Category Archives: Hack Writing

The Limerick Masters of Yesteryear – The Lost Artform

By the time I arrived at adulthood the state of the limerick as a masterpiece of the literary foil was in alarming decline.  Playboy Magazine attempted to inject new life into the medium during the 1960s and 1970s by paying $500 for limerick submissions accepted for publication.  The selection process was tough and they accepted only true masterpieces.

During those years I submitted no fewer than ten [10] limericks per month and never had one accepted.  Hundreds of limericks.  There was no place in Playboy for second-rate hacks.

While the artform requires a particular meter, the truly well-constructed one needs more.  Internal rhyming.  Puns.  Lilting beat to simulate waves on a beach.  A joy to the tongue and ear. 

To illustrate my point, here is perhaps the best limerick ever written, once published in Playboy:

The new cineramic emporium
Is not just a super-sensorium
But a highly effectual
Mutual masterbatorium.

Every time I run those timeless words through my mind, I’m humbled.

I don’t know whether the image at the top of the page depicts a man who once wrote limericks and submitted them to Playboy.  He almost certainly could have.  Possibly should have.

He might have been a contender.

Old Jules

The Illusion of Survival

Several years ago during that pesky time when the publishing house had accepted Desert Emergency Survival Basics for publication, but I hadn’t yet seen the contract they were proposing, the editor was asking for re-writes and a number of changes in the final draft. We discussed it on the phone a number of times and I was pecking away at it, but holding back until I’d seen what they were bringing to the table. 

But before I got too far along I got a call from him because of a news event.  A family in Oregon, or Washington had taken a back road in the National Forest, gotten snowed in, and died because they didn’t apply some of the basics suggested in the Survival Book.

Him:  The scope of the book is broader than the name suggests.  It shouldn’t require a lot of work to make it a general survival manual.

Me: A lot of work’s already gone into it.  And I’ve already re-written it the way you suggest earlier.  You’ve got it in front of you.  Before I do any more work on it you and I need to talk about money.  Every time I’ve asked about what you’re offering as an advance you’ve hedged.  Said you needed to discuss it with the boss.

Him:  We don’t usually offer much in the way of advances.  We’re not that big, even though we offer a lot of titles.

Me:  Then you and I probably don’t have much to talk about.  You know and I know I’m never going to see a penny beyond the advance.  I have a fair idea what’s contained in your standard contract.  I’m not going to lift another finger on this book until I see an advance, and if it’s not enough to pay for my time already, hearing you’re going to be flexible about changing the contract details.

Him:  I’ll talk to the boss.  But that book needs to be published.  That family might have survived if they’d read it.

Me:  I’ve got some survival issues of my own here.  Hypothetical people who might die won’t pay my rent.  I’ve already done the work.  But if you’re proposing to print that book and give it away so neither of us makes anything on it what you’re saying might make sense.  Appeal to my better nature.

Him:  I can’t do that.  We’re in business.

Ultimately they sent me the standard contract and offered a token advance.  The willingness to alter the details of the contract didn’t include changes that would have allowed me to eventually get paid for my labor by eliminating provisions for them to squirm out of paying.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the years and eventually concluded the entire concept of survival and survival books qualifies as a cruel hoax.  An ironic illusion.  Because human beings are going to experience death inevitably as a means of exiting the vehicle.  Some are going to die getting lost in the woods.  If they survive getting lost it’s almost certainly going to be luck, instinct, or common sense.

As an example, somewhere earlier on this blog I described a snowstorm Keith and I got caught in on Santa Rita mesa, and how the GPS seemed to be lying about where the truck was.  How we believed the GPS instead of what we knew to be true, and more-or-less quickly found the truck.

That same snowstorm, not too far away, a kid was lost.  The news was full of it, Search and Rescue eventually was ready to give him up for dead.  But the kid, clothed in a light jacket, used his brain, sheltered under a rock ledge, and made it out after five unlikely days.

Which isn’t at all the same as saying the kid survived.  He won’t.  Neither will anyone else.

