Break my own column rule


My great friend Dan had a basement that was his childhood wonderland with a pinball machine, ping pong table, slot car circuit, dart board, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots, board games and more.

Dan not only knew how to skillfully shake the pinball machine without registering a tilt, but he also had a habit of tilting other games in his direction. That is to say, he cheated playfully.

“My house, my rules”, Dan announced and demanded an overhaul when his HO scale Corvette rounded a curve too quickly and flew off the track; when his dart wildly missed and ricocheted off the cinder block wall; when he jerked the flipper a little too vigorously and the fins froze.

Similarly, a high-stakes roll in Monopoly sometimes required both dice to rest on the game board, not the table; but other times vice versa. ” It does not count. Roll again,” he sneered if he didn’t like the result. “My house, my rules.”

Naturally, the rules tipped in my favor when we played HORSE or checkers at my house.

I bring this up today because I have long had an unwritten rule of not writing about local authors and their books in this space. It seems safer to say “no” to every request, no matter how many, than to risk it becoming a weekly column of book reviews.

Alas, loyal readers of this space with fond memories will instantly recognize my hypocrisy because in February I wrote about the novel “Thank you, Carissa, for ruining my life” (Immortal Works Publishing). The setting features a fictional beach town named Buena Vista that is clearly – from Main Street in the foothills to a familiar taco shack – Buenaventura.

This author, a former prestigious John Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing, has a new book that was just released last week: a collection of short stories called “How to Make Paper When the World is Ending” (Koehler Books). It’s amazing. Indeed, no less than 10 of the 15 offers have already appeared in magazines and literary journals.

Just as Mr. Steinbeck has repeatedly written about the Salinas Valley in his fiction, Dallas Woodburn writes again and again about his hometown — including the pier, beach, and boardwalk — in the pages of “Paper.” One of my favorite stories here is called “How my parents fell in love” and begins:

“My mother came out of the grocery store. She wore a red dress, her hair was permed like in the photo albums. My father arrived in a car, a fast, silver car, a car that goes vroom vroom. He didn’t know her yet. She looked pretty in that red dress with ruffles at the hem. He rolled down the window, leaned over, smiled and said, “Hubba, hubba!” They fell in love and lived happily ever after.

Four similar vignettes follow, each longer and written with more maturity than the last, each storyline slightly altered but ending in exactly the same way: “They fell in love and lived happily ever after.”

The sixth and final version, however, rings the truest and drops the fairy tale ending: “Later that night they kissed under the mistletoe. The fallen in love. And they lived happily. Also angrily, spitefully, desperately, greedily. Messy. For all time. Like saints and martyrs and lovers and children. They lived and they live. Always together.

Am I guilty of hypocrisy and nepotism with today’s topic? Yes, definitely. Also shamelessly, happily, shamelessly, proudly with my pimples popping.

“My column, my rules.” I hope you will understand and forgive me.

Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Star and can be reached at [email protected] His books are available at

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