Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Deadline looming!

The deadline for submitting to Diner Stories is almost here. I haven't posted much lately because I've been going through some fine stories. I haven't made final selections yet, but I'm confident I will have enough for the book.

That doesn't mean you still can't send in your story. There's still time! And for those of you on whom I'm waiting, THERE'S STILL TIME!

Punch it out and get it in. You can do it!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tough competition!

I've been going through submissions for the book. That's partly why I've been away from the blog. I like what I'm seeing. Lots of different stories. When all is said and done, this book will be a good mix of lengths and genres.

For any who have yet to submit a story, the competition is heating up. The quality is astounding. I can't wait to see what else comes to me. I'm loving every minute of this!

Part of my time is also spent finding new and interesting diners. One just opened up in my town not too long ago. If you're ever in Morgantown, WV, check out The Atomic Grille. Also found a neat little place in Connellsville, PA called Ed's Diner next to Melody's Motor Motel off Route 119. It's been there for 17 years. But the original Ed's, which I've not been to in Uniontown, has been around for 35 years!

I love diners that have been around for that long or longer. In Fairmont, WV, next to Fairmont State University, there is McAteer's. Which has been in operation since 1958. I highly recommend that place. Their breakfasts are good. As is the Monster Cheeseburger. Do yourself a favor and try the bacon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Some of my favorite diners.

So far I've talked about my love of diners. Now I believe it's time to show. Here's some pictures of my favorite diners and eateries where I've eaten and been inspired.

First up is the Middleburgh Diner from Middleburgh, NY.

Next is Tailpipes from Morgantown, WV.

Here is the Grafton 123 Coffeehouse from Grafton, WV.

And then the Alley Cat from Schoharie, NY.

Sadly, the staff at the Grafton 123 suffered a loss in the family. They could no longer keep the place running, so they put it up for sale.  The Alley Cat closed down due to severe flooding in the area. It is now reopened as the Blue Star CafĂ©.

I'll put more pictures of diners up later. But I wanted to start out with a few good ones. Just a taste of all the places I've been. And continue to be.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Diner Poems

The grandfather of the Diner Stories project is a book of poems I published back in 2009. "Diner Poems" is a collection of my memories, impressions, and statements on the diner gothic. Essentially, a gathering of portraits in print.

Here's one of my favorite poems from the book:


The waitress is still young, her skin
is still clear. Not yet showing
pockmarks that come from
a three-pack-a-day habit.

Male consumers still glance
at her cleavage every time she
leans over the counter. She's not
unattractive yet. Even with

the handles on her hips, and
a slight pooch over her waistline.
Her shirt is short enough that,
when she bends, a winged tattoo

is revealed at the base of her spine.
Her long brown hair is tied
in a short bob that flails
with every sweep of

her slender neck. And whenever
she arches her back,
her butt sticks out farther than
her stomach. So it's still

a given that she's not
unattractive, yet.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kitchen sink post

A good burger can make a good day turn great. Which makes it a great burger after all.

Had a nicely done bacon cheeseburger at Atomic Grill, a great little local place. It's quickly turning into my favorite watering hole. All my friends eat there now. Some even work there. No better qualification for being a diner than a strong personal connection. Not just for me, but for everyone in town. I think this place will be around for a while.

Having a good time going through submissions for the book. Seeing some good stuff. Please keep them coming in. If you haven't submitted yet, I eagerly await your contribution.

Here's a few suggestions of movies with diners in them:

     "Diner" (1982) All-star cast with Tim Daly, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Mickey Rourke, Steve
                              Gutenberg, Daniel Stern, and Ellen Barkin. And that doesn't even cover the great
                              secondary cast! Set in 1959 Baltimore, these friends' stories converge every time
                              they meet for burgers and fries.

     "Empire Falls" HBO miniseries based on the book by Richard Russo. Starring Ed Harris as a
                              restaurant owner who has enough trouble holding onto his business, but then
                              family problems crop up.

    "Petrified Forest" (1931) Early Bogart film starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. Takes place
                                             almost entirely in a run-down diner in the Arizona desert. Also a good
                                             crime flick.

A little bit of everything in this post. Talk atcha later.

Good writing . . . and good dinering!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sometimes, I need a diner.

Just the other day, I went to a diner. Yeah, big surprise. Right?

But I went because I needed to go.

I went because I needed to be surrounded by the sounds that I love. The sounds of spoons stirring sugar into coffee cups. The sounds of thirty-odd conversations happening at once. The sounds of food cracking and popping on the grill. And the sounds of kids begging dad for a candy bar before they go home.

