The Story Behind the Photo (Maybe)

11 Dec

ghosteye3:

Dick Cheney is in the news again, so I thought I would celebrate by re-posting this completely accurate and painstakingly researched article I wrote about him a year or so ago.

Originally posted on A Place for My Stuff:

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“You’re going to love this one, Roscoe,” Dick said as he popped open another longneck. “It’s from a microbrew called Freedom Rings in Jasper. They have a really good pale ale.”

He brought the bottle to Roscoe’s lips, then tipped it back slowly. Raccoons can do a lot of things, Dick thought, but their paws weren’t very adept at handling a cool beverage.

Dick smiled as he watched the sun dip over the trees that lined his Wilson, Wyoming, home. There was a time when he was the most powerful, influential man in the world, when he might stroll into the Situation Room after breakfast to watch the shock and awe rain down on Baghdad and think to himself, “This is my war.” Those were heady days, and it was hard to remember everything about them. Did he abuse his authority? Maybe. Did he overreach himself? Sure. The great ones…

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Review: Drag the Darkness Down

5 Dec

Want to drag the darkness down? Go on a road trip with Odom Shiloh in his Honda of the year 1997.

This 40-year-old man from Frothmouth, Arkansas, has more than his share of troubles. Odom is unemployable, his second marriage is about to go bust, and his talented but neurotic sister, Birdshit, has gone missing. Oh, and he’s also on the run from the authorities after ramming his car into a famous French cyclist in downtown Memphis.

untitledWith all this drama going on, why not hit the road? Determined to track down his little sister, Odom enlists help from his private investigator friend, Blakey Flake. The pair climbs into Odom’s vintage Honda and travels the highways of Arkansas and Missouri in search of Birdshit, who Odom believes has run off with a four-star high school football recruit. Along the way, Odom mostly listens as the chain-smoking Blakey ruminates on topics ranging from his favorite French Impressionist painters to the theory that Oprah Winfrey is, in fact, ruining our way of life. As is the case with most memorable road novels (Charles Portis’s The Dog of the South comes to mind), it is the journey – not the destination – that drives Drag the Darkness Down.

This debut novel by Kansas City author Matt Baker was published in 2009, but I only recently became familiar with it. The book is an impressive start to what looks to be a strong fiction career for Mr. Baker. His characters in Drag the Darkness Down are cold, conniving and perennially self-absorbed. The way they interact with each other while pursuing their individual agendas is often hilarious, though Baker’s characters seldom see it that way.

No one in Drag the Darkness Down is satisfied with his or her current state: Blakey wants to be a stand-up comic, Birdshit wants to write poetry and escape small-town life, Odom isn’t sure what he wants, other than to evade the law, rescue his sister, and stick a fork in another failed marriage. We see the action through Odom’s eyes, but can we trust his view of reality? The meandering banter between Odom and the screwball detective Blakey as they follow the trail to Birdshit fuels the first half of the novel. After a while, Blakey’s outrageous pronouncements and dubious theories start making sense, and Odom’s internal broodings become more frightening. Which one of these two guys in the Honda is the crazy one? Is it both of them? Is it too late to bail on this road trip and catch a Greyhound back to Little Rock?

Finding humor and building intrigue in characters who are as forlorn and shiftless as Odom Shiloh is the writing equivalent of a magic trick, but I believe Matt Baker has pulled it off. Drag the Darkness Down is truly dark, and it is unlikely that this detective story is going to end happily, but we can at least sit back and enjoy the bumpy, tumultuous ride.

Stephen Roth is author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore. Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

Taking a Little Break

14 Nov

I started my blog, A Place for My Stuff, back in January of 2013. Today, 119 posts later, I still have so many things I want to share with you all. I hesitated for years to launch a writer’s blog because I thought it would turn into a grind, and that I would quickly run out of things to write about.

Boy, was I wrong.

Over the past 22 months, I have written about a diverse array of subjects, including parenthood, book reviews, current events, sports, social media and the occasional quirky work of fiction. I have averaged at least one post a week during a period when I lost my father, got laid off from Hallmark, found a new job, published my first novel and, of course, continued to be a husband and a father and a pet owner. Despite all the complications of modern life, I managed to find new, interesting things to write about. I discovered that maintaining a blog was actually fun, and served as a creative spark for my writing. It has also been gratifying to receive comments and feedback from my 163 subscribers, as well as others who have visited the blog.

That being said, I am going to take a little time away from A Place for My Stuff in order to concentrate on writing my second novel. I am about 130 pages into the new book, but my progress has stalled as I have focused most of my creative energy on promoting A Plot for Pridemore and updating the blog. I will still post from time to time but, for the next three months or so, I want to focus my limited “writing time” on the new book.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and following my blog. Feel free to check back anytime to see if there is anything new. I look forward to sharing some more information about my next novel when I feel that I have something worthwhile to report.

