Welcome to Cal's Cosmos

Allow me to roll out the red carpet and usher you into my world--the world of writing. I am a blessed man; a man blessed with the enjoyment of creating worlds on a lifeless sheet of paper or a blank computer screen.

You'll find many things at Cal's Cosmos: information about my long and passionate love affair with writing, my views on literature, my musical heritage and thoughts on current events.

Please, come back often to see what's happenin' on Cal's Cosmos.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fighter -- Great Movie

Vonnie and I went to see Mark Wahlberg's movie, The Fighter, yesterday. Call me "strange," but I love it when a movie has a storyline. This one had it in spades. The scenery and characters were so rough, so gritty, so gawd-awful nasty that I forgot it was a movie. I truly felt transported to that run-down community.

Momma was a trip. I'd seen her a million times on the streets of Baltimore, in all shapes and colors. In this movie, Momma was white, slender and smoked like Winston's chimney. She ruled the family with her acerbic tongue and pugnacious ways. The woman had no qualms about putting Micky in a ring with zero chance of winning, just so long as he got paid and she got her generous cut of said winnings. Yet, even though she was living off Micky, she obviously preferred and catered to her older son, Dickie whose claim to fame was a fight years ago with Sugar Ray Leonard.

And then there were the sisters, categorized by whichever father they had. A meaner, rougher band of women I'd shudder to meet. I kept thinking that they couldn't be professional actresses; they had to be real women yanked off the streets of the 'hood.

Shakespeare's MacBeth had three witches. All totaled, this movie had seven--momma, sisters and girlfriend.

Expect this movie to garner awards. It's that good. Go see it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas in Paris --

Christmas in Paris is a unique experience. I'm sure you've realized by now that I carry a strong degree of partiality regarding anything Parisian. I call Paris the birthplace of my soul as a black man. I first went there in the late fifties while serving in the Army in Germany. Paris was a place where I could eat or drink at a cafe table next to a white person. A place where I was looked upon as an equal-- a rarity in that time period.

During my year in Paris, in '68-69, I spent hours with my nose pressed against the windows, taking in the bright lights and various Christmas ornaments as if the decorations were painted by Picasso's brush. I can no longer think of Christmas without thinking of Galleries Lafayette, an exclusive department store in an old opera house. Its architecture takes one's breath away. The stained glass dome rises above floors lined with gilded banisters around its balcony walkways. The day I took Vonnie there, she just stood, gazing up at the spectacle. "It's beyond beautiful," she whispered, as if in awe of the sight.

Parisians gather outside store windows to gawk and praise the artistry and imagination used. Women in long wool coats, scarves draped stylishly around their necks, wearing heels--always high heels--speak their lilting, rapid-fire French. A Frenchman or Frenchwoman would never be caught on the streets in sweatpants or baggie jeans or, God forbid, white sneakers. That's just so American, after all.

As in my beloved USA, the French President throws the switch on the Christmas lights decorating the cherished Champs-Elysees. This tradition is also hailed with cheers and clapping as is the lighting of the Nation's Christmas Tree in DC.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of The Light of the World in Bethlehem so many years ago. How apt that lights are one of the most popular decorative items used. The symbolism is most effective.

Yes, Christms in Paris is an experience. For Paris is one of those cities that wears her year-round charm like a bright silk scarf. No wonder she lives up to her nickname: The City of Lights.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Men tend to forget; it's a fact of nature...

The day started like any other--hugs, smiles and kisses from my wife. A freshly brewed pot of coffee, strong just the way I like it. We watched the news, laughing at the way newscasters speed-talk as if they'd taken a double hit of speed before going on the air. All was well in Calvin-land.

Vonnie checked her emails on her laptop while I perused the morning paper. Then somehow the day started going downhill. She went to my blog to see how many visitors I've had and noticed I hadn't mentioned her book contract. Now I meant to, truly I had, but it just kind of slipped my mind. You know how it is, fellas.

She cut her eyes to me and asked, "Why haven't you mentioned my book contract? I mentioned yours on my blog. Aren't you proud of me?"