I need these sounds. I need them so I may reconnect with my reasons for writing, being, and living. When I worked at my uncle's diner, I had to do the hardest job I ever had to do by that point. It did something significant to me. It still does and always will.

I was 17 when I worked at the diner. Young enough to learn hard lessons. Old enough to carry the resolutions for the rest of my life. Because I was in a diner when I learned those lessons, being in a diner today both reminds me of, and reinforces, those lessons.

Maybe when you're in a diner, a spoon hitting the floor is just a spoon hitting the floor. To me, it's a little bit more. Everything there is a little bit more. Which makes the place, as a whole, a lot more.

And in a way, when I leave, I'm a bit more than I was before.

Good writing . . . and good dinering.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Guideline clarification for "Diner Stories"

For any wishing to view the complete guidelines for submission, go to the first post from June in this blog. Or if you'd like me to send them to you, e-mail me at Don't forget the dot between "diner" and "stories."

We are not accepting poems for this collection, I'm sorry to say. I've gotten some beautiful poems from people, but it's just not the right time for them. But these poems make me think the authors have an idea what makes a good diner story. If you've submitted a poem, I encourage you to proffer a story.

Your diners do not have to be set in West Virginia. They can be anywhere. Some of my favorite diners are from out of state. Your diners can be actual or fictional, or actual in a fictional setting, as long as the reader believes them.

Lastly, make your titles intriguing. Getting a bunch of stories titled "The Diner" means I may spend more time than necessary sending e-mails asking if you have something different in mind. Also, just because it's a diner story does not mean "diner" absolutely has to be in the title.

I will read ALL submissions and will treat them all with the respect they are due. Make no mistake about that. I've gotten a few already and I see good things.

This is a good start. I can't wait to see what else is in store.

Good writing . . . and good dinering!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Please read: Submission hint for "Diner Stories."

Well, the time is here! Submissions for the book are finally open! So send in those stories, please! Submit to

I've said before that diners in the stories should be as much a character as the people in them. So be inventive. Just as no two people are the same, so are no two diners. Of course, they share a lot of common characteristics.

For example: a long counter with a row of swivel stools, a tile floor, a jukebox, booths by the window, surly waitresses and cooks, and usually some stainless steel, neon, or porcelain (depending on the type of diner).

A diner does not necessarily have to have all these elements. Nor does it need to have them in exactly the form I describe. Heck, it could have some stuff I haven't even thought to mention. But however your diner looks, it has to work in your story.

Your diner could look like paradise. Or it could look like a dive. I'm not so strict on how the diners look as long as they work for me.

That said . . .

Good writing . . . and good dinering!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

There's more to tipping than just money.

I recently read a story where a man went to a diner for a meal of burger and fries. Before he left, he gave his server a tip of $10,000. Yep, ten grand. He overheard how this person's son was diagnosed with cancer. He had recently won the lottery and wanted to spread the wealth where and when he could.

This is the perfect example of how anything can happen in a diner. You won't hear stories like this happening in McDonald's. Not in my opinion. In my experience, the workers in fast food are kept too separate from the customers to ever be in receipt of such kindness.

But just as such joy can happen in a diner, there may also occur frustration.

Case in point.

This happened while I was working at Pee Wee's Diner in '87 or '88. A couple of jocks walked in one afternoon. They were dressed like they'd just finished playing basketball, I think. Or maybe tennis. They wanted to eat hot dogs. But not just any hot dogs. They asked the cook if she could make bacon cheese hot dogs.

Well, we didn't have anything like that on the menu. Apparently, some other place in the area did. So the cook shrugged and tried to make what they wanted. Cooked up the hot dogs, sliced 'em open, put cheese inside, and wrapped 'em in bacon. The guys ate four of the things between 'em.

They also drank two 32 ounce lemonades apiece. All this while they sat around for over an hour talking about sports.

When they were done, they thanked us for the food and paid their bill. I distinctly remember the total being $9.91. They paid with a ten and left the tip on the counter.

A grand total of nine cents.

I'll stop here because I still can't bring myself to publicly say what I think of those two guys.

Good writing . . . and good dinering.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Make me believe it.

I've been asked if it's okay to set the diner stories in different time periods. Diners themselves go back to the late 19th century, when they started as portable lunch carts. Their boom time was really in the years from the Jazz age to the 1950's. As fast food franchises popped up from the late 50's and on, diners were fighting a slow battle for existence.

