Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Around the world, people are ringing in 2011...

Some could be considered certifiable. (The way I heard it, not many native New Yorkers actually ring in the new year in Times Square. I heard this from almost every editor I've ever worked with. I guess that's why I've always wanted to do it.)

Beautiful, isn't it?

A not so beautiful image: somewhere in New Jersey, the notorious Snooki will be dropped in a jumbo hamster ball. William has suggested she should be dropped into the Delaware River. I tend to agree. And the rest of the Jersey Shore cast should jump in to save her...and all get swept out to sea....

Now that would be a great start to 2011!

Tonight, as the ball drops in Times Square, two couples will be married there, at the base of the ball drop. I've always thought a New Year's Eve wedding was a great idea. New beginnings and all. Romantic, no matter how you look at it. They'll start the New Year as husband and wife. Two against the world. Or maybe joining forces to conquer it....

For myself, however, I'd have to go with April Fool's Day. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised.

I make no New Year's resolutions as this year comes to an end. That's like making rules, and I've always felt the only thing to do with a rule is...break it. I'd be defeating my own purpose, don't you think? 

Actually, as years go, 2010 wasn't bad at all. Some years have sucked big time. But there was a lot to like about 2010. I have a feeling 2011 is going to be even better. In fact, I'm willing to bet on it!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Finding Time to Write

When I became a full-time writer, one of the things I most looked forward to was being able to work at home. No more getting up before dawn to get to the office via a sometimes long commute. No more waiting for buses in knee-deep snow or oppressive heat. No more punching the old time clock. I could set my own hours! I could work all day or all night as I chose.

Sounds heavenly, doesn't it? Too bad it's rarely that idyllic.

Many authors I know resorted to leasing offices outside the home so they could have uninterrupted time in which to write. Most complained that working at home didn't work, because there were always neighbors at the door requesting favors. Could they let the repairman in to work on their washer? Could their four kids stay there until they got home from work? A delivery was due--surely it would be no trouble to watch for the truck and sign for it. After all, the writer was home all day. 

And Dr. Frankenstein thought he had problems with his neighbors....

I refused to be driven out of my home. My neighbors knew better than to come to my door with their To Do lists. I had no problem whatsoever turning my phone off. Anyone who knows me well knows I hate to talk on the phone--most of the time, anyway. The salesman at T-Mobile was baffled when I requested a smartphone with no actual phone service, just a data plan. He patiently explained that this was simply not possible.

Oh, well. As it turned out, the phone had a habit of sending calls directly to voicemail. How convenient!

I've had the occasional idiot banging on my door, unaware that he was taking his life in his hands by doing so. The only major problem I've had, however, was a friend who couldn't take a hint. She'd lost her job but didn't want her husband to find out, so she was staying away from home all day. She decided she was going to spend those days at my place. I explained that it wouldn't work because I needed privacy for writing. "You can write after I go home," she said.

I could write when she wasn't there. Wasn't that nice of her to allow me to have my privacy after she finally went home?

The last straw came when Collin and I moved into our current residence. We had boxes stacked all over the living room and dining room, and I was determined to get everything sorted and in the appropriate rooms before bedtime. As I was unpacking, there was a knock at the door. It was Debbie. "This isn't a good time," I told her.

"Oh, that's all right," she said, pushing past me. She made her way to the dining room and pulled up a chair, parking herself at the table. At that point, I didn't care if I made her angry. If she left and never came back, I'd be okay with that. I didn't bother to hide my displeasure at her forced presence. It's been said that if I don't like someone, they have to be dead to not know it, but Debbie didn't get the message at first. Only when she realized I was not going to offer her anything to eat or drink, that I would not stop what I was doing to listen to her latest complaints, did she finally leave.

The medieval castle-builders had it right. My next home will have a moat. And maybe a couple of moat bears....hungry moat bears....

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On The Way Up: An Interview with Mike Saxton

Today at On The Way Up, we're talking with sci-fi author Mike Saxton, author of the thrilling new novel 7 Scorpions Rebellion. It's getting rave reviews on Amazon, so it comes very highly recommended! I've gotten to know both Mike and his wife, Amy, at Facebook, and Mike's a regular fixture at the Writers Digest online community. (Photo: Mike with wife Amy and son Chris.)


When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?

I used to "bat around" the idea when I was in my early teens and I was into role playing games. It was solidified when I was 19, two years into a lucid dreaming period that would serve as the inspiration for my novels.

You've said that, like many of us, the first book you fell in love with was Charlotte's Web. What was it about that novel that had an impact on you?

As a kid, I really liked the dedicated friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur, especially the lengths to which Charlotte went to insure that her pig friend was not slaughtered. It was also exposure to dealing with the death of someone close to you (although it was and still is heartwarming that three of the baby spiders remained behind with Wilbur).

