Q. So what’s Jim Shorts about?
A. About 178 pages.
Q. No, smartass—I mean what’s it about?
A. As if you didn’t know.
Q. Look, I have to ask questions that I think others would ask, so it’s imperative that you treat me as a stranger.
A. Well, you’re strange all right. But OK, I’ll play along.
Q. Take three. What’s Jim Shorts about?
A. It’s a collection of 50 stories, poems and specialty forms with line drawing illustrations.
Q. What are specialty forms?
A. Pieces written in play form or letter form or newspaper column form, etc.
Q. But my question—once again—was what are the pieces about?
A. Again with the about?! They’re funny stories about absurd human behaviors and about surreal situations. Crazy people doing crazy things.
Q. Now we’re getting somewhere.
A. We’re getting some wear all right; already you’re wearing on me.
Q. Ah ha—there’s that wordplay you’re so fond of. The book is chock-full of puns. The title’s a pun, too.
A. Aren’t you a quick one.
Q. Be nice.
A. Yes, some poems are written in normal English, but all the stories and specialty forms and other poems are written with intricate wordplay—puns, malapropisms, spoonerisms, portmanteaus, onomatopoeias—the whole nine yuks.
Q. What inspired you to write in that style?
A. Well, I always played with words, so whenever I came across actual authors who did it, I was fascinated and inspired. It’s like finding another person who speaks the same foreign tongue you do.
Q. Who were some of those writers?
A. Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, James Joyce, John Lennon. I could add Bob Dylan to them. And Jerry Lewis.
Q. Jerry Lewis?! How so?
A. The way he would get names wrong in his movies. He would say it differently every time. I use that device fairly often, as it’s emblematic of short attention spans and poor listeners, both of which are all too prevalent in the so-called real world.
Q. Your drawings have an off-kilter, wacky quality.
A. Thank you. You’re very absorbent.
Q. Ha! OK, Mr. Wordplay. Who influenced your artwork?
A. I’m sure I got something from everyone I ever liked. Early on, Max Fleischer cartoons, Tex Avery cartoons, Warner Brothers cartoons, old Disney films, Walter Lantz, ‘60s comics, Mort Walker, vintage Mad Magazine, then John Lennon, Saul Steinberg, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, R. Crumb. I also like the drawings of Charles Bukowski, James Thurber and Shel Silverstein.
Q. When you write a story, are the illustrations done at the same time?
A. Actually, with quite a few of them, the drawing inspired the story or poem.
Q. So you did some drawings for the book first?
A. No, I saved a lot of my old drawings, and I wanted to use some in the book, so I created a story or poem around them.
Q. Was that hard to do?
A. No. If you look at them hard enough, they’ll tell you a story.
Q. What were those drawings originally done for?
A. Nothing in particular. I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. I just drew them with no thought behind them. They weren’t planned. Automatic drawing. The artwork in the book spans many years–some go back to my teenage years and some were done much more recently. For some of the pieces I wrote, I found preexisting drawings that happened to fit. The rest were done specifically for the story or poem.
Q. Was that difficult?
A. It just requires more discipline. When I simply draw with no preconceived idea, anything can happen. But when I need an illustration, there are obvious constraints. But I was used to that from when I did artwork to go along with articles and interviews I once did for my hometown newspaper.
Q. So although this is your first book, you’re not a novice writer?
A. No, as with drawing, I’ve been writing one way or another from an early age. But I assume you mean professionally. I freelanced for quite a few years in the ‘80s and ‘9os, first for the newspaper, then for a few magazines.
Q. Such as?
A. Guitar World, Starlog, Guitar (then called Guitar For the Practicing Musician), Prevue.
Q. You say you did interviews. With anyone we’d know?
A. I would hope so. Many famous names, some legendary, including Gore Vidal, Muddy Waters, Steve Allen, B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Cybill Shepherd, Willie Dixon, Tony Bennett, Albert Collins, Nicolas Roeg, Bo Diddley, Jean Shepherd, Susanna Hoffs, Dick Cavett, Junior Wells, Jay Leno, Steve Cropper, Joseph Wambaugh, Danny Gatton, to name a partial list.
Q. You’re a regular Larry Kink.
A. Hey, I’ll thank you to suspender the wisecracks.
Q. OK, back to your book…
A. That’s what I’m here for.
Q. With 50 different pieces, was it hard to dream up that many plots or scenarios?
A. No. A few of the pieces are based on actual events and/or people.
Q. Give me an example.
A. “Orville’s Raccoon Problem” is based on an actual case where a guy killed his mother-in-law with an ax but claimed he couldn’t see in the dark garage and thought she was a large raccoon.
Q. You’re pulling my leg.
A. I wouldn’t do that since it would hurt me.
Q. But seriously, this really happened?
A. Yes, and I still have the newspaper clipping somewhere. So I built my tale around that insane incident. Another idea I got from a newspaper article was for “Bad Mood Rising.” A man actually shot his brother-in-law because he didn’t like the music he played at a party.
Q. Unbelievable. You couldn’t make something like that up.
A. Sure, I could. What do you think I did with most of the pieces? It’s called fiction. Even with “Orville” and “Bad Mood Rising,” beyond what I just said, everything else is my own concoction. I took the basic event and made up my own story.
Q. Those stories sound violent, yet you call it humor?
A. Black humor. Sometimes black-and-blue humor.
Q. Any others inspired by real-life events or people?
A. “The Man With the Invisible Horn” was inspired by just that. There was a guy who hung out at Open Mics, and he would intrude on the performer by “playing” his imaginary horn(s). He moved his hands as if he were playing and he made sounds with his mouth. There’s a few like that in the book, but, as I said, anything beyond the basic plot or incident is fiction courtesy of my fevered imagination.