I felt my stomach tighten, the acid sarted to roll. A voice whispered, Watch what you say now. I took the well-troddened path taken by many a husband--I feigned ignorance. "Didn't I do that? I'm sure I did. I meant to, honey." I ducked behind the newspaper, sliding so low that all she could see was the top of my 'fro.

"I don't understand how you could forget my book contract." I winced. She had that tone to her voice. "It's been over two weeks since I signed it and you haven't mentioned it once." I rolled my eyes heavenward, knowing full well how this was going to end. "Are you listening to me?"

"I'm all ears, dear."

Guys, she wasn't having it. When I peeked around the edge of her paper, I could have sworn her eyes were glowing that eerie shade of red like those vampires in the movies. And I'm not positive on this, but I'm almost sure I saw fangs grow. I mean the wrinkles in my neck were trembling with fear. I leaned over, took her hand and kissed it (she's a sucker for the continental approach--throw her a little French accent and she's putty in my hands).

There was no putty to be found in Calvin-land. No peace and quiet either. My sweet angel was on a tirade. I knew in an instant the weather forecast for the remainder of the day: Silent and chilly with occasional door banging. And supper? Hunh. There'd be no pork chops tonight. Nor seafood fetticine. I'd be lucky if I got a jam sandwich. You know, two peices of bread jammed together. I was a blues-singin' man in an angry woman's world


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Still waiting...

There are many personality traits a writer must have. Talent, yes. Persistence, for sure. An active imagination, a given. Thick skin, akin to an alligator's, most certainly. Huh? What does thick skin have to do with writing? Rejection, my friend. As a writer, you should expect to be rejected. In fact, you'll probably be rejected so many times that you'll need that alligator skin.

Take Stephen King (12 rejections), Margaret Mitchel (38), Ernest Hemingway (rejected by "The Saturday Evening Post") and Thomas Wolfe, for example. Great names all and yet all faced multiple rejections. Only a minute number of authors are snatched up the first time they submit. You're more likely to be struck twice by lightning while cashing your twenty-nine million dollar lottery winnings check. Catch my drift? Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-Five, had a large box full of rejection letters. Thank God he never gave up. Rejection is part of a writer's life.

So is waiting. When a writer submits a query and sample of his or her writing to an agent, hoping for representation, that writer should expect to wait months for a response. Once you have an agent and your manuscript is finally being "shopped out," expect to wait some more. Editors at large publishing houses often take months. One had The Phantom Lady of Paris for ten months. Small publishers have a shorter turn-around. God bless them.

Once you've been offered a contract, expect to wait for the actual contract to arrive. The waiting continues through-out the process. Publishing dates get pushed back. The release date of November 9th as stated on my contract did not materialize. Things happened and, so, I am still waiting....

Saturday, November 13, 2010

There's something about a college campus...

We have several colleges here in the Lynchburg, Virginia, area. One is Randolph College. I'd read in our local paper about "No Shame" starting on Friday evenings at Randolph. The concept sounded intriguing: artists, free-spirits performing onstage for 5 minutes. The only stipulation was you must present your own work.

I chose a scene from The Phantom Lady of Paris, a scene in which Sorbonne students rioted under the inflaming words of "Francois the Incendiary."

After 40 years of teaching grammar and Shakespeare to students who could have cared less, I knew how to captivate and hold a crowd. If I were going to give a reading, I would use various voices, put feeling and actions into it--draw the listener in.

During the hour-long "No Shame," I was drawn in, as well. Drawn in by other performers running the gambit of poetry readings, to techno music, to puppets stripping clothes off each other, to a dramatic reading about vertigo. Creativity comes in infinite forms. Thank goodness for that!

I've always loved college campuses. The encouragement of free thinking that occurs in that insular environment. Minds are expanding. Personalities forming new aspects, stronger opinions and new ways of expression. There's something special about a college campus. For this reason I've visited many ... and discovered something special at each one.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Solitary Profession

Writing is a lonely, solitary profession. Perhaps that's why I've spent countless hours writing in cafes, restaurants and Micky-D's, pencil in hand, ruthlessly destroying the pristine blankness of a sheet of paper. The buzz of humanity in the background calmed me somehow.