Thanks!

Stephen

Wear What You Want for Halloween

30 Oct

A few days ago, a friend remarked on Facebook that he recently attended his child’s pre-school Halloween party, and one of the three-year-old boys was dressed as Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen, even wearing high-heels. My friend declared it “the ballsiest thing I’ve seen in a long while,” and complimented the kid and his parents for their bravery.

Witch, 1974

Witch, 1974

I could not help but think how sad it is that a three-year-old’s selection of a Halloween costume would be judged as ballsy or anything else. But in today’s polarizing culture, where every action is viewed as some kind of a political statement, a little boy dressed as Elsa probably is pretty bold. I know I would be a little nervous, as a parent, about what the other kids would say. Hopefully, everyone at the party was nice, and Elsa got lots of candy.

When I was three years old, I decided to be a witch for Halloween. My parents agreed and I went door-to-door with a pointed hat, blond wig, black sheet and an old broom. I don’t remember any of our neighbors making a big deal about it. Some of them might have thought I was a little girl. If my parents were embarrassed or worried about it, they never let on. It was simpler back in the early 1970s. Adults didn’t seem to fret about what kids dressed up as for Halloween, or anything else they did, for that matter. Today, we seem to be much more wrapped up in our children’s lives, as this recent Halloween story colorfully illustrates.

Ghost, 1973

Ghost, 1973

Anyway, I was lucky to have parents who let me be who I wanted to be for Halloween. I’m also fortunate to have had a mom who enjoyed creating my costume most years. I’ve included photos of some of the early ones. My “Jack O’ Lantern/Scarecrow” outfit actually won a contest back in the second grade!

My son is only four years old, but I’m pretty impressed so far with his originality when it comes to selecting Halloween costumes.

Jack o' Lantern, 1978

Jack o’ Lantern, 1978

While many of his peers will dress up as Marvel superheroes or Disney princesses, my son wants to be a dinosaur. Specifically, he wants to be a Pteranodon. (If you aren’t up-to-date on your dinosaur names, a Pteranodon is a winged creature very similar to the more famous pterodactyl. In fact, I don’t know the difference between the two.) We ordered the costume off Amazon, and it seems to fit him pretty well. He can’t wait to spook his neighbors, and also educate them a little bit about paleontology.

Last year, my son went as a ghost, and that was a big success. We couldn’t find any toddler-sized ghost costumes, so my wife cut up a couple of pillowcases and layered his face with white and black makeup. He had great fun running through the neighborhood, a little white blur wearing silver and green tennis shoes. “I’m a ghost! I’m a ghost!” he shouted repeatedly.

Devil, 1976

Devil, 1976

I suspect that my son watches just as many movies and TV shows as any other kid his age. I’m a little surprised he doesn’t want to go trick-or-treating as a Power Ranger or a Minion or even one of the ponies from My Little Pony (still one of his favorite shows). I am sure the day is coming when he will fall into rank with what everyone else wants to be, but I hope not. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. It takes a lot of nerve, or even some balls, to be different in this day and age.

Be Royal

23 Oct

Today I have nothing to share except this:

Royals win
And this:

Royals win 2
That will be all. Have a wonderful Thursday.

The Crayon Box

21 Oct

ghosteye3:

I am re-posting this because my dear college friend, Michael Schwartz, has launched a KickStarter campaign to fund a movie he wants to shoot at locations around the world before he loses what remains of his eyesight. A truly inspiring and courageous endeavor that you can learn more about by clicking here: http://kck.st/ZF2RC9

Originally posted on A Place for My Stuff:

untitled
I met Michael Schwartz during my first semester at the University of Missouri in 1989. We shared an English class with about 10 other easily startled freshmen. Our instructor was a slightly mad fellow by the name of Aristotle Baklava, who did everything in his power to turn English 101 into a left-leaning political science course. Each week, he had us write term papers on different chapters from a book called Courage of Their Convictions: Sixteen Americans Who Fought Their Way to the Supreme Court. We wrote about gay rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the uniquely American right to burn the country’s flag at the Republican National Convention. I have to admit I learned a lot about writing in that class. Once my terms papers started taking on a decidedly liberal slant, my grade average magically rose from a low “C” to a solid “A.”

I…

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I Sure Am Going to Miss My Dad

14 Oct

ghosteye3:

Hard to believe, but it has been a full year since since Art Roth Jr. passed. I love and miss you, Dad.

Originally posted on A Place for My Stuff:

Dad talking business; me playing with my stuffed giraffe.

Dad talking business; me playing with my stuffed giraffe.

