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Monday, November 25, 2013

Atlas Shrugged - The World According to Ayn



I read Atlas Shrugged when I was in high school and I loved it. Of course, as a sophomore, I was interested in the story and the characters, not the political philosophy. 

Now, since Ayn Rand has become the darling of the right-wingers, I'm trying to read it again to see what they find so compelling. It is a struggle this time. I can see why Ayn would appeal to teenagers and conservatives because it is simplistic in its black and whiteness. There are no shades of gray, no nuances in Atlas Shrugged. It is 1009 pages of tiny, dense lettering of straight-on pedantry. 

Every character is either a man among men (including the heroine, Dagny Taggart) or a worthless little wimp. None of Rand's characters are multi-faceted, complex beings who agonize about their life's decisions. In her own philosophy, which she called Objectivism, Ayn Rand lauded rational self-interest. She believed that by doing what makes you happy, it will automatically follow that your acts will serve as a benefit for others as well. She applauded the virtue of selfishness.

Re-reading Rand, it is easy to see where Mitt Romney came up with the "makers and the takers". We are all one or the other in the world according to Ayn. Her style fits the Tea Party - "if a man doesn't work, he doesn't eat" attitude of today. You really don't do anyone any favors by giving them assistance. Food stamps and subsidized housing only makes people weak and dependent. 

Ironically, Ayn Rand rejected all religions and intimations of a spiritual life. Reason was her God. Laissez faire capitalism was her mantra. I don't know how the Religious Right gets around that aspect of her teachings, ignores it, I suppose. Rand believed your destiny was in your own hands - no excuses. She glosses over the misfortunes that befall human beings. Her heroes succeeded by the strength of their determination and confidence. Orphans came up through the ranks and before you knew it, they were able to buy the steel mill. You too could do this, she implied, if only you were strong enough. But oddly enough, all of Ayn's main characters were gifted with supreme intelligence to go along with their iron will, which I imagine helps immensely.

I'm only about one/third of the way through Atlas Shrugged. I can only slog through so much at one time. I put it down for a while, then go back to it. I wanted to write a review when I finished but I'm really not sure I ever will finish so I'm doing it now. 

I can honestly see how some people would latch onto Ayn and her philosophy. It makes a world made up of myriad complications seem simple. The path forward is so clear. She gives people permission for people to be selfish. Finding your own happiness is your highest calling. Heck, who wouldn't like to believe that was true? Rand was one of the original Prosperity Theologists. 

It is all up to you, she tells you, and if you don't make it, its your own damn fault, weakling. 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Favorite Fictional Heroes

Down in the Zero by Andrew VachssStorm Front, US Hardcover


MY HEROES

I generally gravitate to series when I'm looking for fiction. If I fall in love with a character, I want to read more about them. Here are some of my heroes. These are the books I pre-order instantly, hardly able to wait until they arrive from Amazon. These are the men to whom I've given my heart, in no particular order, because I can't choose between them.

- Gabriel Allon, the complex Israeli art-restorer/assassin, brain child of Daniel Silva. Gabriel is the epitome of cool intelligence, devising a complicated plan for his team to catch a spy or save a victim and carrying it out with calm daring. 

- "That fuckin' Virgil Flowers" - John Sandford's off-shoot of his Prey series (incidentally, I'm a great fan of Lucas Davenport too). Virgil is a down-home cop in jeans and cowboy boots, who'd rather be out on his bass boat than catching murderers. He's seemingly easy-going and has an eye for the ladies which generally steers him wrong but he gets the job done with insouciance and wit though he often gives his superiors heartburn with his methods.

- Burke - If I absolutely had to pick a favorite of all time, it would be Burke. Unfortunately, Andrew Vachss ended the series at 16. These are some of the few books I'll read the second or even the third time. The Burke novels may not be for everyone. Burke and his "adopted" family live in an alternate world from most of us - the gritty New York City of cops and ex-cons and pimps and hookers and child molesters (Burke's particular nemesis). Their morality is off-the-beaten track; their ethics are twisted by their experiences. They remain off the grid and take vengeance on their enemies in the most clever and creative ways. 

- Jack Reacher. Of course. Who doesn't love Jack? (And oh, God, no, he is nothing like Tom Cruise!) Ex-Army, he cruises the country staying under the radar of the authorities until some wrong piques his interest and he's forced to get involved. He takes on powerful entities, like corporations and the military, and out-wits them. When he's accomplished his mission, he takes the next bus out of town with only the clothes on his back to disappear into nowhere.

- Micah Dalton - David Stone's Micah is a fixer for the CIA, coming in to clean up after the mistakes of others. He is self-sufficient and relentless, having no conscience about killing those he believes need to be eliminated. He thinks quickly and acts decisively, navigating the dangers of the spying life with sardonic humor. 

- Jamie Fraser and Lord John. Diana Gabaldon offers a double treat the Outlander series for I adore both Jamie Fraser and Lord John/ Jamie, the red-headed Scot, is the ideal elemental male - courageous, protective, decisive, bold - sometimes pig-headed but capable of romantic moments as well. Lord John, on the other hand, is handsome, suave and sophisticated....and gay. The two men have a relationship that is complex and conflicted although they have enormous respect for one another as well. I'm only writing about heroes in this piece but if I were including heroines, Claire Fraser, Jamie's wife, would be at the top of the list. They are one of the great fictional love affairs of all time. 

-  Charlie Parker, Louis and Angel by John Connolly. Charlie Parker is an ex-cop, private investigator with a talent for tapping into the supernatural. His wife and child were brutally murdered and still appear to him to urge him on in fighting evil. His best friends are Louis and Angel, gay partners and assassins. Louis is black and dashing and fearless. Angel is an ex-con, small and sloppy and passionate. The dry humor among the three of them alleviates some of the brutality in the books.

- Sean Dillon...you always have a special spot in your heart for your first love and Sean Dillon is that for me. The ex-IRA enforcer, blackmailed into becoming a British spy, was for me the consummate courageous, creative, daring adventurer. To some degree, all the spy heroes who've come after were modeled on Sean. These days, both author Jack Higgins and Sean himself, have aged and slowed but I'll continue to read every book about him until there are no more.

- All the men in Tim Hallinan's series including Poke Rafferty, Simeon Grist and Junior Bender. They are all characterized by being unwilling heroes. The humor is snappy and clever and funny. 

Also Much Loved

Sonchai Jitpleecheep - John Burdett

Myron Bolitar and his lethal friend, Win - Harlan Coben

The Gray Man series - Mark Greaney

John Rain by Barry Eisler

Ed Loy by Declan Hughes

Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch - Robert B. Parker's western series

Joe Pitt (vampire) and Hank Thompson - Charlie Huston

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike - Robert Crais

And, of course, let us not forget Christian Gray who broke new ground in hot romantic fiction. A very unique hero but definitely intriguing.

