Posts Tagged ‘writing comedy’

The Magic Land of Alakazam

I was six years old, maybe five, when I went to my first live TV taping, a local TV show called The Magic Land of Alakazam. There were hundreds and hundreds of screaming, unruly kids, and I was in the back row, far off to the side, when they asked for volunteers to join the magician on camera. I stood on my chair and waved my hand like a madman. And I got picked. No one in my family was surprised — nor surprised at my attempts to subvert the magician’s tricks. plus ça change, my friends, plus ça change…

Pure Poetry

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

One of the things I love about my novelist avocation is how the fruits of my research can lead me to such strange corners of the known world. Just now, while searching for the perfect brand of malt liquor to have a character drink (I settled on King Cobra), I came across a brew I’d never heard of, O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock. And I don’t know, something about the name just tickled me. So I dug a little deeper. I found pictures…


Historical accounts…

I used to drink this when I first moved out on my own in Alberta. It was THE “cowboy malt likker” they sold at al the cabarets. My 3 roomies and I drank oceans of this stuff

And, most specially, this review:

Smells of wet socks and vomit, lumberjack shirts, and stale nicotine smoke. Tastes like cardboard and wool. These days when out in the cabin I prefer turpentine.

And that was such poetry that I just had to share it with you.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get back to work. Writing about drinking: It’s the next best thing to doing it.

More later, -jv

Word for the Day

Monday, February 1st, 2010



An unsubstantiated story that makes you freak out. Can you think of examples of panicdotes? I’m starting a collection.

True Fact/Bar Fact, Multiple Choice Edition

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Which of these is not another name for kiwifruit?

A) Yang Tao

B) Chinese Gooseberry

C) Melonette

D) Fruit Potato


Email for answer jvx at

It’s That Cold

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

But it’s not that cold. Okay, it is that cold. Like, it hasn’t been above single digit temperatures all week (and that’s in Fahrenheit — it’s even colder in centigrade). But yesterday when I was out walking in the Big Popsicle that is Moscow, I realized, hey, I’m not even miserable. Yes, it’s cold and yes, I’m cold, but I’m not suffering… I’m just cold. And as I looked around at passers-by, I realized that many of them weren’t wearing hats or gloves. Many carried on cell phone conversations, with bare hands and heads, just as if it were any other — okay, every other — day on the streets of Moscow. They weren’t miserable, either. They were just cold.

This is a huge revelation for me. I thought I HATED the cold. I recall living in Boston and hating winter so much that the cold actually made me angry. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles — to put the misery behind me. Well, now I’m in the middle of Moscow’s coldest winter in years (global warming? hah!) and it’s really not that hard to take. I can walk in the cold. I can BE cold. And I’m not unhappy.

Or maybe I’m just numb.

Frankly, it’s too cold to tell.

Also — knock on wood — I seem to be avoiding the treacherous slip-and-falls that have plagued me in the past. The sidewalks are ridiculously slick, but I’ve developed a system for not falling down. I just follow these simple steps.

1. EYES DOWN. Keep intensely focused on each step. This keeps ice patches from taking you by surprise.

2. HANDS OUT. Sure your fingers get cold, but your hands won’t do you any good in your pockets when you’re falling down.

3. LOW CENTER OF GRAVITY. Stay loose and stay low to keep balanced.

4. WATCH FOR DOWNSPOUTS. Where water flows down off rooftops it settles into deadly patches of black ice. Keep your eye on the downspouts and know that the ice is lurking.

Okay, what’s that thing pride goeth before? That’s right… a fall. So I’ll be specially careful going home tonight.

Stay warm, campers; it’s not even February yet.

More later, -jv

True Fact/Bar Fact, the Vowel Edition

Friday, January 8th, 2010

We all know that two English words — facetiously and abstemiously — feature all the vowels in alphabetical order. Well — true fact or bar fact? — there are NO English words that feature all the vowels in reverse alphabetical order. Check back Monday for my considered opinion.

And by the way, if you haven’t checked out my groovy promo video for The California Roll on my website, now is probably the perfect time to do so. True fact! Just click the pic.

THE CALIFORNIA ROLL cover draft small

More later, -jv (John Vorhaus, which I only mention for the search engines).

A Fortitious Happenstance

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

So it’s Sunday, my designated writing day, and I’m banging away on my next novel (The Albuquerque Turkey, due out in 2011, so it damn well better be finished by then!) I’m arguing with myself over whether fortitious is a word. I know fortuitous is, but I’m thinking that fortitious might be my own English-to-English false cognate. So I go to the internet to glean the opinion of consensus reality. Wikipedia thinks I mean fictitious. Webster just laughs. But Google returns some 1,860 hits for  fortitious. That’s not much by internet standards (fortuitous returns 1.6 million hits) but still it’s not nothing.