Take my time writing at sidewalk cafes in Paris, for example. I learned more about writing there than I did in the lecture halls of both Hampton and Howard universities. So, I challenge you to write, folks. The more you write, the better you will become.

And why do we write? We write because we have to. We write because our souls dry-up if we don't. We write to have that union, that completion that words, stories and characters bring us. We write because it gives us an insight into human beings--and into ourselves.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I knew they were coming; my agent, Dawn Dowdle , told me to expect them--a list of edits the publisher wanted. What would they be? Would they object to a scene and make me remove it? Would they make me change my writing style, my voice?

Would I be required to kill-off my children, those sentences I had labored over, writing and rewriting them until every word, every phrase, every punctuation mark was pickled and penned in blood?

What about the ending for The Phantom Lady of Paris that I'd rewritten until I had it memorized? Surely they wouldn't mess with that...would they?

Would the editor understand the poetry I'd inserted into the prose? Would he get it? Would he enjoy the lyricism of my descriptions of the arrival of both winter and spring in Paris?

I'd worked myself into quite a state, feeling as protective of my literary baby as I had of Kelly when he first started school. I was so apprehensive about the whole ordeal that I asked Vonnie to scan through the returned manuscript and tell me what needed changed.

The editor objected to a few word choices. I write dialog the way people talk: "Lemme tell ya what happened." is now "Let me tell you what happened." Listen to how people talk and I'll bet you'll hear it the first way more so than the second.

Two scenes had to be rewritten. In the first, the editor wanted the ambulance drivers talking in French. Since the book is in English for English speaking readers, lots of sentences in French can prove problematic. But writers are creative souls, so this writer created.

In another scene, a secondary character is telling the main character about a newspaper article. The editor requested that I have the secondary character read the article to the main character. Which meant I had to write a clear and concise newspaper article without the twists and turns of literary phrasing. A doable fix, although a tad boring for my tastes. Now I know why journalism never appealed to me, even though I read three or four newspapers a day.

In all cases, the editor's suggestions and wishes made for stronger scenes. I'd agonized over the edits for nothing. They were few and minuscule, really. And I was grateful for that, for I am now one step closer to publication.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Trailer for "The Phantom Lady of Paris"

Vonnie's been at it again. This time she created a book trailer to help promote my book. This was her first attempt at creating a video. I think she did an excellent job. What do you think?


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Anxiety of THAT Day!

Second Wind Publishing had projected November 1st as the release date of my book. That day is approaching at a snail's pace. One thing for certain, on that day the sun will rise, the tide will roll in and McDonald's will flip burgers. The headlines in the papers will not read "The Phantom Lady of Paris is here!", nor will newscasters announce that lines of eager readers are at the bookstores waiting for the doors to open so they can rush in to buy copies of my beloved lady of Paris. Life always has a way of going on...

To be sure, I'll be on Cloud Nine at the chance to hold my novel--the other woman in my life--in my grubby hands. An idea that germinated in 1968 that I worked on sporatically over the years until Vonnie told me I needed another serious writing project. I blew the dust off the notebook and began entering the story into my computer. This process was followed by an almost infinite number of revisions. It is a story I love, set in a city I call the spiritual birth of my soul.

With all the latest changes in the publishing industry, most authors are now responsible for the promotion of their works. I will have to schedule book signings. I will seek out TV, radio and print coverage of my novel. It's a process I abhor. Creative people are expected to morph into marketing wizards, an uncomfortable process. Even so, I am pleased that my publisher will make my novel available in eBook format--the wave of the future. How many of you own Nooks or Kindles or iPads? Hey, buddy, wanna buy a book?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Signed my book contract today!