Who are some of the other writers and books who have influenced you and why?

Stephen King was big for me. Funny enough, Eyes of the Dragon was the first "adult" novel I ever read and I finished it in two days. Considering that I'm dyslexic, that was quite a feat. I liked his style and the depth to his characters and some of my own writing style is what I learned from him.

I know I'll catch hell for this, but I also admire Stephenie Meyer (I have never read the Twilight series but my wife says that I would like The Host) and J.K. Rowling (I have read Harry Potter). I have to admire the success that they have attained in light of the rejections that they suffered through. Most people would have given up after what they experienced and I know that the majority of authors do indeed give up, often before they ever truly begin. Meyer and Rowling have shown that if you stick with something, you can become a success at it no matter what others think or say.

Tell us about 7 Scorpions Rebellion. Where did you get the idea? Why did you choose this genre?

The formation of 7 Scorpions is interesting. It is based on four years of lucid dreams that began right after my sophomore year of high school and ended right before my junior year of college. For those that are unfamiliar, a lucid dream is when you are consciously aware that you are dreaming. The 11 years that followed involved me attempting to make sense of what I had seen during those lucid nights and to organize it into a coherent story (which is not as easy as it seems, dreams are notoriously full of holes and paradoxes).

Science fiction and fantasy has always been my favorite genre but as far as choice, it is a genre that chose me. I really have no idea how I would even attempt to write outside of the genre (except maybe nonfiction).

You have a family and a day job. How do you make time to write?

To me, writing is something that I do for enjoyment. Like anyone else with a busy schedule, most of us manage to find the time to do something that we like. I am also self employed so I make my schedule. Of course, time will be a little shorter now that I am pursuing a doctorate.

This one's for your wife, Amy: is it tough to live with a writer?

No. Sometimes it is tough to live with Mike when he is in a joking/teasing mood! :) 

Amy, I have no trouble whatsoever believing that, which brings me to my next question....about this world domination business. You and William Kendall both seem to be plotting a takeover. Who's going to win and why?

The winner is unclear but I think William and I have a lot to gain from at least a temporary alliance to weed out the rest of the competition. We can later battle for domination Sith style so that the more powerful wins and the true ruler can be revealed. In the meantime, I think that, of all times, conditions will be ripe quite soon for a worldwide takeover.

You've become a favorite target of internet spammers. It's a regular topic on your blog. You seem to be wearing a SPAM ME sign.  How do you deal with that?

Funny enough, about ten years ago a friend of mine decided to load my email address into spam engines as a joke. Of course, it quickly got out of control. Fortunately, spam filters have helped curtail that and I pulled myself off of the legitimate lists. Once your email address makes it out there though, you become a target for the fraudulent emails that I've been posting on my blog.

With phishing emails, they spammers know that most people are not going to fall for it but there is always someone who does. Especially nowadays, in desperate times, people grasp onto false hopes and fall victim to scams that they may not have normally. Many of the emails that I have gotten have not made it onto spam alert web sites. 

Thank you, Mike and Amy. I have a feeling we're going to be seeing a lot of this author in the future--whether it's as an exciting new author, a crusader against spam, or when he eventually takes over the world.

I'm posting a link here for anyone interested in purchasing 7 Scorpions Rebellion, and if you have any questions for Mike,  feel free to post them here. I'll have an interview with poet and advocate April Morone next time.

 7 Scorpions Rebellion

Sunday, December 26, 2010

No Silent Night....

We did have a white Christmas--our first since 2005--but there was definitely no silent night at our house.

I should have realized when Collin came home coughing and sneezing a few nights ago that I was about to find something unpleasant in my Christmas stocking. Collin rarely gets sick (and I do mean rarely!), and bounces back quickly when he does, but I ended up with the fever, chills and nonstop coughing. While he went off to work today, I spent the day on the couch, mostly sleeping.

The quickie Christmas dinner some of you poked fun at actually turned out to be a blessing. My crock pot turkey roast was perfect. I made almost everything else in the microwave, and as crappy as we both felt, we still ate almost all of it. I did bake cookies, which was a first for me. Christmas is indeed a time for miracles--they turned out to actually be edible! And courtesy of our dear friend Carolyn, we had lots of candy. 

I guess giving all my available time to getting published at the expense of learning domestic skills wasn't such a bad thing after all. In spite of the congestion, the fever and the chills, it was a good Christmas. Collin is thrilled with his iPod and his Blu-Ray player/movies. I'm happy with my DVDs, my MP3 player and the gift that's yet to come--an Android phone! Sam got gift cards. He loves Subway's cookies and McDonald's fruit snacks, so we got him a gift card for each. I hope birds don't become diabetic....

Ooops. I need another box of Puffs.... 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Blog of Christmas Present

At the rate I'm going, I should probably call this one The Blog of Christmas Yet To Come.