Old Jules

Edna Milton Chadwell – RIP – Shadow of an Era Fades

I never knew the lady well, but I was briefly acquainted with her when I was writing the piece for Men In Adventure Magazine, Vietcong Seductress, et al.  She was a lot more understanding about the slant the editors put on the piece than Sheriff Jim Flournoy.   But that was before the Texas news jumped onto the bandwagon.

Edna Milton Chadwell, Last Madam of ‘Chicken Ranch’ Bordello, Dies at 84

Edna Milton Chadwell, the last madam of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel, died last week at the age of 84. The Chicken Ranch of La Grange, Texas, was the house of ill repute that inspired the Broadway musical, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” It later became a hit movie.

Chadwell’s passing inspired a surge of interest in the 1982 film starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. The flick was an enormous success, taking in nearly $70 million. It was one of the biggest musical hits of the decade, despite mixed reviews. 

After the Chicken Ranch’s demise, Chadwell moved to Arizona where she met her husband and remained for the rest of her life. Her obituary from the Associated Pressquotes her nephew, Robert Kleffman.

“She was a hard-nosed lady. She was very straightforward, didn’t put up with no monkey business, no nonsense,” he said. “Hard-nosed. But with a spine of steel and a heart of gold.” Kleffman added that his aunt didn’t like to talk about her time in La Grange, but she also wasn’t ashamed of it.

Here’s wishing her the best in whatever she decides to do next.

Old Jules


Old Sol’s Moodiness and Being a Character In a Book

In case you’re one of those people who hasn’t been staring at the sun, here’s a brief update before I tell you about an interesting tidbit in my life:  Finding myself a character in a ‘memoir’ [actually a novel] written by my step-brother published as non-fiction.  But important things first:


Here he is November 28:

As you can see, the south pole stuff’s maintaining itself, still doing what it was doing when I last mentioned it.

Here’s today.

Still something going on down there, but the grandstanding is still north of the equator.


SINUOUS SUNSPOTS: A line of sunspots stretching across the sun’s northern hemisphere appears to be an independent sequence of dark cores. A telescope tuned to the red glow of solar hydrogen, however, reveals something different. The sunspots are connected by sinuous filaments of magnetism:

“These sunspots writhe and squirm energetically as they rotate away from us!” says John Nassr, who took the picture on Nov. 28th from his backyard observatory in Baguio, the Philippines.

The connections suggest an interesting possibility. While each sunspot individually poses little threat for strong solar flares, an instability in one could start a chain reaction involving all, leading to a widespread eruption. Readers with solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor developments.

I could write a lot about this but none of it would necessarily be true, so I’m doing my best not to have an opinion while keeping my foot in the door for afterward saying “I told you so,” if I can get by with it.

Okay.  Now for the main thrust of this post.  Before beginning the post I visited the Bobby Jack Nelson Forum on Amazon to see what was being said about him:

A while back I got an email on an old email address I rarely check anymore from a lady who wanted to discuss my step-brother, Bobby Jack Nelson.  She explained he’d offed himself in a nursing home in San Saba, Texas, and that she’d had a long-term relationship with him. 

But Bob had told her a lot of things she’d begun to think were lies.  She just wanted to bounce some of them off me because she knew he and I had associated considerably during the 1980s and early 1990s when he was writing Keepers – A Memoir.

 To be honest the whole thing qualified as strange enough to keep life worth living.  Bob and I saw quite a bit of one another during those years, and I knew he was writing a novel about, among other things, his childhood in Portales, New Mexico.  I considered him a friend.

 But one day in the late-1990s [as soon as the novel had been accepted by a publishing house, I later discovered] while I was living in Socorro, New Mexico, I got a call from Bob.  He didn’t mention the novel, but he said he was going off to South America and wouldn’t be returning to the US, so I wouldn’t be hearing any more from him.

I got reports from various mutual acquaintances they’d seen him in Texas here and there, so I figured he just wanted to break off our association, which was puzzling, but okay by me.  Then I got a call from a Dallas reporter asking what I thought of the book, which I hadn’t been aware was published.

 Naturally, I bought and read a copy.  Suddenly it was clear to me why the reporter had called me, but also why Bob had suddenly taken a powder.  My first reaction to reading it would have been to trip up to that mountain town he was staying in while writing it and beat hell out of him.

