Author Archives: Joe Dworetzky

Naming The Boat

By: Jay Duret

 I have often used these pages to discuss writers’ craft; today I turn to watercraft.

I live in San Francisco, within smelling distance of the Bay. The international orange of Golden Gate Bridge is visible as I cruise through my day. Here a boat is a rich promise of brilliant sun split evenings on the Bay, Alcatraz to the rear, Angel Island starboard. Here the urge to own a boat is a riptide, an undertow, and to that current I have succumbed. But with a new boat comes the challenge of a name.

Naming a boat is serious business. All boats need to have their name and home port painted on their hull. The key concept: a boat name is actually painted onto the the boat. Not a sign or quarter board that can be removed on a whim. No, the boat name will be with you for as long as you own the boat. A bad boat name is a hair shirt; a good boat name, the nautical version of good feng shui. One must choose a name with care.

The study of names is called Onomastics and it is an ancient and difficult discipline. Fortunately, all writers are onomasticians. Few professions are so frequently called upon to choose names for the people and things around them. Most parents only select a handful of names in a lifetime; even those with 5 or 6 or 10 kids hardly have a chance to become skilled in the art before their breeding days have passed. But an author, a novelist, may name 50 characters in a single book. Onomastics is in an author’s sweet spot.

As an onomastician, it properly fell to me to consider possible names for the boat. I began by surveying the work of those who had preceded me. I found there are awful boat names. In fact, there are so many bad ones they can be put in categories: There are the sophomoric ones:

“Breakin wind”

“Blow Me”

“Poopy Express”

“Master Baiter”

“My Assiss Dragon”

“Wet Dream”

“Norwegian Woody”

These are actual names of boats.[1] While frightening to realize, nevertheless it is true that there are boat owners who not only thought Breaking Wind was a good name, but thought it was such a good name that it did not matter it had been already used a dozen times before.

There are boat names that exalt intimate relationships:


She Got the House

There are names that fall into the vast category of nautical puns:

Buoys in the Hood


Sea ya




Tip Sea




Tax Seavation

There should be a subcategory of names that are So Bad They Are Actually Good:

Cirrhosis of the River

Hoosier Daddy

Never Again 2

Slipless in Seattle


After studying the names already floated I was able to draw some broad ground rules for naming a boat.

Rule # 1:

The key to a good boat name is to steer far away from cute names and puns. You’ll have a boat for a long time and, no matter how clever, the joke will get old and stale. Rather you want a name that may not be a knee-slapper but has a significance that will ripen and take on added meaning as it comes to stand for all the experiences you have with your boat. You also want a name that has some dignity. In this sense naming a boat should be like naming a dog. When your dog has gone missing, you will have to stand on the street in front of your neighbors and yell his name out loud five times in a row. You don’t want to be yelling “Daddy’s Little Vixen, please come home Daddy’s Little Vixen”.

Moreover, boats have feelings and you don’t want to insult your boat with a name that suggests the boat is an object of comedy. Boats have long memories. Respect, deference, love. Those are the ideas that best describe the relationship of a person to their boat.

Rule #2

Three-word boat names are always a mistake (“Hot Ruddered Bum“, “A Crewed Interest“. “Blue Vein Throbber” to name but a few examples).

Two-word names are not invariably bad, but two-word names can draw you into trouble. Two-word names make you want to pair an adjective with a noun and that may lead you into a search for superlatives (“Hot Stuff“) or bad puns (“Nauti Lust”). For that reason I think it is much better to find a simple single word – a word with dignity that will grow richer and more profound as you use the name in conversation.

Rule #3

Were that all there is to it, naming a boat would be easy. But as the owner, you want the word to have significance. You’ll have to explain why you chose that name a hundred times. So you want something that is meaningful but not schmaltzy. Original, but not cute. You are the person who selected the name. You have to own it, of course. But the name owns you too. You’ll always be the person who thought that the name you chose for your boat was a good name. Do you want to be the person who selected Irritable Bow or Dixie Normous?

Rule #4

Not absolutely essential, but desirable, is that the name be freighted with reference to the sea. It is a boat, not a truck.

Rule #5

You must research how your proposed name is understood and viewed by others. In this respect the Internet provides us with tools that make gathering this type of information a breeze. There is a website called “Behind the Name” that collects, measures and rates the connotations of a name. Here, for example, are the connotations of the name “Piers”:

Ratings and impressions for Piers

Good Name 69% 31%  Bad Name
Masculine 94% 6%  Feminine
Classic 85% 15%  Modern
Mature 72% 28%  Youthful
Formal 78% 22%  Informal
Upperclass 83% 17%  Common
Urban 50% 50%  Natural
Wholesome 67% 33%  Devious
Strong 76% 24%  Delicate
Refined 74% 26%  Rough
Strange 59% 41%  Boring
Simple 45% 55%  Complex
Serious 74% 26%  Comedic
Nerdy 65% 35%  Unintellectual


With a tool like this in the hands of a skilled onomatician, one may come to understand how the selected name will fare in the marketplace of names. Will your boat be seen as weak-chinned and limp? Or will its rugged seaworthiness scowl at the sad-eyed dirt dwellers left, forlornly, in the distance as you stream past?

The Proposed Names

Against this background I offer three names for your consideration.

Name # 1

I decided to begin with literature. There have been so many great books and poems that involve the sea. Think of the couplet from e. e. cummings:

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.

Or the verse from Ezra Pound:

I looked and saw a sea
roofed over with rainbows

One favorite is this passage from The Tempest:

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:


Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

How could one go wrong with a boat named by Shakespeare himself? And what glory awaits a boat that bears a name drawn from this beautiful passage?

Boat Mock Ups 2


Name # 2

My favorite work in literature is The Four Quartets and whenever I reach for a new name I usually start there. Eliot’s poetry was always involved with the sea and in no place was it so richly involved as in The Dry Salvages from whence these lines appear:

The sea howl
And the sea yelp, are different voices
Often together heard: the whine in the rigging,
The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water,
The distant rote in the granite teeth,
And the wailing warning from the approaching headland
Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner
Rounded homewards, and the seagull:
And under the oppression of the silent fog
The tolling bell
Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried
Ground swell, a time
Older than the time of chronometers…

A name drawn from The Dry Salvages could only be understood to be a profound name, a deeply meaningful name. And in this case there could also be a special San Francisco twist added because the name would evoke the spirit of the master poem by Alan Ginsberg, first read in public at Six Gallery located at 3119 Fillmore Street in the San Francisco neighborhood known as The Marina, the very same neighborhood in which our boat shall be moored.

Boat Mock Ups 7


Name #3:

Literature is not the only possible source from which an onomastician may draw inspiration. I considered songs that would have significance. The obvious one, of course:

Sittin’ in the morning sun

I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes

Watching the ships roll in

Then I watch them roll away again, yeah


I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay

Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh

I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay

Wastin’ time

I liked this approach but in the end I thought “Dock of the Bay” was a bit clichéd and worse there is surely a cardiologist in the area who has a boat named “Doc of the Bay”

That led me to look for other songs of the sea. Of course there is a website that makes research like this a matter of ease.[3] Some classics:

Cry Me a River

Muddy Water

Down By the River

Sea of Love

Sea of Joy

But nothing in that crew had the right combination of sounds and smells.

I gravitated back to single word titles. I was taken with the word Gravity. I love the song. It has a stately pace and dignity that I can’t get enough of. And I love the lyrics:

Gravity is working against me
And gravity wants to bring me down

Oh I’ll never know what makes this man
With all the love that his heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away

Oh, gravity is working against me
And gravity wants to bring me down

The problem with Gravity as a boat name is that it doesn’t have a connection to the sea. I tried expanding it to Gravitas, which I like, but that name stuck me as a bit smug and perhaps even ridiculous for a boat owned by a grown man who writes stories and draws cartoons.

I looked for other words with the density and dignity of Gravity but more of a connection to water. I floundered a bit but then I remembered the Van Morrison song and things fell into place:

This is a song about your wavelength

And my wavelength, baby
You turn me on
When you get me on your wavelength

When I’m down you always comfort me
When I’m lonely you see about me
You are ev’ry where you’re ‘sposed to be
And I can get your station
When I need rejuvenation


I heard the voice of America
Callin’ on my wavelength
Tellin’ me to tune in on my radio
I heard the voice of America
Callin’ on my wavelength
Singin’ “Come back, baby
Come back
Come back,…

A lot to like about this name. Rich with dignity. Invoking but not rubbing your face in the sea and its mystery. Not a shred of cuteness. A word that connotes connection. And that crazy verse at the end about America calling – what a sweet bonus!

According to Wikipedia:

“Wavelength” was recorded in spring 1978 at the Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California. …

In his biography, Brian Hinton states that it is, “a love song about the mysterious and unspoken communication between a couple” and also refers to the singer’s adolescent years when he would listen to the Voice of America and the sounds of his favorite artists such as Ray Charles singing “Come back baby, come back”. In the song Morrison refers to his first solo hit single “Brown Eyed Girl“, using the lyrics “Won’t you play that song again for me, about my lover, my lover in the grass”.[4]

What a rich and nuanced backstory.

Boat Mock Ups 5


I close with a request for input. Please let me know which of these three names you like best. For while art and skill are important, a good onomastician always has a focus group.

–  Jay Duret

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His first novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press. Jay can be reached at

[1] Thanks to: and

[2] This apparently stands for **** You Jane, I’m Moving Out…




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Fifteen Months of Imagined Conversations

By Jay Duret

I have regularly used this space to report on the status of my Imagined Conversations project. While I started the project with the most modest of goals, I find that it has taken me in a surprising direction. Let me explain.