Here it is, Christmas Eve, and I'm nowhere near ready. I just put up the tree on Wednesday. Just got the e-cards sent off yesterday. Collin has done the shopping for tomorrow's dinner, thankfully, so we have almost everything there.

It shouldn't be such a headache! Unlike my parents, I don't do elaborate decorating. Our tree is a little three-foot Highland Fir we've had for years. Noelle--yes, I named the tree!--has been with us for seventeen Christmases now. When we moved a few years after Dad died, my idiot ex-brother the Jehovah's Witness thought he could get us to stop having a tree if he conveniently left ours behind. By the time we realized it was gone, it was almost Christmas and Target had only small trees left.

I love our tree. It's cute. And it's easy to set up and decorate. Because it's small, it looks better without heavy garlands...but I like a lot of lights, so I bought a strand of 300 tiny multicolored lights. The ornaments all have some special significance. There's a tiny chef to commemorate the year Collin wanted to go to culinary school...a little wooden pig Mom gave me to represent my potbellied pig, Iggy...the angel, from church. We add a new ornament each Christmas. This year, because we both love the movie Despicable Me, it's a Snowminion--a cute little yellow Minion, a character from the movie, building a copy of himself in snow.

I send e-cards because they're more fun and environmentally friendly. If only everyone I know owned a computer. It takes a lot less time to send than a paper card....

As for dinner, the turkey is small, only three pounds, since there are only two of us. Tonight, I'll prepare it in the crock pot so tomorrow morning, all I'll have to do is turn it on and allow it to cook for seven or eight hours.

Oh, crap. I'm going to have to get up early to get that started....

The rest of the meal will be easy. Stove Top stuffing, canned gravy, instant mashed, did I ever claim to be Rachael Ray?

It should be easy, shouldn't it? Yet I feel like I've become an honorary member of the Griswold family. I have, however, taken care of the important stuff: Christmas TV viewing! The DVDs are ready to go--the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, The Nativity Story, The Christmas Box, Badder Santa (we have the unrated version) and my favorite Christmas episode of Home Improvement, the one in which Tim’s passion for excess in Christmas decorations saves the day when he and Al are trying to get home in a snowstorm. Their plan is about to be detoured when the boys switch on Tim’s Christmas lights, giving the plane enough light to land.

Makes me think of our family Christmases, long ago….

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blogs of Christmas Past, part three

Merry Christmas, everybody! 

OK, it's not politically correct. Happy Holidays is politically correct. But then,  I'm not politically correct. Stats say 80% of the U.S. is Christian. That means I'm in the majority, and last time I checked, majority rules. Even if it didn't, I'm a Christian and proud of it. 

I have a lot to apologize for, but that's not on the list. 

'Tis the season. In Iraq, Santa is making the rounds wearing a bullet-proof vest and packin' heat. Who'd ever have thought Santa would have to travel with weapons? 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus--and he's armed and dangerous.Don't let him catch you being naughty. There's a stiff penalty for being naughty. 

In New Zealand, a bunch of drunken Santas invaded a cineplex. Drunken Santas?'s so hard to get good help these days. 

Normally, I try to be done with everything long before the Big Day because I detest crowds and insanity (except my own, of course), but yesterday, I not only ventured out into the last-minute chaos, I was oblivious to it. I had my trusty MP3 player with me, so all was well. 

Music really does soothe the savage beast. I'm living proof of that. 

First stop: the bank, to make a deposit. We've been with the same bank for something like eighteen years, through numerous mergers and name changes. I've been there longer than most of the personnel. At the teller window (I don't think they call 'em teller cages anymore, though at times they probably should), Pat is smiling. She's got good reason to smile: a holiday falling on a Saturday. At least banks employees will get that half day--and the Sunday after. She's surprised to see me out and about.

"I'm going to get my turkey," I mentioned. 

She didn't miss a beat. "I thought he was at work," she deadpanned, referring to Collin, not the edible turkey awaiting me at Dierbergs' deli. 

I laughed like a looney tune. Couldn't help it. That was a good line. Wish I'd thought of it. 

Last year, we had a pre-fab (OK, pre-cooked) turkey. My son, the aspiring chef, had no intention of preparing the Christmas dinner. (Did I mention this before? Or maybe I only mentioned it repeatedly to HIM.) He worked all week at the restaurant and had no interest in cooking on his one and only day off. So with our pre-cooked bird, instant sides and my aversion to cooking anything other than in a microwave, dinner was ready in a record 30 minutes. 

Hey, I have better things to do on Christmas Day than cook.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blogs of Christmas Past, part two

And a parrot in a pear tree.... 

Ooops! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah...Mom had a roll of TP under the tree and Dad was trying to explain a box of poop to Homeland Security. Well, not exactly. But he was a repeat offender. As a matter of fact, he chose one victim twice simply because she swore he'd never fool her again. 

