Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just Remember What Happened to Lot's Wife....

Unless you've been living under a rock the past year or so, you know Miley Cyrus has gone from Disney girl to Tramp Queen in record time. From her performance at the Video Music Awards to her Wrecking Ball video...it seems she's trying a little too hard to distance herself from Hannah Montana, the Disney Channel series that made her a star.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Until Hannah Montana, she was just Billy Ray's daughter.

Once again, she's inspiring outrage in the parents of the young girls who made her rich. Her Bangerz concert tour has been in the news the past few days, the target of angry parents who took their kids to see it. They're demanding concert venues cancel her shows. Rumor has it some have and others are considering taking such action. Though her management company denies the rumors, the evening news reports ticket sales are down--and tickets have turned up online at lower than the retail price.

(Photo credit: Vibe.com)

I'm no fan of the "new" Miley, but I find myself wondering what those outraged parents were expecting when they took their kids to the concerts. Her change from Disney Darling to Slut City is no secret. She seems rather proud of it, actually. Those parents had to know she'd be going for the shock value.

Don't expect Miley to suddenly go Good Girl again anytime soon. She likes what she's become. And she'll keep doing it as long as enough people are willing to watch her simulate sex onstage. There's an audience for it, to be sure...and not just in music. Novels are also proof that there's a large section of the public that goes for sex in entertainment--the more perverse it is, the more popular it will be. These books make more money than most books currently available on Amazon combined.



Exhibit A: The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy--these three books have made the author, E.L. James, wealthy. I haven't read them myself, but those I know who have say the writing is bad and the sex is disgusting. One author I know returned her hard copy to the bookstore for a refund.

Exhibit B: A series of graphic books--again, I haven't read them and don't even remember the titles or the authors' names--about women forced to mate with Bigfoot. Come on, it doesn't get any creepier than that--yet one of the authors makes a reported $30,000 a month! Ewwwww!

I could probably write this stuff--when I started out, back in the late '80s, I wrote what was considered pretty racy for that time. In one review, Publishers Weekly made a reference to my "trademark high sizzle"--but I no longer have any interest in that sort of thing. I'll be happy to just make a living as an author. I'm not ready to crawl into the gutter to get rich.

Some of us, Miley, still have our self-respect.


Monday, February 24, 2014

In Your Dreams...Find the Answers?

My parents and I never really talked about matters of faith when I was growing up...or after. Dad talked about how much he hated the nuns when he attended Catholic school. Mom mentioned going to church as a girl, about getting the lyrics of certain hymns wrong, and about being baptized as a teen. They both wanted me to go to church--but Dad never attended himself, and Mom only went with me on Easter Sunday. (I've always wondered why there's a bigger turnout on Easter than any other Sunday. Aren't we supposed to worship God every day?) They both passed away leaving me wondering if I'd see them again in Heaven.

 
I don't know, and that troubles me deeply.

I'm by no means a model Christian. I have a long way to go, and more questions than answers when it comes to matters of faith. But I was taught that we have to be saved--accept Christ as our Savior and believe that He died for our sins and was raised from the dead. Did Mom and Dad accept His invitation to salvation? I don't know.

The more I've learned, the more I'm uncertain of where my parents are now. It surprises me--and scares me--to realize that I didn't really know either of them in such an important way. I thought that's why I had the dreams....

For years, I had dreams about them...frequent dreams, in some of which they seemed to be reaching out to me. They weren't really nightmares, except for once. But they wanted something from me. I did the only thing I could do: I prayed for them, every night, before I drifted off to sleep, turning to God, hoping my pleas for them would be heard, hoping my prayers might make a difference somehow.

The dreams stopped.

I can guess what a therapist might say about that. I hope it means that God answered those prayers. I didn't even realize at first that the dreams had stopped. It didn't occur to me until Sunday. I'd wondered why I don't dream about Sam (either Sam), or any of my deceased family or friends, human or otherwise, beyond the days immediately following their passing...but Mom and Dad seemed stuck, somehow, between this life and the next.

So...I know that most of my friends are Christians of various denominations, but some are of other religions as well. What are your beliefs with regard to the afterlife? What, if anything, do you think the dreams meant?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Angels in Green Feathers

Today is the third anniversary of one of the saddest days of my life. Three years ago today, my beloved parakeet Sam died in my arms from cancer that destroyed one of his wings. It doesn't seem like three years have passed already. I still miss him, and I still cry sometimes. He was part of our family for all but the first six months of his twenty-one years, in many ways like a child to me and a baby brother to Collin.

To honor his memory--and that of my first Sam, a canary-winged parakeet who was with me through my teen and college years, here's an excerpt from my upcoming book, Sam's Story: The Life and Times of a Tiny Bird with a Huge Personality....