These days, diners are almost a dying breed. A lot of mom and pop shops are going strong out of pure force of personality. It's also up to the people to keep these places alive. Your story should bring such a place to life no matter when or where it is set.

If you're going to set your diner in a particular era, I suggest you do your research. I don't expect a thesis, but believability is key.

Now suppose you're writing a fantasy about a diner in ancient Egypt. Fair enough. I did say no restriction on genre. So make me believe it. Or at least, make me suspend my disbelief. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to reading submissions.

Believe that.

Good writing . . . and good dinering.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer 1987

That was one of the hottest summers on record. I remember temperatures were routinely at or above 100 degrees. During that time, I worked at Pee Wee's Diner. A family owned restaurant ran by my uncle. Grandma ran it back in the post WW2 era.

There was no green grass anywhere. It was all brown and brittle. It was like walking on hay. We had an air conditioner that was a creaky old box that sat in a back window. Looked really old, but it blew a jet stream of arctic chill that was unparalleled anywhere for its heatstroke relieving qualities.

I stood in front of that window at every break. At every moment in between customers. The table by that window was really the cleanest table of any diner ever. I went from sopping with sweat before I stood by the AC to sopping with sweat after I went back to work. But two minutes in that air flow gave me strength to keep working.

Some interesting things happened during that summer at. I encountered a couple of redneck racists. Saw a woman almost pass out from dehydration. Got the worst tip ever from a couple of jocks who made me, and the cook, work our butts off making something NOT on the menu. And I met an old man who set me on the path I would travel as a writer. I'll talk about them all at some point.

The summer of '87 was the hardest I ever had to work in my life. Not just to earn money, but to ensure the trust my uncle put in me to work there. Because of that back-breaking summer, I learned exactly what in life I could take for granted: NOTHING!

Monday, June 24, 2013

My first diners.

So how did I get into writing about diners? It didn't start overnight. My passion for diners developed over years and years. See, both sets of grandparents lived 500 miles away from where I grew up. A few times a year, my family and I would take that long road trip just to visit them. Along the way, we stopped at various diners, restaurants, and eateries. Some were good. Some were bad. Others were fantastic.

Some of these places almost seemed like they were traveling to see me. Like I was their rest stop. Parts of them have never left me. Just like parts of me are still in them. Even in the places that aren't there anymore.

My folks and I still take more or less the same road to visit family. Some of those places are gone for various reasons: closing down, burning down, or being bought out. But I still know where they were. In my mind, even though my body passes them by, I am still sitting in them indulging in my favorite meal.

Some of the family we visit is gone as well. But I know where they are, too. Just like the diners, they're all inside me.

Good writing . . . and good dining.

Submit to "Diner Stories"!

Hello, this is my very first blog. I'm pleased to announce that I will be editing a collection of stories soon to come out from Mountain State Press. The collection is tentatively titled "Diner Stories", but that may change.

I thought I'd start out by putting out the guidelines for submission. Please, read them and see if you have something to contribute.

Guidelines for "Diner Stories"
1. Story length: up to 5,000 words.
2. Genre: Any. Including literary fiction, non-fiction, memoir, or flash fiction.
3. Payment: 2 copies per author.
4. Submission period: July 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013.
5. Submit stories to: in RTF (Rich Text Format).
6. Double space manuscripts in size 12 Times New Roman font.
7. Publish date: Summer or Fall 2014.
8. Please no excessive profanity. Also, no gratuitous sex or violence.
9. Please include name, address, and e-mail at the top of your manuscript.
10. Please do not check on submission status until at least March 1, 2014.
I am looking for stories that take place in diner or revolve around them. Diners resonate with people in a way that fast food chains and franchises can not. They have shaped American culture and given a mystique to the road and those that travel upon it.
Good diners have unique characteristics. Parts of them stay with people after they leave. Your diners should be as much a character in your story as the people. They're not just places to eat. They are refuges, gathering places, and watering holes.
That said, please no stories about McDonald's, Shoney's, Bob Evans, or other such places. I'm after tales that evoke the mystique of the mom and pop shop. I recommend spending some time in a diner to absorb the sound and conversations that pervade the atmosphere. But don't be invisible. Get to know the people there. Inspiration may just come from a strange corner.
For further inspiration, feel free to check out the facebook page for Diner Poems. There are photos and albums of various types of diners and eateries for you to view. If you have any questions about these guidelines or anything about the collection, please post here or send me an e-mail at the above address. I look forward to seeing what comes from your pen.
Good writing and good dining,
Daniel McTaggart