I'm sure there are more. I might have to make another list for now these are some of my favorites. I would recommend any of them.









Monday, October 14, 2013

My Possible Future Self

Times Have Changed

My mother is temporarily in a nursing home, which we very carefully call, a rehabilitation facility when are talking to her.

She had a stroke about ten days ago. I knew something was terribly wrong when she got up and her speech was totally garbled. A call to the doctor was followed by a visit to the emergency room which was followed by a week in the hospital which was followed by a transfer to Wellbrooke, the newest and nicest of the nursing homes in our county.

Mom's stroke left her with weakness on her right side - she couldn't use her right hand to grasp at all at first- the above-mentioned incomprehensible speech and a drooping right eye. The worst problem, however, was difficulty in swallowing. Since this happened, she has been on a pureed diet (and trust me, no matter how hard the kitchen staff tries, they cannot make pureed roast beef look or smell appealing) and they have her on antibiotics because they are concerned that she will choke and aspirate some material into her lung, causing pneumonia.

Mom is a spunky little 94-year-old who works hard on her exercises because she wants to come home. She's improved in every area except her swallowing. I'm taking her for a swallow test tomorrow. I'd feel comfortable bringing her home if they could get that situation squared away.

My mother-in-law was in a nursing home for 9 years - during most of the 90's. I visited her two or three times a week, taking her for rides or bringing her home to dinner and the I.U. games if she felt up to it. At the time, her facility was also the newest and nicest in the area but those nine years left me with a horror of ever being condemned to such a place myself. I keep a loaded gun beside my bed for protection and I always said I'd shoot myself before I'd go to a nursing home....only half kidding.

But times have changed since then and living in a nursing home now seems not quite so unbearable, at least one as modern as Wellbrooke. My biggest phobia was always having to share a room. My mother-in-law had roommates who cried all day, roommates who groaned in pain, roommates who repeated the same stories over and over. She finally had a partner who was a sweetheart but who was blind and almost deaf, so her radio had to be tuned to high. I often thought to myself that if you entered that place totally sane, it wouldn't take long before you disappeared into dementia in self defense.

I have a lot of friends and I enjoy social occasions but for the most part, I'm a rather solitary person and I prefer quiet. I always thought I could live in a broom closet, as long as I was alone there.

Now, at Wellbrooke, all the rooms are private. Oh Holy Day, no more being crammed into a tiny space with someone who comes in as a total stranger and with whom you may have nothing in common. They may prefer televangelists over NASCAR! Or, even worse, Fox instead of MSNBC! Or have hordes of nice but loud family members as my mother-in-law's roomie had.

The private rooms were a happy revelation and then I asked if Wellbrooke was set up for WiFi and they are! (I was asking for my future self because my Mom wouldn't even know how to turn on a computer). "That's assuming," the aide said, "that your mental and physical capabilities are up to using a computer." Well, yeah, there's that. That practical observation put a bit of a damper on my pleasure at discovering that nursing homes had joined the modern age.

But still, generally, I have a "have privacy and laptop, will travel" attitude about my own elderly future should it ever come to that.

  

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A Possible Cure for Writer's Block




I have always been fortunate as a writer because I've never experienced writer's block. I attribute that to having always worked under deadlines as a columnist. Deadlines force you to make something happen. I've always said I could write 500 words about anything.  I once had one of my creative writing students challenge me. He picked up a candy wrapper off the floor and put it on my desk. "There," he said, "write about that." I ended up writing a short story that I sold to Seventeen magazine.

One of my techniques for coming up with ideas if they're coming slowly is to interview someone, almost anyone. There is not a person out there that doesn't have a fascinating story in them if you can get them to tell it (and most people enjoy telling it to someone who is truly interested). 

Take my mother, for instance. She grew up on a ranch her parents homesteaded in Arizona in the late 20's-early 30's. They weren't pioneers in the Conestoga wagon sense of the word. Instead, they came from Illinois to California in a Model T Ford in a time when roads were primitive, gas stations were few, motels were non-existent and tires blew out at the drop of a hat.

At first the family settled in San Francisco. My grandmother was happy. She had a nice house. My grandfather's business was to go to all the better restaurants very early in the morning in a dump truck to collect the leftover food, which he then fed to 2,000 hogs he and his partner kept at a farm outside of town. 

Then Grandpa got a burr to move to Arizona to homestead a ranch so the family moved to the high desert and staked their claim. At first, they slept out-of-doors and Grandma cooked for her family of five on a campfire. A house had to wait a'while until Grandpa dug a well and grubbed out enough clear land to plant a garden and a small crop. When he did construct the house, it had railroad ties at the bottom and screening on the top along with a mud roof and dirt floors. 

Grandpa became a U.S. Marshal and a mail carrier, which meant Grandma was often alone with her kids, far from the closest neighbor, with only a German Shepherd, named Troy, for protection. (You would have never recognized that tough woman in the dainty little lady she became in her later years). The mail came by way of the Southern Pacific. The trainman threw the saddle bags of mail over a pole with a hook as the train roared by, then Grandpa picked it up and delivered it to recipients.

My Grandpa's parents eventually moved to prove up a claim to a ranch next door. My Grandma thought her grandchildren needed milk so she bought a cow. She also thought they need some culture, so she had a player piano shipped in on the train. That joyful sound created quite a stir! 

Cattle were, of course, free-range then, which meant branding. Ranchers got together and helped one another. It was a tough job. When the work was over for the night, Mom loved listening to the cowboys playing their guitars and singing, their music drifting across the desert. The cowboys were the glamorous figures in that society because they were tough and independent and brave and they drifted on as the inclination moved them, not willing to be captured by land or family. 

When the neighboring area had a party, they actually built a dance floor from scratch and roasted whole cows. People traveled miles to come join the celebration. Local talent made the music so that everyone could dance. When it was over, they took the dance floor back up until the next time.

When anyone needed a horse, they simply lassoed one from the vast herds of wild mustangs that roamed the high plains. Mom's horse, Bill, was caught that way though he had a Mexican brand so he must have once been domesticated. He wouldn't let anyone ride him but my mother. At one time, she disliked her teacher. When they had a barbeque at the school house, the teacher imperiously insisted she wanted to ride Bill. Mom simply handed her the reins. Of course, the teacher was promptly bucked off. My grandmother gave Mom a whipping for not warning her but Mom thought the satisfaction was worth it.

The kids rode their horses to school, which was in a railroad car. An Anglo child and a Latino child each shared a desk and in that way, the Mexican kids learned English and the Anglo kids learned Spanish. (There was no big deal about "Americans" learning Spanish because the Mexicans had been their first!) Mom almost always had a soup bean sandwich on homemade white bread. Meanwhile the Mexican kids had a refried beans wrapped in a tortilla. The children looked forward to trading their lunches for the taste of something slightly more exotic than their usual fare.

