Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Four Horsemen (and Two Frequent Flyers) of the Apocalypse

I have a friend who travels...a lot.

Only pilots and flight attendants log in more time in the air than my friend and her husband. No exaggeration. They have so many frequent flyer miles, she used some of them to get a plane ticket for another friend of mine a few years back...and it didn't even make a dent in her account.

The most interesting thing about their travels, however, is not the number of frequent flyer miles they've accumulated, or even the many places they've visited--it's the natural disasters that seem to occur in advance of their arrival wherever they go. There was the earthquake in Chile...the tsunami in Japan...and now, as they prepare to leave for Canada to see the Calgary Stampede...yep, Calgary's been flooded!

When I pointed this out to her, she mentioned some of the places they haven't yet visited--like Yellowstone National Park, the Galapagos Islands and Peru--and said she didn't even want to think about what large-scale disasters might precede them there!

Anyone remember the movie The Seventh Sign? In the movie, there was a mysterious man (Jurgen Prochnow) who appeared at the scene of every disaster that occurred, each one part of the countdown to the end of the world: a hailstorm in the dying in a earthquake....

Now, I'm not saying my friend and her husband are the harbingers of doom--in fact, I've come to think of her as my guardian angel--but are all of these disasters really a coincidence? Or are they following the signs of the Apocalypse?

She's gonna kill me for this one....

(Also posted at WordPress.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sam's Story: "This Could Be the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship...."

I started the Sam's Story blog a couple of years ago. I wanted to write it from the viewpoint of Sam, my beloved grey-cheeked parakeet, who died on February 17, 2011 at the age of twenty-one. He was a real character, and I thought it would be fun to observe the world through his eyes.

Collin and Sam - Copy

It might have been, had he still been alive. But it just became too painful, so I shut the blog down for a few months while I decided where to go with it. I think I've figured it out. I hope. I can write about Sam--and my other critter companions--here when the spirits move me.

Sam was six months old, not long out of the shell, when we found each other at a small pet shop in south St. Louis. I'd gone there to buy a parrot for my dad for Father's Day. He'd seen one he really liked, but Dad wasn't the type to spend that kind of money on himself, so I was going to surprise him.

The surprise was on me. The bird Dad wanted had already been sold. Disappointed, I wandered around the store for a bit, considered trying another pet shop, maybe settling for a different bird...but as I wandered through the store the store, I found the love of my life. That's what it's like, you know, when you find the animal companions who are meant to be yours. It's a little like falling in love when you see them for the first time. You just know in your heart that it's right.

I knew it. Sam knew it, too. There were two birds in the cage. One was shy and moved to the back. The other, my Sam, came forward with the boldness I came to know was just his personality. He looked up at me as if he'd recognized me immediately and wanted to renew an old friendship.

I think that's why I decided to name him Sam. I had never given two animal companions the same name before...but he reminded me so much of a canary-winged parakeet I'd had as a teenager, it just felt right. Coincidentally, Sam the First had come from a store directly across the street from that little pet shop, twenty years earlier. If I believed in reincarnation....

At any rate, I knew this was meant to be. I told one of the sales clerks I wanted to buy him. When he opened the cage, Sam flew out—and straight up to the cash register. He was anxious to go home!

It was to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship....

Originally posted at Sam's Story on February 27, 2013. Also reposted at WordPress.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

If They Could See Us Now....

Collin and I have frequently discussed how Mom and Dad might react to some of the technology that's become commonplace in the years since they left us: big-screen TVs...Roku players....Blu-Ray players...smartphones...tablets.... We think they'd be amazed--and maybe more than a little intimidated--by it all.

Dad would love DVRs, especially since we now get all of the WWE pay-per-views and store them on the DVR for future replaying. He would have liked having a cellphone with him when he was at work. (It would definitely have come in handy when he got stranded on the road in an unexpected snowstorm and ruined his truck's transmission trying to get up a steep, snow-packed hill.)

Mom would also love cellphones. She'd love tablets and streaming, once she learned to use them. They'd frustrate the daylights out of her, but she'd learn, because it would mean being able to watch her favorite movies and TV shows, wherever she was--even in our living room, while Dad was playing the recording of Wrestlemania for the hundredth time.

I doubt either of them would ever have mastered email or text messaging--mainly because neither of them would know anyone else who did it, except for Collin and me...and we were right there in the same house.

But since this is Father's Day, one advancement in particular stands out in my mind, because I know it's a toy Dad would have had to possess. MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) recently showed off their latest piece of equipment on the local news: a remote-controlled lawn mower they're currently using to mow the grass on medians and along highways.

Oh, yes...Dad would have had to own one of these bad boys!