The target was Cathy, a friend of mine from high school. After Poopapalooza 1, she tried and tried to find a way to exact her revenge--but a whoopee cushion in his truck just didn't quite equal Dad's prank. When she told him she'd never fall for it again, well, that was like throwing down the gauntlet. He looked for a way to trick her into opening the box for a second time, and she unwittingly gave him the solution when she commented on a local souvenir--an outhouse ashtray. (Yep, we're about as redneck as you can get without being Jeff Foxworthy's blood relative.) 

I was seven months pregnant with Collin at the time and had been visiting Cathy, her then-husband, Ralph, and their son Damien (no connection to the character in The Omen). Dad sent the ashtray to Cathy with a message I was to relate: he knew she liked it and was sending it as a peace offering. She was touched--until she opened the little outhouse and saw the tiny turd, standing straight up in the tiny potty. 

"I'm gonna kill that old man!" Cathy shrieked. (She didn't know it couldn't be done without a silver bullet.) 

I've got a lot of Christmases to cover, so please bear with me. Twelve days may not be enough. And remember, you just never know what's in those pretty packages....

Friday, December 17, 2010

Blogs of Christmases Past, part one

NOTE: For the next week, I'm going to re-post Christmas blogs originally posted on MySpace....


I love Christmas. I love the big dinners and the music and the presents and the family all together for that one special day. Most of all I love the real reason for Christmas. I love knowing that 2000 years ago, God came to earth to live among us, to know us and to save us. I love thinking about what that first Christmas must have been like, and being able to see it so clearly in my own mind. 

I don't love so much of what Christmas has become: angry people on the roads and in the malls, pushing and shoving, jostling for position in the lines for the most popular gift items. I don't love crowds and high-pressured sales pitches and lazy bums who prefer to steal someone else's money and/or gifts instead of working for their own. 

I was at the mall the other day. It was funny, actually--as I went from one store to another, a young man attempted to charm his way to a sale: arms outstretched, big smile, big tube of very expensive lotion in hand in a bid to convince me I could not live without that lotion. Little did he know. I changed lanes, moving to the other side of the aisle, and that big smile instantly vanished. I can only imagine what I was called in that disappointing moment! 

Then there was the turkey who attempted to help himself to my cash. I felt his hand the minute it hit the zipper on my messenger bag. I came down hard on the trespassing hand. "If you want to keep that, buddy, you'd better take it back NOW." 

I think he had an accident, if you know what I mean. 

I don't love that there are some who want to celebrate Christmas even though they don't believe in God, in Jesus. And I'm not referring to religions other than Christianity. Our Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah. Our Muslim neighbors have their holy days. I don't know much about other religions, but I'm sure they have theirs as well. gripe is with atheists, the real party poopers. They don't believe in God, don't believe that he came to live in our world as the infant Jesus, but they want the holiday anyway. They want to say the more politically correct "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" so they can have all of the fun without belonging to the club. 

I wonder how they explain to their kids what they're celebrating? "Oh, we're celebrating Daddy being sober for a whole year!" 

I say to them, don't celebrate a holiday if you don't believe in it. Too bad, Mr. and Ms. Grinch. No presents for you. 

My ex-brother is a Jehovah's Witness. They don't celebrate holidays or birthdays. My father always said Jeff became a Witness not because he really believed in their doctrine, but because he was just plain cheap and didn't want to have to buy any gifts. Jeff bristled every year when we put up our Christmas tree. He thought we should give up our tree because HE didn't believe in it. He claimed we were worshipping the tree, of all things! Dad couldn't resist--when he'd see Jeff's truck pull up in front of the house, he'd tell us to get down on our knees and bow to the tree when Dipstick came through the door. 

Mom always complained that was a little hard on the knees. 

Christmas was always a big deal for Mom and Dad, and it's at this time of the year that I miss them most. (Dad's been gone nineteen years now, and Mom twelve.) They were always like a couple of kids in their unabashed enthusiasm. They'd spend weeks preparing, shopping for gifts and trying to hide them from us. We were never allowed to put the tree up until Christmas Eve, and it was always the same: we'd get some form of takeout so Mom wouldn't have to cook--she'd begin preparing our Christmas dinner that night and couldn't deal with two meals at once. We'd watch a rerun of A Christmas Carol on TV--always the 1938 black-and-white version with Reginald Owen and the Lockharts. 

Once the tree was up and completely decorated, the gifts would start to appear from their hiding places. They would be placed under the tree and Dad would do a count to make sure everyone had an equal number of packages. There was never one gift per person, always at least seven or eight, usually ten. 