For those not familiar with Imagined Conversations, a year and three months ago I began to post – on a daily basis – a single-panel cartoon on my website. The cartoons were the drawings of a face and a line of text snipped from an imaginary dialogue, monologue or soliloquy. An early example:


Initially I worked with ink and watercolor. Later I experimented with other media and I began to use Photoshop to clean up the imperfections (of which there were many). Though my work had some of the earmarks of conventional cartooning, I didn’t use that term to describe the drawings and I did not follow the conventions of cartooning. Rather I saw these pieces as little stories, complementary to the story-writing that absorbs most of my day.

I liked my work. There was a funky, home-grown feel about the best of the Imagined Conversations drawings that seemed – at least to me – to be distinctive and appealing. But I found that my biggest challenge was to create context. The snipped lines of speech made sense to me, but that of course is not the test. The real question is whether a reader approaching the drawing – most likely a reader not in the mood for sleuthing – would understand the context. Too often I found that what was clear to me was confusing to others. To remind myself of this failing I awarded myself a prize:

Most Confusing Plaque

As I thought about how to address the issue I focused on the tools I had available to me: the text, the drawing and the caption. Taken together, the three should tell the story I wanted to tell. I analyzed single panel cartoons drawn by famous cartoonists. Most of them only had two parts – the drawing and the caption. The drawing created the context and the caption told the story. But that model did not work  well for my material. My premise was that the drawing would always be of a person’s face and the text would be words spoken by, about, or to that person. In that construct there was frequently a need for more context than the drawing could provide. While the caption was the logical place to provide that additional context, I realized that my captions were titles, something to keep the piece identifiable on the website, not the speaking caption that you would find in a New Yorker cartoon. I needed to try something different.

After working the on different approaches over several months, I had a breakthrough: I discovered comics. Not that I was going to create comic books, but comics – particularly comic books – have created a set of tools that can be used to create context in far more nuanced and sophisticated ways than I had developed.

The most obvious are the bubbles: First, the Talk Bubble. The Talk Bubble tells the reader who is speaking and what they are saying:


Next are Thought Bubbles. This tool easily tells the reader what a given person is thinking:

Another Year

The way you arrange bubbles on a page show sequence. You know what comes before and after; that is, how one thought or statement relates in time to what another person might be saying or thinking.

When Stars Go Blue

While the different Bubbles add  depth to what can happen in the small space of a single panel, there is much more. Comics frequently use a Narrative Box. This is what I was looking for – a way the narrator can explicitly set the stage. Look at what I was able to do in the following cartoon:

Thought Balloons 2

As I worked I found that there are dozens of other tools in comics. There are shorthand ways to show that a person is talking on a phone, that the speaker if intoxicated, that there is a menace just outside of the field of vision. As I began to appropriate these tools for my work, I found the range and nuance of what I was able to say was greatly enhanced.

While I loved the greater range, I started to feel that my Photoshop-drawn bubbles were too polished for the look and feel of my drawings. In borrowing liberally from comics, I had lost some of  the funky home grown look I had liked at the beginning. More experimenting.

I wanted to keep the flexibility that the thought and speech bubbles gave me but I wanted a more organic feel.  I tried drawing the bubbles by hand .

Cartoon Shop Talk

That looked better and was more consistent with the original concept, but still it was not just right. I came up with the idea that instead of creating white bubbles with black lettering, I would reverse it.


I liked that look a lot, particularly when I added a black frame and a space on the bottom where I could put the title.

I found that with the new look and tools I was able to range much further. Now I felt I could take on political issues. And with such characters as Trump and Christie and Cruz I had so much material:


Once I started drawing political cartoons I found I could not get through my day without a regular fix of Politico and Real Clear Politics and 538.  And so 15 months after beginning the Imagined Conversations project, I find myself booking tickets to Cleveland in July to draw cartoons about the comedy and drama of the Republican Convention. Not where I expected Imagined Conversations would take me, but I can’t wait to go.


Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His first novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press. Follow Imagined Conversations on Instagram @joefaces or on Jay’s website.



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Portents2By Jay Duret

The young woman was seated on a ragged couch holding a sheaf of papers. “The afternoon was portentous,” she read.

“Huh?” he said, “Portentous? How can an afternoon be portentous? Is that what you really want to say?” The man was in an armchair catty corner to the couch. End tables on either side were piled high with books and magazines and stapled manuscripts.

‘Yes. The afternoon felt portentous.”

“An afternoon can’t feel portentous. Do you even know what portentous means?”

“Don’t be so supercilious; I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t know what it meant. It was portentous out there that afternoon.”

“Sorry. How can it be portentous out there? It isn’t like weather. We don’t hear the weatherman say ‘there is a 50% chance of portentousness…’”

“Weather people aren’t in tune with important things. Some days are full of portents; they are bursting with portents. And when that happens the day is portentous and, if you are even halfway attuned, you will realize that the day is portentous.”

“And I take it you are attuned.”


“Okay. I hadn’t realized I was talking to an expert on portents.” The man paused and settled back into the back of his armchair. “Tell me what makes a day feel portentous?”

“I am not sure why it feels that way, it just does.”

“Fine. Just describe how portentousness feels. Can you do that at least? That’s what writers do.”

“When it’s portentous the hair on the back of my arms stands up.”

“Lyles,” he said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, but you don’t have any hair on the back of your arms.”

“I do.” Lyles unbuttoned the sleeve of the flannel shirt she was wearing and pulled it up above her elbow. Awkwardly she lifted her elbow to show off the pale skin. “See?”

The man reached out and rubbed the patch of skin just above her elbow. “As I was saying. It’s as bare a baby’s butt. And just as smooth.” He leaned towards her but she pulled the arm away.

“They are there. And when they stand up I get a little tickle that runs right up from there, up my back, into my neck…”

“Sounds like sciatica.”

“Haha. You are the one who asked how it feels. I am just telling you. Do you want me to stop?”

“No No. Don’t stop. I am enthralled.”

“I doubt it. Anyway, when its portentous there is a weird sound thing that goes on. You are going to think it’s all mystical and that its bullshit but I am going to say it anyway.”

“Bring it on.”

“So you know when there is a big thunderstorm and there is a huge crack of thunder.”


“So it’s like what it sounds like just after the thunder finishes.”

“There is no sound when it is finished.”

Exactly! There is no sound…

“That’s how come we know it has finished.”

“…but the absence of sound has its own presence.”

“Okay?” He drew out the “kay” in “Okay” as if it was a separate word and such a questionable one that he wanted to make sure that the listener knew that he knew it was questionable.

“I knew you’d be that way. But trust me. When the thunder is over there is a space that follows which is a sounding kind of space but all the sound has been scooped out of it. There is just the vibration and the crackling of the energy left in the space after the boom. That’s how portentous sounds, but it isn’t just for an instant, it goes on and on and it gets louder and louder even though you can’t hear it.”

“You’re becoming a hippie, Lyles, you know you don’t have to be a hippie to be a writer.”

“And its not only the sound, there is something physical in the air…”

“Let me guess, its physical but you can’t feel it.”

“Oh no, you can definitely feel it. There is weight to it. Not a lot but the air definitely gets heavier and you can feel it press down on your eyes.”

“How does it do that?”

“I don’t know. The whole thing is mysterious.”

“I’ll say.”

“Don’t condescend on me. You asked.”

 “I did. And I am glad I did. I am learning something new. I can see the picture: We have got the no hairs standing up, the sound that doesn’t make any sound, and the weight that pushes down on your eyes. Anything else?”

She didn’t say anything. She gave him a level look, evaluating, judging. “You done with the mockery?”

“Mockery? You wound me, damsel. Mockery this is not.”

“Oh its mockery, all right. And I ‘m done. You may be a professor but you are also a dick.”

“No no. Carry on. I won’t say a word. I won’t move a muscle. I am dying to hear the end of this. I need to know how a portent feels.”

“Forget it.”

The man made a show of drawing his pinched thumb and forefinger across his lips, as if he were zippering his mouth. Then he used his right hand to mime handcuffing his left arm to the chair.

“And I am supposed to believe you’ll sit there and shut up and let me finish?”

He pointed at his lips with his forefinger and made the zipper gesture again. Then he bounced his left arm as if it were shackled to the chair.

She did not look convinced but she started back up. “The other thing that always happens – and maybe this is the biggest thing – is I get a little catch in my thinking. Kind of a stumble in the middle of whatever thought I am working on. Not enough to make me go really off track but definitely enough to notice.”

She paused to see if he was following along. He was attentive though he didn’t say anything.

“Wow. I like this. I am amazed. I never thought you could keep your mouth shut so long. Maybe you could learn something. ”

The man smiled and shook his arm again: a captive audience.

She looked at the man for a minute, “yes, maybe you can.” Then she said, slowly, seductively. “And sometimes when it is really strong I get a very sensual feeling.”

The man startled. His mouth opened and it seemed for an instant as if he was going to say something, but then he did the zipper gesture again.

‘It can be really powerful. The more portentous it is, the more powerful the feeling. Sometimes its so strong that I start to squirm.” She squirmed for a minute on the couch where she was sitting and then she ran her hands up and down her arms. She didn’t look directly at him while she was squirming but when she stopped she gave him a long direct look and then she began slowly to unbutton the buttons on her flannel shirt. She took her time, one button at a time, and she let the shirt gap open more and more as the buttons were unbuttoned.

