Japanese anime starring the Tofu Twins. I can use that.”

I ordered a half-caff, extra dry, soy vanilla cappuccino and came back to Roger and his computer. “Why are you Googling anthropomorphic cheese?” I asked.

“Because Maurey rented Finding Nemo for Scarlet and now she refuses to eat fish?”

“Maurey or Scarlet?”

“Scarlet. Maurey never would touch my trout.”

Maurey is Roger’s wife. Scarlet Gilia is their six-year-old daughter. Roger calls her Scarlet and Maurey calls her Gilia. Maurey is an ovo-lacto vegetarian and Roger is a hunting guide. It’s a marriage made on the second ring of hell.

“Maurey did it on purpose. All those cute little fish and crustaceans love their families and friends, and the evil humans want nothing more than to slaughter them. What does she think fish eat if not each other?”

“My theory is Disney characters live on fruit juice and Dove bars.”

“Maurey’s got Scarlet so she won’t eat any food that sings and dances. It began with the stupid pig in Charlotte’s Web. Then Benny the Bull from ‘Dora the Explorer.’ She hasn’t touched lamb since the damn thing followed to Mary to school one day, and don’t even get me started on Bambi.”

This was interesting. I sat beside Roger and watched him fly from cartoon site to site. There were hundreds of them. “So Scarlet won’t eat anything other than vegetables?”

“I nipped that in the bud. Went to the library and checked out a video called “Veggie-Tales.” It’s a bunch of Christian cucumbers and tomatoes and the like, teaching each other values. Scarlet sleeps with an artichoke heart now. She’s been cutting out little velvet skirts and blouses for her carrots.”

“How about apples and oranges?”

“I downloaded a Fruit of the Loom commercial. She’s got nowhere left to turn except macaroni and cheese, and as soon as I find Mr. Cheddar Curd, I can put a stop to that.”

I tried to see the logic in Roger’s logic, but it zipped right over my head. “Why are you trying to starve your daughter to death?”

“I’m not trying to starve Scarlet. I’m showing her those idiot kids’ shows have given everything a personality. I’ll drive her back to Happy Meal burgers, like a normal child. Look at this site.”

Roger stopped on the Boohbah Home Page. Boohbahs appear to be colorful amoebas with deep, creative emotions capable of expressing joy and sadness. “Better not show her that one,” Roger said. “Lord knows what she might swear off.”

He switched to Thomas the Tank Engine, which is a show about selfish, jealous, bitter trains who treat each other like human beings. “It’s not just animals,” Roger said. “There’s a new show on Disney about talking screwdrivers. It’s ripped off a PBS show where a front end loader cries when it doesn’t get its way.”

“Bob the Builder.”

“This baloney didn’t exist when I was a kid. You never saw the Three Stooges worrying about a cream pie’s self-esteem.”

“It’s been going on forever,” I said. “John Ruskin called it the Pathetic Fallacy.”

“Somebody got rich selling pet rocks. I wouldn’t call that pathetic.”

“Back then pathetic didn’t mean politics or sports or anything it’s used for now. It meant empathetic. Ruskin had a peeve against angry clouds or majestic mountains. He said no matter how much it rains, the clouds are never angry. A cloud is nothing but a cloud. The river is not an old man. Tumbleweeds don’t tumble because they are laid back.”

“What’s that got to do with forcing a rare rib eye down Scarlet’s throat. I won’t have a daughter so arrogant as to remove herself from the food chain.”

“Ruskin’s was a worthless complaint. Writers couldn’t write without the Pathetic Fallacy. Humans couldn’t be human. Ancient Greeks thought the sun, the moon, the oceans, even the earth itself were all gods who behaved like dysfunctional families. Even us modern types created God in man’s image.”

“Not the other way around?”

“Everything is personal to humans. That’s what sets us apart from the monkeys.”

Roger yelled, “Eureka!”

“You understand my philosophical treatise?”

“Chuck E. Cheese! She’ll never eat macaroni and cheese again.”

“Isn’t Chuck E. a mouse?”

Roger leaned toward his computer and peered at Chuck. “Oh, yeah. Can’t let her find this one. She already goes hysterical at the sight of D-Con.”

“What if your plan doesn’t work?” I asked Roger. “What if you’re creating an anorexic? Girls today have enough neuroses without thinking their lunch is getting in touch with its inner pasta.”

“I see the light,” Roger said.

“You’ve discovered a way to use your brain?”

“I’ll write a diet book. It’ll make millions of dollars.”

“Are these the same millions you made off of self-cleaning barbecue sauce?”

“Nobody ever lost a dime selling weight loss schemes. I’ll call it the Yellowstone Diet. We’ll turn South Beach into a Trivial Pursuit answer.”