The last Christmas present I gave him, a month before he died twenty-two years ago, was a lawn mower. Dad had been having a lot of trouble mowing the lawn because of his heart issues. That summer before his passing, Mom and I came home more than once to find him lying on our front steps because his old mower had been too difficult to push around.

Mom and I decided to surprise him. A self-propelling mower was, we thought, the solution. He would never break down and hire one of the neighborhood boys to to the job, so we had to find a way to make it easier for him to do himself. We went one Saturday in December to pick it up at Sears. Our mistake was in not doing it during the week, when Collin was in school. We couldn't take him with us, because we had to lower the back seat in Mom's Escort to bring it home. We left him with Dad. Unfortunately, Collin knew where we were going, and the little blabbermouth gave him just enough hints to figure out what we were up to. When we came home and he opened the door as we came up the walk, one look at his face told us he knew what was in the car.

He was so proud of that mower, because, as he told Mom, it showed him how much I loved him. I thought he was going to insist upon taking a photo of it with him to the hospital when he went for surgery.  Sadly, he never got to use it.

Later, it was stolen. We knew who did it, but because we couldn't find the jackass, we never got it back.

Those of you whose parents are still living, never take them for granted. Appreciate them, love them. I would give anything if mine were here with us today.


Check out William Kendall's thoughts on a potential new British Foreign Secretary at Speak of the Devil...our alter egos' musical interlude post at Basking in the Afterglow...the adorable Scotties at Two Little Square Black Dogs....Shelly Arkon's post on the creep she met on Facebook at Secondhand Shoes...PK Hrezo talks about the signs on life's roads....and the great photoblogs at St. Louis Daily Photo, Perth Daily Photo and Princeton Daily Photo! And I hope you’ll take a look at the interview I did for fellow author Leanna Harrow at her blog!

(Also posted at WordPress.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

You Want My What? Here, In Front of Everybody?

I had to go to the doctor yesterday. When I checked in, I was asked for my address and phone number--well within earshot of at least a dozen people I don't know.

When I stopped at the pharmacy for a prescription, again, I was asked to give my address in the presence of several strangers.

I find this odd...and more than a little irritating. How often do we hear or read about the dangers of identity theft? Don't they realize they're making it easy for anyone within earshot to steal your personal information? In either situation, you have no idea who might be listening!

It might even be setting us up for physical danger. Have you ever had to give your home address in a public place, only to notice someone paying just a bit too much attention, and wonder if the creepy character is going to turn up at your door later? It's a possibility. Remember the movie Death Wish? The creeps who forced their way into the protagonist's apartment and robbed and murdered his wife and brutally raped his daughter had the address because they happened to be in the grocery store when the two women were there. They got the address off the grocery delivery receipt.

I understand the need for requesting such information, but a better, more private means of obtaining it is needed.  At Walgreens, I show my state ID, which has my address on it. At the doctor's office, where verifying my phone number is required, I have it written on an index card, which I keep in my bag.

Any thoughts on this?


My partner in crime, William Kendall, is finally back in action with two new blog posts--one at his own blog, Speak of the Devil, and the other a guest post for Annette Gendler. Be sure you check them out!

(Also posted at WordPress.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Scamp's Story: I Love Animals...It's People I Can't Tolerate....

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but much of the time, I do prefer the company of animals to that of humans. Animals are not petty or insincere. Animals don't lie, though they can occasionally be manipulative. They're not judgmental. They don't care what you have or don't have, only how you treat them. In short, they're not as much of a pain in the butt as most people are. This is the first time in my life I'm not sharing my home and my life with a critter of some kind.

With critters, what you see is what you get.

Maybe I'm more at ease with critters because I grew up with them. We lived on a farm during most of my childhood. There weren't many kids around, so my playmates usually had four legs, feathers, hooves or, occasionally, scales.

Scamp joined our family when I was five. I'd had another dog who'd died, and my parents felt I needed a new best friend as soon as possible. Mom found an ad in the newspaper and took me along to see the pup who was in need of a new home. She didn't tell me we were looking for a dog for me. She wanted to see how I responded to the pup first.

The pup was maybe a month old, a collie-terrier mix. She was a ball of black and white fuzz with warm, intelligent eyes and an affectionate nature. And the connection between us was immediate. Mom was convinced this was the right dog to take away my sadness at having lost Trouble.

I loved the movie Lady and the Tramp, so it was easy to choose a name for my new friend. Scamp was the name of their pup. Okay, the pup in the movie was a male and my new canine companion was female, but did that really matter?

We were inseparable from the start. The only time we weren't together was when I was in school. Scamp slept with me. She tagged along when I went horseback riding. We watched TV together. Mom and Dad said they never worried when I was out of sight, because as long as I was with the dog and the horse, I was safe.