It was a different kind of life than kids know now and hearing Mom tell about it, it sounds adventuresome and free. Parents seemed to barely pay attention to their kids. They didn't worry about them riding half-broke horses or running across rattlesnakes or wild bulls or getting lost. Certainly, they never worried about people. That wild land was peopled with characters running from one thing or another. Some had murdered and some had stole. Many of them were living under false names so no one ever knew their histories but no one thought of any of them being child predators. 

When my Grandma needed something from the grocery, she sent Mom off on Bill to the nearest store in Aztec about 7 miles away. 

Grandma had an abortion while she was in Arizona with Grandpa's agreement. She simply couldn't face the thought of yet another child to care for under the circumstances of her life. Grandpa took her to Yuma for the procedure and she almost hemorrhaged to death on the 70-mile trip home. 

After they'd proved up their claim to the ranch, my grandfather died of tetanus. Immediately after the funeral, Grandma put her kids on a train and head back for the civilization of Illinois, abandoning the ranch and the stock and the vehicles and the furniture to her in-laws. It was eventually bought for back taxes. 

That's my Mom's story. Pretty interesting, huh? I guarantee you, there's not one old person in a nursing home who doesn't have one equally as compelling. So, if you're stuck for an idea, go talk to them.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Is Writing Real Work Even If You Only Earn 22 Cents An Hour?



Now that I'm retired, I consider my writing to be my "work". Not many agree with me. They see it as a hobby or even an excuse to be lazy....or unsociable. And if work is based on remuneration, they are probably right. I get a small monthly check for my newspaper column and the occasional direct deposit from Smashwords and Amazon for sales of my books. I'm definitely not getting rich.

I've gotten more selective than I used to be. Over the years, I made some extra bucks writing campaign ads and college essays and resumes and newsletters for various people and organizations (although mostly, I did all that for free as a favor to a person or group). In my 60's, I've retired from writing anything that I think is boring.

So, now my mornings consist of "working". I get my coffee and my cigarettes and plop down in front of the computer. I quickly check the news to see what's gone on in the world since I last logged in. I make a brief tour through my NASCAR sites. I scroll quickly through Facebook, then I'm off to wherever it is my main character currently happens to be. Or I'm doing research for whatever he happens to be involved in - Jewish history or wild horses, or the Atchafalaya Basin or assassination. I usually don't stir from my chair except to go to the bathroom or warm my coffee. The hours fly by. Then it's noon and I fix lunch for me and Mom.

After we eat and I get the kitchen cleaned up, it's usually back to the computer until early evening when the news shows I watch start to come on.

Of course, during all this time friends call or stop by and I'm always cordial even though sometimes, if the words are flowing, I'm a little resentful. If they ask me to go somewhere and I say I can't because I'm trying to finish a chapter or a column or a blog, I know they think it is an excuse because, obviously, any of those relatively unimportant tasks could easily be put off. Occasionally, I imagine I see them looking at my cat-hair-y carpet with disapproval that I'm lounging in front of a computer screen instead of cleaning my house (this could stem from my own guilt). But no one would expect me to go to work late or come home early to run the vacuum if I was employed at a real job, would they?

This is the first time in my life, writing is able to be my  top priority. Always before, it played second fiddle, only to be taken up after I finished my "real job" of writing reports or waiting on customers or balancing accounts. I wrote books on the weekends. Wrote columns very early in the morning. Updated blogs late at night.

To me, writing now feels like my work and I'm the one who gets to make that call.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Toughen Up!







Some people believe my books are too graphic, too gritty, include too many cringe-worthy taboo subjects. My heroes tend to be amoral and twisted in certain ways. Well, that's all right. I write for myself and hope there is a niche for my style, but I have to no expectation that my books will be everyone's cup of tea.

I began writing as a political columnist. In that area too, I tended to be confrontational and controversial. I pulled no punches. My mail consisted of death threats, marriage proposals and suggestions that I run for President. People are passionate about politics. They don't mind taking you head on. I developed the hide of an elephant. Nothing anyone says can hurt my feelings.

Some respondents don't realize that. They let fly a zinger, obviously assuming it will crush me. It doesn't.

It seems to me, from reading the discussions on the various writing groups I belong to, that more writers need to develop a thicker skin. They are so easily hurt, so easily put off, so easily agreeable to someone who says they need to change their ending or shorten their book or lengthen it or add more description or less description. Some of them are so cowed by too much rejection that they lose their confidence and give up altogether.

The truth is that most of these advisers may know what's right for them but they don't necessarily know what's right for you. No doubt someone told Diana Gabaldon that the novels in her Outlander series were too ponderous and full of detail. Someone probably told E. L. James her Shades of Gray books revolved around a subject that would make most people squeamish. Sure thing -  those ladies are laughing all the way to the bank because they had the courage of their convictions.

That's not to say getting advice can't be helpful. There are definitely times when you will see the point your reviewer is making and use it to improve your writing. On the other hand, if the length or the ending or the style or the amount of description feels right to you, don't be afraid to ignore your critics and go with your own gut feeling. This is your work.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Writing Is A Learning Experience


The best way to learn about a time, a place or an activity is to write a novel about it. In  my very first book, Magic Creek, the heroine joins a group of settlers heading west. Even as most of the others stop to build homes, Magic and her partner continue on because, as they say, they want to go to the very edge of civilization. For this book, I spent hours researching the northwest territory and how the pioneers lived. How did they plant their crops and cook their food and sew their clothes and build their houses? What were the Indians of the area like? What motivated them to suffer such hardship and take such enormous risks to start over? I fell in love with these courageous people and my own book led to reading many more, both fiction and non-fiction, simply for pleasure.


County Cork scene


I never sit down and plot out my books. They just develop themselves as they see fit so in Sticks and Carrots, my main character, Cole McCarran, had a dual Irish and American citizenship. I'd never had any particular interest in Ireland before. I'd never realized that this small island contained so many magnificent landscapes of various kinds - golden beaches and high mountains, beautiful lakes and green pastures and cliffside shorelines and virgin woods. A part of Ireland is almost tropical with palm trees and abundant flowers. The Burren is an exotic environment, as if a giant stone carver had purposely constructed it. In Ireland, you will find thatched roof cottages and medieval circles and fantastic castles.

After all my research, if I was approached for that commercial that asks: "if we offered you a free trip but you had to leave today, would you go?" Yes! Yes! I would. I be winging my way to Ireland as we speak! 


Almost there: Action heats up as season nears its end

Probably the greatest impact on my life was when I had to learn about NASCAR so Rafe Vincennes (of the Rafe Vincennes Series) could be a stock car driver. I did this oh-so-reluctantly. There was nothing that interested me less than auto racing. But I bought a book, Sunday Money by Jeff McGregor and sat down to read and take just enough notes to sound knowledgeable enough about NASCAR to be able to write my own novel. 