Q. You have some parodies in Jim Shorts.
A. Yes, there’s an advice column parody of “Dear Abby” called “Dear Blabby.” There’s a few television parodies: “The Twilight Evzone,” in which a present-day man suddenly finds himself back in ancient Greece. In “Fantasy Eyelet Redux,” a man’s fantasy is to experience the Old West and he ends up in a saloon in the company of legendary lawmen and outlaws alike. “Cack-Out on 34th St.” is a “Dragnet” parody.
Q. There’ve been a lot of “Dragnet” parodies over the years–
A. Not like this one.
A. English, please.
Q. Getting back to the writing style itself, aside from being funny, what is the reason to change and play with words and write in what is practically a new language—or at least a new version of English?
A. Changing even a single letter in certain circumstances can actually enhance or at least underscore the meaning. To give a very simple example, when the aforementioned Orville committed the crime, like Lizzie Borden he whacked his victim many, many times. That’s not merely excessive, it’s axcessive. The wordplay works on different levels. You can enjoy it superficially, I think, even if you don’t fully recognize the references, because it simply sounds/looks funny. Then if you really delve into the words, there’s cultural, geographical, political, zoological, botanical and theological references in many of the puns. So in that way, it’s like a puzzle that reveals more the closer you examine it. A glass onion, as one of my influences would say.
Q. What is your writing routine or process?
A. I have none. I just write. Even in my sleep. I dream wordplay, especially when I’m working on a piece and I’m in the mode of “speaking” that language. So I keep a pad and pen on my bed. There’s no pattern. Sometimes a title inspires a story, sometimes I don’t have a title until after I’ve finished the piece.
Q. Do you ever get writer’s block?
A. Not really. I may get stuck on a certain line or part of a story, but I never really have the classic, dreaded writer’s block. If I have a moment where I don’t know what to write, I’ll write a story about a writer who doesn’t know what to write. Ideas come and I try to capture them before they fade, which happens sometimes when they occur while I’m asleep or just half-awake. I’ve lost some good stuff that way.
Q. When you announced this book, you mentioned that it isn’t for everyone–
A. Well, no book is, really.
Q. But what is it that some people wouldn’t like?
A. What I meant was that in this era of fast food, fast entertainment, fast news and fast information, a book which requires a lot of concentration and thought may be off- putting to those who like a quickie, so to speak. And I don’t mean to sound elitist, but the truth is, reading and understanding such a book does require a certain level of intelligence and awareness. No one is likely to get every reference in the book. But if you know nothing of history and culture, it would likely confound you. I mean, the wordplay encompasses everything from B-movie actors to trees. But I think part of the fun is that puzzle-like aspect I mentioned. Repeated perusals might reward the reader with more revelations: “Oh, that’s what he’s referring to!” Or so one hopes.
Q. Might anyone take offense at anything in the book?
A. Anyone might.
Q. Elaborate, please.
A. You never know with people. Someone had seen my poem “The Lady With Elephantitis” and was offended. She had a relative with the illness and claimed I was making fun of people suffering from the condition. But I wasn’t. My poem is a kid’s-eye-view of it. When I was a very little kid, for a brief period I lived in Philly, where my mother was from, and there was a woman on the block who had the affliction. When I was told it was Elephantitis (which is a bastardization of the actual name Elephantiasis, by the way), I didn’t understand—was she turning into an elephant? Was she part-elephant? So the poem is an exaggerated view from a young child’s imaginative perspective.
Q. Any other sensitive areas?
A. Who knows? There’s always someone offended by something. But I have no agenda. I’m an equal opportunity offender.
Q. You mentioned adult content—
A. There’s a sexual encounter in “The Babble of the Sexes,” but there are no four-letter words. On second thought, I would guess there are plenty of four-letter words, but not of the profanity persuasion. But it’s explicit in my own original language.
Q. Have you had any feedback yet?
A. I just made the book available, so no one else has read it yet, at least not the whole book. However, I started the book a long time ago, then put it aside when I realized what a pain in the ass trying to find a publisher would be. Back then I sent samples of it to some of the essayists who contributed to a book entitled Lewis Carroll: A Celebration, which I had reviewed for my hometown newspaper. I remember sending them “Emile and the Nigh Visitress” (about a scavenger huntress tracking down a man with a forked tongue), “The Cardsharks” (a poem about three threatening intruders who force people to play cards for money) and “I Gave My Love” (a nonsense poem). They wrote back with very kind words.
Q. Don’t leave us hanging—what did they say?
A. They said they “delighted in” and “took great pleasure” in the pieces I sent. One of them, Donald Rackin, a noted Carroll scholar and author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: Nonsense, Sense, and Meaning, wrote:
“Thanks for the copies of your work—which were delightful. Your debts to Carroll and Joyce and Lear and Lennon were evident, but your work is nevertheless your own and an accomplishment to be proud of. I congratulate you.”
Professor and author Terry Otten of Wittenberg University also took the time to write, as did the other contributors I contacted. Although I knew Rolling Stone had no use for such fiction, I sent some samples to them anyway, and Robbie Myers, then in the editorial department and now editor-in-chief of ELLE Magazine, responded with:
“You are indeed a clever fellow. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your pieces.” So I was very pleased they all gave me high marks.
Q. As opposed to groucho marks?
A. Hey, I warned you!
Q. Sorry, what’s next for you?
A. I already have two other books that I’ll offer up one at a time—a children’s book and then a follow-up to Jim Shorts. Next on my list, I’ll be working on a book of Q&A’s with people I’ve interviewed.
Q. Veddy good. I hope Jim Shorts will pique the interest of a lot of people who love wordplay and humor.
A. So do we.
Q. Thank you for our time.
A. Thank you for halving me.
(Anyone interested in purchasing the PDF of Jim Shorts can find it at: