18 January 2020

Writing for Fun

As mentioned in two of my earlier posts at this blog, I'm not one to stray far from my comfort zone in my writing, and I also don't care much for New Year's resolutions, but--at the urging of my publisher, Joe Lee--I'm going to try at least one new thing in 2020.

A quick background note: In the spring of 2006, it was Joe's idea (he owns and operates Dogwood Press here in Mississippi) to put thirty of my previously published short mysteries together in a hardcover collection called Rainbow's End and Other Stories. Thankfully, that book sold well enough for a second printing, and since then Joe's small, traditional press has published six more books of my stories--as well as the work of eight other writers. Another idea Joe had, back in 2015, was to veer away from my usual story-collections and produce a softcover book of fifty of my lighthearted tales with the mysteries in the front of the book and the solutions in the back. That project, called Fifty Mysteries (let's hear it for appropriate titles), was great fun to put together, and has sold well also. I think its success was due to (1) its "puzzle" format, (2) its humor, and (3) the fact that all of its stories feature two familiar characters from my longest-running series--all of which were reasons I thought it might not work. The point is, when Joe has a brainstorm, I listen.

So, what was this latest idea? To publish a book of my poetry.

A what?!

You heard right. Over the past 25 years I've sold poems to more than 100 different markets, including Writer's Digest, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Farm & Ranch Living, Mystery Time, Wordplay, Futures, Satire, Grit, The Lyric, Writers' Journal, Mobius, Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Capper's, The Mystery Review, and so on. But be aware . . . this is not the deep, profound, life-changing poetry you might find in prestigious literary journals. I'm not a contemporary poet and I noet. This is easygoing, humorous, Ogden Nash-style verse whose sole purpose is to put a smile on your face, and maybe even make you Laugh Out Loud and slap ya mama. The kind of thing that a lot of readers--and editors too, thank God--seem to like. (If you're at all interested, here's a SleuthSayers column I did about Nash and light verse, several years ago,)

The title of this unusual (ad)venture is called Lighten Up a Little, which is also the title of one of the included poems and might, I think, be good advice for all of us. The book will contain 300 lighthearted poems I've published in the aforementioned markets. Some are long (up to four pages) and many are short (as few as four lines), and all are an exercise in rhythm and rhyme and wordplay, because I love that sort of thing. As for subject matter, some of the poems are crime-based, but others cover everything from kids to sports to medicine to politics to movies to animals to technology to writing. The book is scheduled for April 2020.

Note: When the decision to publish was made and Joe and his wizards had started working on the layout, I sat down and drew a little cartoon I thought might work for the cover. I then scanned it and emailed it to my friend Chuck Galey, who's a professional illustrator, and asked him if he knew of any online coloring programs I might use to insert color into my dull-looking black-and-white drawing. Chuck responded by coloring it himself and sending it back to me. Boy, does it help to know the right people . . .

Here's an excerpt from my introduction:

"The following poems, grouped in a dozen categories of 25 each--and most of which are capsule-sized--may be ingested separately or in gulps of several at a time. They were designed to provide temporary relief from everyday stress and fatigue, but seem to also be effective in treating insomnia.

"To those who seek enlightenment, inspiration, and/or insights into the Meaning of Life . . . well, you might want to look elsewhere."

Which is true. No psychology or angst or navel-gazing here. Since I like movie comparisons, this is more of a Blazing Saddles than a 2001. And in case you're wondering what in the world I'm even talking about, here are a few really short examples of the contents:


The wife of Mean Willie LaBrock
Disappeared off the end of their dock;
Willie claimed that a gator
Just swam up and ate her
But that sounds to me like a croc.


"You're Al Capone?"
He said: "That's right."
"You're dead, I thought."
He said, "Not quite."
"Then you must be--"
"I'm 103."
"So you're retired?"
"That's not for me."
"But how do you--"
"Get by?" he said.
He pulled a gun.
"Hands on your head."


Thought not legally blind, Nate was badly crosseyed
When he married Big Lucy, a mail-order bride;
"Get some glasses," friends urged, but he figured, well, hell,
It might not be too smart to see Lucy too well.


When Purpa's flights were smuggling grapes
Its king escaped in vain;
The Purpals found His Majesty
Aboard a fruited plane.


If the country of Yemen
Were governed by Britain,
Their gas would be petrol,
Their dresses tight-fittin'.
And sports fans could watch,
For the price of a ticket,
Arabian knights
Playing Yemeni cricket.


"Since I'm quite debonair, I don't travel by air,"
Leonard bragged, from the helm of his yacht;
A storm came the next day and blew Leonard away--
I don't know if they've found him or not.


When they're edited, writers have said
Semicolons are something they dread;
What if someone had stolen
One half of your colon
And plugged in a comma instead?

So there's a preview. If you're tired already, be forewarned: there are 293 more of these in the book. Some are silly, some are (I hope) witty, and some are just observations about people and places and situations in our workaday world. I doubt Maya Angelou or Robert Frost would've felt threatened by this masterpiece--but I can also tell you I had a great time writing it.

I'm hoping those who read it (release date April 23!), will feel the same.


  1. Such fun! Congratulations on this--and happy new year!

  2. You are a brave man, Gunga Din, far braver than me. Poetry? Good job, John. What next? A southern mystery written in Old English. You could probably pull that off. Si, signore.

  3. Best of luck with your new venture. I think funny crime poems have a future!

  4. Hey Art! Happy New Year to you too.

    There's a fine line between brave and foolish, O'Neil. Again, I doubt Carl Sandburg would be worried. As for "real" poetry, I not only can't write it, I often don't even understand it.

    Thanks, Janice! There are 25 mystery (crime-related) poems in this bunch, and they are fun. I've sold two of them to EQMM over the years and a bunch to other mystery magazines, believe it or not. I think there's some humor to be found in just about everything . . .

  5. Congrats on the new book, John! And happy Saturday.

  6. John, love the humor. Since my Preagen still hasn't kicked in yet, remind me again in April that the poetry book is out. It has a touch of Shel Silverstein in it (At the End of the Sidewalk).

  7. Oh, what fun! Looking forward to more.

  8. Thanks, Barb. You too!

    Will do, RT. Love Silverstein, and always have. I once heard humor is hard to write but fun to read--you and I both know that's true.

    Thank you, Eve!

  9. Yemeni cricket — ha!

    Your poems made me laugh, John Floyd.
    I am not jealous, just annoyed.

  10. John,

    Congrats on your latest venture. We all need humor in our lives. Writing and reading poetry are fine activities. I love reading and writing poetry myself.

  11. Hey Josh -- Yours turned out better than mine!

    Jacqueline, thanks for the well wishes. Writing this stuff is indeed fun. (I'm hoping your poems have more literary value than the ones I write!)

  12. Congrats on your book, John! You are a true Renaissance guy.

  13. "Yemeni cricket?" OMG! Love it! I'll grab a copy! (May I say it's about darn time you put out the poetry!) Oh, and Ogden Nash ROCKS!!!

  14. John, your prodigious output never fails to amaze me. You are truly poetry in motion :)

  15. Hey Larry! Ha! Don't know about the Renaissance Guy thing, but I sure know I'm not Sophisticated Guy. Thanks for the congrats--I think this crazy project will be a lot of fun.

    Jeff, Ogden Nash DOES rock--what a brilliant guy he was. Thanks for the comment--Hope you're doing well, old friend.

    Craig, thanks for the kind words. Staying busy, at least. Keep up the good work!

  16. John, I read "The Book Doctor" aloud to my husband and an old friend who taught high school English for 30 years, and it wasn't a mere LOL—we cracked up. It will go on my very short list of five-star clean limericks.

  17. Ha! Thanks, Liz, for the kind words, and for reading that poem to your husband and friend. And yep, clean limericks WOULD have a pretty short list.

    Keep writing!


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