Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It Was a Dark and Stormy Election Year....

The GOP was desperate. They had no one to run for President. The usual suspects--candidates--either weren't interested or were too inept to fool anyone into voting for them. The Queen of the Terror--uh, Tea--Party, Cruella Palin, enlisted the services of the Really Mad Scientist, Dr. Frankenlimbaugh, to build the perfect Candidate. Dr. Frankenlimbaugh and his deranged assistant, Igor-Akin, collected body parts until they had enough to make a whole man. Only one thing was missing: a brain.



Igor-Akin finally located one. "It's perfect, Master," he proclaimed, holding up the jar containing the brain. "It's never been used!"

Dr. Frankenlimbaugh was skeptical. "Where could you get a brain from an adult male that's never been used?" he wanted to know.

"From him!" Igor-Akin pointed to Dubya, the Village Idiot, sitting in a corner with a coloring book. 

Dr. Frankenlimbaugh sighed heavily. "Why am I not surprised?" he asked. "I was hoping for a brain with more than a double-digit IQ, but I suppose if that's the best we have to work with...."

They performed surgery to transfer the brain into the newly-assembled candidate...after Igor-Akin dropped the jar, accidentally kicked the brain across the lab and snatched it back just as Dr. Frankenlimbaugh's pet vampire bat, P.Ryan was about to make it his lunch.



Cruella arrived just as the mad scientist was about to jump-start the Candidate to life. "You're using battery cables?" she asked, concerned.

"We can't afford a defibrillator on what you pay us," Igor-Akin grumbled. 

"And the last time we used lightning, I had to send Igor-Akin up to check the connections," Frankenlimbaugh recalled. "The bolt missed our corpse and fried Igor-Akin's ass."

"I couldn't think for a year," said Igor-Akin, rubbing his butt.



Cruella stood at the window. "Not much of a view," she said. "I can see Russia from my castle!"

"On what you pay us--"

"I know, I know--oh, no!" she shrieked.

"What's wrong?" Igor-Akin asked.

"Barack Van Helsing is coming! He's leading the Angry Democrat Villagers! They're storming the castle!"

P.Ryan looked over her shoulder. "And he has that rabid dog Biden the Biter with him! Hurry, Master, hurry!"

After a few jumps, the Candidate came to life. He sat up, blinking, and after a few moments, he spoke. "I am Mitt Romney!" he announced.

Frankenlimbaugh and Igor-Akin looked at each other, "What the hell kind of name is MITT?" Frankenlimbaugh wanted to know.

"I am a Moron!" the Candidate declared with pride.

Cruella Palin slapped him. "That's Mormon, you idiot!"

Igor-Akin looked at Frankenlimbaugh. "I think he had it right the first time."

Cruella glared at Frankenlimbaugh. "You couldn't do better than this?" she demanded.

"Good parts are hard to find. And the only available brain was that of our Village Idiot."
  
She turned to look at Dubya, who was still coloring. "He can't even stay within the lines!"



"That's because he's the Village Idiot. Our Village had two, so we figured we could sacrifice one," Frankenlimbaugh said.

"Two?" she asked. "Where's the other one? Maybe he's got a better brain."

Frankenlimbaugh pointed to Igor-Akin.

Cruella gave a gesture of resignation. "Oh well...the world's going to end on December 21st anyway...."


For further Hallowe'en irreverence:
Speak of the Devil 
Basking in the Afterglow 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Final Hours--the Second Time Around (and Free E-Books!)

I knew from the start that Final Hours was going to be a hard sell.

Who would cheer for an adulterous husband, in love with one woman but married to another til the end of the world (literally) because he didn't have the backbone to end his marriage? I certainly wouldn't, had anyone else written this book...so why did I write it?



I've always loved disaster movies, especially end-of-the-world films like When Worlds Collide, Armageddon and Deep Impact, and I found myself wanting to write a novel that would not be about heroic men and women rising to the challenge of saving the planet, but about flawed, frightened people who would be faced with one last chance to set right the mistakes of a lifetime. The game plan was to write four stories taking place in different parts of the world with four very different people and situations.
 