I was honestly dumbfounded the man could bring himself to publish such a pack of lies as non-fiction.  But a person would have had to have been there, or remembered what he’d said back earlier had happened, to recognize there was barely a grain of truth in any of it.

Gradually I cooled down and just forgot about Bob until the lady contacted me to tell me he was dead, and how he’d died.

We exchanged a lot of emails over several months, and it was a journey of mutual discovery.  But the discoveries came in the form of Bob being an even worse liar than I’d have thought possible knowing already he was an accomplished liar.  And for her, not knowing he was a liar at all, I suppose it provided her some closure to find the man she loved, somewhat idolized, was in awe of, was not the person she’d believed him to be.

 Oddly enough, I think Bob tried to warn me a number of times about himself.  Several times he told me over the years that he was a liar, but I didn’t grasp the extent of what he was saying.  Other times he told me he wasn’t what I thought he was, and I shrugged that off, too.

But what came as a shock to me, first with the book, and later with what the lady told me, was that Bob absolutely despised me.  That, I’d have never guessed during the years I wasted pieces of my life associating with him in what seemed a mutually warm, friendly relationship.

Live and learn.

Old Jules


Vietcong Seductress, et al

Hi blogsters:
Sometimes trying to piece together our lives can be quite a chore.  Peaceful Warrior posted something on one of the groups about the way his name has been a problem to him, and it got me thinking about it.
I was given a name at birth that nobody since has been able to pronounce.  They followed that with another one nobody’d ever heard of.  So when I exited that burg at the age of 15 or so, I left those two names behind and became Jack for most purposes.
But as a struggling young writer in the late ’60s I found myself needing yet another handle…. I was writing for the hairy-chested men magazines… Men, For Men Only, a genre of magazines that vanished by the mid-1970s.
They usually had a picture on the cover of a Marine with a machete struggling with python wrapped around a half-naked woman in some jungle.  That sort of thing.
Well, fact was, in those days I thought there was half-a-chance I’d want to be president, or try to get a decent job sometime.  Didn’t want stories like, Viet-Cong Seductress, or The Half-Million Dollar Sex Salon The Texas Rangers Can’t Find following old Jack around the remainder of his life.
Adopted the pseudonym, Frank C. Riley, which worked well enough.
Then the market collapsed for hairy-chested men stories.  Best paying hack-writer market left was something called ‘Confession‘ mags, which must have been read by the mothers of Romance Novel readers of today.  I figured, what the hell.
Popped out  I Was An Outlaw Motorcycle Mama, sent it off, got a nice letter back telling me there was a middling amount of what they read they liked, but that I needed to work on my female perspective a bit.  Eventually they published it, but they never bought another, though I tried.  But unless I’m mistaken, Motorcycle Mama was the only time I ever succeeded in passing myself off as a woman.  Only time I really ever tried, during that confessions market thing.
Amazing the things a man will do for money.

Old Jules

Hack Writing

“Give me a 750 word
How crushed ice
Can be used
On construction sites
To slow the cooling

And surface cracking
Of freshly poured
Make it lively
Make it dance

I want it yesterday
We’ll argue
Three months from now
When you see the check.”

“Give me 2000 words
To titillate
Give me that whorehouse
That famous Chicken Ranch
In La Grange, Texas.
I want pockets picked
I want gonorrhea
I want luscious hookers
And hints of corruption
Deep in Texas
Law enforcement

I want it yesterday
We’ll argue
Three months from now
When you see the check.”

“I want 2000 words
Something about
Beautiful Vietcong seductresses
Luring innocent GIs
To bed and death
In some stinking thatched hut
With pigs squealing outside
I want to see her despair
Her soul searching
As she discovers she loves him

I want a hint of non-fiction.

We’ll argue
Three months from now
When you see the check.”

“I want a poem
About how you feel
When your lover
Jilts you
In favor of someone
Of his own sex
And begins
Taking hormones.

I want the word
Used in every
Third line.

No pay
You just have
The pleasure
And satisfaction
Of doing what I
Told you to.
To help you
Get used to the feel
Of being a writer”

From “Poems of the New Old West”, NineLives Press, Copyright 2003

The Beatles– Paperback Writer