“Or Jeopardy question.”

“Every woman in America will clamor for my DVDs and CD ROMS.”

I finished my cappuccino and dug a finger into the bottom foam. “So, what are you selling exactly?”

“Tapes and movies of happy food groups. Living lunch. Whenever a woman puts anything whatsoever in her mouth, we’ll convince her she’s murdering Tinkerbell.”

“Or whoever.”

Roger grinned. “Whomever.”

P.S. Someone finally explained to me that 🙂 is code for openness to a sexual adventure. I’m going to have to rethink my relationship with a whole bunch of you readers out there.

The Punch Line

My daughter Leila turned seven last month and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. For a couple of years, she dreamed of managing a hotel in China, when she grows up. She researched hotel management and knew the track to get there. Then, she moved on to designing clothes. She’s got talent. Lately, she switched to jewelry design.

Sunday night, I mentioned this lack of focus to me wife, Carol. “By the time I was seven I knew writing novels was my calling. I had my entire career mapped out, and I knew what I had to do to get there.”

Carol said, “Yes, but you’re a freak.”

I’m thinking the true freak — me — is the one who doesn’t even know he’s a freak. Self-awareness blows the gig.

I was right around seven when I wrote my first joke. I wrote it for my cousin to tell in the family Christmas Eve talent show. Here it is: “Did you hear about the Cherokee Chief Red Cloud who drank three gallons of Lipton tea. He was found, drowned in his tipi.” I was seven for God’s sake. What do you expect?

At nine, I had my first publication — a poem in either Highlights for Children of Jack and Jill magazine. Sometimes I tell interviewers one and sometimes the other, but the truth is I don’t remember. The poem was entitled “Trees.” There were leaves in it.

Inspired by publication, I wrote basically every day until my second publication — Sex and Sunsets — when I was thirty-seven. S&S stayed in print twenty years, until last summer. There have been six screenplays based on it, but no movies.

The first joke I wrote for public performance came in junior high. My friend Ronny was running for vice-president of the student council and he wanted a laugh to open his speech.

I wrote him this: “If Chad attacks Libya from the rear, do you think Greece will help?”

The first novel I wrote was The Battle of Bitter Creek, and one of the blog readers wrote me to say he has a copy. Amazingly enough. I’m not sure I even have a copy of the manuscript. It’s set in 1888. The spoiled wife of the owner of the railroad tells the residents of Bitter Creek, Wyoming, they must put clothes on their horses, dogs, cats, and chickens, or the railroad will never stop there again. The hero is R.C. Nash, a name I used thirty years later in Honey Don’t, my political farce. There’s another guy named Overbite O’Brien. The book was fairly low end.

Now, fifty years after the tipi joke and thirty-five years after the bad Bitter Creek novel, I have my first cowboy novel coming out next week. For those of you who keep score, it’s my ninth published book. Rowdy in Paris is set in 2004, I think. Rowdy Talbot goes to Paris to retrieve his stolen belt buckle and finds himself ass deep in a plot to destroy both McDonalds and Starbucks.

Riverhead/Putnam is publishing the book and because the other eight weren’t best sellers, they aren’t investing any money in publicity or marketing. No author tour. No free books to Book Sense stores. No co-op.

(Quick lesson in co-op: My friend who writes thrillers told me Barnes and Noble ordered 12,000 of his newest book. I said, “How did you swing that?”
He said, “My publisher is paying three dollars per copy for B&N to stock the book. It’ll go on the New Arrivals shelf.” In radio, this is condemned as payola. In publishing, it’s co-op.)

The only prayer this book has of selling enough copies for me to find a publisher willing to put out the next GroVont book (I’m on page 320) is if something happens to stick Rowdy on Putnam’s radar. To oversimplify, if they think the book will be big, the book will be big.

This can’t happen without you mighty blog readers. You want me to keep writing blogs and books, give me some support. You don’t, that’s okay too. The world won’t be dramatically different without my writing.

But, if you are of a mind to pitch in, there are two possibilities. 1) If you or your college roommate, ex-lover, or the in-law you can’t abide works for big media, tell them you know about a cool book.

Okay, that’s not likely. Second, if Rowdy makes a good run on the Amazon Top Five Million chart, it might get my publisher’s attention. Amazon measures velocity, as opposed to overall numbers. A book that sold 200 in the last hour will rate above a book that sold 20,000 last month. Thusly, when the guy at the New York Times Book Review said Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty sucked because no on wants to read about sex between old people, the book jumped 30,000 slots the next morning. Which is two books, if you’re in six figure-ville, but Jimi was okay to start with. The dynamite review in USA Today gave it an even better kick.