I was fascinated from practically the first paragraph. I became enthralled with the drivers, the tracks and the cars. Soon, my weekends revolved around racing. I watched the pre-race shows, the races and the post-race shows. My friends know not to call me when NASCAR is on. I picked Jimmie Johnson as my driver and became a fan-atical supporter. 

I've since attended a few races and discovered I love the smell of burning rubber and car exhaust in the morning! I can recite you chapter and verse about bump stops and sway bars and wedge. I can define the difference between aero and mechanical grip. I have probably spent 1000's of hours watching NASCAR since 2008. I have yelled and jumped; my heart has raced; I've experienced joy and heartbreak. NASCAR has become one of the passions of my life....all because I wrote a book about a hero who drove race cars.




My most recently published novel, Eureka Spills, required research on New Mexico and ranchers, cowboys and wild horses. Cattle ranching and cowboys have a special place in the heritage of America. It is a lifestyle that is uniquely its own and beloved of the people who would probably not work nearly as hard while making more money doing something else. Although I developed great affection for the humans, I have to say my heart is with the horses. There are now fewer wild horses running free on the American range (46,000 +/-) than we are keeping in captivity (50,000). We say that is because they breed too quickly and overrun their habitat but of course, the actual fact is that they are our competitors for forage and like the Native Americans before them, we put them on the least desirable "reservations" and then decide that's still too much. So we round them up with helicopters during which horses are injured and babies are separated from mamas. Then we either pen them up or sell them to be butchered (which we deny but our denials are true only because we allow it to happen through a third party.) So my passions were stirred in writing this book but in a completely different way than my fervor for NASCAR.




In the book I'm currently writing (as yet unnamed), my hero, Luca Quai, was raised in Romania. He's half-Jewish and half-Gypsy. Right now, I'm working on trying to learn as much as I can about Jewish culture and customs, holidays and food. And, oh my Gosh, I have to say that in my life I have studied a great deal about various religions but none of them are as complicated or complex as the history and the beliefs and the rules about being Jewish. My head is filled with tzitzits and tzniut, menorahs and mezzuzah, kugelach and latkes, Rosh Hashanah and Purrim and Yom Kippur. 

I can't wait until my character grows up to make his home in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana. The Atchafalaya is the largest wetlands in the United States containing over a million acres of bayous and cypress swamps, marshes and backwater lakes and hardwood forests. More than half of all species of migratory birds visit there seasonally. It is home to bears and panthers, alligators and other smaller wildlife in addition a myriad of aquatic life. I've already begun reading about the intriguing and mysterious Atchafalaya and about the Cajuns who live there. 

So writing a book forces you to delve deeply into your subject matter. It encourages you to develop fascinating interests you'd never considered before. Writing a book is every bit as educational as reading one.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Eureka Spills - Stepping Outside the Box


My latest book is now live on amazon and smashwords. Eureka Spills is different than anything I've written before (for one thing, it doesn't require an "adult content" rating!) It is more of a love story than my other novels. I very much enjoyed writing this book. I always fall in love with my characters and it was no different with Shea and the elusive stallion, Phantom. The research about ranchers and cowboys and wild horses and northern New Mexico was fascinating and fun.

Still, there is a element of stress when a writer steps out of what has been her comfort zone. Will faithful readers be disappointed not to find the graphic sex they are used to in my books? Will they scorn Shea, who is a more traditional hero than my harder men like Rafe and Ethan? Will they roll their eyes when Shea finds true love of the type more likely to be found in romance novels than anything I've written?

I don't mind for myself if some readers believe I've gone all squishy on them. (My next character, Luca, is more like what they've come to expect from me) but it makes me feel protective of Shea. I want readers to care for him and appreciate him as I do.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that some readers will say, "well, finally, something I can read without cringing - no taboo subjects, a hero who is worthy of the name, and love, sweet love".

I don't really have my audience in mind much when I write a book (although I know the marketing gurus would tell me that's a no-no). I write what has to come out of my head and this time it was Shea.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Andrew Vachss - After Shock


Aftershock



There is no more satisfying experience in life than discovering an author, falling in love and finding that there are many more books in his or her library just waiting for you. This is what happened to me with Andrew Vachss when I read my first in his Burke series. I don't even remember now which one that was, not the first or the last, somewhere in the middle (I've re-read them all in order since then although it isn't really crucial to the plots, only that you know more about the chronology of the characters). 

I was thrilled when I saw that I had only read the first of many episodes of Burke's life and I proceeded to buy the rest. I didn't want to finish them too soon so I forced myself to read other books in between. I held on to the last one for months in order not to reach the end. When I was done, I read them all again (which is unusual for me). That was several years ago. From that first book on, whenever I participated in polls that asked - "who is your favorite author?", I didn't even have to think twice. Andrew Vachss! Though I've found authors I enjoy immensely since then (Iain Banks and the Culture, Declan Hughes' Blood series, Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander books, the Patrick Rothfuss' trilogy being four of them), that is still the case today.

You would never say about Andrew Vachss - "his writing reminds me of....." because his style is so uniquely his own. His plots are twisted and clever, his locales are gritty and brutal, his characters are rebels against the system with a moral code that is honorable and true though it would never be recognized as such by a legal system that often lacks those qualities itself.

Many people who've lived normal lives might question the reality of the harshness of the world inhabited by Burke and his family. Perhaps I can relate because of all the years I worked law enforcement and the judicial system and saw much of what he talks about first-hand. 

My heart was broken when Vachss announced the last Burke novel. He's written many books besides the Burke series and I've liked and appreciated them all but I much prefer series over one-offs because I like settling in to reconnect with the same people I've grown attached to in previous books and seeing what is going on in their lives.

Now Andrew Vachss has come out with After Shock and reading it gave me the same tingling feeling of exhilaration that a new Burke book always did. Like Burke, the new character, Dell, is a hard-ass. He's lived a life of violence, thrown into an environment where he touches man's inhumanity to man first hand. He's tough and merciless about taking down those he perceives as threats. Like Burke before him, Dell will cross boundaries most people aren't even aware of.

Though retired as a mercenary soldier and French Legionnaire, when a perverted and horrific underbelly that victimizes young girls is revealed in the small town Burke and his wife, Dolly (who served with Medicins San Frontieres), have chosen as a place to find peace, Del knows he has to summon old rage and his previous skillset to expose and destroy the perpetrators. 

Del shares his life lessons with readers in language that is hard-edged and beautiful as a stiletto.   