"Since we're both Sam, we have to distinguish ourselves," Sam decided.

"Why?" I asked. "Obviously, if I say Sam, I'm not talking to myself."

"That would be fine, if you were the only one who could see me," he agreed.

"Obviously, Mom and Grandma can't—or Grandma would have wrecked the car by now," I said.

"They can't see me, but other animals can," he told me.

"The sausage dog will be able to see you?"

"Yep." He gave it some thought. "I'm Sam One, and you're Sam Two."

I was mildly insulted. "Why do you get to be Sam One?" I wanted to know.

He regarded me with mock impatience. "Again, I was here first."

"But you're a...ghost," I reminded him.

"I was still here first."

"I don't want to be Two," I said stubbornly. "That's like being second place."

"What do you suggest, then?" he asked.

I gave it some thought. "I'm Sam Too," I said finally.

"Isn't that what I said?" he asked, confused.

"Not Two as in t-w-o, second place," I told him. "Too, t-o-o, as in also."

"Fair enough," he agreed.

We sealed the deal with a high five. Ever seen birds high five? We do it the way it was meant to be done—with wings.

                                                                     *****

"Her name is Sandy," Sam One told me.

She really did look like a big, fat sausage--a sausage with a head, a long pointed nose, and long, floppy ears. And a tail.

And she disliked us on sight.

"What are you two doing here?" she asked, looking up at us.

"We live here now," I said defensively.

"He does, I don't," Sam One said. "I'm just visiting."

"Chicken!" I told him.

He flapped his wings and made clucking sounds. He did a lousy chicken.

"If you ever come out of that cage, I'll have you for lunch," Sandy warned with a low growl. Then she turned and walked away.

"Nothing like a warm welcome," I said.

"She'll get over it," Sam One told me.

                                                                  
 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Hometown!

Today is St. Louis' 250th birthday--or tomorrow or next month, depending upon who you ask. At 250, it really doesn't look a day over 225. Except maybe in the northern part. That's looking kinda bad, from what I see just about every day on the local news. See, I grew up in south St. Louis and Jefferson County. My parents taught me that one does not go north of Forest Park if one wishes to continue living. Since I'm rather fond of living, I have stayed south of the park, except to go to the airport.


At any rate, St. Louis is having a big birthday party. Huge. Don't believe me? Check out the party website! St. Louis has had it all in the past couple of centuries: fur traders, cholera, the Civil War, the Lewis and Clark expedition (oh, wait a minute--that actually started in St. Charles, even though we claim it).  We are the Gateway to the West--and to prove it, I give you Exhibit A--the Gateway Arch. If you've never been up in the Arch's observation deck, do put it on your Bucket List. And try to do it during a storm or an earthquake. The Arch can deal with both. It sways a bit when the earth trembles, but lightning is no big deal. There are several lightning rods at the top.


St. Louis was home to the 1904 World's Fair. There was even a movie made about it, remember? Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland was in it....


Several movies have been made here. In Escape From New York, St. Louis stood in for New York City as it would look as a futuristic prison. I'm not quite sure how to feel about that....

 
It was the locale for White Palace, a movie based on a novel by a St. Louis author, and starred Susan Sarandon and a young James Spader....

 
And it was the setting for the Syfy Channel's less-than-brilliant film, Black Hole. St. Louis was being sucked up by a man-made black hole, and we had to depend on Judd Nelson and Kristy Swanson to save us...HELP!!!!!!







I think it just sucked up Busch Stadium. Oh, wait a minute. That was the old Busch Stadium. No biggie.

St. Louis is also home to the Missouri Botanical Garden, aka Shaw's Garden. The Climatron is our own personal rain forest.... 


And the Art Museum, located in Forest Park....


If my dad were still here, he'd tell you about the Tornado of 1927.In fact, I think he told everyone about the Tornado of 1927 before he passed away. We moved into a house in the Lindenwood Park area of southwest St. Louis the year before he died. As it happened, the only house to survive that tornado was on that same street. 79 people were killed and 550 injured in southwestern St. Louis and Webster Groves when that tornado hit on September 29, 1927. It was the second costliest tornado in US history.


Did I mention that we're sort of in Tornado Alley...sort of?

If I haven't completely scared you off my hometown and you'd like to see more of modern St. Louis, check out Bob Crowe's photoblog. He's shot our fair city from every angle imaginable!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Best Villains Don't Just Tie the Heroines to the Railroad Tracks

Who's your favorite fictional villain?

Yep, I said villain. Who's the guy (or gal) you most love to hate? Why is he or she your favorite?

My favorites aren't true villains. I think anti-heroes would be a better description. There's Thor's adopted brother Loki...the enigmatic Raymond "Red" Reddington of The Blacklist...Dallas' scheming oilman J.R. Ewing...Victor Newman and his son Adam from The Young and the Restless.