So, in order to make an Amazon run and hit my publisher in the noggin with a stick, you all not only need to buy Rowdy in Paris, you need to buy Rowdy in Paris at the same time.

Let’s say Thursday evening, January 24, at 6 p.m. Pacific time, which is 9 p.m. on the East Coast. You folks in Europe or wherever you are can figure it out. If you have any desire to read Rowdy or more blogs, buy the book between 6 and 7 PDT, the night of January 24. Buy several. They make outstanding gifts for loved ones.

Maybe, we’ll make a difference. Also, order books you have no intention of picking up from the chains. It’ll get me in their computers. Buy the backlist from your local independent bookstore, or go to my web site and buy first editions from Valley Books.

I would love to publish book #10 and it won’t happen without you guys.

p.s. The Chad-Libya-Greece joke is in Rowdy. Nothing is ever lost.

Did you ever wonder why certain mid-major to major studios seem to receive so many more Oscar nominations than others? The answer in some, if not a lot, of cases is that they pay for them. Not directly, of course. The people who run the Oscars are complete paranoids when it comes to bribing voters. No holiday gift baskets. No trips to Vegas at studio expense. Heck, for a while there they even vetoed the free DVD of the movie. Now, at least you get a free movie so long as you don’t copy it or loan it out or upload it onto any known electrical device. Screwing up is punishable by imprisonment and loss of Beverly Hills lunch privileges.

No, Oscar voters cannot be bribed. Golden Globe voters can. It is perfectly within the rules to fly a Golden Globe voter to Paris and ply him with Grand Marnier and wild French women. It’s done every year because Golden Glove winners don’t necessarily win Oscars, but they do, more often than not, win Oscar nominations.

The Golden Globe gatekeepers wield the same power in movies that Iowa and New Hampshire wield in Presidential politics. You have to win there to go on to the next level. And it’s so much cheaper to buy your way into a Golden Globe than an Oscar. The Golden Globe voters are made up of ninety foreign journalists — photographers, mostly, and we all know about entertainment industry photographer ethics — who have places to live in Southern California. Ninety voters. An Oscar campaign costs millions of dollars, while ninety journalists can be bought by ninety bottles of scotch.

How do I, a small-town former dishwasher, former screenwriter, presently happy-go-lucky novelist from Wyoming, know this information? For one thing, it’s not that hard to figure out. Take Pia Zadora, as an example. Yes, the same Pia Zadora whose most famous movie was “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” Pia won her Golden Globe for a movie called “Butterfly.” Write me if you’ve seen it. I haven’t, but I’ve been told it doesn’t hold a candle to “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” But then Pia’s husband flew all ninety Golden Globe voters to Vegas for a weekend of revelry.

Surprise! She won!

My theory was confirmed by an actor who won a Golden Globe himself, so his opinion is not likely to be sour grapes. For the blog’s sake, we’ll call him Paul Hogan. Paul played Shane in a movie I wrote, although, sad to say, the movie itself wasn’t called “Shane.” The movie, which should have been “Sorrow Floats” was entitled “Floating Away.” That’s because “Hope Floats” came out right before “Sorrow Floats” and Rosanna Arquette was in both of them, and the producer, Showtime, thought the public would get mixed up.

The public did get mixed up. I receive frequent compliments for writing “Hope Floats,” a movie I didn’t write. I rarely receive compliments for writing “Floating Away.”

As an interesting aside, the guy who did write “Hope Floats” was represented by the same agency that represented me. My belief is he saw the title on his agent’s bookshelf — they all had a copy back then — and he sublimated. I’m certain he didn’t steal, and I mean that without irony, even though I don’t know the guy.

You may wonder how the title “Floating Away” was chosen. The fine folks at Showtime set up a table on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, where they handed anyone who would take it a list of five possible titles. I wasn’t told the losers. But, the title of my movie — the movie I spent five years working on — was chosen by a committee of vagrant pedestrians with nothing else to do but fill out opinion polls. We were right next to the Pepsi versus Coke blind taste test booth.

Another tidbit you might find interesting: In lists of the most powerful people in Hollywood, you never hear about the psychics. Here’s some advice for you low budget filmmakers. Bribe a psychic. You want a big star in a cheap movie, find out which Hollywood Swami-type is calling his shots. A huge percentage of the creative talent uses psychics. The whole business of who is a star and who isn’t is such a mystery, and successful actors, directors, producers, and studio heads have no idea how they made it happen, so on top of being neurotic, they’re superstitious as hell. A lot of cash goes down the fortune-telling tubes in California in the name of career advice.