The man did not move but his eyes widened and he had shed his look of casual interest to bore in on what was happening on the couch.

“Yeah, sometimes, when it is feeling really portentous, I start to feel like I can’t do anything about it. I am in the will of something bigger, something so powerful, that all I can do is relax and go with it, there is no way to resist.” She finished unbuttoning the shirt. She wasn’t wearing anything underneath and there was a long straight patch of skin visible from her neck to her waist between the halves of the shirt. She rose up slightly on the couch. In one move she unbuttoned the top of her jeans and pulled them far enough down so that when she sat back they weren’t caught beneath her.

The man was following every move. His mouth, though still zippered, had fallen slightly open.

She raised first one leg and then the other and pushed the fabric of her jeans down all the way down her ankles. She was wearing a striped pair of red and white socks that came nearly to her knees.

For a long moment she sat there. Not moving. Not saying a word. Looking straight into the man’s face.

His mouth opened wider and he stirred forward in his chair. But as he did she held up her hand. Palm forward. Stop. “No moving. I am not done.”

She stood up from the couch and as she did she kicked the jeans across the room. She arched up on her toes and spun a pirouette for him. Then she walked across the room and through the door to the bedroom. His eyes followed her every step of the way but he remained in the chair.

“So,” she called from the other room, “can you feel it?”

He said, “Am I allowed to talk?”

“Yes. But don’t move. Can you feel it?”

“Feel what?”

“The portents”

“Yes. Yes I can. It definitely feels portentous in here.”

“So you are agreeing with me.”

“Oh yes. I am in complete agreement.”

“You are thinking to yourself that it’s a portentous afternoon, aren’t you?”

“Yes I am.”

“You are thinking that the portents are good, aren’t you?”

“These are my kind of portents.”

“But not all portents are good.”

“What do you mean? Can I come in?”

“Hold your horses. There are good portents and bad portents.” There was a rustling of clothing from behind the door.


“You are feeling good portents?”

“The best.”

The man stood up from the chair and made a step toward the bedroom. But as he did, she emerged. She was wearing a tailored suit and a silk blouse. She had a long coat and a purple scarf around her neck.

“Got to run,” she said, heading for the front door of the apartment. “I will give you a ring later.”

“Damn. Are you kidding?”

“Nope. Time to get to work.”

“You’re kidding. What a waste.”

“Its not a waste.”

“It’s a total waste.”

“It is not; now you know how a portent feels.” She closed the door behind her with a click.



Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. He blogs at His comic novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press.


Filed under writing

Three Blind Mice

By Jay Duret

Three Blind Mice

“Charles, you’re late,” Krug said. “We were supposed to get going 20 minutes ago.” Krug was standing impatiently in the driveway in front of his large home. He was wearing a dark blue fleece vest with a Goldman Sachs logo on his breast.

Charles got out of the driver’s seat of the new Audi wagon and came forward with his hand outstretched in front of him like he was carrying a rolled up map. His smile was big and lop-sided, very close to goofy. He grabbed Krug’s hand and gave him a bro hug, whispering even before he left the clinch, “it was Joyce. Couldn’t get her moving. Ha Ha. You been there man, you know.” Charles smiled again as he separated, this time conspiratorially.

Joyce was now out of the Audi too. She was smiling and kissing, her blond ponytail hanging down the back of her puffy Patagonia jacket. She had a Starbucks in one hand and a dog leash with no dog attached curled in her other.

While she finished kissing Krug hello, Charles popped the hatch on the Audi and two Spingers bounded out and began rocketing around the driveway and yard.

“Damn,” Joyce said. She turned from Krug to Charles but he was deep in the back of the Audio, rummaging, rummaging, only his butt visible.

Joyce sighed and headed after the Springers, slightly twirling the leash she was carrying.

Charles backed out of the rear of the Audi and turned back to Krug, keeping his voice low. “Kruger. I need a little cover here. Make sure Joyce isn’t looking. Am I good?”

Krug said, “she’s trying to get your dogs on the leash. Probably take her a week.”

“Great.” Charles reached in the back of the Audi again and held up a gray steel box the size of a shoebox. “Gotta dispose of the evidence.” Another, even more lopsided, grin.

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s a trap. Have-A-Heart. For the mice.”

“What mice? Are there mice in there?”

“Uh-Huh.” “What are you doing with mice?”

“Shhhh. Don’t let Joyce hear you. She is scared of mice.”

“You’re kidding. Joyce is scared?”

“Don’t let her fool you. She can kick your ass but she is the original stand-on-a-chair type when it comes to mice.”

“So why are you driving them around?”

“That’s the point, Krug. That’s the exact point I am making…” Charles stopped the sentence there and completed it without using another word, just with his sheepish lopsided smile.

Krug didn’t seem to understand the point. “Charles.” Krug said. “Let’s start again. Why are there mice in a trap in my driveway?” Krug said.

“It’s Lorie’s fault.”

“Your nanny?”

“Yeah, we have been having a little mouse problem at the house. They are running around the kitchen in the morning when she is making tea and it freaks her out.”

“She doesn’t like to have breakfast with rodents? She must be a real downer.”

“Oh she is nice as shit but she is a Brit. She doesn’t like mice.”

“Neither does Joyce and she is no Brit.”

“Yeah the thing is Lorie sees them more than Joyce cause she gets up so early. They are everywhere in the morning – its like one of those Wild Kingdom videos down there when the sun first comes up. Anyway one morning she gets fed up and tells Joyce that she going back to Sheffield if we don’t get rid of the mice.”

“That sounds serious.” Krug nodded his head slowly.

“So Joyce calls the exterminator. Fortunately I get wind of it, and I cut that off at the nub.”

“Cause you like mice running around your kitchen?”

“Oh the mice don’t matter, I just don’t like exterminators, have you ever seen what they charge for walking around and shooting that shit into your baseboards? Its crazy. And a complete waste. I mean its just mice, Krug. They aren’t very hard to outwit. They are not exactly brain surgeons, you know what I mean?” Charles beamed a broad and happy smile, obviously delighted at the thought of the pitiful size of mice brains.

“So you bought a trap.”

“Hoollian’s Hardware. Fourteen dollars; two for $25. They are indestructible. I bait them with peanut butter.”

Joyce was across the yard and had managed to get one Springer on the leash, but the smaller one was continuing to elude her and his cavorting had encouraged the one she had captured to run in circles so the leash wrapped around her legs like a bolo.

“And so you caught them.” Krug said.

“I have been catching them no problem for weeks. I been getting one or two every night. I used up half a jar of peanut butter so far, Ha Ha.”

“What’d you do with them?”

“Got ‘em out of the house and let them loose down the street. You know over near the Hanford’s where they could run into the arboretum, but after a while I started to suspect that I was catching the same ones over and over again.”

“How did you figure that?”

“They still had peanut butter on their fur.”

“Not the only ones that aren’t brain surgeons. They were probably back in your kitchen before you were.”

“Yeah yeah, you sound like Joyce…”

“I doubt it.”

“…so I decided I should take them further from home.” Charles looked up at Krug’s quizzical expression, coughed slightly, and said, “you know, that way they won’t come back.”

“So you brought them here? What are you smoking?”

“You got the park behind your house.”

“You actually think you are going to let them loose in my backyard? You are frickin’ crazy. I don’t want mice any more than you do.”

“No no, Kruger. It’s not like that. They just know the way to my house. They won’t get in yours.”

“Forget it. Take them down to Valley Green if you want. Or better, just put them in your toilet and flush. Put them out of their misery.”

“You sound like Joyce. There is no reason to be vicious. They are just mice.” Charles lifted the trap to show off the mice and then his expression changed. “Shit!”


“They aren’t in there. Shit!”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know. They must have gotten loose.”

“In the Audi?”

“Oh Shit!”

Across the yard, Joyce had extracted herself from the leash and tied up the other dog.  Now she was coming across the yard toward the car, the two Springers surging ahead of her, pulling the leash taut.

Charles opened the passenger door of the Audi and, as he did, a small gray mouse literally leapt off of the front seat and landed on the driveway directly in front of the two men. There was a short but timeless pause as they took each other’s measure but then the dogs saw the mouse and they began baying and charging forward, nearly yanking Joyce off her feet. The mouse scampered directly into Krug’s open garage.

“Jesus!” Krug screamed. “Charles, get that thing out of there.”

The dogs raced after the mouse, pulling Joyce into the garage. Even from in there, she could be heard yelling, “CHARLES WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”

“Oh shit,” Charles said,  “Kruger you gotta help me out here.”

“What do you mean, help you out? I have got your goddamn mouse in my house now.”

“No it’s just in your garage. That isn’t the problem.”

“That isn’t a problem? To me,” Krug said, “that is a problem. It’s a big stinking problem. Why isn’t that a problem?”

“Okay, Okay. It might be a problem. But it isn’t the big problem.” Charles stopped and looked at Krug. He wasn’t smiling now. “There’s two more. They might still be in the car. Joyce is going to flip out. You gotta help me here. Just keep her away from the car until I can get rid of them.”

Krug shook his head. He grumbled. He muttered. He shook his head again and he kept shaking it all the way into the garage.

Charles opened the driver’s door and he went around from door to door throwing the contents of the Audi onto the driveway.

Inside the garage, scrambling sounds. Overturning flower pots, falling shovels. Dogs yapping. Krug cursing. Joyce cursing.

After a few minutes Krug came out alone.

“Where is Joyce?”

“She went out the back door. She saw Lyle in the back and she wanted to tell her what you did.”