It was a good plan, except for one thing: three of the stories didn't work.

So I ended up writing a short novel (too long to qualify as a novella) about a man who had been having an affair for the past fifteen years and, facing the planet's final hours, finally makes the decision he should have made years ago.

The reviews were mixed. Some people loved it, others thought it was awful. As writers, we all know (or should know) that we can't please everyone. Still, I wondered if there were something missing, my failure to convey to those readers what I'd been trying to say with Jamie Randall's story. Maybe, instead of just telling the story from his point of view, I should have told it from three points of view: his, his wife's, and that of his conflicted mistress.

I am now working on an expanded version of Final Hours to incorporate the viewpoints of the two women in Jamie's life. Will it work? Time--and readers--will tell!

PS -- To celebrate the addition of Japan into the Amazon KDP market, all of my e-books will be free for one day only--Wednesday, October 31st. Trick or Treat, everyone! Find them via my Amazon Author Central page.

* Also posted at Beishir Books


Saturday, October 27, 2012

For Those Who Don't Mind Sacrificing Trees....

Just kidding!

For those of you who still prefer a bound book, The Unicorn's Daughter is now available in a paperback edition through Create Space. I'm not quite sure why it's not up on Amazon yet, but....



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Harpies Christmas

The Christmas shopping season appears to have started a little early this year. I'm already seeing TV ads for special deals, layaway (which has made a welcome comeback among financially-strapped shoppers). According to a news segment I saw yesterday, the best deals are to be had before Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

So...while I save my favorite Christmas memories for the Twelve Days of Christmas, there are some not-so-great memories of Christmases past that can be shared early in the season. In fact, this one seems more appropriate for Hallowe'en, when I think about it. Especially since I always referred to two of Mom's sisters, Norma and Bert, as The Harpies....



My mother and her sisters had a tradition...every year, just before Christmas, Mom and her four sisters, Bert, Bessie, Vi and Norma, plus my cousin Eunice, Bert's daughter, who lived with her mother, would have a luncheon at Bert's home. Bert was an excellent cook and often made so much food, everyone left with large containers of whatever was served. They'd exchange gifts. Eventually, Vi passed away and Bessie ended up in a nursing home. That was when Mom stopped enjoying the luncheons, though she still attended every year.

Bessie's only child, Leoma (did this family know how to name their kids, or what?), who was about Mom's age, became a regular fixture at the luncheons, along with her husband Jack. When I was growing up, I had only admiration for Leoma and Jack. They were great parents who'd raised four very bright kids, one of whom became a Baptist pastor. But people change. Things happen. And without going into detail, I lost all respect for them. So did Mom. So while she continued to go to the annual Christmas get-together, she always came home angry, relating the latest offenses of her niece and her husband.

"Why do you do it, Mom?" I'd ask. "Why do you go, knowing they're going to be there?"

"I'd have to stop seeing Bert," was Mom's reasoning. "No matter when I go to see her, they're almost always around."

"Well, maybe you have to stop seeing her, too," I said. "Is it really worth the aggravation? I know she's your sister and you love her--though I'm not quite sure why--but this is not good for you." 

They even tagged along when Bert came to visit Mom in the hospital after she'd had a stroke. That worried me. And then they came to her funeral--not because they gave a damn about her, but because they were, as usual, sucking up to Bert.

Okay, we can't choose our family--but we can choose which ones we have contact with. Has anybody got any nuisance relatives you find hard to tolerate? Could you cut ties with someone you care about to be free of someone you don't?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Ghost in Our...uh...Bathroom

Our bathroom is haunted.

A few months ago, I called Maintenance in to check out a problem. The lights kept going off and on. I thought it was a short in the switch. I still think so, but Maintenance couldn't find anything wrong. 