After weeks of nervous waiting, my contract with Second Wind Publishing was ready to sign. As I put pen to the dotted line, memories of many lonely nights (before Vonnie) staring at a blank computer screen came to mind. It's been a long journey from concept to contract.
I would never have gotten to today without my agent, Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary. She edited my manuscript to the last period. Most importantly she believed in The Phantom Lady of Paris and kept pushing it until she found a publisher who believed in the Phantom Lady, too. Vonnie also played a large part with her encouragement and praise. As I wrote and rewrote, she brought cups of coffee and light lunches to me in the den, pressing a kiss on my forehead.
Now the business part of book promotion and sales begins. I'll need to schedule book signings and interviews and readings. With all the recent changes in the publishing industry, less monies are available for promoting unknown writers. Publishers have cut back their budgets; authors have become their own publicity agents. Believe me, I'm not looking forward to it. What I am looking forward to is holding that book in my hands. What a journey it's been.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Phantom Lady of Paris is coming...

Second Wind Publishing is giving a tentative date of November 1st for the release of The Phantom Lady of Paris. You may purchase the novel in paperback or eBook format.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

One is never happy with one's work!

I had the pleasure last night of reading a section of my novel to our writing group. Dawn, the facilitator of Hillcity Writers, orgnized a potluck dinner to celebrate my book contract. I'm still drooling over the variety of foods presented. The celebratory cake was an added bonus, even for this diabetic--and, yes, I did indulge.

Hillcity Writers is a varied group of talented people: novelists, playwrites, non-fiction writers and authors of children's literature. However, it is the size of their hearts and the joyfulness of their spirits that touch me.

Somehow I'd missed the fact that the potluck dinner was in my honor. When Vonnie came into the den, carrying part of my manuscript and teling me I was expected to read it, I was not exactly pleased. You see, I know how I am. If I read it to anyone, I knew I'd want to rewrite portions of it or would agonzie over a word choice or ask myself why I'd used a particular phrasing. A writer is never satisfied with his or her work. The urge to tweak it or modify elements nags the mind, niggles the spirit. "I can do that better. Let me fiddle with it, rewrite it one more time."

Still, giving my first reading of "The Phantom Lady of Paris" was an experience I'll remember forever. I've been blessed with many fond memories in my lifetime: a secure, loving home created by my mother, the first time I saw Paris, the birth of my son and every day of wonder that followed as he grew-up, his graduation from MIT, my first glimpse of Vonnie, the wonderful day in Berlin when I gained a daughter, Katrin, via marriage and on and on. If life is made richer with fond memories, I am a wealthy man.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Like Etta James, I'm singing, "At Last..."

After years of working on The Phantom Lady of Paris, I've been offered a contract. I have worked on this project on and off, in fits and starts, through sleepless nights and endless days since I spent a year living in Paris. At times another story would capture my attention and I'd stow away my chapters. Then a few years later, I'd pull the Phantom Lady from her resting place in the closet, blow off the dust and work on it some more, reliving my time in the City of Light.

While in Paris back in '68 and '69, I settled into a comfortable routine. Each morning after dressing, I'd run down three flights of stairs, sprint up the street to the neighborhood dairy to purchase a container of yogurt, step across the street to the bakery for a fresh croissant and return to 21 rue Galande to retrieve my copy of an London newspaper, Herald Tribune, from the mailbox. At that time, the mail was delivered twice a day and deposited into a communal box in the vestibule where the building's residents sorted through the pile of envelopes, advertisments, magazines and newspapers to find the items addressed specifically to them. Newspaper, notebooks, pencils and breakfast in hand, I'd walk a narrow street to Boulevard Saint Germaine until I reached my "writing cafe," Cafe Balkan. There I would eat my breakfast, sip my espresso and read my paper before settling into completing my writing quota for the day.

One morning when I sorted through the mailbox, my paper was not there. The address band was in the box, but not my treasured English newspaper. To say I was upset would be an understatement. Who would have stolen my paper? What a rotten thing to do! As I sat at Cafe Balkan, my temper cooling and my writer's imagination heating up, I thought...hey that would make a great idea for a story. A teacher on sabattical, much like me, has his paper pilfered. The thief posts a note on the bulletin board over the mailbox, signing it "The Phantom Lady of Paris." The novel's protagonist posts one in response, and a dialog via notes occurs....and then...

The Phantom Lady slowly revealed herself and I, in my meager ways, tried to capture her for a brief moment within the pages of a novel. A novel that will soon be published. At last...