“A diversion. Great work, Krug.”

“I don’t think she was very happy, Chaz-Boy. You are in deep shit.”

“Yeah, at least she didn’t realize there might still be two in the car.”

“Jesus, Charles.”

“I know. I have looked all over. They are probably gone but I can’t be sure. If you can keep her occupied I will make sure. She is just dropping me off on the way to the mall. Can’t have a mouse pop out while she is at the wheel. This Audi is practically new.”

At that moment Joyce and the dogs came out from behind the garage. She was yelling even before she reached them. “I have seen some stupid things before but I have never seen anything so stupid as this. What are you thinking, Charlie?” She had wrapped the dog leash around her fist multiple times so the dogs were right at her feet and as she walked to Charles they barked and scratched as if they were part of an entourage. “You brought a mouse to the Krug’s? I mean seriously? Are you a moron? WHO DOES THAT?”

“Honey, honey…”

“Don’t you Honey, Honey me. What were you thinking of?”

“I was just going to get rid…”

“In the Krug’s garage?” Joyce focused for the first time on Krug. He was by the Audi, as frozen as the mouse when it jumped off the front seat. “Krug,” She said, “I am so sorry. This is all inexcusable. The moron here will get that mouse out of your garage if it takes him all night, won’t you Charles?”

Krug mumbled that it was all right. He would just leave the doors open and the mouse would let himself out. No big deal.

But Joyce had now noticed that the contents of the Audi were spread out on the driveway. She didn’t say anything. She looked at Charles and gestured to the items with her chin. She raised her eyebrows. She waited.

Charles filled the pause, “Honey, I was just making sure that the mice were all gone.”

“MICE? Are you kidding? There was more than one?”

“Three, but no worries. They are gone. Long gone.”

“You had three mice in the car? While we were driving here?”

“Long gone, Honey, long gone…”

“Did it occur to…” Joyce bit off her response. She gave Charles a murderous stare. She took a deep breath. “Krug would you give us a minute?”

Krug didn’t need any further prompting. He walked swiftly into the garage and then into the house. He slipped into the kitchen and then surreptitiously positioned himself by the side of the kitchen window so he could see into the driveway. From that angle he couldn’t hear but he could see Charles shuffling sheepishly from foot to foot as Joyce bellowed.

There was a Kleenex box on the driveway. Joyce kicked it like it was a football and it sailed up on the hood of the Audi and lingered for an instant in equipoise before sliding off onto the driveway again. Then she pulled out her cell phone and yelled into it for a few seconds and then she turned back and yelled at Charles again. After a few minutes of yelling Charles started to put the stuff on the driveway back into the car.

Krug watched the scene from the window for a few more minutes then another car drove up and Joyce got in and drove away. Charles continued to restore the contents of the Audi.

After a few minutes, Krug went back out to the driveway. Charles was closing the dogs in the hatchback. He gave Krug a sheepish, lopsided, smile. “Don’t even know why she was so pissed. She really went off the deep end.”

Krug was conciliatory. “Yeah.”

“It’ll blow over. I am not worried about it. She’ll get over it by the time she gets back to the house.”

“She was pretty steamed.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll say. Just hope the other mice aren’t still in the car.”

“I thought you said they all ran off.”

“Here is hoping. I can’t really tell. I tried to check everywhere but it’s hard to see under the seats. I guess they did. I mean why wouldn’t they? What a pain.” Charles looked up. “It’s all Lorie’s fault. Those mice weren’t harming anything. And it isn’t like I didn’t step up to the plate and deal with them.” Charles shook his head at the injustice of it all. “Well, Krug, sorry about it. Guess I better go home and make sure that the mice are gone.

“Yeah. No worries. We’ll catch up next week.”

*          *          *

Krug was in his driveway when Charles pulled up. Charles was driving a Toyota with a Budget Rent a Car license plate in the front. The door swung open and Charles started to get out.

“Not so fast.” Krug shouted, “you got any mice in there?”

“Ha Ha. Very funny.”

Krug hummed, “three blind mice, see how they run…”

“Give a rest, Kruger. I am a little sick of hearing about that whole mice business.”

“What, are you still in the doghouse?”

“Yeah ‘fraid so.”

“You are kidding. That had to be three weeks ago.”

“I know.”

“You can’t be in the doghouse that long over a stupid mouse. I mean it was my garage.”


“Shit, three weeks is a long time.”

Charles gave his sheepish smile. “There were some aggravating circumstances.”


“All the mice didn’t actually escape from the car.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. I mean I was sure they did. I even got a flashlight and looked everywhere.”

“So how did you find out? Did a little bugger jump out while you were driving?”

“Naw. Worse.”

“How could it be worse than that?”

“Trust me.”

“Oh man, you gotta tell me.”

“You know what’s weird, at first I didn’t even think of the mouse. I thought it was my gym bag. I kept meaning to take it out of the car but I was really busy and I kept forgetting.  I could tell it was a little ripe, you know what I mean?”


“Yeah at first. It was just that sort of smell. But then after 3 or 4 days it got a lot worse. Driving downtown in the morning, I started wondering if maybe I had hit a squirrel or something, but I couldn’t see anything. Then I was coming home one afternoon and it was really hot so I turned on the air conditioning and it was horrible. I mean I had to stop the car and get out…

“What the hell?”

“Yeah, I guess one of those mice crawled into a little duct or hose or something…”

“And died in there?”

“That’s what I am thinking…”

“Oh my god. You have a dead rotting mouse carcass in your air-conditioning?”

“Yeah. I mean, it was wretched. Like make-you-gag kind of wretched.”

Krug looked over at the Toyota. “Let me guess, you had to take the Audi in for a mouse-exhumation?”

“Yeah. It was really bad. Wouldn’t air out. I mean nasty.”

“Can they get it out?”

“They are saying yes, but it’s going to cost a shitload and I don’t know that I believe them. I sure hope so. That car is almost new.”

“Charles, Charles, Charles.” Krug shook his head at the wonder of it all.

“Yeah.” Charles agreed.

“But there is one thing I don’t get.” Krug said. “How come you are still in the doghouse?  Joyce must have felt that you got just what you deserved, having to drive around in your Audi full of dead mouse stink. Perfect punishment. She’s probably laughing her ass off.”

“One problem.”


“It’s her Audi.”


Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. He blogs at His comic novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press.

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Imagined Conversations, One Year Later

By: Jay Duret

A year ago I initiated a project called Imagined Conversations. Every day I would post a drawing of a face along with a snatch of related text or dialogue. Sometimes my drawings were cartoons or caricatures; other times I did my best to capture a likeness. In every case I created the face before thinking and inking the words that, at least in my imagination, went with the face. My conceit was that every face is different and therefore if I drew a new face, it would have something different to say than all the other faces I had drawn before.

ProposalThe Proposal

In my mind an Imagined Conversation was not limited to what passes between two or more speakers, but could include soliloquies or what might be found in a net dipped into the mental meta stream of internal monologue. Sometimes an Imagined Conversation was a sliver of words overheard in the gym or on the street or at a Starbucks. Other times, the words were nothing other than the words that were bouncing around inside the pinball arcade that is my head.


I undertook the project as a sort of cross training from writing stories. I was tying to teach myself to draw and I knew the demands of a daily drawing would be a powerful incentive to learn. I liked the idea of a fixed daily regimen; a concrete and completable creative task that I would need to stick with regardless of the other claims on my time. Most of all, I wanted to explore this concept, though I wondered how far I could go before I ran out of ideas, of energy, of enjoyment. Could I do it for a year and if I did, at the end of the year would I be a runner at the end of the race, desperate to break the tape and collapse?

A year has now come and I can report that I posted a drawing every day, 366 in all, even though this was not a leap year. I snuck in an extra one on February 28th:

Leap Year IGLeap Year

Over the year I travelled to Iceland, to Belize, to Burning Man and still I never missed a day. I learned all about the tools available to time and schedule one’s posts, but by large measure I did not need to use them. With drawing materials, an iPhone to use as a scanner, a laptop, and an Internet connection, I could post a drawing every day no matter how distant I was from the studio/office where I work.

Some conclusions and observations about the series. First, I didn’t run out of ideas, either for the drawings or the text. In fact, I don’t feel as if I come close to finishing the exploration I started. On good days I think I have discovered a rich area between writing and drawing that is not quite the same as cartooning or illustrating. I hoped that my best pieces combined the sharp, quick insight found in six word stories (Hemingway’s classic: “Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.”) with the thousand words that a picture, well drawn, is worth. My worst pieces were as trite and unambitious as the tee shirt you might buy at a click clack souvenir shop on a beach town boardwalk in August (“I AM the man from Nantucket.”)

And while triteness was an enemy, the biggest risk was the problem of context. Because I rarely use props or locational references, sometimes the text is just the words that rattle inside my head, inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t been there. Like the bad writer who assumes the reader knows as much about a character as the writer does, I sometimes left words on the page, but did not tell a story. When that happened – and sadly it happened far too frequently – I would tell myself that the reader who worked would figure it out. But if there is one thing I have learned over the last year, it is that with this form of art, you do not get more than a millisecond to get your reader’s attention. My work is scrolled by, swiped past, clicked through in less than the time it takes you to read this sentence. If there isn’t something that instantaneously connects to the reader, the raging river of meta-consciousness will flow on.