Then the night light started doing the same thing...but not at the same time as the Hollywood lights. I didn't bother to call Maintenance back. What would be the point?

Then the toilet paper started unrolling itself.

I decided the central air conditioning was to blame. It's a small bathroom (I've had closets that were bigger). When the AC was on, it was probably blowing just enough air at the TP roll to move it...right?

Then one night, I saw it happen. All by itself. No air blowing on it, nothing touching it. It just started unrolling...and unrolling...and unrolling.

Now I ask you--what self-respecting ghost would haunt a bathroom?



I considered the possible suspects. Our rabbit, Babs, who had a penchant for unrolling toilet paper? Mom, who spent more time in the bathroom than the rest of us combined? Or maybe it was a ghost we don't know at all--maybe a former tenant of this apartment. These buildings were gutted and totally remodeled in the past few years--everything here was new when we moved in. Maybe the remodeling made some spirit angry and he or she decided to mess with us. Hmmm....
 
When the toilet starts flushing itself, we're outta here!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Was There a Full Moon Last Night, Or What?

I must be a Nut Magnet. It's the only plausible explanation.

Yesterday didn't start off weird, mind you. It was a typical Friday. Collin and I went to Sam's Club. We had lunch in the snack bar because supposedly, if you eat before you shop, you don't do so much impulse buying. (Not true, by the way. I could eat a five-course meal before shopping, and if I find something that looks really good, it will still end up in my shopping cart. I'll be hungry later, after all.) I fell passionately and very publicly in love with a 60" smart TV which we're going to need, with Collin digitizing all of our DVDs. And my eyesight's so bad, I'm having trouble seeing that 22" that sits six feet from me in our living room.



We have a very small living room and there was some question as to whether or not a 60" TV would fit in the only space we have for it (our couch is quite large). It will, for the record. I measured last night. 

But I'm getting off track here.

An inconvenience that goes with certain medical issues is swelling of one's feet and ankles. Mine do a lot of that. During the summer, it wasn't so bad. I wore flip-flops all summer. But now that autumn has arrived, it's been necessary to actually wear shoes. That has presented problems. The new sneakers I bought on Monday were so tight on Thursday, my feet were in agony. I had a 20% off coupon from Payless, so I decided to buy a pair in a larger size for those "puffy" days.



Big mistake. Huge.

When Collin and I entered the store, it was quiet. The sales clerk was at the counter and there was only one other customer present, a woman trying on boots. The clerk asked if she could help me. I told her I had the coupon and just wanted to use it before it expired. The other woman immediately rushed toward me. "What coupon? Where did you get it?"

I told her I got in in the mail. "When?" she wanted to know.

"I don't remember." I really didn't remember. "I'm on their mailing list." 

She rushed off to see if the clerk could get her a coupon. I thought I'd seen the last of her when she left the store. If only I'd been that lucky.  I was looking at ballet flats when she got in my face again, shoving her cellphone at me, wanting to know which of the items on the screen would get her the 20% discount. If she hadn't annoyed me so thoroughly, I would have given her my coupon just to get her to go away!

I'm so easily distracted, if someone is walking too close to me in a store, I'll forget what I'm looking for...even if I have a shopping list. I had reached the point at which I had two choices: leave immediately, or launch into a verbal assault she'd never forget. (Patience? What's that?) No way would I reward her for being a nuisance by giving her the coupon she so desperately wanted. Nope...I bought a pair of gel insoles for Collin's work shoes and a tube of lip gloss, which came to a grand total of $6.82 with the 20% coupon, and got out of there.

After all, I had to get home to measure for that TV....


  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Be Careful of the Words You Say....

I used to have a little sign posted above my desk, during that brief period of foolishness in which I believed I could discipline myself to actually work at a desk. The little sign read Be careful of the words you say; keep them soft and sweet. You'll never know from day to day which ones you'll have to eat.

Epic fail...I never adapted to writing in traditional writer fashion (computer on desk, butt planted firmly in chair) and I never learned to censor myself. But that's not where this post is going.