There’s big money in mysticism in Hollywood. The actresses refer each other to the psychics with the reputations, and, if you’re on the list, you’re in Fat City. Look at what happened with Tom Cruise and Scientology, or Madonna with her Kabbala. I’d like to set myself up as the Gnostic prophet. Any of you creative types want to know what to do next, send me your question accompanied by a small check. One thing I do know is what you should do next. I’m good at that.

Due to the severe isolation of the job, most literary writers, and a few of the genre guys, develop a co-dependency relationship with a specific bookstore. The store is usually a local, mid-sized independent where you can get to know the staff and the staff can get to know you and your idiosyncrasies. Authors become mascots, of a sort, like the store cat that customers see slinking through the stacks. We drop in at these bookstores four or five times a week, just to see the books on the shelves. We buy a few, of course, but most of the time we’re there to absorb vibrations off the printed page. We need to know books still exist. We need to renew faith that the book we’re writing now will one day be on those shelves, real and tangible.

My home store is Valley Books in Jackson, Wyoming. Steve Ashley owns Valley Books and he is the finest human I’ve known in my days on Earth. I have owed Steve money continuously for over thirty years. Back during the dishwashing decades, I would charge all my Christmas presents there, for the family back in Oklahoma, then spend the rest of the year paying off the bill.

After that, came the flush screenwriting years when I pretended Steve allowed me to hang out in his bookstore for a hundred dollar a month cover charge. In exchange, I pretended all the books were free. Most months it worked out well. Only in winter did I drop so far behind I had to write a massive check in the spring.

When I’m in the throes of writing a novel, I tend to get more than a little spooky. Steve’s employees have always been kind and patient with my abnormal behavior. More than once I came to after a bookseller touched me on the arm and asked after my welfare, when I was frozen up in front of a shelf.

Which brings us to Christmas Eve. Fifteen to twenty years ago, in appreciation of all Steve and his staff did for me, I would go in during Christmas week and clean the employee bathroom. I hoped to start a precedent ¬¬– a movement, if you will – whereby all authors clean their local bookstore employee bathrooms during Christmas week.

It never caught on. To this day, I think if Phillip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Updike had followed my lead, we would have created a new tradition, equal to Secret Santas and black-eyed peas on New Year’s. But then, Steve remodeled the store and did away with employee bathrooms. I would have probably stopped, eventually, anyway. There comes a time of life where it’s considered peculiar to clean other people’s bathrooms.

So, here is the current Christmas Eve tradition: First we – the family and I – go to the 4 p.m. Christmas carol service at the Episcopal Church here in town. My daughter, Leila, loves to sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” I like tradition and ritual.

(Last Monday night, Dick Cheney was at the service. By my modest count, seventeen members of the congregation were packing guns. We skipped the Peace. Made the Good Will to Men thing seem a bit warped.)

Then, after church, I take a bottle of Frangelica liqueur to Valley Books, and right before closing, the staff, the owner, family members, and late shoppers toast to Christmas and the wonderful folks who sell books. Actually, we share several toasts. I don’t drink much anymore, so it doesn’t take but a couple shots to zip me right into the holiday spirit. And I’ve found the staff is more appreciative of a Dixie cup full of cheer at closing time than they were of a clean bathroom.

If there’s any Frangelica left, I take it home and put in into the French toast Christmas morning. I heartily endorse baking with liqueurs.

On another note, I once tried to explain to Leila why teenagers hate poems and songs featuring their name. I used the example of “Georgie, Porgie, pudding and pie.” I never met a kid named George yet who doesn’t loathe that poem. And girls named Brandy – my advice is don’t break into “Brandy, you’re a fine girl,” when you meet them. They’ve heard it before. At seven, my Leila is not impressed by people who knock out a verse of “Layla” the moment they meet her. Besides, no one can remember the line after “You got me on my knees.”

For me, the most damaging Christmas icon is that little brat Tiny Tim. God, I hated that sanctimonious suck-up. I was small for my age – I grew seven inches after high school – so the whole tiny thing made me neurotic as a Democrat in Utah anyway. It didn’t help for other kids to taunt, “Where’s your crutch, Tiny Tim? When are you going to say your line?”

But then I grew up and I am no longer an insecure, short, isolated, frightened, resentful, nerdy, twerp.

I don’t think. To prove my point, I will now take a giant step forward in my development as a whole human being.

“Merry Christmas.” Here it comes: “God bless us every one.”

p.s. Mark it on your calendar. Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty comes out in paperback on January 4. If you’ve already read the book, buy a few for your loved ones. Grandparents love it even when they claim their friends won’t. And order three from chain stores. You don’t have to pick them up. Unclaimed books will eventually reach a shelf. I’m too old to wash dishes professionally.