I remember one year Mom was a package short. Dad quickly remedied the problem with cash. He didn't want her to know it was cash, of course, so he wrapped it around a roll of toilet paper. Mom knew it probably wasn't just TP--Dad was notorious for gag gifts. He could be very creative in his gift-giving. His Christmas tradition was a little weird: instead of a lump of coal, the unfortunate target of his ire would get a beautifully-wrapped box of poop. 

I kid you not. POOP. Usually of the canine variety. I remember one Christmas when I was in college, he actually mailed the poop to a friend who was living in Tennessee at the time. I held my breath until it was received, wondering what would happen if postal inspectors happened to open the darned thing! 

I miss those good old days. 

Collin and I are making new traditions, new memories. Collin has never been good at keeping a secret--it's like lying. He didn't get that gene, for which I am grateful. 

Trouble is, I will know every gift he's giving me BEFORE Christmas. The Christmas before Dad died, he wanted a self-propelling lawn mower. He had a bad heart (only in the physical sense) and was having trouble using his old mower. To haul it in Mom's Escort, we'd have to put the back seat down, so we left Collin, then eleven years old, with Dad while we went to get it. All of our plans to sneak the thing into the back yard to hide it were, as it turned out, unnecessary--Dad came to the front door when we arrived, grinning from ear to ear. I knew immediately that my darling son had ratted me out. 

I miss those days.

(Even our pets looked forward to Christmas. Ignore the ugly orange carpet. We were in the process of redecorating.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Only Flurries....

The weather here has been terrible the past few days--snow, bitter cold, wind--and it's about to get worse. Today, we're expecting the trifecta of crappy weather: snow, sleet and freezing rain. I haven't set foot outside the door since Friday, except to feed the birds and squirrel (who has not put in an appearance in two days), and it doesn't look like I will be until next Friday...or maybe not until next spring....

Weather like this always reminds me of an unexpected winter storm that hit in April when I was in college. It was a Saturday. Dad was off on a construction site some twenty miles to the south. One of our tenants came over and asked Mom to drive her to Fenton, a few miles to the north, to open a checking account. Sheila's lazy, no-account husband wouldn't take her. Mom was hesitant. "It's supposed to snow," she told Sheila.

"Only flurries," Sheila said. "It won't take long."

The flurries began shortly after they left. At the bank, Mom noticed the snow was increasing. She told Sheila they'd have to head home, but Sheila asked to stop at the grocery store first. Mom reluctantly made the stop.

That was a mistake.

The storm came in hard and fast. By the time they came out of Shop N Save, the roads were impassable. They ended up stuck at a service station in Fenton, unable to get any further. Mom called me to see if Dad had made it home. He hadn't. Sheila called her husband, who cussed her out and told her to get home even if she had to walk. Finally, the two, along with three others, got a ride with a guy in a four-wheel drive from somewhere up north who thought they were all a bunch of wussies for being intimidated by such an "insignificant snowfall." 

They had to take Route 30 to Lindbergh and back south via Route 21, since Route 141 was blocked by stalled vehicles. Coming south on 21, they encountered Dad, who had also had to take an out-of-the way route, only to end up burning up his transmission trying to get his truck up a steep, icy hill.

They finally got home--together--but weren't able to get either vehicle home until the next day. Since that day, when the weather forecast says flurries, I always expect the worst case scenario.

Like everyone else, I head for the store to get the essentials: chocolate, milk, bread and eggs. And toilet paper!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Never Saw Her Before In My Life!

I had a rather unusual entry into writing series romance. It started with a discussion over lunch with an editor I'd met when she was my agent's assistant. I wasn't really familiar with these novels, aside from the fact that, back then, they'd been the butt of a lot of jokes. I was already under contract to Berkley for my first three mainstream novels. I remarked to Carrie that anyone could write "those books." That's when she issued that "put up or shut up" challenge.

I smugly accepted the challenge and quickly wrote a synopsis and sample chapters for my first romance and told my agent I wanted to give it a shot. She thought I was nuts.

I had too much time on my hands, I suppose. I was way ahead of my deadlines for books two and three, having already delivered the completed manuscripts. Maria patiently explained that a series romance would not earn me nearly as much as I was getting from Berkley. And I was not familiar with the formula. How could I write one? 

I persisted. When she read my proposal for Ms. Maxwell and Son, she was not enthusiastic.  It didn't follow the formula. It was a story about a very pregnant cartoonist whose husband, not wanting to be a father, had filed for divorce. The hero (and I use the term loosely here) was a rather slovenly musician who slept all day and played all night. The only one who could stand him was his smart-mouthed cockatoo, who had a penchant for flushing the toilet. They meet at the start of the book when she goes into labor and he's the only one she can find to drive her to the hospital.

Maria maintained there was no way this story would sell. She only submitted it to Silhouette to shut me up.When it did sell, I don't know which of us was more surprised!

Even more surprising was the fact that my editor there wanted more books from me!