This morning, I discovered just how accurate the speech recognition of the Voice Search app on my Android really is. I activated it by mistake and it went into action when I said, "This sucks." I got this response....



Sorry about the blurred image. I was laughing when I took the photo. A comment of "that's funny" got this in response....



And so my love-hate relationship with technology rages on. I shudder to think how I'd get by without it. I can barely remember the years of writing everything in longhand on yellow legal pads, print and bound books, CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs, snail mail and using a phone to make phone calls. And it wasn't all that long ago!

My dad used to say the thing he hated about helping me move was all those heavy cases of books. I told Collin I would love to see the look on his face if I were to ask him to carry my books--and give him my Kindle Fire! I've finally done it--all of my books (except for a few special coffee table books) and music are now digitized. I gave away all of the print books--including print copies of my own books!

Now that Collin's begun digitizing our DVD collection, I'll soon be able to access everything online. I might have eventually reached my goal of being able to put all of my personal possessions in my backpack...if it weren't for the 200-plus stuffed animals I still can't part with....

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Would You Buy a Book Based on This Review?

As an author, I pay attention to reviews—to an extent. A review in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and other professional publications is one thing—but the customer reviews on Amazon and other sites are quite another. Which ones are valid and which should be ignored? I have a few suggestions.

Be wary of any book that gets only five-star reviews. They were likely all written by friends and/or relatives. Watch out for the “sock puppets”—reviews written under fake names, usually by authors attacking other authors. It's easier than one might think to set up bogus accounts just to take a shot at another author's work without, as one author suggested in her blog, the risk of retaliation. And definitely be on the lookout for reviews, positive or negative, that are poorly-written. These reviewers are not the best judge of a book's literary merit.



Here's an example of a rare review from a reviewer who appears to be barely able to write a grocery list. Would you buy a book on her recommendation? (I've omitted book titles and author and reviewer names in all examples except my own.)

For a first novel that (author) wrote I think it was a great novel. It showed romance between two strangers that then learned to love each other deeply (main characters). To me (author) gave great description of each character and helped me get a perfect picture of how they looked. I enjoyed this novel very much because each chapter that I read was interesting and entertaining that helped me imagine everything that was happening like if i was there. The fact that it was double spaced made it easier for me to read and I liked that. Also even though it was short chapters it made me want to read more because (author) knows how to keep the reader hanging wanting to know what's going to happen next.I am now waiting for the second sequel of this amazing novel that I hope it is soon to come out. (Author) did an amazing job writing this book for a beginner. I hope she goes really far with her novel to show her fans the amazing author she is becoming as she goes on with her talent as a writer.

It was followed by this review. The reviewer in this instance was understandably unhappy that he'd been misled by the previous rave review....

I have been trying to find out more about the author after receiving the book yesterday. Haven't had much luck...is this a young author?? Middle school, high school?? If a young girl wrote the book, then I understand the double spaced copy, numerous grammatical errors, misspellings, omissions, poor word usage. The dialogue and repetitive word choice leads me to believe a young person wrote the book, and if this is the case I would have had different expectations and perhaps my review would have a more positive tone. If this is the work of an adult, I am at a loss. The reviews listed were all very positive which is why I purchased the book. I can't bring myself to continue reading it and am quite disappointed. If you are looking for a mature novel, this isn't it. I have learned to be a little more skeptical of the reviews in the future when looking for my next great read.

The following review was written by someone claiming to be an English teacher. The review is for one of my all-time favorite novels, which was an international bestseller. It was so long-winded, I had to condense it to a few of the reviewer's more glaring mistakes....

(The author) writes in a flat, unentertaining way... as though he expects his readers to be struggling with English, like an 8 year old forced to read this at school...characters are as flat, unlikeable and unbelievable as a 4 year old's superhero comic book, used as toilet paper and then unfolded to be read again. Imagine that twin daughters are *polite coughing* evil and good, in the extreme...yet their family is completely unaware of this, for decades. Imagine a wealthy playboy who goes around raping, beating, and sodomizing wealthy women... but goes unjailed, unnoticed, and undisciplined. Having difficulty imagining this? Blame (the author), who thinks you've got the intelligence of the average preschooler.