And though that is undoubtedly true, midway through the year I began to create wordier pieces. I realized I was not limited to sloganeering and jingling. I could write whatever was on my mind. And so I didn’t pass over matters of religion and philosophy and politics:

Guns Guns copyGuns, Guns, Guns

 I could dispense my own brand of homespun wisdom, the kind you don’t get on a greeting card from Hallmark:


I could cover metaphysics:

Assembly LineAssembly Line

I could create puzzles. This one, for National Poetry Month, required some knowledge of T.S. Eliot:

Poetry MonthNational Poetry Month

And of course I could not skip over my lifelong painful attachment to The Philadelphia Eagles:

EaglesThe Eagles 

The DefenseThe Defense

In my writing, I often try to tell a story exclusively or almost exclusively through dialogue. During the year I realized that those stories, in their own way, were also Imagined Conversations and so on Sundays I began to post drawings that linked to short stories on my website. I wasn’t able to produce a short story quite every week but over the course of the year I linked more than twenty stories to Sunday drawings:


I don’t have a single favorite post, but I liked these a lot:

HatAll Hat

But the one that most syncs with the reflective mood I have at the end of this year:


Thanks to the many old and new friends who have encouraged the Imagined Conversations project this year. Wishing you and yours a brilliant year in 2016. And for those who might enjoy it, you can get a daily post in the New Year on Instagram @joefaces or on my website.

Jay Duret


Jay is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His first novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press. Jay blogs at


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Should Never

By Jay DuretWoolly Mammoth copy

“A new research report suggests that scientists may be able to recreate an extinct woolly mammoth from its long-frozen DNA.” – New York Times



Should never
I see that now.
Twisted by logic
Played by logicians, swept
By the force of cunning argument.
Should never.

Debate will do that.
The river of words
Slow, languorous even, at the edges
Where you first step in.
Gently seductive, gently urging,
Gently gently gently down the stream.
But further, towards the sluicing middle, the current
Irresistible. The logic, the argument, the hard claw of debate.
I was carried down the stream.
I am sorry.
Should never.

I blame Google.
It is one thing, after all, to search for words.
We do that.
We are human; we have no choice.
But pictures? Images?
This should be taboo.

Once I saw you I could not straighten my thinking.
I knew the arguments, heard the debates,
I have a mind that can hold opposing ideas in balance.
In equipoise.
But the swoop of your ivory. Its magnificent curl.
The rich dignity of your coverings.
As a people, we dream of a coat like your colossal swinging fur coat.
We hear in dreams the deep poundings of your stride
Turning tundra to grassland, step by booming step.

To see your image was to fail you.
Should never.
Should never have brought you,
Woolly Mammoth, Woolly Mammoth,
I should never have brought you back.


I was born in a glass tube in a clinic in LA
Cloned from a morsel of DNA, that DNA exhumed
From a nugget of amber,
Or a bubbling tar pit, or a fossil in the Dakotas.
My papa, not mammoth, not woolly,
A balding man in a white lab coat
With bad breath, like he stunk inside,
Like all humans.
Stunk inside.

I won’t speak human.
Human sounds won’t pass my mouth.
We took a vow, my brothers and sisters,
Even as we dwindled,
Even as the light that burned within us
We would never utter words that had been spoken
By humans or their kind.
Poisoned meat. Poisoned grasses.
The rapaciousness of hunters.
The voraciousness of human hunger.
You hunted us down. You ate us up.
All of us.

I know why it is you brought me back.
I know what it is you want.
The debate, the logic, the business with Google; all lies
I know why you brought me back:
You want me to balm you with forgiveness.
You want the gift of words.
But I won’t speak them.

To be extinct is to be beyond words.
Beyond any words, beyond all words,
Human words, mammoth words, it doesn’t matter.
I am beyond words.
I am dead to words.
I won’t speak human.
I took a vow.


Should Never originally appeared in the New Verse News

*          *          *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at His first novel, Nine Digits, was published by Indigo Sea Press.  Jay welcomes feedback at 


Filed under fiction, Humor, writing

The Last Taxpayer

By Jay Duret

The Last Taxpayer

The two men were in the locker room. The tall one was stripping down after a sweaty workout. The short bearded one sat on a stool, slowly and tiredly pulling off his work socks, getting ready for his session in the gym.

The tall one said, “Rodge, I never see you. How long you in for?”

“Came in yesterday, leaving tomorrow.”

“Three days. In and out. That’s a quick trip.”

“And that’s all I am gonna be doing. Gotta be careful.”


“It’s quick but I get a lot done. Tues to Thursday, that’s most of the week. And it only counts as three days.”

“How many can you have?”

“There is no bright line. That’s why I have to be careful.”

“I thought 183 was the bright line.”

“Yeah 183 and you are definitely screwed. But you can be screwed with a lot less. The only thing you can actually count on is that less than 45 days is okay.”


“But anything beyond 45 and, well, you just don’t know.”

“Seems harsh.”

“You really have to be careful.”

“I guess.”

Rodge said, “Trust me. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the line, wherever it gets drawn. We are talking beaucoup dollars.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

Beaucoup. If it weren’t so much, I wouldn’t worry. I love San Francisco.  Mostly. I’d be here all the time, but it is just impossible. Can’t take that kind of a risk.”

“Well at least you can get to the gym. You keep your membership?”

“Yeah, they let me. But I have been working so hard with the travel and everything I don’t feel that much like working out.”

“Dude, don’t say that. You used to be fanatic #1.”

“Gotta be realistic. I fly in and I’m going to a meeting straight from the airport and then they are all stacked up for 3 straight days. I hardly get any downtime, even at night. Dinner meetings every night and then back to the airport. It’s wearing me down, frankly.”

“Dude you gotta manage your life better. Gotta take care of yourself.”

“I know. I know. But when?”

“What about when you are home?”

“That’s just as bad cause I have all the follow-up when I get back and as soon as that’s done I have to start preparing for the next trip – I am coming at least twice a month.”

“That’s gonna get you way over 45 days, Dude. Three days a week, twice a month? That’s more than seventy days.”

“I know. I know. It’s stressing me out. Some days I get palpitations when I think about it. I have to figure out how to cut back.”

“You ever think about coming in disguise?”


“Yeah I was seeing this program about Robert Durst and he was worried people were following him so he rented an apartment dressed up as a woman. You should do that.”

“You are saying I should come to San Francisco in drag?”

“It is San Francisco. Nobody’d give a damn.”

“Claudia might.”

“What does she think about you being away so much?”

“She misses the city. She wants to come. She keeps saying that I have got her in a Bedouin prison.”

“Bedouin prison?”

“Cause we live in the desert I guess. I mean I wonder what she wants. We have sun 365 and she has golf with her friends whenever she feels like it.”

“You guys are crazy. You are city people. You should just throw in the towel and buy a house here and pay taxes out the wazoo like everyone else.”

You are crazy. You know how much that will cost me?”


“Ha Ha. I am not frickkin’ kidding.”

“But it’s for a good purpose. It goes to the schools. You used to be all over the schools. Didn’t you donate big bucks to the children’s scholarship deal?”

“Still do.”

“So pay some more taxes and do the same thing.”

“You are turning into a socialist. I am not giving to the bureaucracy so it can waste 90% of the money before it gets to the kids. I don’t want to give my money to the Teacher’s Union so they can continue to educate kids who can’t read at their grade level. I’ll give my money where it can make a difference.”

“Apparently you feel strongly.”

“You know in Korea on the day they have the big exams for college placement the government stops all the planes in the country from flying while the test is going on. They stop all the planes! For hours! Can you imagine us doing that?”

“Actually no. It’s over the top don’t you think?

“But Bo, that’s the competition! If we don’t keep up we are going to be run under. And it’s happening.”

“The sky is falling is it?”

“This is no Chicken Little business. I am telling you I see it every day. People are living in the past. You should see what is happening in Singapore and Shanghai and Mumbai. They are hungry there. Their workers work hard. They are eating our lunch.”

“I forgot they invented the Mac in Mumbai.”

‘You laugh but you won’t be when your job is being is being done in Malaysia.”

“Malaysia’s getting big in brand management?”

“You’ll see.”

“But how are you fixing that by hiding like outlaws in the Nevada desert and skipping out on your California taxes?” Bo launched into a snatch of Friend of the Devil: “’I lit out from Reno I was trailed by twenty hounds..’ God, I love that song.”

“Very funny. I am doing what we all should be doing. Doesn’t help anyone to feed the Beast. We should starve it. If government was half the size it’d do twice as much.”

“You actually believe that?”

“I do. And you should.”

“Jesus. You’ve become a Republican.”

“I am a Libertarian.”

“You sound like a Republican. What does Claudia think about that? She used to be a flamer.”

“Oh she still is.”

“But she is going along with you on this?”

“She’s not crazy about it but yeah. It’s her money too.”

“How long has she been locked up in the desert with the money?”

“Not funny.”

“Lighten up, Rodge. How long?”

“Four months maybe.”

“That’s all? And she is already climbing the walls?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Reading between the lines, bro.”

“She’ll get used to it. And once the ski season gets here she’ll be in heaven.”

“If we ever have any snow again.”

“Oh come on Bo, don’t start with the climate business. We had more snow in Reno last year than in a decade.”

“Rodge, Rodge, Rodge. Don’t tell me you’ve become a Denier too?”

“Trust me, as soon as the politicians get us to believe that there is climate change they will tell us they have to raise our taxes to pay for it. And it won’t be China and Singapore and Korea who are paying; it’ll be you and me.”

“Actually just me cause you’ll be hiding out in the desert.”

“You’ll be hiding with me when you see what the tax bill looks like. People like you just don’t want to face up what’s going on all around us. You just wait.”