Some time in the summer of 1977, when I was a six-year-old happily growing up in LaGrange, Georgia, my mom took me to a fish and chips place for lunch. She ordered me a basket of hush puppies and explained that my dad’s job was going to be transferred to the headquarters of Milliken & Co., and that he would be moving to Spartanburg, South Carolina.

“Well,” I said after some thought. “I sure am going to miss him!”

My mother then went on to explain that she and I would also be moving with him to Spartanburg, and thestrange reality of an impending uprooting, away from all my friends and everything else I hadever known, slowly setinto my six-year-old mind. There would be other moves, all of them between South Carolina and Georgia, in my growing-up years as my father’s…

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Georgia on My Mind

8 Oct

One thing I have learned in my three-plus months as a published author: sometimes things don’t work out exactly as you had planned.

PlotForPridemore (2)I was originally slated to speak about A Plot for Pridemore at the Georgia Literary Festival in Augusta on the weekend of November 7-9. Last week, I learned that the festival had been canceled for this year. This sent me scrambling to set up new gigs to fill up my weekend visit to Georgia.

Thanks to some understanding folks who were willing to work with me on just a few weeks’ notice, I have been able to pull together a few appearances in the Peach State:

At 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 8, I will sign books and possibly do a reading from Pridemore at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock. FoxTale is one of the top independent bookstores in the Atlanta area, and has hosted many Mercer University Press authors over the years. I am thrilled that FoxTale is willing to fit me into its schedule on such short notice.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 9, I will be signing books at the Barnes & Noble in Columbus. This will not be a formal author appearance, but I will be in the bookstore’s coffee shop to meet with people and chat.

Finally, at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 10, I will be speaking and signing books at the LaGrange Memorial Library as part of its “Author Talk” series. This is especially meaningful because it is the first author event I have done in my hometown of LaGrange. I am really looking forward to catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a few years.

So that’s the plan for my trip to Georgia next month. If you happen to be around those parts on that particular weekend, or know someone who is, I would appreciate some company at any of my scheduled appearances. Can’t wait to get down there!

10 Sure-Fire Ways to Get Your Week off to an Awesome Start

30 Sep

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Here are the 10 things I do every Monday morning to ensure that I have the most successful, productive work week possible. Some Mondays, I do not get through all of these steps, but this has proven to be a very effective day-starting process for me:

  • Wake up. Almost nothing can be accomplished if you are asleep.
  • Turn off the clock alarm. I have mine set to a country music station, and it is just really annoying if I let it keep playing.
  • Shower. Good hygiene is an important aspect of success!
  • Dress. Nakedness is an advantage in only a few select professions and scenarios.
  • Eat something. Feel free to mix this one up. Some days, you might crave breakfast cereal. On other days, you might prefer a bran muffin. Experiment!
  • Turn off your curling iron, or any other device you use to get ready that could potentially burn down your home.
  • Remember your keys. This is an important aspect of starting your car. If you use public transportation, you may still need your keys to get back inside your home.
  • Bring blankets. If you live in a frigid part of the country and there is a possibility of driving through a snowstorm, you should have blankets in your car in case you get stuck.
  • Use your mirrors. Rear- and side-view mirrors are invaluable tools that help you monitor traffic around you while driving to your workplace. These mirrors can also help you spot facial hair or smeared makeup that could cause embarrassment among your colleagues.
  • Bring treats. This is the most critical aspect to your Monday morning routine. Studies show that 87% of workers who received a promotion in 2013 regularly brought food into the office for coworkers to consume. These can be donuts, bagels or even, on rare occasions, scones. Be sure to send an email out with the subject line, “Treats.” It is vital that you copy your supervisor on this email.
  • Stephen Roth is author of the award-winning novel, A Plot for Pridemore. Learn more about Stephen and his book here.

    Conversation with an Eight-Year-Old

    23 Sep

    I recently read an interesting article by self-help hipster Mark Manson that was titled, “7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose.”

    One of those strange questions stuck with me long after I finished the article. It was Question #2: “What is true about you today that would make your 8-year-old self cry?”

    The point of that question seems to be that, if what you are doing today does not capture the passion, purpose and idealism that you once had as a child, then perhaps you do not lead the fulfilling life you deserve. It got me to thinking about my own childhood self, and what he would think about my current activities. What would it be like if I were able to time-travel back to the year 1979 to visit with eight-year-old Stephen Roth? What kind of wisdom would I share with him, and what wisdom would he share with me?

    Here’s how I think our conversation would go:

    43-year-old Stephen: So how are things going?

    8-year-old Stephen: Pretty good. Mom took me to the mall last night and we ate pizza and she bought me a Star Wars action figure. I got a Jawa.

    43-year-old Stephen: That sounds like fun. How is school?

    Eight-year-old Stephen and his mom.