(The author's) plots are as unbelievable as a 1950s cigarette ad claiming "not a cough in a carload". In this particular book (small spoiler alert), imagine how you'd feel after reading near the beginning that a white man and a black man in 1800s South Africa could be fairly good friends, without a hint of racism. Now break with reality again, and imagine that two people without tools could pick up enough diamonds on a beach (yep...diamons, lying around on a beach?!) in a few hours could collect enough wealth to compete against--and topple-- a millionaire who has 40 guys searching that SAME beach every day, all day, for years.

Notice that above and below this book review are 11 pages of shills and clacquers, using !!!exclamation points!!!, CAPITAL LETTERS, catchy lines...and all giving this crappity book 10/10 stars. Clearly, Amazon has not done enough to keep out the marketing weenies who are posing as real, unbiased readers as they try to sell this steaming heap of rotting firewood to an unsuspecting audience.
 
And then there's my very own sock puppet! In spite of the reviewer's unimaginative alias, it wasn't too hard to figure out who had written it. From the nonexistent profile to the lack of any other reviews to the brilliant writing (double commas, inappropriate caps and lack of analytical observations), it has “bogus” stamped all over it!

And for the record, the photographer is not a hippie.

Self-made billionaire meets hippie photographer in Earthquake; falls ridiculously in love, never gets the guts to tell his wife,, etc.. Oh, and the Earth is going to be destroyed by a returning asteroid,,etc..A little lame..

Don't get me wrong. I believe every reader has the right to express his or her opinion of any book, movie, etc. But.... My question to you is this: have you ever received bad reviews written by someone who seems barely literate? Have you ever bought a book based on customer reviews? If so, do you give any credence to reviews that are full of spelling and grammatical errors? 

 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Of Spies, Very Bad Things and Zombie Plot Bunnies

I have a special treat for you today. The guest blogger is one of my bestest friends (yes, I know that's not a word, but novelists are allowed—once in a while), favorite people on the planet and all-time favorite authors (you'll see why when you read his novel—and if you don't buy it, you'll be missing out big time!). I give you my partner in crime, William Kendall!

***
Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very, your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~ Mark Twain

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ unknown English professor, Ohio University

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ~ Stephen King

Rogues are preferable to imbeciles because sometimes they take a rest.” ~ Alexandre Dumas



I’d like to thank Norma for letting me run wild in her blog today. I promise I’ll leave it in just the same condition I found it in. I may have to hire an army of zombie plot bunnies to help me clean up though.

After a long, long, long (did I mention it was long?) road, I have come to the point where my first novel is almost set to be out and about in the hands of readers. Heaven & Hell has been written, gone through revisions and drafts, handed over to readers for editing, and printed off by myself for final checks. Once I’m finished with that, it’ll be set for final formats, and then for publishing. And my creation will be unleashed. At that point, I can breathe a deep sigh of relief.

 

Heaven & Hell started up years ago. Its genesis took place during a trip back to see my family. I remember watching the news with my parents one night, with an article involving unrest in Israel. I thought about it, asked my mother a question: what would happen if a terrorist group went and did such and such a thing. Her answer was that it would be war. That resonated with me. Such and such a thing stayed with me, growing inside my imagination, ultimately becoming what I’ve called the Very Bad Thing, the central act of the novel. So for the record, Mom’s completely to blame for giving me the idea in the first place. Thanks, Mom!

I’ve been writing for myself for years, when I wasn’t reading other material. I’ve always liked the creative outlet that writing presents, and over time, that became my training ground, a way to hone my craft. My subject matter over time gravitated towards my favourite genre to read: the spy thriller. I’ve been reading from the works of the masters for years. So it seemed natural that my writing would take me in that direction. Over time, I was developing characters, thinking of plotlines, always thinking that at some point in the future I’d write the stories. I had in mind notions for an ongoing series of books bringing back these characters, and the idea of the Very Bad Thing was mixed up in all of that.