“When did you get this dour? You used to be fun. Well not a lot of fun. But at least mildly entertaining. Now you are all doom and gloom. No wonder Claudia is losing her mind.”

“Women and children can be careless. A man has got to be serious.”

‘Jesus, that’s right out of The Godfather. That’s what Brando says to Michael when he says he doesn’t want to be a puppet for someone else pulling the strings.” Bo stooped, cocked his face to the left and launched a poor imitation of Brando’s scratchy voice, “’Whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor. Don’t forget that.’ God I love that movie.”

“I am serious.”

“You said that. I just don’t see that running out on your taxes is the sign of a serious man.”

“You’ll see. Remember when we used to do that deal in the restaurant in college? We’d get everybody except one poor guy in on it and then when the check came we’d all bolt at the same time and the one guy who didn’t know would be sitting there with a WTF on his face and he’d have to pay for everybody. Remember?”

“God, that was bad. I can’t believe we ever did that. What little shits we were. Jesus.”

“Hate to tell you this, Bo, but we are still doing it. We never stopped. It’s just not a check at a restaurant anymore. And now you are the last guy. You are that guy.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Rodge got up and stuffed his socks into his gym satchel. He smiled. “And by the way, when you pay the tax bill, leave a little tip. Don’t want them thinking we are cheap at our table.”

“Ha Ha.”

Rodge smiled wide, clearly energized by the exchange. He slapped his locker closed, extracted the key and headed down to the gym for his workout. As he left he sang a bar of the old Janis Joplin song, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” He looked back over his shoulder, “God I love that song. Love it.”


Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at His first novel, Nine Digits, is published by Indigo Sea Press


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The Technology of Literary Fiction

By Jay Duret

Literary Fiction

When I moved to San Francisco everyone I met told me that I had to get my brand out there. I couldn’t just wait to be discovered. I had to disrupt things. I had to blow things up.

I wasn’t really sure how to go about disrupting things, but I began to search for venues where I might submit my work. I had written stories most of my life but hadn’t tried to publish them. I found an online publication called that had a section where it gathered “Calls for Submissions.” I started to scan that page to see if there were any journals calling for short stories like I wrote. I quickly learned that there were hundreds—maybe thousands—of journals in the literary marketplace, though the concept that it was a “marketplace” was euphemistic, for 90% of the journals did not actually pay for stories. Rather it was a kind of marketplace where the farmers brought their crops to a central location in order to give them away, sometimes paying a fee for the privilege.

I also learned that there were categories of writing that I had never heard of before: slipstream, speculative, bizzaro, flash, micro, etc. I couldn’t even tell whether my stories would qualify.  Worse still were the explications of what the editors were looking to find.

The Kudzu Review asked me to “inspire and give hope.” I wasn’t sure that was what my writing was about, nor actually what most writing is about, but I guess if you had a journal that wanted to inspire and give hope, that was a fair ask. There was a magazine called TOSKA that wanted micro essays that made “their souls ache.” I wondered how many of their souls there were. Did they all have to ache or was it enough that some of their souls ached?

Pithead Review—great name, for sure—wanted stories that would leave abrilliant bruise. The Storm Cellar said that it was looking for writing and art “to be read during a catastrophe.” That surprised me. I assumed that during a catastrophe most people would be reading texts or tweets. I hadn’t known that they would be actually clamoring for writing that was “sublime and profane, stylized and unpretentious, formally innovative and ideally classical, perfect and perfectly flawed, surreal and cathartic, consistent and contradictory, childlike and world-weary, inevitable and surprising.” I could definitely see smooth sailing and catastrophe there.

I was also finding that the world of literary fiction was a lot more hardass than I had thought. Sundog wanted my “earth-scorching lit.” They wanted “stuff that gets under fingernails, stuff that lingers like the aftertaste of a great whiskey.” That was hardcase for sure, but not as intense as the editors at Colony Collapse who begged for writing “that stands yeti-like & backlit on a riverside cliff shotgunning a pabst and/or burns under your skin well after you’ve dug the stinger out and/or ghostrides the whip with the kid still in the car seat…” I would have ignored the implorings of Colony Collapse except for those “and/ors.” I loved those and/ors. My writing didn’t have to ghostride the whip and burn after the stinger was gone. One or the other, not necessarily both. Read right, it was a very inclusive call for submission. I definitely would have to submit there.

Some of the journals were outright sadistic. The Boston Review called for sentences so sharp they “cut the eye.” Sanity Not Guaranteed asked me to submit fiction that “cuts to the heart of the holes we are built out of.” Lest that demand be thought incoherent, the editors explained that they wanted fiction that “kicks us in the nads, grabs us by the throat, and makes us listen.” I thought that might be a tall order, but it paled before the Promethean task they set for poets. I was so glad I wasn’t a poet. If a poem “doesn’t make our emphysemic souls whistle, we won’t have it…” That was a vivid image. I could see a broken down chain-smoking ancient mariner of indeterminate sex shuffling down a never-ending corridor lined with crusty but literary books, his or her labored breathing collapsed into one long whistle of exertion. But really? Why were their souls emphysemic? Did theyache? Maybe they should moonlight at TOSKA.

I was beginning to wonder whether I was of stern enough stuff to make it in the world of Literary Fiction. I can work up a good size sense of indignation and I have been told that my rants are considered biting. I was not sure, however, if my work “rages well beyond when the reader has left the page.” And even if I were angry enough to publish in these big leagues, could I goall the way and disrupt them?

And that wasn’t the only problem. What if my prose was angry enough, but not good enough? I mean, I knew that it would be challenging to break into print; there are talented writers everywhere. Daunting for sure. I had some confidence in my typing skills, but could I really say that my stories met Apex Magazine’s requirement that every story emit “sheer unvarnished awesomeness”? Awesome, for sure, but unvarnished awesomeness. A heavy lift.

I confess that I got a bad case of the blues after reading Apex’s call for awesomeness, but I bounced back after reading their editor’s injunction that I must always “keep in mind that the search for awesome stories is as difficult as writing them.” I didn’t know this editor from a pat of butter, but hearing this I couldn’t help but discount his or her opinions. I am pretty sure that there is no universe where searching for awesome stories is as hard as actually writing them, and then getting all the varnish off.


I was so hard at work looking to market my stories in the world of literary fiction that I was not able to attend my son Ajax’s baseball game. His team—the Red Sox—had a Little League face-off against the Pirates. I felt guilty for not going—awesomeness, it appears, does not come quickly for me—and I was anxious to find out how the game had gone. I was delighted to get an email—it arrived even before he returned home—from an outfit called GameChangers that reported that Ajax’s team had won the game 11-10. I opened the email and found that I could actually get a box score from the game. I had to click and download, but next thing I knew I actually had the Red Sox roster laid out on my iPad like the table of baseball statistics you see in the paper.

I wondered how Ajax did. I found his name and looked across the fields—this was really cool—and saw that he got to the plate 4 times. I looked to see how he did in his at bats, but there were question marks under the hits and runs columns. Aw too bad, they don’t really have the detail. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they actually kept track of hits and runs and batting averages? But it is Little League after all, pretty cool at least that they can give you an email with the results virtually minutes after the game is over.

I would have left it there and gone back to searching for markets that might deign to read my stories but I noticed a button that said “Go Premium!” Something in the way it was positioned suggested that the question marks in the scorer’s table might go away if I got the Premium version. I clicked around a bit more and was given the opportunity to buy the Premium version for $7.33 a month or $34.99 for the year. I signed up and oh my god I was bedazzled by what came next. There were over 50 statistical categories maintained for each kid. Of course the standards: Games Played, Plate Appearances, At Bats, RBI, Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage. But that just was the surface. You could go deeper, much deeper. There was a group of statistics arrayed under the Category of “Patience, Speed and Power.” Here I could see how my 12-year had fared with respect to BB/K, PA/BB, GITP, and BA/RSP, among many others.

I played baseball; I love baseball; I know baseball, but I admit I had to look at the key to determine that these acronyms were Walks per Strikeout, Plate Appearances per Walk, Hit into Triple Play (really? They maintained a statistic for hitting into triple plays?), and Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position.

Under the caption of “Quality at Bats and Team Impact,” I found I could determine Ajax’s “Pitches Seen Per Plate Appearance” and his “Two Out RBIs.” I could determine the number of times he had 2 strikes against him but nevertheless saw three or more additional pitches. There was a computation that showed the percentage of plate appearances where Ajax had seen 6 or more pitches. The stats went on and on, and this was just for batting. There was a whole separate area for pitching.

Ajax hadn’t pitched much but he had pitched some. I thought he had done pretty well. But now I knew the numbers. He had hurled 2.1 innings with 3 strikeouts and 1 base-on-balls. He had thrown a total of 25 pitches: 17 strikes and 8 balls. He had two Lead Off Outs, and two 1-2-3 Innings. He threw three or less pitches to 75% of the batters he faced.

I didn’t think there was anything left to amaze me on this webpage, but then I noticed a little button called “Spray Chart” where an astounding graphic plotted every ball Ajax hit this season in lines of different colors laid out visually on a brilliant green diamond. The colors showed which hits had been liners and grounders and flies. Notations showed whether the ball was caught for an out or fell in for a hit. There is no other way to say this: the Spray Chart was gorgeous.

The functionality went on and on. I could not only see the stats on Ajax but also on every other player in his league. I could set an alert to follow the bat-by-bat exploits of any of them. I could invite friends and family to become fans and follow Ajax’s adventures through real time tweets, email messages or Facebook postings.