Jump ahead four years and four romances. I delivered the manuscript for My Fair Vampire, a comedy about a vampire living in Manhattan and running a tabloid newspaper, the International Intruder. His star reporter is the descendant of vampire hunters who's there to break his heart--literally. The twist? Vampire and vampire hunter fall in love. Cute, huh? The title was changed to Something Old when the book was chosen to be part of a June wedding promo. You know...something old, something new...the only old theme they had was my centuries-old vampire!

By this time, I had several friends who also wrote series romances. One of them was Tiffany White, who also lives here in St. Louis and at that time wrote for Harlequin, Silhouette's parent company. She was working on a story about an actor who was even better tabloid fodder than Lindsay Lohan. The tab that was most actively pursuing him was, yes...the International Intruder!

When her book came out, we both got letters from readers that said essentially the same thing: 

"You guys know each other,right?"

Us? Nah! Where'd they get an idea like that?

Monday, December 13, 2010

On The Way Up: An Interview with William Kendall

Welcome to "On the Way Up," a new blog feature in which I'll be showcasing the literary stars of the not-too-distant future--writers who are not yet under contract to a commercial publisher, or are opting to self-publish their works.  This week, I'm talking with William Kendall, who's the author of a fascinating new thriller titled Heaven and Hell. William is also a graduate student in history in his native Canada....

William, how long have you been writing? 

Since I was eleven or twelve. I think those of us who are of a creative bent, whether it's in art, music, or writing, that side of us starts to develop around that age.

Which authors inspired you? 

I've been reading since before I went to school, and it's a habit I've never gotten out of. To start, I'd say historians like Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough stand out as personal favourites because they're storytellers. I've read plenty of history books where the authors can't engage the interest of the reader, but that's not the case with these two. 

Jack Higgins is another personal favourite. He writes in the spy thriller genre, and his primary character for the better part of a couple of decades now has been a former IRA enforcer turned British operative named Sean Dillon. Dillon's a fascinating character, never apologizing for his background. The dynamic Higgins wrote between Dillon and the character Hannah Bernstein, in the form of bantering and occasional bickering, is a partial influence for my two main characters. And like Higgins, I'd like to find ways to fit Irish terrorists into every book I can. 

My favourite novel is The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. It tells the story of the battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of some of the men who were there. It's a book I always come back to, like an old friend you visit again just to see how they're doing. His son Jeff has taken up his father's mantle with a series of books exploring history through the eyes of the people who lived it. Jeff and Michael have been big influences on the way that I write, in terms of style and focusing tightly on character.

Heaven & Hell has a very intriguing, controversial premise. Tell us more! 

In a brief blurb, Heaven & Hell is centered on a group of terrorists who try to start a war in the Middle East by manipulating all sides involved, and a group of intelligence operatives who are trying to stop them. By writing much of the book set in Israel and dealing with the terrorist issue, I'm practically inviting controversy. Particularly when it comes to the central event of the book.

I know that you've done some extensive research. Tell everyone about some of the more interesting experiences you've had in developing the background for Heaven & Hell. 

A lot of it starts, of course, in the library. I've been writing about Israel, so the sort of things I was looking for included religious customs, archaeology, history, architecture... it's involved a lot of note taking, searching about, finding information that might prove useful in the book. That's an ongoing process, of course. There's always something in the writing process that requires looking up something fresh that you might have overlooked. 

I haven't been to Israel, so it's required reaching out, being creative in talking to people. I got a lot of assistance (and a great suggestion to add a sequence at the Masada) from a fellow at the Israeli embassy. It's something I'd really suggest if you're writing about a foreign nation; talk to someone from an embassy or consulate. Just be careful how you open up conversations. After all, I was talking about terrorism in Israel as a novel plot, and wondering the whole time how much of the conversation was going to be added into a field report. 

I've also done the same, generally online, getting information from public relations staff, from places like Oxford University to the Israel Museum. I've gotten technical information from police officers on firearms, and just recently, some critical information from a fire fighter that helped me get past a bit of a dilemma I was in. 

Aside from that? One of the great benefits to the internet is the ability to gather lots of photographs of distant places, so that when you're writing, for example, about the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you can see these places with your own eyes.

You've told me how the Stryker character was created. Share that with my readers, please. 

Certainly! He's a character who's third generation, in a way. In high school, I was in a creative writing class, and one of the assignments was a long form story, like eighty to a hundred pages. That's where he started out, as a private investigator named Robert Stryker. I haven't looked at the story in years, and the only thing I might tell you off hand about it was that the climax of the book was set at a fire tower in the Muskoka region of Ontario, a place I know very well. 

The second version of the character was one I wrote just for myself for a long time, a primary character named Christian Stryker and the people in and out of his life. Something of a continuing work, where the character went through a number of occupations, from police to espionage to federal agent. He started out in archaeology, but abandoned that profession early on. This is really the training ground for my current writing, where I honed my craft. 