Loki's done some pretty bad things, I can't deny that. If I were a criminal defense lawyer defending him, I'd go for the plea deal. He's sent the Asgardian Destroyer (who, by the way, deserves that title) to kill Thor and trash a small New Mexico town. He's come to New York City with an alien army, made a big mess and killed a lot of people.

But Loki's not all bad. He's dealing with a lot of childhood resentments. He grew up in the shadow of older brother Thor, god of thunder, heir to the throne of Asgard. Their father, Odin, favored Thor and apparently didn't bother to hide it. Then, Loki found out he wasn't an Asgardian by blood. Now, his whole identity was a lie, in his eyes. He was angry--and directed all of that anger at Thor. Loki wants the Asgardian throne. He wants to re-establish his identity by becoming king. He wants to take away all that Thor loves.

No matter what he does, I just can't hate him.



Then there's The Blacklist's brilliantly-written, brilliantly portrayed Raymond "Red" Reddington, the rogue intelligence agent who, after twenty years of eluding capture, suddenly surrenders himself to the FBI--on the same day rookie agent Elizabeth Keen joins the team. He promises to reveal the names on his "blacklist"--the world's most dangerous criminals--but only to Elizabeth. Why? Looks like there's a connection between them of which even Elizabeth isn't aware.

Red is brilliant, manipulative, resourceful, and yes, dangerous under certain circumstances--but with Elizabeth, he's gentle, protective and caring. Could he be her long-lost father? Looks that way--but with Red, looks can be deceiving.



My all-time favorite bad guy redeemed himself in the end. Dallas' J.R. Ewing had screwed over so many people--including members of his own family--that when he was shot, even his parents were on the list of suspects. But J.R., eldest of the three Ewing sons, was driven by a need to prove himself to his father. Brother Gary was their mother's favorite child, while father Jock favored the youngest brother, Bobby. The original Dallas ended its run with J.R.'s sins catching up to him, prompting him to contemplate suicide. But in the new Dallas series, as old and new enemies closed in on his family, J.R. finally used his "powers" for good--and in his final hours devised a brilliant plot that saved the day for the Ewings. J.R., you'll be missed!



The Young and the Restless' Victor Newman reminds me of J.R.--and in some very basic ways, of my own father. Maybe that's why I love him. Victor wasn't always rich and powerful--quite the opposite. Born Christian Miller, his mother left him at an orphanage when his father abandoned the family and she was unable to take care of him on her own. He grew up angry, bitter, and determined to never again be as helpless as he'd been as a child. He reinvented himself--hence the name he chose for himself, "Victor New-Man"--and built a financial empire. He can be ruthless, but he loves his family (on-again-off-again wife Nikki, children Victoria, Nick, Adam and Abby and grandchildren Cassie, Noah, Summer, Reed, Delia, Johnny and Connor) above all else. If only he didn't have so much trouble showing it--but then, that's the result of his own troubled childhood, as is his need to control them.

Ironically, the child most like him--Adam--is the one with whom he's had the most difficult relationship. Adam didn't know Victor was his father until adulthood. His mother, Hope, raised him on her Kansas farm, only revealing the truth to him on her deathbed. Victor persuaded him to go to Genoa City--but Adam was rejected from the start by Victoria and Nick (Abby didn't yet know she was Victor's child, either). Adam worked to prove himself, but nothing he did seemed to please his father. When he discovered he was a father himself--to ex-wife Chelsea's baby boy, Connor--he vowed to be a better father than his dad had been to him.

That's my list. Who are your favorite villains--in books, TV or movies--and why do you love to hate them?

*****

Don't miss the photoblogs: William's, London Lulu's and Grace's. And I think William has another Day in the Life of a Cat post coming up at Speak of the Devil....

Monday, February 10, 2014

"We Interrupt Regular Programming to Bore You to Death...."

We've had an unusually harsh winter this year. When the remnants of one snowfall finally melts away, the next one immediately comes along. The temperatures have been sub-zero most days, and the windchills even worse. But believe it or not, that's not the worst thing about this winter.



No...the worst part is our local TV news. These days, our network affiliates will use almost any excuse, it seems, to keep the local news on the air--as if St. Louis isn't already suffering from news overload. The CBS affiliate, KMOV, has local news from 5:00-7:00am, noon-12:30pm, 5:00-5:30pm, 6:00-6:30pm and 10:00-10:35pm. The worst offender, KSDK (our NBC affiliate) has local news from 4:00-7:00am, noon-1:00pm, 4:00-6:30pm and 10:00-10:35pm. Our ABC and Fox affiliates aren't so bad.