Saturday, August 03, 2013

Leap of Faith



White Spotlights Stock Photo

Leap of Faith 

That's what every piece of writing is, from column-writing to novels. The writer starts out with the smallest germ of an idea and let's it shape itself into what it wants to be. Of course, with columns and essays, the point is to say as much as you can in the fewest amount of words. As a mentor once told me, "you spend words as if they were dollars" in any short piece.

Book-length fiction allows for more room to roam and explore your subject matter and characters. My own novels always begin with one first name that lodges itself into my brain - Magic and Cole, Rafe and Ethan, Shea and now, Luca.

It's like the spotlight pictured above, I don't know who is going to step out on that stage until they appear out of the darkness and pick up the microphone. For instance, my latest character, Luca, is a native of Romania (and he is NOT a vampire). Huh, Romania? I don't know anything about Romania and was never especially curious to know either. Now Luca lives in Terrebone Parish in Louisiana near the Atchafalaya Basin in Cajun country. More research. Geez, why don't any of my book people ever live on a farm in Indiana, a locale I know a lot about? 

I am often rather spellbound by the process of writing. There is no way I'm telling my characters' stories, rather they are telling their own stories through me. I often wonder where they came from, how they sprang full-blown into my head with such definite ideas. 

I never write from an outline or have any idea of a known-in-advance plot. "Just trust us," say Rafe and Shea and Luca, "we'll guide you to your destination and tie everything up in a bow at the end."

And I have learned to do that. At first, I sometimes fought with them, trying to drag down them down a path I thought was the right one. My way always lead to deadends or unrealistic outcomes so I gave up and admitted that I was, essentially, a transcriptionist.

But I still marvel at where they existed before they made themselves known to me. They have to somehow be a part of me, don't they?  I wish I knew how that process works....but I guess I should just be grateful that it does.


  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Impossible Decisions






Use of Weapnons, US edition




I enjoy it too much - even if I knew I'd never get a book published, I would still write. I enjoy the experience of getting thoughts and ideas and plots and characters organised into this narrative framework.
Iain Banks



My friend's team won their pool tournament and now they'll be going off to Las Vegas. They're trying to raise some extra $$ for personal spending money while they are there. One of the ways they are doing that is by having a garage sale. In the interest of assisting in the cause, I donated four large sacks of books (including every one of Janet Evanovich's Stefanie Plums). It broke my heart to see her carry them out the door even though I knew I'd never read them again.

There are very few books I'll read more than once - Andrew Vachss, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Augustin Burroughs. I've never re-read any of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books but I might someday. Mostly though when I'm done, I'm done. Geez, I have unread books stacked under my desk and unread books filling up my Kindle. I can't even keep up with new books, much less re-read old ones!

But I still have a difficult time forcing myself to part with them. One of my author-heroes, Iain Banks, just died. I have every book he ever wrote. He's the first one who seduced me into science fiction with his Culture series. I wouldn't have predicted anyone could do that. I thought I hated science fiction.

I have all of Charlie Huston's books and all of Tim Hallinan's and all of John Burkett's.....

When John visits and goes upstairs where all the bookcases are (the bookcases are all full and there are more books stacked beside them), he invariably says, "Mom, you're not planning to leave me all these 9,000 pounds of books to deal with someday, are you?"

So, I decide I really need to get tough with myself and begin the winnowing process. I sit on the floor and pull a volume out of the book case.  It's one of the John Sandfords. I put it back. I select another by Robert Crais. I put it back. How about Daniel Silva? Absolutely not! John Connolly? No! I've taken a big trash bag upstairs with me. By the end of the afternoon, there are two lone books in the bottom and I'm not so sure about one of them. I might remove it.

Obsession is a rather strong word but infatuation isn't and I'm definitely infatuated by books. I might even go so far as to label it an addiction. And it's not just with reading them. I'm enamored by their very physical presence. In fact, it doesn't even have to be physical. I even revel at the sight of all the titles that represent books on my Kindle.

I used to be thrilled when I sold real estate and showed a house, only to see one of my very own columns taped to a refrigerator. Now I glory in the thought that MY titles actually appear on other people's Kindles.

I think it may very well end up that John will ultimately have the responsibility of the books. 








Thursday, July 04, 2013

Back By Popular Demand!


No matter how many other books I write, I get letters from Rafe's fans wanting to know when he's going to return. The seventh edition of Rafe's adventures is now available at smashwords and amazon.

In this volume Rafe is up to many of his old tricks, most of which include either a race car, a woman or a firearm. Despite his penchant for waywardness, Rafe is dead loyal to Rhiannon in his own twisted way. He's a fierce guardian of his family and a devoted father, as well, of course, as being a casual and unremorseful killer when he believes killing is what is called for.

My favorite comment about Rafe from a reader is: "you can't categorize Rafe...he is unlike anyone but himself."

Monday, June 24, 2013

The (Over) Importance of Words

I brought this over from my redstatebluecollar blog because it's about words and I thought the message was important

 Oh, Please, America, Buck Up!

It appears that America has become a nation of over-reaction. Little boys are kicked out of school because they ate their sandwich (or cookie or whatever it was) into the shape of a gun. Seriously? Here in Indiana, we can put a Pro-Life license plate on our car but not one picturing a rainbow. Really? 

And now poor old Paula Deen has sent us into absolute hysterics of political correctness. She used the "n" word 40 years ago, a word so taboo, it must never be spoken or written but only expressed as the "n" word.

Hate to tell you, folks, but 40 years ago, lots of people said the "n" word and they said the "k" word for Jews and the "s" word for Mexicans and the "w" word for Italians and the "q" word for gays. Most jokes had a racist tinge or they had a sexist tinge. Most of our fathers were Archie Bunker when Paula was growing up in Georgia.

At the same time, most little kids, both boys and girls, played with guns. We all had cap guns or water pistols or plastic machine guns. We shot each other right and left. We got into the spirit and fell down dead when we were "shot". And guess what? We shot each other a lot less in real life back then.

But now we have all become super-sensitive. It takes almost nothing to offend us. And the people who make us feel that way? Why they should lose their jobs, if not be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail (or kicked out of school). Hurting someone's feelings is the Great Crime now. You can steal from them (a la Big Banks) or despoil their environment (a la Big Oil) or treat your employees like crap (a la Walmart) or betray them (a la corrupt politicians) as long as you use the proper terminology to do it.

Words, it seems, have greater power than actions these days. Even in the rape debate, we turn against the Todd Akins' and Richard Mourdocks' because of what they said. I don't really care what they say. What we should be worried about is what they actually do. The harm doesn't come from the names, it comes from the legislation. I actually prefer it when those men show their hands. They are less dangerous than the ones who keep their mouths shut while sponsoring and voting for laws that harm women.

It doesn't offend me when ignorant Rush Limbaugh calls young women sluts and prostitutes. It simply reveals who he is. I notice he didn't lose his job. Evidently, it is more outrageous to have used the "n" word 40 years ago than call our daughters sluts and prostitutes right now.