    Eight-year-old Stephen and his mom.

    8-year-old Stephen: How do you think it is? I hate it. I finally learned how to read, so that’s good. But math and cursive are killing me. It gets better, though, right?

    43-year-old Stephen: What? School?

    8-year-old Stephen: Yeah. It gets easier, doesn’t it?

    43-year-old Stephen: Eventually. Let’s just say that you are probably going to have some setbacks in your sophomore year of high school. I’ll just leave it at that.

    8-year-old Stephen: (Scowling) That’s really not what I wanted to hear. So how about you? What are you up to?

    43-year-old Stephen: Let’s see. Well, for starters, I have a wonderful wife and a four-year-old son. We have an English Shepherd named Keiko.

    8-year-old Stephen: Is your wife pretty?

    43-year-old Stephen: Of course she’s pretty. She’s a beautiful woman.

    8-year-old Stephen: What color is her hair?

    43-year-old Stephen: It’s dark brown. She’s a brunette.

    8-year-old Stephen: I like blondes. Farrah Fawcett is a blonde. She’s very sexy.

    43-year-old Stephen: Well, I think you’ll find that a woman doesn’t have to be blonde to be sexy. You’ve probably been watching too much TV.

    8-year-old Stephen:Hey, as long as your wife is pretty, that’s okay with me. So what do you do? Do you have a job?

    43-year-old Stephen: I do have a job. I’m a copywriter and content manager for a company that provides financial services for the trucking and transportation industry.

    8-year-old Stephen: Hmmm. What’s a…what did you call it? A contest manager?

    43-year-old Stephen, trying to look artsy.

    43-year-old Stephen, trying to look artsy.

    43-year-old Stephen: A content manager. It means that I create and manage all the writing and information that appears on our sales materials, websites, that sort of thing.

    8-year-old Stephen: What are websites?

    43-year-old Stephen: Um, there’s this thing called the Internet…You know what? Never mind all that. I’m basically a writer. I also wrote a novel that just got published.

    8-year-old Stephen: That’s cool, I guess. But I was kind of hoping you would be doing something different at your age.

    43-year-old Stephen: Like what?

    8-year-old Stephen: Well, I hoped that maybe you would be kind of an outlaw. I mean, not a bad guy, really. More of a Robin Hood kind of person.

    43-year-old Stephen: I see. You mean the kind of person who steals from the rich and gives to the poor?

    8-year-old Stephen: Sorta. You ever seen a show called The Dukes of Hazzard? My friend Curt and me watch it every Friday night. Then, the next day, we get on our bikes and jump over a gravel pile and pretend like we’re driving the General Lee. The General Lee is a really cool car. It’s a 1970 Dodge Charger. Curt’s a little better at jumping his bike than me. He takes more risks.

    43-year-old Stephen: (Smiling) Yes, I remember that.

    8-year-old Stephen: So I guess I was kind of hoping you would turn out to be a Duke boy. Or at the very least, a sheriff’s deputy.

    43-year-old Stephen: I see.

    8-year-old Stephen: Basically, someone who drives a cool car really fast.

    43-year-old Stephen: Got it.

    8-year-old Stephen: You could also be a truck driver. You ever seen Smokey and the Bandit?

    43-year-old Stephen: Of course I have. I’ve got it on DVD.

    8-year-old Stephen: What’s DVD?

    43-year-old Stephen: Oh, it’s…nothing. Look, I’m sorry you’re disappointed. I guess you’ll find out when you get older that your priorities change, that you have different interests and discover new talents. Sometimes we follow a very different path than the one we imagined.

    8-year-old Stephen: (Staring off into the distance) Sure. Okay. So tell me, what’s high school like?

    43-year-old Stephen: High school is a very interesting time. What do you think it’s like?

    8-year-old Stephen: Well, in high school, I think it’s very important to be cool. There’s a lot of cool music and a lot of cool dancing. There’s also a lot of kissing. Like in Grease. You have to wear a cool leather jacket and slick your hair back like John Travolta. Also, the girls aren’t cool unless they wear tight leather pants. And they need to be blonde.

    43-year-old Stephen: Okay. Well, high school is a lot more complex than that.

    8-year-old Stephen: Really?

    43-year-old Stephen: (Thinking for a moment) Well, maybe not that much more complex.

    8-year-old Stephen: (Yawning) Are we done talking? Diff’rent Strokes is on in 10 minutes and I’ve gotta finish this stupid grammar worksheet.

    43-year-old Stephen: I think we’re done here. Good luck with the next 35 years.

    8-year-old Stephen: (Starting to cry) Thanks. It sounds like I’m going to need it.

    Stephen Roth is author of the award-winning novel, A Plot for Pridemore. Learn more about Stephen and his book here.

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