But as good as everything so far—as amazing as what I had already seen—the piece de resistance was that there was actually a news story about the game that had just been played. Turns out Ajax had had captured the attention of the pundits:

Duret leads the SF Red Sox Majors to 11-10 victory
Ajax Duret carried the SF Red Sox Majors to an 11-10 victory over the Giants on Monday at TI3 with a strong game at the plate and on the mound. Duret was hot from the plate for the SF Red Sox Majors. Duret went 3-4 and scored two runs. He doubled in the third inning and singled in the fourth and sixth innings.
Duret put together a nice outing. Duret held the Giants hitless over 1 1/3 innings, allowed no earned runs, walked one and struck out three.
Each team blasted the other’s pitching, and there were 21 total runs and 21 hits during the game. Managers of the two teams seemingly emptied their bullpens in search of the win, as there were seven pitchers used in the game.

At the bottom of the story there was some fine print. I pulled up. It said:

“Powered by Narrative Science and GameChanger. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.” Any reuse or republication of this story must include the preceding attribution.

I tried to figure out who wrote the feed. It must have been posted minutes after the game. Ajax was still en route home. Who would write it? This was 11 and 12 year little league baseball; there weren’t scribes at the games. Was this some new weirdness like the weirdness with the Yelp people? A real head-scratcher.

The mystery was cleared up that night. We got an email from Ajax’s coach telling us about the GameChanger app and explaining:

What is really great is for stats freaks you can see how your son/daughter is performing statistically …. A great tool for analysis (for example, I can show Nick that when he gets strike one on the first pitch that he’ll get the batter out 68% of the time or I can show him that he is only seeing 2.7 pitches per at bat and needs to maybe be more patient at the plate).

At the close of his email he noted:

PS— You might see narratives of each game. I do NOT write them. They are auto-generated so all those great comments about a particular kid are by a non-partisan computer.

Wow. The computer looks at a bunch of numbers and has somehow figured out how to put it into the prose of passable news feed. Auto-generated. I thought of the passage from East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets, where Eliot laments the time he has spent

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

Little did Eliot know, one day it would all be done by an app…


Even though I was intimidated by the Calls for Submission, I continued my quest to get my writing to a broader audience. I found a website with the awkward name Duotrope that collected information about thousands of online and print journals. Duotrope categorized the venues and collated key information about preferences and predilections. It was easy to browse Duotrope to find magazines that published different types of fiction. You could easily find which journals were reading electronic submissions in search a novelette of erotica or an 880-word bit of bizzaro.

Duotrope also collected key statistics for each of the journals it covered, including how long on average the journal took to respond to a submission, what percent of its rejection letters were “personal.” There I learned thatApex, the journal that demanded unvarnished awesomeness, accepted only .27% of stories submitted. Not 27%, not 2.7%, .27%. It was 40 times easier to get into Harvard than Apex.

Those statistics were interesting, if discouraging, but I was struck by how much Duotrope could learn from GameChanger, the software that had collected the statistics about Ajax’s prowess as a 12 year old baseball player. If Duotrope had its act together, it wouldn’t just be publishing averages and generalized reports on the magazines, it would be publishing key metrics from each of its writer members. If GameChanger ran things in the world of Literary Fiction, it would be reporting that Jay Duret, an aspiring writer from San Francisco, ordinarily had a .210 PA (Publishing Average) but, when writing in the category of Humor, his PA climbed to nearly .300. I couldn’t understand why the information wasn’t being put out there. There was important analytic work to be done and how could it be done if the stats weren’t collected and shared?

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it seemed to me that Literary Fiction wasn’t going to get where it needed to be without this critical information. Without data, how could a publisher decide what to publish? Without data, there couldn’t be a data-driven process for acceptances. My God, without the statistics, the process couldn’t even be automated. Some actual person would have to read each and every submission. And make a decision based on soft and squishy criteria like whether—just on the basis of reading it—the story seemed “well-written” or “thought-provoking.” They would be stuck with the burden of forming judgments on such wiggly matters as whether the writer was “taking risks” and “digging deep.” How much better to have the statistics at hand. Things like FPPS: Followers Per Posted Story; TL—Total Likes; PMPP—Private Messages Per Post. A publisher needed to know these important facts about the writer.

But that was just the beginning. With time and big computers, the data could be mined to find IPPP—Insights Per Published Paragraph; SPA—Submissions Per Acceptance; and the vital AIR—Acceptance after Initial Rejection. A literary magazine wouldn’t be worth its salt if it didn’t know the stats concerning a writer’s acceptances after being initially rejected—you had to know that—AIR was a key measure of persistence—and, without it, well, how would one know whether the writer had the stuff to survive a hard life on the literary stump? It would all be random and arbitrary without the stats. It would all just come down to what one individual person thought about a story. I mean, literally, just one person’s thinking. Unfathomable.

The literary world would be a better place if GameChanger was in charge, for sure. Not only would there be better decisions, but word of them would get out there. I longed for the day when GameChanger’s algorithm would be auto-cranking out press releases for me and my Brand:

Duret Scores Again; Bags Three Journals in One Month

Jay Duret, San Francisco based writer and blogger, continued a blazing hot June on the literary circuit, lighting up three online journals. Duret scored again last night with a two-day acceptance by The Squamish Review of his story “SlideCar.”

Duret has been having a brilliant season with league leading statistics in Total Asterisks, and Words Published by a Californian. James Blingy of The Squamish Review released a statement saying: “Jay Duret is one of our most exciting new writers, we at TSR are devoted to bringing fresh voices like his to our readers.”

With that type of information coursing through the world of Literary Fiction, pretty soon the money would follow. Ad revenues. Endorsements. There would be product placements. The buyer’s world would tilt slightly toward the seller. There might even come a day—hard to imagine—when literary journals would pay actual money for good stories. Maybe not every one, but at least for those where the writing was so sharp it cut the eye and/or the story so awesome it made the soul ache. Maybe, maybe, maybe, but it could happen. If GameChanger were in charge, there might actually be a marketplace for Literary Fiction.

Now that would be a disruption.


The Technology of Literary Fiction first appeared in The Lowestoft Chronicle


Filed under fiction, writing

On the Side of Angels

On the Side of Angels

On the Side of Angels

By: Jay Duret

All writers know it is hard to make any money from a book. You have to get it noticed among thousands of other offerings. In that respect, a new book is something like a start-up company. But start up companies are getting funded all the time. It occurs to me that maybe writers could learn something important from the community of investors who bankroll start-ups. I ask my friend Zuni to take me to an angel investment club in Palo Alto.

Zuni is a cheerful soul. She made some money years ago rolling up floral distribution companies and has no need to go to the office. In the last several months she has fallen in love two times, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, sat for the California bar, become the Chief Operating Officer for one start-up and bankrolled another. She agrees to take me to an angel investing conference, more or less in the same vein.

We drive down from San Francisco on Route 280, fend off the Wednesday morning traffic and exit onto Sand Hill Road. As we approach Palo Alto, I feel as if we are locked into a tractor beam and being pulled into Battlestar Silicon Valley, the epicenter of venture capitalism. If there is any place to be an angel investor in 2015, it is right here.

We are late. The angels have been at it for an hour before we arrive and every seat in the 300-seat auditorium is filled. The stage is now occupied by a broad-faced character named Tony Stevens who sports a tan as rich as an Allen Edmonds shoe. We get ourselves settled and flip open our program brochures to the salient points of the 13 companies that are presenting today. Stevens has endeared himself to me already because he looks startlingly like Fred Willard, the actor who played the color commentator at the dog show in the movie Best in Show. At first, I think they are the same person for Stevens is subject to the same wild fits of digression that Willard displayed in that mockumentary.

Stevens is wearing a white shirt and a gray cardigan sweater vest. He is in ruddy health and clearly loves to be in the center of the stage. He carries a microphone and struts like he owns the space. He yells out to one of his team – his team must have 20 people on it – to tee him up some music, and instantly Rod Stewart is playing Maggie May and Stevens is dancing, poorly and enthusiastically, across the stage.

I look around the auditorium to see how the angels are taking it. I’ve never been in a room filled with angels before, and the expressions are not nearly as beatific as you would think. The angels are a varied crew. There are plenty of 30 year old Asian men in baseball hats, an assortment of characters in suits like they just got off the plane from Baltimore, a variety of women, each of whom looks as if she could easily run a Fortune 500 company, but no one in the audience seems to be in the mood for dancing. Stevens realizes this, ruefully – what’s with you people anyway? – but signals for the music to fade.

He is not embarrassed. In a nanosecond he has regrouped, bounded across the stage, and called up the CEO of an emerging enterprise with a dyspeptic name that sounds something like ZipLock. ZipLock exists to accelerate Internet speeds in the Last Mile. Everyone here knows that the Last Mile is not the route that Christ traversed to Golgotha, but the distance from a telecommunications network into the homes of individual consumers. I am all for accelerating those speeds so I pay close attention to learn what this start-up’s secret sauce might be, but I am quickly lost in the jargon of the presenter. She speaks Siliconese, a kind of Spanglish – though not a mixture of English and Spanish – but of tech talk and finance talk all jumbled together. First mover advantage with an IP fortress in close juxtaposition to convertible notes and managed liquidity events. She explains that ZipLock’s solution will be delivered through the cloud via a USB dongle. Not only is it a global game changer, but, really good news, it won’t be threatened by the next big thing.

I lean over to Zuni. “Are you interested in funding this enterprise?” Zuni rolls her eyes and makes a cutting motion across her neck.