I've often been called names during debates with Facebook "friends" on the other end of the political spectrum. They are often said with such "gotcha" relish, I assume my opponents think they've cut me to the quick but they haven't. I simply shrug, consider the source and move on.

We used to have a saying when I was a kid (at about the same time Paula Deen was a kid) - "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me". I think we should get back to that attitude. Words can only hurt us if we let them by infusing them with too much power, as we have with the "n" word. No word should be so important that merely saying or writing it is a taboo punishable by imprisonment in a dungeon of disgrace. It's just a word...not like, say, shooting a black kid in a hoodie for being in your neighborhood.

Same with guns. I'm for sensible gun control. I'm for universal background checks. I'm for banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons. And no, I don't want to start a big argument over gun control. That's for a different blog. But a kid who eats a sandwich into the shape of a gun getting kicked out of school? Another who gets expelled for having a fake gun the size of an earring on his key chain? That's freakin' ridiculous.

And a state government that assumes to protect his citizens' delicate sensibilities by not allowing them to see a rainbow on the license plate on the car in front of them?

I'm sick of being protected. Don't do me any favors. I can bear up under the "n" word or the "s" word or the "k" word. I can bear up under being called a slut, a prostitute or even a c***. I can bear up under a cheese sandwich in the shape of a pistol. I can being bear up under seeing a rainbow license plate.

So can we all. Toughen up, America. 


 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Covers and Titles - Oh, My!

I've just finished the seventh volume in the Rafe Vincennes series and my eyes are blurry from looking at potential cover photos. I have stared at so many sexy men, I may have to stop and go take a cold shower! One of my writer friends, who is way more successful than I am, is casual about covers and how important they are in the appeal of a book, but I obsess about them.

Everything has to be just so, in keeping with the book itself. Rafe, for instance, has black hair, collar length and dark brown eyes. He does not wear jewelry. He does not have tattoos. He is muscular without being muscle-bound. He is very tan.

There is nothing that puts me off more than a book with a sultry ebony-haired beauty on the cover only to read inside where the author describes her as being a platinum blonde.

Some photos came close but the model was wearing a necklace. Some came close but the model's eyes were blue. Some came close but the model had a tattoo. Some came close but the model was posed in a very self-conscious way that Rafe would never do. Rafe knows he's handsome but he doesn't play on it.

My picture cannot be a direct face shot. I've learned that people who read your books develop their own very strongly held impressions of your characters. My friend, Jan, and I compared photos of men similar to how we pictured Rafe. When she saw mine, she said "no, no, no, that's not what Rafe looks like at all!"

One Rafe book cover was a black panther, one was a girl holding a NASCAR checkered flag, one was a man in shadow on a pier with his small son, one showed Rafe with a handgun in his back waistband. In one he was on a horse, in another, a motorcycle. I struck me that though sex is such a big part of Rafe's life, I'd never featured a "sexy" cover so that's why I was looking at men in shorts and men with towels around their waists and men in gyms and men in tight jeans and men without shirts and men without anything at all.

The completion of books are the hardest parts for me. It's when I write "the end" that my stress starts. Not only do I have a difficult time settling on covers, I'm terrible at choosing titles. I never had to write my own titles for my newspaper columns and it's a good thing because mine would invariably be bland and obvious instead of punchy and clever.

So this book is done. I'll publish it next week....if I can find a cover and come up with a title.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Characters - The Most Fascinating Aspect of Writing

My first book, Magic Creek, got offers from publishers if I would change the ending because the way it ended was socially unacceptable. I couldn't do it. It ended the way it wanted to end.

I made the first Rafe Vincennes book, Sociopath?, free because I figured Rafe would offend a lot of people and I didn't want them to think I took their money under false pretenses (although you'd have thought the title would be a clue). My assumption was that if you read the first volume and were horrified, well, then you'd certainly be warned about not buying the next ones. Because Rafe doesn't change. He is the same now in the seventh in the series as he was at the beginning. 

Potential publishers have commented (in rejection letters) that Rafe is "too unique", he doesn't fit in any recognizable "genre", he embraces "taboos". Maybe if I could take that part out....and that part....

And that's why I turned to e-publishing. Because Rafe is who he is. Not because I decided it but because he did. And he has his fans. He's gotten several 5-star reviews, precisely because some readers appreciate his uniqueness, his unwillingness to be forced into a genre, his lack of concern about what other people think of his behavior.

That is what I find to be the most fascinating aspect of both reading and writing. Where do characters come from and how to they make themselves known? Authors are only middlemen. At least that's the way it is with me. I never feel as if I "make up" my characters. I don't create them out of my head. They are already there, full-blown. All they really need is a transcriber.

I can't write to a genre. I can't follow a format. I can't change endings. I can't take parts out.

I wish I could. I'd love to be a best-selling author. I'd love to see my name on the New York Times best-seller list. I'd love to be interviewed on the Today show.

When I wrote Carrots and Sticks, it was an attempt to do just that. It started as a traditional romance. I had it all planned out. By Gosh, I was going to follow the rules and sell this one! That lasted for less than a chapter until my characters veered to the dark side. So I sighed and wrote it their way. Like I always do.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Special Smashwords Promotion - How Build a Killer


 How To Build A Killer 

 Special promotion through  smashwords.

Coupon code = JU77L - free until June 8, 2012. Go download your copy now!  Available for all e-readers.

How To Build A Killer

By Vicki Williams
Rating: Not yet rated.
Published: Jan. 22, 2013
Words: 73,732 (approximate)
Language: English
ISBN: 9781301269839


Short description

Matilda Tryon assessed her new patient. She would definitely describe Ethan Pierce as beautiful, with pale blonde hair and exotic eyes that mutated between green and gold. Furthermore, Ethan’s languid grace made even a red prison jumpsuit (red being the color worn by the most dangerous inmates) appear to have been designed by Ralph Lauren just for him. But beyond beautiful, Ethan was also deadly

Extended description

Matilda Tryon (Tilly, to her friends) assessed her new patient. Yes, she would definitely describe Ethan Pierce as beautiful....drop-dead gorgeous, in fact. Collar-length hair of palest blonde framed a face seemingly carved of ivory....compelling cat’s eyes that mutated between the clear light green of a fine Pinot Grigio to a hint of champagne gold, a distracting quality Tilly had to force herself to ignore. High cheekbones, an aristocratic nose, sculptured lips. A strong chin saved him, barely, from the touch of effeminacy his refined features would normally have given him. Add to all that, a fleeting white smile and well, Tilly assumed if Michelangelo was sitting across from Ethan Pierce right now, he’d have a hard-on.
Furthermore, Ethan’s languid grace made even a red prison jumpsuit (red being the color worn by the most dangerous inmates) appear to have been custom-tailored personally for him by Ralph Lauren. He was relaxed, leaned back in his chair. His lean body put Til.. (Read more)


Tags

murder, serial killer, psychological thriller, child prostitution, graphic description


Elaine Raco Chase - Author's Corner - Triangle Variety Radio - Boons for Writers and Readers

I had a great time being interviewed by Elaine Raco Chase for Author's Corner on Triangle Variety Radio last night about my latest book How To Build A Killer - (which, incidentally, is being offered through Smashwords on a special promotion until June 8, 2013 so download your free copy now!) Elaine is a terrific hostess who makes you feel like you're having a conversation with an old friend rather than being interviewed by a stranger. She definitely knows how to bring out the best in her authors!