And so Tom Stryker is the third generation of the character. Like his predecessors, he prefers his last name only, and like Christian, he's a former archaeologist. So he's been a long time in development. Meredith Devon is a bit of a different story. She's a mixture of previous characters I've written, but a lot of her is fresh and new. I'd known when I was contemplating writing seriously that I wanted to write two lead characters, a man and a woman, both strong and opinionated, rather then go with the lone wolf example created by Ian Fleming. 

How much of Stryker is you? Come on, 'fess up! 

We're both rock climbers. That's how Stryker gets introduced in the book, climbing Mont Blanc. Rock climbing is one of my favourite activities, so of course I had to make him a climber. We both share the same irreverence in our personalities. And making him an archaeologist was deliberate. Like every other kid who ever saw an Indiana Jones film, I thought of going into that line of work. To this day, archaeology and ancient history fascinate me. Unlike Stryker however, I'm not multilingual, nor am I a partial Lakota, and I've never been tortured. Except by the sound of Justin Biebers' voice.

Another thing you've discussed with me is your parents' response to your story. Care to share with everyone?

My mother's actually the one who started me off on this book, with her response to a question I once asked that forms the premise of the Very Bad Thing. She's an avid reader, with a great imagination, and she's liked what she's heard of what I've been up to. My father, however, will never read the book. He dislikes violence in any form, and any time I've mentioned what I've written or ideas that I have in mind, his reply is to wonder what he and my mother did to end up raising a son who writes things like that.

You've made it clear that The Very Bad Thing is going to remain a secret until the book is published. Not even a hint?

The Very Bad Thing goes back to watching a newscast years ago, featuring rioting Palestinians, and asking my mother what would happen if terrorists ever did this and that. This and that being the Very Bad Thing. No, I'm not telling. I'll just say it involves a very big explosion and a cataclysmic amount of casualties. And out of that, the threat of war.

A fellow author once asked me why someone as funny as I am (or as she thought me to be) would write such serious fiction. Since you're the funniest person I know, I'm going to ask you that same question. Why?

You know, I think it comes down to what interests me as a reader. I like the notion of the worst case scenario. I like spy thrillers, so that's what I'm going to write. I also think that my sense of humor, my irreverence and general outlook on life gets more then its share of outlets already. I write parodies, humor material, and that's out there. Anyone reading my blogs or comments I make can see that.

At the same time, the humor still finds its way into the book even as I write. The bantering and the chemistry and energy between Stryker and Devon is such an example. There's a line that I have in mind, for late in the book, and I still don't know which one of them is going to say it. The two of them are in the middle of a firefight, shots going off all around them, explosions and so on... and one of them's going to smirk and say, "You know, we go to the loveliest places."

How serious is that for the situation?

William Kendall. Heaven & Hell. Remember it. This is an author we're going to be seeing on future bestseller lists. And while you're waiting for the book, check out his great blog: Speak of the Devil

Friday, December 10, 2010

Monster Rallies?

I've never really enjoyed booksignings. Truth be told, I've never much cared for anything that remotely resembles a schedule. Having to be in a certain place at a certain time, having to stay put for hours at a time...that's very difficult for me. Don't ask me why.

Doing a solo signing can be painfully boring. Unless you're Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, or Stephenie Meyer, you will probably spend a large part of your 2-3 hour stint sitting alone with stacks of your books at a strategically-placed table, looking hopefully at everyone who passes by. If you're lucky, some will stop, chat a bit, and feel sorry enough for you to buy a book.

If you're lucky.

On the other hand, group signings are great fun. You have someone to talk to, and if you'e having fun, that will draw the attention of potential buyers. I was once part of a 21-author signing at a bookstore in a large mall, and we had a blast. We also sold a lot of books that day.

The group was comprised of authors on all levels of success--from big names like Laurell K. Hamilton to newly-published authors hawking their first books. I fell somewhere in the middle of that spectrum: six-figure advances, lead title status (second lead, actually), technically a bestselling novelist, though not in the upper echelons populated by King, Evanovich, Sheldon, Meyer, Steel, Clancy and their peers. 

I could make a livng as a writer. I could not buy a villa in Portofino. 

But back to the booksigning. We had a ball. Status wasn't a factor in this group. We were all authors, equals, engaging in lively banter and a bit of friendly name-calling. The word "hack" was tossed around in fun.

Booksignings are a necessary evil for the writer who wants to be successful, but if you have the option, don't go it alone. There's saftey--and fun--in numbers! 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

We Interrupt This Blog to Plug Another Blog!

My partner William Kendall and I have aliases. I know that will come as a huge surprise to most of you (you can stop laughing now). Our alter egos are a perpetually horny couple who can't seem to keep their hands off each other...not even long enough to do an interview. If you can deal with that, they can be found at Basking in the Afterglow.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't Try This at Home....