When we have snow--even those "events" not qualifying as snowstorms--KMOV and KSDK immediately preempt all regular programming to keep local news on the air to provide nonstop, repetitive accounts of every flake that falls. We get to see their armies of reporters stationed throughout the metropolitan area, letting us know it's snowing. Like we can't see that for ourselves! This reminds me of my dad's reaction to televised Presidential speeches. He always said the American people must be perceived as stupid, because after every speech, reporters came on to explain to us what the President had said.



Last week alone, KSDK preempted part of the Today Show at least three times--twice for snow coverage (once for a snowfall of a mere 2-3 inches!) and once to cover an accident on the interstate. KMOV preempted The Young and the Restless for snow coverage at a critical point in the soap opera's storyline--which sent regular viewers scrambling to KMOV's Facebook page to complain.



Don't get me wrong--I can see the need for continuous news coverage of major events. A snowstorm that affects travel, causes power outages and threatens public safety requires keeping us informed--but a news alert at the top of each hour would do that quite well. It's not like a dangerous thunderstorm, where conditions change minute by minute and warrant keeping the public updated as it happens. As for serious accidents on our highways, yes, we need to know--but again, a brief interruption at the top of the hour would do that.



I wonder if newspeople have clauses in their contracts that guarantee them a specific amount of on-air time that makes their bosses interrupt our TV viewing for no valid reason. Those who don't have cable, satellite or streaming must find it particularly annoying.



I miss the good old days...when there were only two daily local newscasts (6:00 and 10:00) and "Breaking News" meant something really important had happened.

**********

Be sure to check out William's blog for a behind-the-scenes look at Russian wannabe-czar--I mean President--Vlad "The Impaler" Putin at the Sochi Olympics, and our joint blog for a snippet of Same Time Tomorrow (I promise, it will get finished)! Also check out PK Hrezo's blog for details on her Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. blog tour and Cheryl Dale's blog announcing her new book (which has a cover by Collin)!


Friday, February 7, 2014

Show Them the Money....

I like to listen to the radio early in the morning. I've been listening to Guy Phillips on Y98 since my college days, when he was half of Phillips & Wall and the station's call letters were KSLQ. The duo parted company years ago, and these days, the drive-time show is called Phillips & Company. It's the only radio program I listen to for the talk more than the music.

A couple of mornings ago, they had, among other things, a discussion of childrens' allowances. Three members of the team have children. Guy said he based his kids' allowances on the age of the child: a dollar for each year. They discussed whether or not the money should simply be given to the child, or if it should be earned by doing appropriate chores around the house.



When I was very young, I got a dollar a week--which, back in the late '50s-early '60s, was worth a lot more than it is in 2014! As I grew older, that amount increased--especially when Mom and Dad were oblivious to the fact that they were both paying me!

Collin also received an allowance. He also had multiple sources of income. My dad once promised him a certain toy on the 3rd of the month, when his Social Security check arrived. Unfortunately, it came on the 2nd that month because the 3rd fell on a weekend--so even though Collin got the toy on the 2nd, he thought he should also get one the next day.

Dad bought him a second toy on the 3rd.

I sold my first novel when he was six years old, and he quickly learned to use the ATM machines. He used to tell his teachers and classmates that my publisher didn't give me any money--just a card I could use to get money. Whenever I got an advance or royalty check, Collin got to go shopping.

Not that he wasn't good at saving. He once saved the money to buy himself a bike with all the extras: banana seat, headlight, horn, the works.

Just before Dad passed away, I received a partial advance payment for my novel Luck of the Draw--$35,000. Dad was in the hospital (at that point, we thought he'd be coming home the following week) when Collin spent $350 at Children's Palace. When Mom told him about it in a phone call, he told his roommate--who didn't believe it. Dad couldn't wait for us to get to the hospital that evening to verify it.

One might think that Collin would have grown up with no sense of the value of a dollar--but he's actually quite good with money, in ways I never was. These days, he manages everything. He pays the bills and does the budgeting. He got that from Dad. I guess it skipped a generation....

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Baby, It's Bleeping Cold Outside!

I'm officially a blogging slacker.

I'd like to be able to say I haven't been blogging because I'm so busy writing, but.... I am writing, but mostly I'm bitching and whining about something I can't change: our crappy weather. And with that in mind, here's proof that I'm not the only one who's miserable.

Can anybody tell me if the planet might be moving further away from the sun or something?


















If you're as cold and miserable as I am, well, misery does love company. If you're by some miracle in a nice warm climate, I envy you!

Be sure you check out William's  and London Lulu's photoblogs today, if you just can't get enough of the bitter cold. If, however, you want to see sunshine and no snow, take a look at Gayle's and Grace's blogs....