Elaine is an accomplished radio personality who has been working in this medium for many years but she is a wonderful writer as well. Check out her page at Elaine Raco Chase.


See all her books there. Here's a sample.

Whether you are a writer yourself or simply a reader, I highly recommend that you get to know Elaine.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Brief Hiatus Into Spring


 






Last year at this time, it was 80 degrees in Indiana. Today, the first day of spring, it is 22 degrees with a bitter wind blowing. What makes it worse is that I just returned from visiting John and Lisa in the Florida Keys so there is still a faint trace of warmth and sunshine and blooming flowers hovering in my mind, making it even more of a shock when I step foot outside the door.

This was an especially exhausting trip because of Mom. I think it will be our last long journey together. Because of her, we pared our activities down to a minimum. We did go to the Hard Rock Casino once, where I actually walked out a small winner. And we ate out at least once every day so I stuffed myself with fresh grouper and yellowtail, shrimp po-boys and blackened mahi-mahi. And, of course, no meal in the Keys is complete without a piece of Key Lime pie.

But, mostly, other than visiting with the kids, I sat out on their balcony and gazed at the scene before me. The sun was warm and bright, the water was the purest turquoise and the flowers were beautifully purple and crimson and gold. Pelicans dove and sea gulls swirled and cried. The palm trees rustled in the breeze. I saw a lime-green baby Iguana and graceful sailboats skimming the waves. I went out early to see dawn break and again in the evening, where I was treated to an incredible sunset over the Gulf every night.

I was excited to see a Frigate bird, a bird that I saw first on an earlier trip to the Keys and one that fascinates me. They look like giant flying Batman logos in the sky. Their wing span can be seven feet but they have stubby little legs. They can not land on the water, can barely walk and can't take off from a flat surface, so most of their lives are spent in the air. They can fly for as long as a week without landing.

Frigate birds are also called Pirate birds because they will harass other seabirds until they force them to regurgitate their food which they then steal and eat themselves.

Florida was a nice break. The kids watched out for Mom so I could slip away from my responsibilities for a few days in favor of sea and sand and flowers and birds and warmth.

Then it was back to Indiana, where it seemed that the temperatures plunged when we hit the state line. The calendar says its the first day of spring but Mother Nature laughs at our expectations. It will be spring when she says so and not until.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Caution to Young Writers

I have no clue how many columns I have written over the years but it's in the thousands. I wrote two columns a week for King Features Syndicate for over ten years. I wrote two columns a week for my local paper for over 20 years. (I still write one newspaper column a week). In addition, I have written many freelance essays for publications like McCalls, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and USA Today. 

I have never lived an organized life. I was married and divorced, I moved a lot, I changed jobs, I raised a child, I became a widow. I was happy and unhappy, semi-prosperous and poor, confident and dejected at being rejected.

Through it all, I pitched all those columns in a box....if I remembered.  Not cut out neatly, not arranged chronologically, not all facing the same direction. In that carton, are also letters from fans, notifications of awards (like having a column chosen to be included in a college textbook), reviews (favorable and unfavorable). In a way, that box mirrors my life - everything simply dumped in haphazardly.

The other day, I pulled the box out of the closet, looking for three columns in particular. The newspaper cut-outs are yellowed and curling around the edges, some of them are bent or torn.

I never found the columns I was looking for. Maybe life was stressful when I wrote them so I never took the time to cut them out and save them. At the time, I guess, they didn't seem so important in the scheme of things.

But, in all the millions of words I've written, those 3,000 are some of which I'm the proudest. I had received a call from a local family who'd found a box of old letters in the attic. They were letters home from two sons (step-sons, actually) who were fighting in the Civil War. The current day members had no awareness of the boys' existence until they read the letters. They'd both died during the war.

They allowed me to keep the letters for a while (they asked me not to make copies and I honored that request) in order to write a series of three columns. I remember the awe I felt as I actually held a letter written by a boy telling his mother about sitting beside a campfire in Tennessee, wondering what the following day would bring.  It was cold and rations were short but he told her not to worry, he was doing fine.

I fell madly in love with those two boys. They were such sweet and optimistic and loving kids. They began each letter with "My Dearest Mother". I marveled at how educated they appeared to be for only having attended local small-town Indiana schools. Their cursive handwriting was beautiful with swirling capital letters, especially considering the rough conditions under which they were writing. Every word was spelled correctly, one of them had taken Greek. They often spoke of happy memories of Somerset and Roann - fishing and sledding and attending church functions with their friends.

Through the letters, they mentioned some place names. One was the Niconza Church which is beyond the Stockdale Mill in Miami County. I visited the church and the pastor allowed me to read their old church records. I found that the boys were buried there. Over time, they'd disappeared from the family memory, from anyone's memory.

Later, the Historical Society located their gravesites and erected a monument to them.

All these years later, I don't even remember their names but I felt that I played a part in resurrecting them back into existence and they were so worthy of being acknowledged again. It is one of my proudest accomplishments as a writer. Oh, if only I could find those columns. I would love to read them again.

So, here's my caution to young writers - sometimes it is easy to let the Now go when every day life gets hectic but although it may not seem that important at the time, later you'll wish you'd appreciated it more. Everything you write is part of you and your history. Guard it for how precious it will become.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How To Build a Killer - Five-Star Review!


 
5.0 out of 5 stars Society's Role In Creating Murderers From Throwaway Children, February 12, 2013
By 
jt kalnay (cleveland, ohio) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: How To Build A Killer (Kindle Edition)
The life of Tommy Pitt, aka Ethan Pierce, started in a dumpster where he'd been discarded by his 15 year old mother, who had been impregnated through incest. The next 21 years were spent in and out of foster care, in and out of detention, & in and out of all the corners of hell that a throwaway can experience. Like his eyes, which can shift from gold to green, Tommy, "like all helpless things, abused children, and battered wives and mistreated pets, learned early on to read and react quickly to the slightest nuances in the moods and expressions of his captors." After being convicted of murdering his father, Tommy spends months seducing his prison therapist and encouraging the reporter and attorney who have decided he needs to be helped.