Each pitch is limited to 10 minutes except for a few companies that are seeking seed-level investments: they are given only three. After the pitch, the audience is given 10 minutes of questions and at the end encouraged to indicate their interest on a gold sheet, which Stevens tells us is the most important piece of paper that we will see today. The gold sheet tells the organizers what our level of interest is and will kick off the due diligence process that will lead to investment in those lucky companies that attract the most favorable attention.

I had anticipated that all the potential investments at this Expo would be in tech companies but I am completely wrong. Next up is a gentlemen with mutton chops – really, who wears mutton chops? Is that a thing? – who pitches an investment fund making short term real estate loans to developers in the Portland area. He has closed out an initial fund and says those investors have enjoyed a 20% return on equity. Mutton Chops has presented before at this club in the past and he enjoys a reservoir of goodwill but he doesn’t draw a smile from the angels – this is a sour group of angels or maybe all angels look sour when listening to pitches. MC is not fazed at all, actually he is slightly sour-faced too; he moves through his presentation easily, without hyperbole, letting his numbers do his talking. He exits to polite applause.

The stage is briefly taken over by a kid – I’m not kidding, he’s really a kid, he can’t be 20 years old – who startles us with the news that our pillowcases are as dirty as our toilets seats. From there it is a short step to convincing us that acne is pandemic among people who sleep on pillowcases. He and his merry band are poised to disrupt the pillowcase industry with a new material that can be infused – maybe he said suffused – with oils that repel the crap that ordinarily covers our pillowcases.

The kid is a big hit with the audience, but there is a question. He’s only looking for $1.2 million and it’s just to buy inventory. One investor points out that equity money – that’s the sort of money the angels are supplying: high risk, high return, money – is expensive money to use just to buy product; why doesn’t the kid get a bank loan? The kid says that the product is so hot they need to buy right away; they can’t wait for a bank to go through the painful tire-kicking it will require before doing a line of credit. That answer clearly resonates. These angels don’t have any love for bank lenders, with their methodical low risk, low return investments. Equity money may be expensive money, but it is smart money.

Stevens is back and he quickly shoos the kid off stage. He looks around the room – it is uncanny how much he looks like Willard – and makes another attempt to pump up the crowd. He fires up some rock and roll and he struts a bit – clearly he is convinced that he has moves – I wonder what he does in front of the mirror in his bedroom before he leaves for work. The latest pump up session proves no more successful than his last attempt but the lukewarm reception bothers him not a bit. If possible, I like him even more than I did before.

The holder of multiple patents for a bedwetting product anticipates $109 million in revenue in 2018. I pause over the projections – really? That seems a lot of bedwetters. But the materials explain that 2.2 billion folks suffer from nocturia, “the frequent need to urinate at night.” Nocturia is described as a deadly condition that is linked to “higher rates of heart disease, stroke, deadly hip fractures, brain damage and significantly higher death rates in all categories…” I confess that I have trouble with deadly hip fractures until I realize that nocturia afflicts the elderly among us in disproportionate amounts and these entrepreneurs are expecting plenty of midnight stumbles en route to the loo.

Zuni and I soak up the buoyant optimism of a few more presenters. I am amazed that there are so many ways to generate $50 or $100 million in annual revenue, but who am I to argue with the careful analysis that has been performed on the spending habits of unattended retail environments or the whizzing of those 2.2 billion nightstalkers with nocturia.

I am getting ready to leave when I sit bolt upright – there is an investment offered in the work of a writer! Amazing! This could be the keys to the kingdom. I have to stay and hear this. This could be a way to bypass the whole logjam in the publishing industry. Take it to the Angels!

The investment involves a “young writer/director” with a “buzzworthy, unique personal background” who owns a “powerful, original copyright protected screenplay”. His group seeks a million dollars from the assembled angels to produce and distribute a film from that copyright protected screenplay. Two Oscar-winning actors “have expressed interest from reading the script and have requested offers for the lead roles.” Based on “recent sales of films similar” to the anticipated film “in genre, theme, subject, budget, audience and target distributor,” the company anticipates investors will make a 64% return on their invested capital. I like that it is 64%, not 60% or 65%; precision in these matters is very important to me.

I am getting pretty excited. I have a unique personal background. I could be buzzworthy. I wonder what the script is about. Fortunately there is a synopsis available:

Nicolette is an ambitious journalist who does not love easily. Engaged to Eithan, a charming entrepreneur who struggles to launch his Silicon Valley start up, Nicolette is consumed with an investigative reporting she is conducting on a sex-trafficking ring.… But one night, she learns that Eithan made a bizarre commitment to Alexis McKenzie, a wealthy venture capitalist, in order to obtain seed funding for his tech startup. While Eithan admits his mistake and explains that his indiscretion was purely for business, Nicolette must make an urgent choice. Does she love him enough to forgive him? Or is she willing to sacrifice love in a dangerous revenge that benefits her investigation…

This is a powerful story all right. But could it really raise a million?   I decide to do some real due diligence. I  go look at Kickstarter and see what sort of film projects that they have up for crowd funding. Maybe I can find some guidance as to what the crowd wants to fund.

I go to the Kickstarter website and pick the Film and Video category. Wow, there are 35,151 projects looking for funding. I scroll through, looking for something that I can compare to Eithan’s epic. Almost immediately I come upon To The Flames, a film by Alex Webb. Alex is looking for $25,000 in funding of which he has only raised $650. That isn’t a great start but he has 27 days to go. His film is synopsized as follows:

Kyle, an aimless film student, becomes fascinated with a dark, disturbed couple while interviewing neighbors for class. Big mistake.

I watch the 5-minute trailer for the film – its a long 5 minutes but punctuated by frequent bursts of hilarity – and if I had to choose between this one and Eithan’s story, To The Flames would get the nod, for sure. Not only is the amount of funding so reasonable, but for a pledge as modest as $10,000 I can get myself credited as “Executive Producer” in the opening titles. I will also get a copy of the DVD, visit the set for a day and attend the premiere in New York as well as the wrap party.

As I look through the Kickstarter archives, the film I can most closely equate to Eithan’s venture is:

Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, A Film

by Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle

Ecosexuals Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens fight mountain top removal coal mining and make environmental activism sexy, fun, & diverse.

GCM was fully funded; indeed it raised 134% of what was sought. But I am not sure that it is a good predictor of success for Eithan’s tale. First of Goodby Gauley Mountain only sought to raise $10,000. More importantly, ecosexualism is clearly hipper and more cutting edge than the run-of-the-mill sex-trafficking that Nicolette is investigating. And, by the way, Annie Sprinkle is a much better name than Eithan, in my humble opinion, and it has the additional benefit of being spelled correctly.

I can’t wait to see how Zuni will react to Eithan’s epic. If she is willing to fund this, maybe I can sell her the rights to my book – forget agents, forget the publishing industry; I’ll have Angels on my side! I watch Zuni fill out her Gold Sheet and when it comes time to describe her level of investment interest in Eithan’s movie, sadly she checks the box marked “low”. She whispers to me that the key to angel investing is that you have to be willing to say no.

– Jay Duret

*          *          *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at His first novel, Nine Digits, was published by Second Wind Publishing.  Jay welcomes feedback at 


Filed under fiction, Humor, writing

Imagined Conversations: A Status Report Six Months In

Jay Duret

Jay Duret

At the New Year I decided to try my hand at cartooning. I had been drawing figures – mostly faces – for a few months and wanted to see if I could add text in a pleasing way. I committed to posting a cartoon a day, an undertaking which sounds painfully unambitious but then, well, I knew what I had to work with. And so I began with a New Year’s post on January 1.

Over subsequent weeks I kept the promised cadence, dutifully posting each drawing to my blog in a section called Imagined Conversations”. I also started an Instagram series under the name @joefaces. After a month at it, I wrote a brief report on the effort for this blog and posted it here.

In the months since I have continued to post. I have found a weird satisfaction in the daily ritual: once you become a daily poster and settle in the groove, your day does not feel complete without going through your workflow. It’s like writing in that way. You can’t produce a book on the strength of a mood, at least I can’t; you need to settle into a steady rhythm of daily tapping at the keys. I think of it as running laps.

My cartoons have touched a number of topics as I listened and took notes on the conversations that endlessly rattle around inside my head. Some dealt with writing:


Poetry Month

(I doubt that anyone reading this blog will have trouble filling in the blanks,  but on the off chance that someone skipped out on poetry class in 11th grade I will note the answer below.)

Some of my cartoons are part of a mental project of building a set of emoticons that have more to them than the stupid little circles and smiley faces and thumbs up that come in every text message. Wouldn’t it be better if those little nuggets of cuteness were replaced by drawings like this:


or this:



Some of my cartoons are just what came rattling along my train of thought that day:


Lean In

When I began the project I told myself that I would stop when it wasn’t satisfying any more. I think that was a good approach and I am sticking with it. But I confess to some surprise that after producing nearly 200 cartoons I am still interested in the project. If I had predicted at the beginning, I would have said that Imagined Conversations would have begun to limp in February and fall on the ground in March. Yet at the mid-year I am still working away. We’ll see how much longer I’ll last. In the meantime – thanks for the support. And if you aren’t receiving the daily postings, follow my blog or Instagram.

– Jay

* * *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco-based writer. Second Wind recently published Jay’s first novel, Nine Digits. See the trailer here. And for all puzzlers: These famous lines begin T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland: “April is the Cruelest Month”. No surprise that April is National Poetry month.


Filed under writing