I had thought that the story involved in Heaven & Hell might be best served as the third or fourth book in that series. The reason was simple: the Very Bad Thing, and indeed the makeup of the terrorist group that drives the entire novel, the Covenant, felt like it would be a controversial premise. It’s a cataclysmic terrorist attack, in a part of the world where the slightest act seems to set off tempers. I felt it was something perhaps left until I was established. Sometimes life throws you an unexpected curveball. I first came into contact with Norma, and as we got to know each other and she saw signs of a fellow writer in me, I let her in on the ideas I had, particularly the Very Bad Thing. Yes, she knows what it is, and no, she won’t tell you. Not even for bribes of chocolate.

Norma encouraged me to get writing, to run with the idea that I had for Heaven & Hell first, rather than later. And she was right. Instead of leaving my serious writing for some vague point in the future, it was time to write, time to bring these characters who were living in my head to life on the page.

As I started out, I thought, “well, it’s not as if this will take that long, right?” Wrong. Writing in the spy thriller genre, particularly one that’s set mostly in Israel and the Middle East, a place with a lot of history, requires a lot of research. That meant tracking down information through various sources: online, history texts, maps, through emails back and forth with various people spread across the world, through conversations with embassy officials. It was a big undertaking, and really, one that I kept at through the writing, fact checking as I went along. Add to that the fact that this was my first novel, and that meant it would take longer than I would have expected. And finally, things going on in my personal life meant that there were times I just didn’t feel up to writing, and the pace slowed at those times. Thus what I expected would be a few months of writing...turned out to be more than two years of writing.

I remember the exhilarating rush as I was writing through the final two chapters. The second to last chapter is a long one, but features the climax of the novel, a faceoff between my protagonists and antagonists. Though it took awhile to write, it was also fun... and keeping track of who was where during this sequence in the book presented its own challenges. Likewise, the last chapter, wrapping things up, had its own rewards as I wrote. I knew that some of these characters would be back (nice thing about carrying on with these people in an ongoing series, you don’t have to say goodbye to your characters), and at that point, momentum had driven the story forward. Writing the final words, as good as it felt, carried a certain bittersweet quality to it. These characters have been with me a long time, and they came alive for me during the writing. I liked writing them, liked the way they turned out- even the villains, who I still occasionally apologize to for putting them through hell. 

 

Sorry, everyone, but you’re the villains. These things happen. Don’t take it personally, okay?

The novel has been a long time in development, and now, standing at a point where it’s almost ready to go, I feel good about getting to this point. It was exactly the right thing to do, to start really writing the concepts that had been growing in my mind for years on end, to breathe life into these characters. I know there have been a number of people anxious to see it out there, and the time is close at hand. Barring any unforeseen catastrophes, mind you. 

It’s an anxious but good time for me, about to launch a novel. I’m in anticipation of the reaction the book is going to get. It’s long overdue, and these characters are demanding to be unleashed. It’d be nice if I got a “thanks for writing us” out of them, but I’m not expecting it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get started on the next book.



Oh, and for the record, I didn’t knock that lamp onto the floor of the blog.
It was the cat. 

*****

Thank you, William, for joining us today.And for the record, I will accept bribes of chocolate!

Watch for Heaven & Hell at Amazon soon. (If it's not there soon, I'm going to beat him silly with a Nerf bat.) And do check out his entertaining blog, Speak of the Devil. And check out his recent guest appearance at Sacred Ground Travel Magazine!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Now Appearing....

I'm guest blogging at William's blog, Speak of the Devil...and he's currently guest blogger at my book blog, Beishir Books.

Nest up, I'll be hosting our alter egos, Scarlett Martin and James Morgan. That will most certainly be an adults-only discussion! Hope you'll join us...them....