I have a confession to make: I am a compulsive prankster.

To the best of my knowledge, there's no twelve-step program for those of us with this partcular affliction, so I suppose I'll have to live with it. Or more precisely, my victims will have to live with it. I think this may be a genetic predisposition. My dad was the king of the pranksters. No exaggeration. He would go to incredible lengths for a good prank. Once, we had a neighbor whose most prized posession was his classic Chevy. I think if the man had had to choose between his wife and his car, the Mrs. would have been SOL. One summer they went on vacation and left the car parked in their driveway. Dad went out to the salvage yard one Saturday, looking for parts for his old truck, and he came upon a car identical to Fred's--except that it had been smashed to pancake form. One look at that compacted mess gave Daddy an idea. He actually bought that piece of crap and had it hauled to our neighbor's house. He then hid Fred's baby and replaced it with the pancake twin. He even put Fred's license plates on it! Fred darn near had a stroke when he came home and saw what he thought was HIS beloved Chevy, crumpled in the driveway like a soda can! 

So you see, I come by this sort of thing naturally. And not just from Dad--Mom was no slouch, either. Had I not inherited the family curse, they probably would have thought they'd been given the wrong baby at the hospital! I've reinacted many of their classic pranks over the years, and added several more to my repertoire. Some of them have gotten me into trouble (some people just have NO sense of humor). Maybe one of these days I'll do a book of pranks. 

If only I could get an endorsement from a  real, professional prankster like, say, George Clooney. I hear he's a real terror. My former roommate was dating a guy who was such a great target, I just couldn't resist. Once, I called him, using a high-pitched southern accent. I told him I was from the water company and we would be shutting off the water main in his neighborhood to make repairs. I explained that it might be off for the night and that he should fill pitchers, anything he had, with water for drinking and cooking purposes.

"Will I have time to take a shower?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said apologetically.

He thanked me for the heads-up. That evening Emily and I went down to his place. He had bowls, pitchers, pitchers, pans, buckets, all filled with water. "You expecting a drought?" I asked, looking around.

"Water's off," he said.

I couldn't resist. "This is Miss Simms from the water company," I said, in character.

Seeing the look on his face, I made a run for it. I got out the door and to the bottom of the front steps when a bucket of water came cascading down over me. He couldn't take a joke, it seemed. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Creative Brain

Recently, a discussion took place on the Writers Digest message boards. The question that was posed: Can Anyone Write A Novel? To be more specific, could anyone write a publishable novel? Oddly enough, some believed the answer was yes. I suppose this is because most of the posters are unpublished writers who don't want to believe the facts, that of everyone who submits a manuscript, 1% or less will be accepted. They want to have hope. For this, I can't blame them--but as a published author, I find it just a little insulting.

It's as unrealistic as me deciding I'm going to be a supermodel. It ain't gonna happen.

A few years ago, a dear friend gave me a book for Christmas: THE CREATING BRAIN: THE NEUROSCIENCE OF GENIUS by Nancy C. Andreasen, MD, PhD. It's one of the few scientific explorations into what makes one creative, and gives someone like myself, a writer, valuable insights.

Dr. Andreasen gets a few things that even those closest to me don't: like how creative people have trouble with the order and rules that give a "comfortable structure" to everyday life. I guess that explains why I can't balance a checkbook and have trouble with anything involving numbers. I even get messed up when it comes to time. I always failed at diets because I'd rebel against having to continually write down every bite I took.Then I'd go eat a whole box of donuts!

Diets have always backfired, so now I don't do them.

Dr. Andreasen writes about the creative process as one that isn't rational or logical, in which one slips into a state of intense focus and concentration.  She describes it as moving into another reality, in which the person appears to be conscious but lost in thought. (That's also a partial complex seizure; sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.)

She says creative people are often so flooded with ideas, they find it hard to focus. Yep. Been there, done that. It can be a real pain.

I saw a segment on the evening news recently about an artist who had opted to not have surgery to remove a dangerous growth in her brain because her artistic talent had become heightened after its appearance. It was suggested by experts that when that rational, logical part of the brain became damaged, and therefore disabled, the creative side became stronger, much in the same way that one's remaining senses compensate when one of them is lost.

I can believe this. I've had a brain injury--more than one, actually--that have impaired certain logical functions. But the creative side seems to be alive and well and working overtime. I get frustrated when I see people I've known most of my life and can't recall their names, or forget where I left my birth certificate, making it impossible for me to get a new ID with the correct address. Sometimes I forget my own phone number, but I remember all of my characters' names. I'm awful with appointments. I forget to thaw the chicken for dinner, but I can still write.

I've been assured it's not my memory, it's an inability to concentrate. Or maybe I'm just getting old....