I’m curious to know how others treat the word, so I click about for a moment or two, and thus find my way to “Donna Zagotta’s Art Blog” ( The use of fortitious wasn’t even hers; it appeared in the text of a reader’s comment, in response to Donna’s post about being a member of an art show jury. And now here comes the fortitious happenstance, for Donna lists the (admittedly subjective) criteria by which she judges art. Here’s what she looks for:

– Work that is personal, unique, creative, and imaginative.

– Work that contains a personal visual language.

– Work that is well put together and creatively designed.

– Work that is fully resolved and contains a complete statement.

– Work that communicates something meaningful, whether a subject is present or not.

– Work that contains beauty. Not beauty for pretty’s sake, but the kind of beauty that results when the artist is authentically engaged with process, design, subject, and meaning.

– Most of all, I look for work that contains the artist’s passion.

And I realize — fortitious happenstance — that I look for essentially the same thing in a writer’s work. People often ask me how I know if a writer “has it.” I always said that I don’t know, I just know. But thanks to Donna Zagotta, I now have (and you now have) an objective set of criteria for subjective aesthetic judgment. And that’s certainly not nothing, and surely worth the ten minutes’ detour from my work.

So thanks for that, Donna; I’ll be pitching your standards as early as tomorrow morning here in Moscow, because the writers I work with are ever in need of clear, concise guidelines, and these are among the best I’ve seen. Don’t worry; I’ll give credit where it’s due, and you may end up getting more hits at your blog. More even, maybe, than fortitious.

And the last word on fortitious, campers? Of course it’s a word. I declare it a word. Which you knew from the start that I’d do, didn’t you?

More later, -jv

The Week Got Away

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

So I went out last Sunday to a gallery show, and took some pictures of some pictures I wanted to share with you. Now, all of a sudden, it’s Saturday. Where did the week go? Well, where they’ve all gone: into a haze of long days peppered with documents to review, notes to give, meetings to attend, and then more documents to review for the next day’s merry-go-round — leavened, thank God, with the occasional expats’ poker game. I’m not complaining — still not complaining! — every day is a workaholic’s holiday in Moscow. But I did mean to post these pictures before now. Anyway, now it’s now, and here they are, some examples of contemporary Russian and European art, currently on sale near the Kremlin at prices that beggar imagination.

Moscow 12-09 022

Moscow 12-09 028

Moscow 12-09 031

Moscow 12-09 032

Moscow 12-09 036

And then this is me, stopping at a shopping center on the way home to try on the latest in Russian adventure-wear.

Moscow 12-09 039

And finally some buskers, following the internationally honored tradition of singing to people who just don’t care.

Moscow 12-09 043

It’s getting cold down there in those underpasses now. After last week’s record high temperatures, the mercury has plummeted through cold and too cold, all the way down to stupid cold. I don’t mind. I’m heading home to California in ten days, where “cold” means maybe I won’t wear shorts today. And yes, I’ve re-upped — I’ll take another shift at the mine from late January until March first. But, again, I don’t mind. After all, I work indoors, don’t have to walk anywhere I don’t choose to, and since I have a driver, I never have to get into a cold car. That’s huge if you hate winter. The weird thing is, I’m not even hating it. Could it be that I’ve thickened my California blood with Moscow borscht? No, not possible. I don’t eat borscht.

Okay, well, time to dive back into my week. Workaholic’s holiday, la la la.

More later, -jv

The Good Cognac

Friday, December 4th, 2009

When you’re in my line of work, sometimes people give you gifts. When you work in Russia, some of your colleagues may hail from the region of Dagestan, where the cognac is considered to be quite nice. When your Dagestani colleagues give you a gift, it may be freshly-brewed cognac, in the packaging of choice, a five-liter water bottle. It might look a lot like this.

Moscow 12-09 015

Is it tasty? Well, I could tell you that it’s far and away the best Dagestani cognac I’ve ever had, but that would be flip, so let me be slightly less so:  I like it — and I don’t like cognac.

Not like the pepper-flavored vodka someone once gave me that, “started like Tabasco sauce and finished like paint thinner.”

Meanwhile, we have some interesting skies these Moscow December days and nights. Here’s two views.

Moscow 12-09 001

Moscow 12-09 004

Must run now. Work beckons. At least I have the good cognac to come home to. More later, -jv

True Fact/Bar Fact: Heavy Metal Issue

Monday, November 30th, 2009

True fact or bar fact? In the 19th century, aluminum…

aluminumwas worth more than gold.

goldWell, was it?

More later, -jv