Scamp and I grew up together. I was sixteen when she died, and I had a difficult time dealing with the loss...especially since she died because she'd been protecting me. I'd had a run-in with a neighborhood idiot. The moron hit me. Scamp bit him. He shot her. She didn't die right away, but complications from the gunshot made it necessary for her to be euthanized.

She's been gone over forty years now. Hard to believe it's been that long....

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Okay, So I Could Have Been Wr...Wro...Wrong....

That was a tough admission to make!

I've always felt writers needed to devote all of their time to their writing. And if they did have to have a "day" job, it should be something that wouldn't be too mentally demanding, allowing them to save all that mental energy for writing. When I sold my first novel back in 1984, I had a plan: make enough money to write full time, then keep making money. I wanted to work at home, and I wanted to get rich. I believed that was the only way to go. I'd already quit my job. If I was wrong, I was seriously screwed.

It did work out. My agent had the same objective, and she was the one I'd put my money on in any negotiation. Sometimes I suspected she could even make Godzilla run for cover. I was glad she was on my side.

But there's a downside to writing full time. If you're dependent upon your writing for a living, you don't have the luxury of being able to dig in and fight if you're having a disagreement with your publisher...unless you're Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown, in which case you're making enough money to keep your publisher waiting until Doomsday! But if you're King, Rowling or Brown, they'll give you whatever you want anyway.

Maybe, then, it's best for most of us to have other jobs or careers and write on the side. Maybe it's best to have the luxury of being able to write what we want to write without having to worry about what's currently popular. Maybe my father was right when he urged me to have another career. It's a bit late in the game to pursue another career now, but there was a time I wanted to be an astronomer. I might have pursued that, had it not been for the math requirement in the curriculum. Or maybe zoology--I love anything to do with animals.....

What do you think? Is it best for authors to write full-time, or should we all keep our day jobs?


A few notes of interest: Authors for Oklahoma is still taking donations over at Facebook--money or, from you fellow authors who wish to donate books or ebooks. It's for a good cause!

He's baaaaack! My partner in crime, William Kendall, is finally getting back into blogging over at Speak of the Devil....

At Beishir Books, I'm featuring the cover--done beautifully by Collin, of course--for Shelly Arkon's upcoming short story release, The Partner's Progeny...

And today and tomorrow, I'm giving away ebook copies of my 2009 novel Final Hours at Smashwords. Just use this coupon code: QC75P!

Also posted at WordPress.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Follow Your Heart...No Matter How Crazy the Directions Might Sound!

Most parents teach their children. I learn from mine.

All of Collin's jobs except for the current one have been in the restaurant business. He's been a dishwasher, a busser, a server, and briefly, a crew chief. I always told him he could do better. I encouraged him--no, make that pushed him--to realize his potential. He's very bright, but not always the best at communicating. He was, in his youth, painfully shy. Working in the three restaurants--a cafeteria and two IHOPs--has helped him to overcome that, for the most part. No, working conditions have not always been perfect, but what job is, really?

He went to college for a time, but discovered that (like his mother) he has no fondness for the classroom environment. He listened to his mother (for once!) and got out of restaurant work. It didn't take him long to realize that in spite of being good at his new job and being able to walk to work as opposed to the ninety-minute commute to IHOP, he really missed being a server. He missed most of his co-workers and missed interacting with customers.

He wanted to go back, but kept it to himself at first.

When he finally told me, we talked about it. I told him there's no such thing as a "dummy" job, that every job is important. Where would we be, after all, if everyone were doctors or lawyers or--God forbid--politicians?  I told him if this is what he really wants to do, he should do it. Real success comes from making a living doing what you love...whatever that happens to be. It made me think of a line from one of my favorite movies, Bruce Almighty, when God (played by Morgan Freeman) tells Bruce (Jim Carrey) that some of the happiest people in the world come home smelling to high heaven at the end of the day.

And it made me realize that I haven't always practiced what I preach. Sure, I found the creative freedom I craved in self-publishing. I love not having deadlines. I love being able to write whatever I want. I love not having to be someone I'm not. I no longer care who gets the biggest advances or the best promotions. With age comes wisdom...sometimes. And then there are other times....

The old competitive me still rears her ugly head occasionally--when I encounter the Dark Side of self-publishing, the author so determined to be number one that he or she feels a need to trash other authors to get there. I'm quick to drag out the bestseller lists and the six-figure advances and the ads in major publications when I'm faced with an idiot on an ego trip. I turn into someone I've never liked very much.

Old (bad) habits die hard....

Also posted at WordPress.