How to Build A Killer is an extremely disturbing story that includes graphic descriptions of the horrible things that happen to the most vulnerable amongst us. This book is not for the faint of heart, or for anyone who doesn't want to have a light shone on a sordid corner of society. You'll want to believe that this is all fiction, but in the end you'll realize that the crystal clear mirror that Vicki Williams holds up to society reveals truths that few of us want to admit. Tommy describes how "humans want to believe there is a guiding force that controls everything and cares about them, but so far I haven't seen any proof that if there is a supreme being, he or she or it gives a damn." Tommy goes on to describe how "God tosses life out with a wildly profligate hand and if much of that life ends up as collateral damage, he appears perfectly comfortable with that."

At its heart, this book addresses the classic question of Nature vs. nurture. Would Tommy/Ethan have turned out differently if he'd been loved instead of tossed in a dumpster? A psychiatrist in the story wonders "how much of who Tom became was innate and how much was causation? Did society share a large part of the blame for literally creating a killer by failing so spectacularly to protect a child?" One possible conclusion is that "an uncaring and negligently society deliberately molded him and shaped him into what he was and then punished him for being their own creation."

I recommend this book, but warn the reader that it contains graphic sex, graphic violence, and disturbing imagery of child abuse.

Purchase your own copy at amazon or smashwords

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My New Kindle Fire HD


My new Kindle Fire HD was delivered a few day's ago. Did I need a new Kindle? No, I did not. All I do on my Kindle is read books and my old, original Kindle still worked perfectly fine. Am I skilled at justifying the purchase of something I want but don't need? Yes, I am. In this case, I easily convinced myself of the convenience of taking a new Kindle Fire HD on vacation to Florida in March to visit my kids. In addition to reading my books, I could check my e-mail and pop in on Facebook. All this on one small device easily carried in my purse! I could leave the heavy old laptop at home.

I am technologically-challenged and could often be used as a real-life example of the Peter Principle, which is, I upgrade to the level of my incompetence. My Smartphone was smarter than I was. I never learned to take advantage of its many features. Once I retired, I paid off my contract and pitched it into the desk drawer, never to be charged again.

I forget to hit the "ok" button when my t.v. asks if I want to watch in HD. This irritates my son no end. "Why did you spend the extra money on an HD-capable television if you're not going to use it?" I'm embarrassed to admit I can't really tell much difference. I don't have any channels listed in my favorites and I've never recorded a series. I haven't watched a tenth of the channels I have access to. Finding something I might be interested in just doesn't seem worth the effort it takes. Give me NASCAR and the news and I'm good.

John talked me out of asking for an I-pod for my birthday. "Mom," he said, "just admit that technology has passed you by and stick with cds."

So, you can see why I was somewhat intimidated by the box on my dining room table that contained my new Kindle Fire HD. I put off opening it for several days, afraid that it would prove to be one more high-tech device that instilled a sense of hopeless inferiority.

 One reason I was willing to take a chance is because I've learned to have faith in Amazon.com. And sure enough, when I finally steeled my backbone and pulled my new device out of it's package, it greeted me by name and led me step-by-simple-step through the start-up process.

All my books were already installed and waiting for me. Setting up my e-mail took five minutes, following the Kindle's simple directions. It then instantly connected me to my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

If anyone young and tech-savvy is reading this, they are probably shaking their heads in disgust but I was pathetically grateful to Amazon.com for making the Kindle equally as accessible to Dummies as experts. I spent hours trying to program my phone. I learned to resent it then and that feeling never changed. We were always opponents rather than partners.

This is Amazon.com's modus operandi. They make everything as convenient as possible for all their customers, whether it is buying books or publishing books, reading reviews to help make purchasing decisions, receiving recommendations, helping with start up. They are the most user-friendly of companies.   


Sunday, February 03, 2013

Where Do Characters Come From?

One of my good friends, J.T. Kalnay (also one of my favorite authors - check him out on Amazon!) and I were discussing how characters take over writers' heads. I know this must sound like a crazy concept to non-writers, but our characters aren't simply robotic products of our imaginations. They are their very own people, with minds of their own, who will resist their creator's attempts to force them to act in ways that are counter to their own views of themselves.

In my e-book, Magic Creek, one of the characters is married to an extremely abusive husband. I wanted the book to have a happy ending. One of the themes was meant to be how Tory found the courage to escape from her violent life. But...she didn't want to escape and no matter how I tried to make her, she simply dug in her heels and refused to go.

I tried to market my manuscript in the traditional way and found a publisher who told me how excited he would be to take it on....once the ending was changed, of course. It simply wasn't possible to approve of a victim of domestic battery who makes the choice to stay with her abuser.

Any first-time novelist is aware of how exceedingly difficult it is to find a publisher. They know how it hurts to receive rejection letter after rejection letter. They understand how difficult it is to get your spirits back up to try again...and again...and again. And here, I had my chance. Oh, I wanted to sell my book in the worst way! Honestly, I would have compromised any principle I had to see my name on the cover of a hardback novel!

I would....but Tory wouldn't. I made numerous attempts to re-write the ending to Magic Creek to satisfy the publisher. I argued and pleaded with my character. She was unyielding and I finally capitulated. "Sorry," I told my would-be publisher, regretfully,  "I can't do it your way."

I e-published the book so it could end the way Tory insisted that it end.


Even writers themselves wonder over the strange dynamic of characters who become real individuals, seemingly completely separate from you.  It reminds me of the old Buffalo Springfield lyric, "something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear." All I know is, it is what it is, even if the how and why ain't exactly clear.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To My Husband Who Died in 1989


Strange how love evolves, my dear.

In 1969, I thought you were handsome and charming and daring,
I loved your outlaw swagger, your devil-may care bearing.
You were a dancer, a romancer, a drinker, a thinker.
I was thrilled to hitch a ride with your wild side.

By 1979, your sad soldier’s stories were growing old
Your death-defying acts more driven than bold
You were unpredictable, undependable, unmendable, expendable.
The wild ride turned out to be a roller-coaster.

In 1989, a second war, with cancer. This time you lost – and died.
We’d been apart ‘til you asked me to take that trip by your side.
You made no apologies, asked for no guarantees, made no final pleas
You rode out as you rode in.

Love is like a rose, sharing flowers and thorns
In the beginning, you only see the beauty
In the end, you only feel the pain.
But wait and time brings all it ‘round again. 

In 2009 and beyond, you are photos in an album, memories in a heart
Time polishes recollections, shines them once more, wipes away hurt
Today I remember the dancer, the romancer, the drinker, the thinker.
I choose to remember the roses.

Love is like a rose, sharing flowers and thorns
In the beginning, you only see the beauty,
In the end, you only feel the pain.
But wait, and times brings it ‘round again.